When Andrew Dahlgren isn’t teaching product design at Parsons School of Design and University of the Arts, or using knitting machines to make wearable products and housewares, he’s working to launch a new non-profit organization—the Community of Philadelphia Makers, which will network and support Philadelphia’s maker community.
LGF caught up with Dahlgren to learn more about Philadelphia as a maker city, both then and now, plus get the lowdown on how this maker spends a rare moment off.
LGF: When you say makers, who are you talking about in Philly?
Dahlgren: People who make physical objects, for themselves, for friends and family, and also for customers. Someone who has an understanding of materials and technology and people.
LGF: What has Philadelphia’s role been, historically, as a city of makers?
Dahlgren: Philadelphia got the name “workshop of the world” in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and one of the thing that differentiated Philadelphia as a manufacturing hub…[was] highly skilled makers who had emigrated from Europe, so the city was made up of smaller factories producing high-quality goods, and diverse products. Everything was made here: carpets, saw blades, clothing, boats, pretty much anything. So the manufacturing history stayed here a lot longer because of that diversity and that quality.
LGF: That must be a source of encouragement for you.
Dahlgren: For me, it’s really inspiring. Philadelphia proved that it could be done. That you could have highly-skilled workers embedded in the city, high quality products, and the success of the city that came from networking of these businesses.
LGF: What are the products, being manufactured locally, that Philadelphia is making today?
Dahlgren: Peg and Awl, Norman Porter, Commonwealth Proper, ReLoad Bags…the biggest spike is in wearables.
LGF: Between teaching, making your own products, and building the Community of Philadelphia Makers, do you ever take a night off? How do you spend it?
Dahlgren: I really love all the work that I’m doing so I can actually say that I have fun, even when I’m working. I’m a bit of a movie geek though so I tend to go to a lot of movies and relax. I’m not prejudiced. I’ll go watch a Marvel Universe movie or an independent film. I’m fascinated with all types of movies, because in some ways they all reflect some part of our culture.
LGF: Any favorite spots in your neighborhood?
Dahlgren: I live in Chestnut Hill and my workshop is in Germantown. I grew up in the mountains of Virginia, and I needed more green space than elsewhere in Philly, and Chestnut Hill has that. I spend a fair amount of time at Chestnut Hill Coffee, the hot bar at Weavers Way Co-Op.
LGF: What makes Philadelphia an affordable city for makers?
Dahlgren: I have friends who live in Seattle and San Francisco, and they can only stay there because they have full time jobs, and that’s one of the reasons I love Philly. It’s affordable enough that you can make a go of it with multiple careers happening at the same time. It definitely allows you some space for exploration.
There’s a lot of excitement about the maker community and more and more there are these interesting shared resources. You can have a hobby, and then get support for that hobby and transform that hobby into a business. Sculpture Gym, NextFab, Made Studios, The Clay Studio…there’s a growing ecosystem of these things. It’s exciting.