Aidan Hall felt the support of Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem when he launched what would become KC Handmade Goods as an eighth grader, he said; years later, the young business owner is working to pay that feeling forward.
An Iowa State freshman and Shawnee Mission West graduate, Hall got his start selling duct tape wallets at popups at the Lenexa Public Market. Today, his KC Local Craft Fair events — an outgrowth of that first venture — help support other local makers, including other youth entrepreneurs.
“There’s just a whole community of small businesses as far as makers go,” Hall said. “I’ve met a bunch of other vendors through events I’ve been at or vendors who have participated in mine and it’s cool to just see what everyone’s doing. Everyone’s there to build each other up. Technically there’s competition there, but it doesn’t feel like competition when everyone’s there to support each other.”
His own journey began when Hall sold duct tape wallets to friends in elementary school, eventually leading him to popup appearances in 2017 when he was in eighth grade.
“I always had the entrepreneurial mindset,” he added.
After buying a die-cut machine to add designs to his wallets, he said he pivoted to making T-shirts once he realized he could use the machine for a variety of products. He now sells KC-themed shirts, hats, and stickers — as well as a few other items — online, at Past and Presents in Lenexa and Lux by Mitzy in Mission, and at various popup locations, including at Made in KC and the Lenexa Public Market.
Plus, Hall takes custom screen printing orders. Two of his newest shirts celebrate the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the “one-ankle wonder.”
Click here to shop KC Handmade Goods.
“Kansas City is really unique as far as the community of small businesses because everyone has something they can contribute,” Hall noted. “There’s been a big initiative of shopping local lately, which I like. You’re keeping your money local, but you’re also supporting your neighbors and you’ve got a face behind the product.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Hall shared, he wanted to do something to help out other makers who were affected by the lack of in-person popup events. So he started the virtual KC Local Craft Fair. The goal, his website states, is to connect local makers and vendors to customers to help them thrive.
“Something different that wasn’t already out there,” he explained. “And vendors liked it a lot.”
Once in-person events started to return, KC Local Craft Fair evolved into a holiday market and Shop Small Saturday popups at Brew Haha Coffeehouse in Overland Park — returning this spring on the first Saturday morning of the month, starting April 1.
The KC Local Holiday Market — in November at the Lenexa Thompson Barn — drew almost 60 vendors, including several youth vendors, and more than 2,000 shoppers, according to Hall, up from about 1,500 shoppers in 2021 in its first season. Vendor applications are already being taken for this year’s event.
“People like the traffic that comes through, as well as just being able to connect with other vendors and customers,” he added. “It’s been a high-demand event.”
‘Unmatched’ community support
One of the sponsors for the 2022 holiday market was Cloud’s Coffee, owned by fellow youth entrepreneur and recent Shawnee Mission North graduate Ben Cloud. The two connected while in high school and started a group for young entrepreneurs to support each other’s business ventures.
“We meet every once in a while when I’m in town,” Hall said. “We’ll just kind of talk about what each other is doing. It really motivates the other person. It motivates me — at least — as far as looking at new new ways to do things or new ideas.”
Since launching in spring 2021, Cloud’s Coffee — soon to be rebranded as Nacreous Coffee — has sold more than 5,000 bags. It can be purchased online and in Made in KC stores and is served at the coffee shops at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Shawnee Mission North High School.
Related: Why Ben Cloud is the first (and last) hand to touch his evolving coffee brand
The Kansas City entrepreneurial ecosystem, Cloud noted, has stepped up to support him as well.
“They’ve given me tips and input whenever I’ve needed it,” he previously told Startland News. “So I love the community here. The support has just been unmatched. I’m so very grateful for where I’m from and what the Kansas City people have been able to do for me.”
Cloud also plans to pay that forward himself — doing his part to inspire his peers and the next generation of entrepreneurs. He has traveled to several high schools and middle schools around Kansas to share his story and, recently, was nominated as featured youth speaker for Inspire My Kids.
“I want to use my blessings to bless other people, whether that looks like speaking or sponsoring events or even just getting to know other young entrepreneurs,” he explained. “I’m always inducing entrepreneurship and just helping kids wherever I can to find their passion and to become a creator and to change the world, per se. I know that’s a big saying, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And I want to help kids start somewhere, wherever that may be.”
You don’t have to wait to start
Livia Viall — owner of Crafty Girl Creations — was among the youth vendors at the 2022 KC Local Holiday Market. Hall connected with the 13-year-old at one of his events.
“It’s cool to listen to her story and how young she started,” he said, “(and to see) all the work she does in Kansas City — as far as nonprofit work with Children’s Mercy — but also just her artwork.”
Viall — who creates a variety of wooden modern and farmhouse home decor and gifts from reclaimed wood pallets — got her start early, helping her dad in his workshop. By the age of 5, she was making a farmhouse bed for her American Girl dolls, which led to making home decor, she said. A family friend encouraged her to start selling her creations.
“I always thought it was so fascinating to make things with wood,” explained the Pleasant Ridge Middle School (Blue Valley) eighth grader. “(Making furniture for my dolls was) when I first really fell in love with it. I was like, ‘This is super cool.’”
She sells her handmade decor on Etsy, as well as at local popups within Hall’s, the Strawberry Swing Craft Fair, Made in KC, and the Shawnee Parks and Recreation KidsFest Business Fair.
Click here to stop Crafty Girl Creations on Etsy.
Strawberry Swing helped to establish her as a local maker, she said, and other peers in the creative space have been encouraging.
“There’s been a lot of makers there who haven’t treated me as a novelty and have actually given me tips on how to expand my business and make it better and who support me and think I’m doing amazing things,” she continued.
Viall — who was recently named the Outstanding Entrepreneur Under 30 for the East Central Region by the Kansas Department of Commerce — noted she’s also found support and inspiration from fellow youth entrepreneurs like Hall and Cloud.
“I really like how we’re becoming a city that has a lot more younger entrepreneurs in it,” she said. “You don’t have to start once you’re in college, you can start when you’re really young — which is what I love about the Shawnee KidsFest — because all these 8- and 9-year-olds are starting a business. It’s so cool just to see all that happen.”
Shawnee KidsFest, which features about 50 entrepreneurs ages 6 to 16, has given her the opportunity to start giving back as well.
“It was actually probably my favorite show of the year because I get to inspire other younger kids and also just see all the talent that everyone else has,” she explained. “We have so much to give and I feel like kids can do so much that sometimes adults can underestimate.”
Viall also supports the community by raising money to provide craft kits for kids at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“I thought that was another super cool way to use my influence and make those kids’ day,” she added.