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Updated Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 10:46 PM

Martha Stewart inspires new wave of tech-savvy entrepreneurs

By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY
The New York Times

NEW YORK — Tony Stinkmetal, a many-tattooed East Village artist and a fixture at the Artists and Fleas craft bazaar in Brooklyn, would not strike most people as a Martha Stewart devotee.

But after his business partner, Keith Bishop, watched a 5 a.m. rerun of a Martha Stewart program on how to turn a castoff men's jacket into a throw blanket, he decided to make a similar blanket from discarded Star Wars sheets.

From that first blanket, the two men developed Golly NYC, a brand of T-shirts and lamps created from vintage children's sheets (depicting cartoons or superheroes) inspired by Stewart's emphasis on craftsmanship and perfectionism.

"The truth is, in my own little Alphabet City tattooed way, I'm uptight too, and I like to do things right," said Stinkmetal, who changed his name from Michilini for professional reasons.

Stewart's company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has faced some difficult blows lately: substantial financial losses and layoffs and cuts at its magazines and television programs. But Stewart, 71, the founder, has emerged as a patron saint for entrepreneurial hipsters, 20- and 30-somethings who, in a post-recessionary world, have begun their own pickling, cupcake and letterpress businesses and are selling crafty goods online.

Pilar Guzman, editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living magazine, said the magazine's readership had become "the intersection between Colonial Williamsburg and Williamsburg, Brooklyn."

Many newer fans are skipping the print magazine entirely. MarthaStewart.com, the company's primary website, has counted a 40 percent jump in traffic among 18- to 34-year-olds every month, year over year, since January.

The number of women in that age group who watched Martha Stewart videos rose 172 percent in the past six months, compared with a decline of 10.5 percent for all Internet users, according to comScore data.

This same demographic of women who viewed Martha Stewart content on smartphones grew 168.3 percent in the past six months, compared with an increase of 14 percent for all Internet users.

Beyond Brooklyn, Stewart has drawn crafting and baking fans from Saratoga Springs to San Francisco who have made MarthaStewart.com the most-shared site among its rivals on the social site Pinterest, according to Pinfluencer.

Street cred

While some Martha Stewart fans abandoned their magazine subscriptions and Stewart's high-thread-count sheets after she went to prison for her 2004 conviction for lying to federal investigators about a stock sale, this new generation of fans said her prison time only gives her more street credibility.

"She's such a Suzy homemaker and also did some time in the joint," said Luis Illades, an owner of Urban Rustic, where some of Stewart's store-bought decorations appeared. "That has helped cement her iconic image. Before, she was someone your mother would follow."

Crystal Sloane, 29, who grew up on a dairy farm outside Saratoga Springs, N.Y., reading her mother's issues of Martha Stewart Living, has begun her own business called "Vintage by Crystal," designing miniature animals that Stewart eventually featured on "The Martha Stewart Show."

"She's like the Jesus of the craft world," she said. "Not that I like criminals, but I heard that she just took some bad advice. Anybody can make mistakes."

Stewart has responded to this growing fan base by featuring more of these entrepreneurs in her magazine, such as the custom Maniac Pumpkin Carvers from Brooklyn and Bee Man Candle from Canastota, N.Y.

Last month, she hosted a conference at Grand Central Terminal called American Made to honor young entrepreneurs, and she sponsored a contest for students from the School of Visual Arts to promote their businesses.

The winner, a portable pierogi stand, received a $5,000 cash prize and a year of mentoring from her company's chief executive, Lisa Gersh. Stewart also collaborated on the event with Etsy, the e-commerce site for craft entrepreneurs, and invited its artisans to sell wares at her conference.

"I hope that I'm a teacher and encourager and mentor," Stewart said about her relationships with these younger fans. "Small businesses need boosting."

Financial problems

Despite the encouraging news, Stewart's company has not figured out how to make these loyal fans lift it out of its deep financial troubles, no matter how many costs are cut. In advance of its third-quarter earnings, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said it would cut back two of its four magazines and lay off about 70 employees, or 12 percent of the nearly 600-person company.

This year, the company cut $12.5 million in broadcasting costs by not renewing its daily programming deal with the Hallmark Channel, breaking its lease on its television-production studio and ending its live audience for "The Martha Stewart Show."

David Bank, an equity-research analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said the company must figure out how to sell to the trendy, not just inspire them.

"The real opportunity is, 'Will they go to Macy's or J.C. Penney and buy her bedsheets and her flatware? You've got to use flatware, even in Williamsburg. That's where the money is really made," Bank said. "Who cares if she's popular if you can't monetize it?"

There's still a gap between Stewart and her younger, tattooed, craft-loving crowd. When asked whether she would ever share her fans' love of tattoos — some even have tattoos depicting Stewart — she bristled at the suggestion and warned how bad they look as people grow older.

"I'm not a big fan of tattoos," she said. "I don't think they have to go quite that far. They could put embroidery on their jacket. They could silk-screen a T-shirt."


FRED R CONRAD / NYT
Tony Stinkmetal, left, and Keith Bishop say they are inspired by Martha Stewart's emphasis on exacting craftsmanship. Their craft stand is in Brooklyn, N.Y.





Martha Stewart's company faces problems.




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