Northern Grade, the pop-up market that epitomized the urban lumberjack trend when it was just bubbling up five years ago, returns to its birthplace in Northeast Minneapolis this weekend. This event will mark Northern Grade’s 25th pop-up market nationwide. Northern Grade has traveled from Chicago to Southern California; Washington D.C. to Dallas; partnerned with prestigious organizations from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to GQ magazine, all with a mission to promote American made goods—now with a broader assortment than Northern Grade's initial focus on men’s heritage brands.
This weekend’s market at the Solar Arts building will include a few favorite Minnesota brands, such as Red Wing Shoes, Frost River, Sanborn Canoe Co. and Woodchuck, but also many newcomers, including WINSOME women’s apparel and Merchant Leather.
The Minneapolis event is a precursor to what promises to be a monumental week for Northern Grade founders Mark (“Mac”) and Katherine McMillan: the couple, who have moved back to New York, are opening the first Northern Grade bricks and mortar store in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport (203 Front Street), a neighborhood that is transforming itself into a destination for indie boutiques with the help of a $10 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant after the area was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
As he geared up for the Minneapolis event, I talked to Mac about the evolution of Northern Grade.
Seems like yesterday you were pulling together your first market at Architectural Antiques! It’s amazing to think about how the “maker movement” has evolved since that very first Northern Grade…does it make it easier, or more challenging to keep your markets fresh?
To think this weekend’s marketplace will be our 25th Northern is pretty sentimental for us. We feel like we have evolved substantially since the very first marketplace back in 2010, which was primarily regional and local men’s brands. We have since evolved into working with diverse brands (more than 350, Katherine adds), in terms of style and product offerings—women’s, home goods, art—and have also focused on a greater food, coffee and spirits presence for each marketplace. It’s always a challenge to keep things fresh for consumers and we work hard to curate each marketplace accordingly. This weekend in Minneapolis, 50 percent of the brands have never participated before, so there will be a lot of fresh offerings never before seen.
How do you think "American Made" is evolving?
We think that regardless of any recent fads, American Made is a trend that is only going to grow and get bigger. We attribute this to a combination of greater consumer awareness and the lower barrier of entry for brands to enter into the marketplace. On a daily basis we meet or chat with new and under-the-radar talented brands making goods in the U.S.—people we like to call the “new American creative.” Introducing these brands to consumers and the industry is what gets us really excited.
How has the move back to New York changed your perspective on the American Made movement?
Being that NYC is essentially the epicenter of fashion, apparel and media; being back here has been very beneficial for us on so many levels. We have forged some great relationships and it has made us more focused on the next steps for Northern Grade.
Speaking of which, Is the New York store likely to be the first of many?
Right now, we’re just focusing on NYC. However, if all goes well with the store in the Seaport District, we definitely will be looking at other locations in the future. Since we started in Minnesota and have a great following there, Minneapolis is a logical choice and definitely on our radar, but the primary focus right now is strictly on getting our first location up and running.
Minnesota loves to claim Northern Grade, of course. How is the Twin Cities’ market different from others around the country?
We are very proud to have grown out of Minnesota (Mac’s home state) and are so grateful to the support from our friends and colleagues back there. While each marketplace around the country is different in terms of the city, venue and the different brands that attend, our annual MN marketplace is typically the best attended event of the year and overall; has really just a great vibe. Many new brands around the country often ask me what marketplace I would recommend to them, and I always tell them without hesitation, Minneapolis. Being a native Minnesotan, I couldn't be more thrilled.
Northern Grade Minneapolis will take place at the Solar Arts Building, 711 15th Ave. N.E., Mpls. Hours are Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The market is free and open to the public...including future hipsters—there will be treats for young visitors on Saturday, which is Halloween.