On Tuesday, Madewell and the non-profit Nest launched the second iteration of their Hometown Heroes Collective, a project that sees the brands partnering with small artisanal companies to help give them a boost in visibility and scale. From ceramics to jewelry, products made by these artisans can be bought from Madewell’s online store. I spoke to Joyce Lee, Madewell’s head of design, about the collective and Madewell’s partnership strategy.

Why did you decide to do a second iteration of the Hometown Heroes program?
We first launched our Hometown Heroes program in 2010, and since day one, it’s served as a way for us to support makers by giving them the opportunity to connect with Madewell customers. We host hundreds of events each year, where we invite local makers to sell their goods in our stores. We love the energy they bring to our store experience and that we can introduce our customers to the creatives we admire. This year, we took the program to the next level by launching the Hometown Heroes Collective in March in partnership with Nest. The Collective has allowed us to deepen our support of maker entrepreneurs by giving them exposure to our entire customer base and tools to grow their businesses, such as professional product photography, mentorship from our team members and grants. Each year, we will introduce four Hometown Heroes Collective classes. My team and I work closely with Nest to identify these promising artisans, based on craftsmanship, innovation and individuality in their work. We’ve already seen huge success with the artisans from the first class. The response from our customers has been fantastic.

How does the program fit into your overall strategy?
Madewell is committed to championing creativity and being a destination of discovery for our customers. Through the Hometown Heroes Collective, we‘re able to not only support local makers across the U.S., but also introduce unique and sometimes one-of-a-kind pieces by up-and-coming makers to our customers, driving excitement and engagement. Since the start of the program, we’ve found it to be an excellent way for us to connect with local markets and align with key creatives that will introduce our brand to their network.

What do you look for in a collaborator?
Our collaborations and partnerships start organically with brands we admire, wear or use. We gravitate toward brands that have a clear point of view, whether in design or mission, and make sure that our collaborations showcase and celebrate that. We’ve found partnerships to be a great way for us to introduce ourselves to new customers, as well as offer new and unexpected goods to our current customers. We’re also always looking for ways to reach different and new aspects of our customers’ lives. An ideal collaborator for us offers new and exciting products we know our customers will love, while also remaining true to our values and design aesthetic.