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Peoria Start-up To Offer Sustainable Desk Accessories

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Midwest Made
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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to work from home, the co-founders of a new Peoria-based start-up already had workers from non-traditional office spaces in mind when they came up with the idea for their new product line.

“We kind of started going down that direction initially just because of our lifestyles,” said Jake Hamann, who co-founded Midwest Made with Jess Brown to market 100% natural desk accessories. “The digital nomad is who [we] are focusing on, the remote workers, the people that work from coffee shops or co-working spaces.”

Midwest Made launched Thursday, offering items such as mouse pads, desk mats and coasters made from Mirum, the vegan leather substitute developed and produced by Peoria-based Natural Fiber Welding.

“They’re poised to have some significant growth, and just to be able to be in their backyard and have a great relationship with them as a licensee means a lot for us,” Hamman said of NFW, which recently completed a $13 million round of funding highlighted by a major investment from the Ralph Lauren Corp.

“Just being able to talk to their owners and their leadership around their vision for Greater Peoria and growing their company here, it just made a lot of sense to figure out how to partner with them and bring this product line to market.”

Hamann, the founder and executive director of the Peoria Innovation Alliance, and Brown knew each other growing up in Pekin and reconnected about a year ago at the Nest coworking space in downtown Peoria. They decided to figure out a way to work together with both profitability and sustainability in mind.

“Then through some relationships and stuff with Natural Fiber Welding, we uncovered an opportunity to become a licensee for them and be able to take some of their products and actually commercialize them and take them to market to the consumer side,” said Hamann.

He said the office products industry lacks environmentally-friendly options.

“Just from a sustainability standpoint, most everything that's out there – from a desk pad and mouse pad and things like that – are typically just regular leather,” he said. “And knowing what Natural Fiber Welding was doing some of their products, we thought this might be a really good fit.

“Then lo and behold, COVID hits in March and raises the popularity of working from home, and we saw a lot of people were investing in their home offices; that was one of the industries actually that saw an uptick. So the timing was right, and we just continued to head down that path to where we are now.”

The public kickoff for Midwest Made included the announcement of a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $10,000 by the end of October. Hamann said exceeding that goal potentially would allow Midwest Made to hire more people and expand the product line.   

“We felt that the Kickstarter campaign, and crowd funding in general, reaches a wide audience, a global audience,” said Hamann. “Obviously sustainability and reduction of plastics and things like that is a global problem. So we thought that was a great platform to use to get the word out there and spread to our networks that aren’t necessarily just here in Peoria.”

But Hamann said that global approach is taken with the hope of benefitting the local market and building into the community along with NFW.

“That’s our ultimate goal, and I know that’s theirs, too: being able to create jobs here and being able to create really this end-to-end supply chain when it comes to the fashion and textile industry,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is just play a small part in that.”

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