"Makeship taps into a market that really isn’t being supported like it should be," says Rakan Al-Shawaf CEO and co-founder of a Vancouver-based company that helps small to medium content creators develop and produce merchandise often in the form of stuffed toys.
"We collaborate with a creator to design a unique product (often 'Plushies') for their fans, and support them through a 21-day crowdfunding campaign to fund the production and shipment of their product to their fans worldwide," he tells Vancouver Is Awesome.
So far, Makeship has worked with over 1,000 creators and created over 600,000 limited-edition products.
"It might not seem like an obvious choice for a product-based company, but Plushies have continued to be a popular item for creators to provide to their fans. We heard so many stories from creators about how the option is rarely available, rarely customizable and, if it was, the process required too much risk for them to take on manufacturing and shipping out," he says.
Al-Shawaf believes that brands tend to only offer sponsorship and product opportunities to the “A-listers” of social media, which makes it difficult for the smaller content creators to build their brand and earn a living. That combined with the ever-shifting ever-elusive algorithm shifts control away from creators who struggle to get their content seen and monetized.
When the business began in 2018, a creator needed to be of a certain size to be able to sell enough products and fund their campaign, but since then, Al-Shawaf says they've been able to scale Makeship to allow for lower minimum order quantities, which has allowed them to work with smaller creators.
Plushies for gamers, Drag Race stars, and artist Abitoads
But each campaign is different and Al-Shawaf says, "each creator we work with comes from a different genre, meaning the market or demographic who’d be keen on buying a Plushie would reflect that. It’s quite a diverse scope. We see a big desire from fans of popular gamers or video game brands, but we’ve also partnered with quite a few past contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race."
Makeship has also partnered with artist Abigail Roberts who is better known on social media as Abitoads. Roberts draws fantastical nature scenes that resemble something from Studio Ghibli and feature characters she has created called mushlings. Two of her mushroom pals have been made into Plushies so far and she says she has more planned.
"One of the earlier products I made of my art was a blanket that had my 'mushling' characters all over it. I figured my audience was interested in having something comforting and cute, so why not build on that and give them a Plushie to hug and snuggle," Roberts describes.
"All of my products are things I would want for myself, and if I thought having a mushling Plushie would be a dream come true for me, I was sure my followers would think the same," she says, adding that her fans "come from all walks of life, but I find they’re just as interested in nature and fantasy creators as me. They all seem to find happiness and comfort in my art, and a lot of them just want to squeeze and hold a mushling in-person, and offering these little plush toys gave them that opportunity."
How fans fuel the Makeship community
Roberts has almost 399,000 followers on Instagram and over 229,000 on TikTok. When she first approached Makeship she only had 10,000 but was still able to find her first mushling stuffed toy by 1425 per cent. Leading up to the campaign she would create animations and videos featuring the plush toys. "I worked hard to promote it in a way that fit with the rest of my posts, and even created new art pieces of the Plushie to make it exciting for my fans and more than just an ad for a product," she recalls.
"We’re community makers because we’re fuelled by fans. Al-Shawaf says that Makeship has become embedded into all sorts of online communities. People who have loved a past campaign make suggestions for other creators who should make a plush toy and some make a point of collecting as many campaigns as they can. "That, to me, speaks to the ecosystem we’re a part of," he shares.
"We want our creator partners to be as creative as they can be! We want them to customize to their heart's desire, so they can best represent what will resonate with their brand and their fans. Sometimes that customization means they’re creating a Plushie that represents a character on their platforms, an emotion, a memory or even a joke. Fan bases come in all shapes and sizes, and when you spread that across genres like gaming, animation, LGBTQ2S+, and celebrity pets, you end up with super unique, one-of-a-kind Plushies that fans instantly recognize and love."