museums&MORE Summer 2020
Sourcing handmade and American-made goods By Jess Schmidt

{Sponsored} The popular handmade and Made in America product categories are poised to become more sought-after this year as we collectively weather the COVID-19 crisis. With international trade slowing, nonprofit retailers have an opportunity to support American makers — in a time when sales are somewhat up in the air.

At the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show, taking place October 7-10 at the Las

Stoneage Arts at St. Louis Zoo

Vegas Convention Center, buyers can expect to meet makers from across the country. From unique gifts to one-of-a-kind art and jewelry, nonprofit retailers have an opportunity to support these artisans in uncertain times.

Tommy Brown, retail manager at the St. Louis Zoo and ZAG (Zoo, Aquarium & Garden Buyers Group) board member, buys for multiple shops within the zoo, focusing on conservation and sustainability in everything he stocks. With

everything from bioplastic mugs made of local corn and cedar boxes made in Missouri, to artisan goods sourced across the U.S. and from fair trade artisans in underdeveloped countries, the shops further the zoo’s mission.

Tommy Brown of the St. Louis Zoo

Brown attends the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show annually to source sustainable products and goods that support artisans around the world — and in the U.S. Many of the plush that the zoo sells are made of upcycled water bottles, both outside and in. The need to source new products that tell a story is always Brown’s focus.

With the uncertainty around institutions being open to the public, and the changes and recommendations happening for nonprofit retailers as a result, the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show is not just working on ways to keep buyers safe at the show, but also supporting retailers as they work through the changes.

The team behind the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show recently put on a panel for industry members — Gift & Souvenir + COVID-19: What Do We Do Next? Brown participated and was able to learn how other retailers are responding to the pandemic. It was “just as a service for the industry,” Brown said. “They really care. One of the best feelings you can get as a buyer is to feel you’re cared about by the show people.”

With all of the uncertainties retailers — and especially those in the nonprofit sector — have, it is especially important that everyone learns from one another, Brown notes. Shows, makers and buyers all complement one another and create a group effort to continue to weather this storm.

Supporting U.S.-based makers and artisan and sustainable products often goes hand in hand. Forest Life Creations returns to the show annually. The founder

Dean Robertson designs wooden earrings from salvaged materials

and artisan, Dean Robertson, brings handcrafted jewelry made from salvaged wood others have discarded. Instead of ending up in a landfill, the wood is transformed by Robertson into unique earrings. In 13 years, Robertson has crafted over 80,000 pairs of earrings.

Robertson’s path toward being a full-time artisan was unconventional, but after living in Europe, being homeless, living off the land and finally studying wooden boat building, his jewelry has become his lifeblood. He comes back to the show not just for the buyers, but also because of the team at the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show. After 10 years exhibiting at the show, he said the team there is like family.

If you haven’t been to the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show or haven’t done so recently, Brown recommended adding it to your list. “I would highly recommend the Las Vegas Souvenir & Resort Gift Show, because they also have seminars so that you can learn while you are there. USA-Made, demonstrations on conservation and much more. The show encompasses other aspects than just the vendors themselves,” Brown said.

For more information about the event as well as COVID-19 resources for retailers, visit

© 2020 Clarion Events

Jess Schmidt

Jess brings a creative writing degree and over 16 years of professional writing experience to her role as content marketer for the Great American Media Services and SmartSolutions teams. With her additional background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language and marketing strategy. She moonlights as a contributing writer with Gift Shop Plus from time to time.

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