Income & Employment / 2013

Streetcraft: where street hustlers and tag bangers become creative economy entrepreneurs

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by SBCC Thrive LA

July 13, 2012, The Los Angeles Times Business section: “Recession Erases 2.7 Million Youth Jobs, Widens Employment Gap.” If we didn’t know this already, the headline of the article reminds us that youth unemployment is one of the largest social issues facing Los Angeles. The current unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is 16.5% -- double the national 8.2%. More than 2 in 10 Latino youth are jobless, while 3 in 10 black youth are unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of us—do-gooders, funders, policy makers—assume that the answer to youth unemployment is pretty straight forward: hope the economy gets better and provide kids training and education to help them get jobs when it does. Streetcraft LA has a different approach to youth unemployment. We don’t provide education and training to help young people get jobs. We provide education and training to empower youth to create their own jobs. Streetcraft empowers low income, at risk, and unemployed youth to improve their economic future through creative economy entrepreneurship. Don’t get the wrong idea—we are not talking about lemonade stands or bake sales. We especially support youth in building creative sector small businesses in three categories: apparel, design, and creative services. Why is this our strategy? Entrepreneurship and the creative economy are the future. The factories are closed, pensions are dead, and design studios are hiring freelancers. And this self-made creative economy is a natural fit for our kids. Streetcraft kids have a lot of creative capacity, energy and hustle that is being misapplied as graffiti on, well, the side of your building. How do we help kids create their own jobs in the creative economy? Streetcraft LA’s approach to launching creative micro-ventures is a three-step model we call engage, partner, launch. First, we engage youth misapplying their creative capacity through graffiti in a training and youth development program we call The Streetcraft Crew. Crew is a yearlong program taught by well-known street artists that empowers at-risk kids to see themselves as artists, designers, and entrepreneurs. Crew functions not only as a positive intervention in the life of at risk youth but functions as a Streetcraft human resources department sourcing the true talent that is ready for step two, a formal paid apprenticeship in Streetcraft LA's retail platform and design studio. Streetcraft LA operates a retail store in Los Angeles that showcases collaboratively designed and produced products and original apparel. Youth are formal partners in this social venture working with Streetcraft’s lead designer to design custom furniture and original apparel such as hoodies, lids, and t-shirts. Over a one-year period, Streetcraft partners are exposed to the product design process including market research, sales, marketing and promotion, distribution platforms and retail management through both direct instruction by industry professionals and experiential learning. Streetcraft partners are paid and also receive a percentage of all sales. Streetcraft partners are also required and supported to complete high school and attend relevant higher education while enrolled. After a year partnership, Streetcraft youth enter a process to launch their own creative micro enterprise. Youth can choose to enter a business planning process in one of three creative sectors: apparel, product design, and creative services. Youth are paired with industry mentors and attend lectures on product development, market analysis, financing and organization development. At the conclusion of the year planning process, youth pitch their venture to a group of funders including banking partners such as Wells Fargo.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Streetcraft LA is a new social venture of the South Bay Center for Community Development (SBCC). SBCC is a long-standing non-profit organization that has been working to empower low-income communities in the greater Los Angeles area since 1976. SBCC has a long history of being one of those do-gooders that operates job-training programs to mitigate unemployment. The organization’s career pathway programs have been recognized by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles as a national best practice and were awarded a Everychild grant (one of the most competitive grants in LA) to apply its model to unemployed at risk youth. In addition, the organization founded the Urban Teacher Fellowship, an initiative that moves underrepresented groups into the teaching profession funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; and The Promo Pathway, a career pathway funded by The James Irvine Foundation and recognized by The Aspen Institute as a national best practice. In doing this work, however, we came to believe that job training wasn’t good enough. We needed to train entrepreneurs who can create their own jobs. So a team of us launched Streetcraft LA as a related, but autonomous social venture to train and incubate youth-led micro ventures.

Streetcraft is currently testing its core components and theory of change in a proof of concept pilot state funded the James Irvine Foundation. Guided by our board of directors, the focus of this planning stage was to test three assumptions critical to our model: marginalized youth engaged in graffiti culture or other illicit entrepreneur activities have talents that can be re-directed; a process of engagement can be created including partnerships with public systems and community based social networks; and youth’s talents can be monetized and professionalized. Streetcraft has piloted its model with 50 Streetcraft fellows, referred through probation and other community-based networks, who went through a work based contextualized learning experience and developed products for a retail store located on main street, Santa Monica. During this pilot period 100% of participants completed the pilot and 85% percent increased their annual income by 50%.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Streetcraft has a number of strategic partners. First, we will work the public and social sector to refer youth into the program. Future referral partners will be youth development community based organizations seeking career opportunities for marginalized young people such as the boys and girls club, home boys INC. and other CBOs. In addition, Streetcraft is currently partnering with the department of probation to receive a court-mandated placement for youth arrested for graffiti.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Streetcraft has identified metrics to measure impact. To measure participant level economic impact, we will track participants’ earned income through product sales and micro venture profits. To measure personal and professional skill development we will administer pre/post assessments of basic skills, personal resiliency (University of Pennsylvania GRIT assessment) and professional skills (adobe certification). To measure community level impact, specifically decreases in graffiti, unemployment, and illicit street activities, we will work with local law enforcement to measure localized arrests for graffiti, calls for local graffiti “clean up,” arrests for drug dealing, and local unemployment rates collected by the State Department of Labor.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Only 25% of participants in most job training programs increase their annual wages (Jobs for the Future). Over 85% of Streetcraft youth triple their annual income. Within five years Streetcraft will spread this impact throughout Los Angeles county, becoming a countywide initiative with retail hubs in 20 locations working with over 20,000 young people a year. These retail hubs will house our engagement programming, apprenticeships, and provide a commercial marketplace for products designed by streetcraft artists as well as engage 1000 students a year. Our engagement programming will reduce graffiti and illicit street enterprises; the apprenticeship program will increase youth’s annual income and provide concrete technical skills and work experience; and the micro venture program will increase the annual income of students by 50%. Finally, communities where streetcraft hubs are located will see youth unemployment decrease by 5%.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Streetcraft’s vision for success in 2050 is ambition: reduce youth unemployment through creative economy entrepreneurship by 25% in Los Angeles. It’s imperative that we achieve this. Youth unemployment has long term and systemic consequences. Unemployed youth face lifelong diminished economic and social opportunity. Communities with high youth unemployment have higher crime rates and have higher rates of birth out of wedlock. And a country with high youth un-employment suffers. The tax base erodes. Civic engagement and trust in government decreases. And entitlement programs become unsustainable. It’s not a pretty picture; it is an issue that we must solve now, and Streetcraft LA can lead the way.