RISD promoting alumni bizs

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the Rhode Island School of Design has launched an online platform for alumni-owned businesses that puts the school at the head of the class locally in helping graduates generate sales.

Launched Nov. 10, RISDMade is a compilation of links to 115 online businesses run by RISD alumni who sell art online.

The school hopes to gain “more exposure” for alumni operating businesses both domestically and internationally, said Christina Hartley, RISD director of alumni relations.

In July the alumni relations department began approaching alumni for inclusion and put out a broader call in August.

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Most of the 10 other Rhode Island degree-granting colleges and universities promote alumni-owned businesses to various degrees, but not as specifically as RISD.

Several said they promote accomplishments of alumni-owned businesses via social media and school publications, curate extensive alumni directories or invite specific individuals to campus to speak with students.

Prior to RISDMade’s launch, the school had marketed alumni-owned businesses via RISD’s media department and social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram); an Etsy group; as well as RISD Works, a Providence-based retail store selling RISD faculty-, student- and alumni-made products; an annual craft sale on Benefit Street in Providence; and websites profiling alumni participating in design weeks in New York City, Miami and Milan, Italy.

RISDMade expands on those efforts by allowing the Greater RISD community and others access to an encyclopedia-style compendium of RISD alumni artists without needing to shop in Providence.

Hartley said RISD is eager to strike “a balance” between honoring its handmade roots, promoting selling locally while keeping up with the increasingly digital marketplace of the 21st century.

In-person craft fairs will continue, she said, but the department will also track how individuals “weigh in on this [new] site, watch trends online and see if there’s an opportunity to grow [platforms like RISDMade].”

Because of the artist-centric focus and maker ethos of its alumni, Hartley believes RISD may be more suitable for advanced alumni-owned business profiling than other schools.

Edwin Pacheco, interim vice president of college advancement and external relations and executive director of the Rhode Island College Foundation, said RIC does some promotion of alumni businesses but commended RISDMade as something RIC would “entertain very seriously in the future” as it updates internal technology.

Elana Carello, a 1984 RISD alumna and owner of Cranston-based Elana Carello Sweaters, has been a vendor at RISD’s annual holiday crafts show at the R.I. Convention Center in past years and welcomes the new online platform.

“They are acknowledging there are alumni out there that should be supported,” she said.