Truth time: our kid has a roomful of stuffed animals and, sometimes, we’re jealous. Enter Vancouver-based lifestyle company Makeship, a crowdfunding platform that co-creates plushies with creators for their fans. From stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race to famous pets and popular gamers, Makeship enables creators to express themselves through custom plushies and bring a personal touch to their fans. Creators design their plushie, and fans crowdfund to bring them to life. We chatted with CEO and co-founder Rakan Al-Shawaf to find out how it works, what he thinks about the emerging “kidult” demographic and what some of Makeship’s most popular campaigns and plushies have been. —Noa Nichol
Hi Rakan! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
I was born in Toronto to Syrian immigrants who had only recently arrived in Canada. My dad was a serial entrepreneur and worked relentlessly to support our family and build his own career path. I always took inspiration from that as a kid, and it led to my own interest in entrepreneurship. We moved around a lot growing up—everywhere from Jeddah, Dubai and Ontario—and I walked away from each location with a new perspective. The runway for my career really started when I took a gap year from university and traveled to Shenzhen, China. That’s where I started my first venture, and that’s where I began to lay the foundation for my current company, Makeship. I am, and always will be, an entrepreneur at heart. I believe the possibilities in entrepreneurship are endless, and I’m devoted to building companies that have a clear impact and that people are genuinely excited to be a part of.
For those who don’t know, what is Makeship? When and why did you launch it? What niche were/are you aiming to fill?
Makeship is a crowdfunding platform that provides a new, innovative way for content creators to build their brand, make a living, and connect with their loyal fanbase. We empower small-to-medium sized influencers, creators and brands to launch limited edition products that matter to their fans. While building my first company in China, I realized that custom product creation and dropshipping is not only a challenge for e-commerce stores, but small-to-medium sized content creators and social media influencers. I knew I wanted to find a way to bridge this gap. That’s where I came up with Makeship. I want to help the world transition into the creator economy by supporting creatives who want to stay true to their brand while also making a sustainable living. So far, we’ve held over 1,000 campaigns and distributed over $4.9M to independent creators to help them fuel their passions.
How does Makeship work? Please take us through the process step-by-step!
At the core, Makeship is a collaboration between our team and content creators from all kinds of genres—from celebrity pets, comics, gamers and LGBTQ2S+. We work with creators to design a custom product of their very own (oftentimes a plushie version of their brand or character) and support them through a 21-day crowdfunding campaign to bring the item to life. Creators tap into their devoted fan bases and market the plushie as a limited-edition merch item. Once the campaign ends, we know exactly how many products to make and facilitate its production and shipment to fans worldwide.
You talk about a new (and growing) cohort of shoppers: the “Kidult.” Who is in this group, and why do you think this trend is on the rise?
The rise of the “Kidult” was well underway pre-pandemic, but lockdowns and changing consumer habits really fuelled its growth. Adults are increasingly looking for a sense of nostalgia, and during the pandemic they turned to childhood comforts like stuffed toys, games or collectors items as a means of escape or to de-stress. There’s clearly a desire among adults to recapture youth and playfulness, and it’s led to new opportunities for brands of all kinds to develop products for people of all ages. Simultaneously, the pandemic sped up a shift toward the creator economy. Nowadays, a successful influencer isn’t limited to the so-called “A-listers” with massive followings. In fact, influencers with smaller followings tend to have the most engaged audiences. At Makeship, our partners largely cater to the older “Kidult” demographic who are looking for ways to connect and support the creators they love. In a way, Makeship is bringing these two trends together. We’re tapping into the kids-at-heart with plushies and other playful products, and combining it with the content creators that adults engage with on social media.
How do you plan to reinvent the creator economy with plushies? And, how do you help creators grow their business? Why is this important to you?
For creators of a certain size (say, less than 250K on socials), you don’t get the attention from large companies or brands, and often can’t risk creating a custom product or merchandise yourself. I’ve heard so many heartwarming stories from our past creators, many of which have been able to buy their own homes and pay off debts from the money they earn through our Makeship campaigns. There’s also something to be said about authenticity here. Many creators are forced to rely on third-party sponsorships and inauthentic advertising plays to make a living. They’re selling products that aren’t their own, and for many creators, it can make them feel fatigued and inauthentic—and fans notice that too. Influencer fatigue is a real thing, and it’s clear to brands and consumers alike that staying true to yourself and your audience is important and valuable. I have a deep passion for helping small businesses thrive and be independent and true to themselves as possible, and that’s what I maintain with our missions at Makeship.
What have been some of the most popular campaigns and plushies? We have to know: which has been your personal favourite?
Some of our most popular campaigns include JoCat (an animator whose primary outlet is YouTube), Dawko (a well-known gamer and Twitch streamer), and Juno Birch (a British drag queen and YouTuber). But it changes all the time! We have dozens of new campaigns starting every month, and it always amazes me to see the range of creatives that collaborate with us and do so successfully. My personal favorite was our Berd Glow in the Dark plushie, which was launched by a super niche meme comic account on Facebook. I find Berd’s content absolutely hilarious. He was also a super small content creator at the time, so it really surprised us how well he did. Since his campaign, I actually had the chance to meet Berd in person, and it’s been lovely getting to know him.
Win! A Makeship Prize Pack!
Congrats Katie K. of Richmond Hill, ON, who will receive a Makeship Prize Pack, including:
- 1 Makeship Fiya Plushie
- Makeship bag
- 1 $100 Makeship (USD) gift card
Please note: if you are the winner, you will receive a DM (direct message) in Instagram directly from @vitadaily.ca. Please be wary of fake accounts, which often use similar handles with an extra or missing letter, number or symbol. We will never ask for a payment or for your credit card number, and we will never ask you to click through a link. If you are unsure whether you have been contacted, via Instagram, by us or a fake account, email us before responding.