In honor of the fall Craft Your Commerce series starting next month, we’re showcasing a fresh creative business. Torched, a metalsmithing school and studio, offers jewelry classes and studio space in the Asheville area. Owner Meredith Tibjash sat down with us to share their story and plans for the future. (You can hear more from them about their loan process on the Craft Your Commerce Securing Loans panel discussion!)
Turning Experience into Tangible Dreams
Though it may seem like a rarity, Meredith Tibjash actually went to school for jewelry and metalsmithing – the skills they’re using now. They took their bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and went on to studio assistantships, work studies at different craft schools, and jobs with organizations and businesses similar to their new business: Torched. Meredith shared, “Nora – my partner (and studio manager) – and I have found that we wanted to build a more inclusive community studio space.” They took that desire and their past experience and built their business on a model that puts community first.
Meredith connected with Mountain BizWorks through their longtime friend and now Mountain BizWorks coach, Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith. They took Foundations, the Financial Series, continued coaching with Gwynne and others, and even got their start-up loan through our lending program. At the end of their initial work and planning, they had a strong model and the confidence to move forward. “It was a very surprising point to realize that something that I thought I’ve always wanted to do was actually obtainable. It’s one thing to pipe dream and get excited about this idea of being able to have this craft place where people can come in and learn, and your friends can come in and teach, so that everybody’s sort being taken care of, your community’s good and growing,” they said. “Then to actually be like, ‘Oh wait – I can actually do that.’ It’s exciting.”
Finding Their Audience and Adjusting with Demand
Torched currently offers 4-5 classes per week, and is growing. “We’re still so new, people are just starting to find us. ” said Meredith. “We are definitely picking up steam and gaining traction, which is really wonderful.” Even though Torched is new, they’re already taking input from their community and adjusting accordingly.
Meredith shared, “We started off catering a little bit more towards tourists and quick classes. And then through Instagram, we’ve been finding that a lot more people that have found us are interested in the middle, advanced, and skill-building courses.” Now they’re jumping ahead to meet those needs and building new classes for students to build knowledge. When people said that signing up for a whole weekend wasn’t feasible, they split them into four separate projects. So, those are now offered to adults and children (9+) monthly.
As a former teacher, Meredith hopes to expand their offerings for kids as well: looking to after school programs and homeschool co-ops as possibilities, even hoping to offer state qualified art credits to the latter group.
“I have a lot of friends who all teach slightly different subjects,” Meredith said. This network of creatives and the classroom space at Torched has allowed them to open up so many different kinds of classes already. They only hope to grow from here.
Continued Community at the Core
While neither Meredith or Nora are WNC natives, they’ve adopted this community as their own. Why? Meredith explained that love was the key, “So, Nora moved here, and then I moved here for Nora.” That said, Western North Carolina has a lot of the things that they love: water, mountains, and nature. And they’ve found – and are building – an even stronger community here together, now through Torched.
“It is hard when you’re a start-up and you’re new. People are just learning who you are,” Meredith shared. “But we’re gaining traction and this is only phase one of our plans.” They explained that their future phase two plans – five to ten years down the road – would be to open another space that’s more woodworking and blacksmithing fabrication. This would cater to the needs of 2-D artists who need to make frames or custom displays. “Oh, you need a special pedestal or stand for something? Okay,well come over here and we will build it ourselves,” said Meredith. “And I’ve got friends who know how to [teach the skills]. Everybody wins!”
One great example of how this could work is found within Torched itself. They rented welding spaces from Red Metal’s shop in Waynesville, so they could cut, fabricate, and weld steel. The results include Torched’s welcome desk (complete with burned/torched wood), display tables, and workbenches. It’s a tangible showcase of what this kind of future planning could yield for other creative entrepreneurs.
While that dream is a few years away, they’re also hoping to kickstart a community equity fund soon. Meredith shared, “We want to be able to bring in different communities – anybody who wants to learn and wants to grow and wants to experience the things that we have to offer without having to think about whether or not they can afford it.” The plan includes quality supplies, fair compensation for instructors, and either a sliding scale or fully subsidized classes. Meredith explained that there are certain metalworking processes – like basic cold connections – that need very little: a drill, a hammer, and a steel surface. They said, “You don’t need a lot of tools to be able to do quite a number of different things. You’ll be able to learn here, and then you can take those skills home.”
Advice from One New Business to Another
While Torched is new, the idea, passion, and skills behind it have been growing for Meredith and Nora for years. When asked what advice Meredith has for other start-ups, they thought and then said, “Ask lots of questions. And do at least one thing a day.” They continued, “Every time I’ve asked a question I’ve never been disappointed. Because especially with a company like Mountain BizWorks, if you don’t have the answer you have this whole network of other people who are going to find the answer for you – so ask the question.”
And for the one thing a day, they mean just that. Make a list. Pick something from the list you have the energy and knowledge to do, and check it off. It’s simple, but effective advice.
They also take a collaborative, question-first approach to the craft community specifically as well. Meredith said, “None of this is new – you’re not reinventing the wheel. This has been done for generations and generations – share the knowledge so that we can keep going.”