There are times when art and commerce collide in a felicitous way. In the case of Poketo, that collision was quite literal: The company got its start selling wallets emblazoned with designs by emerging artists.
Poketo has been bringing affordable, art-minded products to the masses since 2003. That year, founders Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung invited six artist friends to design vinyl wallets to sell at a gallery show, to great success. The married couple decided to do another wallet series, then branched out to artist-designed stationery, housewares and T-shirts. They now sell their products at Poketo.com, the MoMA Store, Anthropologie, CB2 and Urban Outfitters.
Their philosophy, Vadakan says, is "art for everyday: bringing art into your everyday life, things you can wear and use."
Poketo has been commissioned to design wallets for MTV, Nike and bands such as the Shins, Arcade Fire and Weezer. But the biggest boon came in 2010, when its 52-piece collection for Target sold out in weeks. "The challenge," Vadakan says, "is retaining that audience and continuing to grow."
Revenue has increased every year since launch (aside from a blip in 2009, when much of retail took a hit). 2010 sales were $750,000, and a 15 to 20 percent gain is projected for 2011.
Most items are produced in limited editions that range from less than 100 to a few thousand, and each product comes packaged with the artist's bio. "There's a story behind it, and people can connect with it in a human way," Vadakan says.
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Poketo's artists receive a percentage of sales of their work. For them, Poketo and sites like ideeli and One Kings Lane offer new opportunities for exposure. "It's one of the ways the internet is allowing people to be discovered in different ways than being seen in the aisle of a store," says Dan Butler, vice president of merchandising and retail operations at the National Retail Federation.
And for creative people who lost jobs during the recession, artwork may be a way to replace lost income. "It's a way of engaging their skills differently," Butler explains. "In some cases, it makes sense to create new products."
For artists and consumers, Poketo represents commerce with a genuine personality. "It's not only the products," Vadakan says of the company's appeal, "but a connection with the brand."
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Carolyn Horwitz is executive editor of Entrepreneur magazine.