create Winner / 2014

Streetcraft LA

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

Streetcraft empowers low income, at risk, and unemployed youth to improve their economic future through creative economy entrepreneurship.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Streetcraft empowers low income, at risk, and unemployed youth to improve their economic future through creative economy entrepreneurship.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Most approaches to youth unemployment are essentially the same: provide kids training and education to help them get jobs. Streetcraft LA has a different approach to youth unemployment. We provide education and training to empower youth to create their own jobs, their own network of professional peers, and their own apparel brands and creative services micro ventures. Entrepreneurship and the creative economy are the future. The factories are closed and design studios are hiring freelancers. This self-made creative economy is a natural fit for our kids. Streetcraft kids have a lot of creative capacity, energy and hustle, and only need the connections, positive peer support, and focused skill development to put those qualities to work.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

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, and launch. First, we engage youth who are on a path leading to dropout, unemployment, and juvenile justice involvement—or who are already 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, by building the design and production skills needed for creative economy entrepreneurship, and by developing the character traits and peer relationships needed to effectively apply those skills to entrepreneurship and ongoing education. Crew functions not only as a positive intervention in the life of at risk youth, but also serves as the 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 the heart of Santa Monica’s vibrant Main Street shopping district 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 learn 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 receive a percentage of all sales. Streetcraft partners are also required and supported to complete high school and attend relevant higher education including certificate and degree programs while enrolled.

After this one-year partnership, Streetcraft youth enter a process to launch their own creative micro-enterprise. Youth can choose to enter a business planning process in apparel, product design, or creative services. Youth are paired with industry mentors and attend lectures and one-on-one work sessions on product development, market analysis, financing and organization development. Youth completing this process have the opportunity to pitch their venture to a pool of funders convened by SBCC.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County during June 2014 stood at 8.2%–significantly higher than the statewide rate of 7.4%. Given the ratio between overall unemployment rates, and rates for youth ages 16-19 in recent years, this leads us to estimate a youth unemployment rate in LA County of more than 28%.

According to a study published by Jobs for the Future, only 25% of participants in most job training programs increase their annual wages. Over 85% of Streetcraft youth increase their annual income. Within ten 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. Our engagement programming will reduce graffiti and illicit street enterprises; the apprenticeship program will increase youths’ 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%.

Streetcraft’s vision for success in 2050 is ambitious: reduce youth unemployment by 25% through creative economy entrepreneurship. We believe that by targeting youth unemployment, we can dramatically impact other key indicators in the LA2050 metrics: arts establishments per capita increase when new workforce cohorts see the arts as a key component of their own creative entrepreneurship. Jobs per capita increase more dramatically through a strategy that targets the disproportionately unemployed youth population. And given the demographic profile of the majority of youth with whom we work, such a strategy will lead to an increase in the number of minority-owned firms, and to a more equitable distribution of income and opportunities. With its emphasis on degree and certificate programs for participants, we believe that Streetcraft also represents an effective means of re-engaging youth who have disconnected from higher education, increasing the recruiting and retention rates at local colleges and universities and, by building jobs for the graduates, increasing the number of them who remain in LA County.

Whom will your project benefit?

Juan was arrested when he was 15 for running a 25-person drug ring. When Streetcraft’s co-founder Jonathan met Juan he was 18 years old, out of jail, trying to change his life, but he was hopeless. Juan told Jonathan that he had no skills or talents. Jonathan categorically disagreed. “No skills? 25 person drug ring?” he said. “You’re an entrepreneur, but we got to get you another product.”

Streetcraft works with kids like Juan: low income, marginalized youth who have disconnected from school and the workforce, and who are at risk for misapplying their creativity and getting busted. Increasingly, our outreach program has developed the capacity to target these young people before they become involved with the justice system, reaching them at the point where school failure, unemployment, and lack of positive direction first begin to create barriers and challenges. Our outreach works in tandem with SBCC’s countywide community organizing project, which has operated for more than a decade and currently mobilizes more than 100 neighborhood groups throughout the county. These groups are located in neighborhoods that share common characteristics including: pluralities of African American and/or Hispanic/Latino residents, high rates of family poverty and youth unemployment, high rates of high school dropout, and large numbers of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Our years of relationship-building with these groups of resident leaders give us the capacity to reach youth in this key demographic group throughout L.A. County through direct, neighbor-to-neighbor outreach, rather than relying on expensive and often unreliable mass media approaches, or working through social service agencies. Youth in Streetcraft thus reside in low-income, under-resourced neighborhoods throughout the county, but share common traits in addition to challenges with education and employment: most are African American or Hispanic/Latino; the great majority live in families with incomes at 200% or less of federal poverty level; many speak a language other than English at home; and most have parents who did not attend college, and in many cases did not graduate high school.

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 with our network of Neighborhood Action Councils (NACs) to refer youth into the program. Future referral partners will include youth development community based organizations seeking career opportunities for marginalized young people such as the Boys & Girls Club, YMCAs, and others. In addition, Streetcraft is currently developing a partnership with LAPD in several key neighborhoods to work with youth being released into the community from juvenile detention facilities. Lastly, Streetcraft’s model is contingent upon utilizing workforce investment funds, and has worked since its inception to engage local workforce investment boards interested in entrepreneurship as an ongoing sustainable funding source.

SBCC has also made a commitment to leveraging resources provided by philanthropic and public-sector partners to support the goals of Streetcraft while meeting the needs of these funders. Support from the James Irvine Foundation for youth re-engagement strategies, and from the California Wellness Foundation for youth violence prevention, have both been instrumental in the development and piloting of the Streetcraft strategy, and will continue to form an indispensable source of support for the program. SBCC’s Family Support program, funded by the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Resources, allows the program to provide ongoing social support services to Streetcraft participants, including counseling, coaching, and referrals for mental and primary healthcare, housing assistance, transportation assistance, childcare, and other critical needs.

SBCC is currently building collaborations with higher education institutions including UCLA, the Design Center, Cerritos College, Santa Monica College, CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Long Beach, and others, in order to increase opportunities for internship and directed study, as well as college credit-bearing workshops and classes on-site at Streetcraft.

In all of our partnerships, philosophical alignment is the critical elements. The Streetcraft venture has a set of deeply held core values: every person has strengths and talents that need to be respected and placed at the center of any plan to train, educate, and support that person. All of our partners share this commitment to the intrinsic worth of our participants.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Jobs per capita
  • Minority- and women-owned firms
  • Gini coefficient
  • Number of high-growth startups
  • Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Streetcraft LA is an initiative that is designed specifically to increase the number of minority youth led and owned micro ventures in the Los Angeles area. The program model specifically recruits young people who have an entrepreneurial spirit and aspirations and provides the technical skills to translate their raw creativity into a marketable product and then provides the professional mentoring and social capital to turn their product into a viable business plan. In addition Streetcraft bridges the barrier of social capital that faces marginalized young people striving to become successful entrepreneurs and grow their business, by intentionally providing access to funding and a platform in which these micro ventures can find financing and other professional services to launch their initiative

A secondary, but equally important aspect of Streetcraft’s impact is preparing marginalized young people to enter the broader creative economy of Los Angeles. Research by Otis College of Art and Design has demonstrated that minority young people and at-risk youth face significant disadvantages and barriers to entering traditional employment in the creative economy. Coursework in traditional high school and college settings that would prepare young people with the technical skills to enter the creative industries are often inaccessible to these young people without significant financial investment, and with academic prerequisites creating additional barriers.

Creative young people often find themselves failing school and lacking access to the experiences that would prepare them for employment in the creative economy. Streetcraft provides an alternative pathway to obtain these skills. While its core mission is to incubate and launch micro-ventures, we are realistic that most entrepreneurial strategies and mico-ventures fail. An important secondary outcome of our work will be that Streetcraft partners find placement in ongoing educational pathways, internships, and more traditional jobs in Los Angeles’ vibrant and growing creative economy.

Finally, Streetcraft is initiating a strategy to work with incarcerated youth re-entering their home communities. These young people often have few productive outlets for their creative capacities, and few real opportunities to secure the educational success, employment, and economic self-sufficiency that are the key predictors of successfully avoiding recidivism. Streetcraft provides these outlets, and opportunities.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

SBCC will work with independent evaluators, Dr. Todd Franke and Dr. Jorja Leap of UCLA, both of whom have extensive experience evaluating the impact of community-based youth development and workforce development initiatives for clients including First 5 LA, the LA County Department of Children and Family Services, The California Wellness Foundation, and SBCC’s own adult career development programs.

Streetcraft has identified metrics to measure participant-level economic impact, tracking 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 (including Adobe certification and other industry-approved or academically relevant certificates). 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.

Our team of evaluators will also design survey, interview, and focus group evaluation instruments based on Dr. Franke’s existing “Protective Factors Survey.” These instruments will measure from baselines established when participants enter Streetcraft, and will re-measure at or near the 6-month and 12-month mark, for five individual, family and community“protective factors”which provide indicators of overall participant well-being, orientation toward future employment and education plans, and reliance on positive peer relationships.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Streetcraft LA is a social venture of the South Bay Center for Community Development (SBCC), a long-standing non-profit organization that has been working to empower low-income communities in the greater Los Angeles area since 1974. Throughout our history, job-training programs have represented a key strategy in this work. Typically, our career pathways have worked by collaborating with employers in a targeted employment sector, supporting participants to receive required training and providing social support toward completion, and then facilitating the hiring and retention process.

However, the lingering effects of the recent recession have created an environment in which this model is less and less suited to youth participants. Competing for jobs with more experienced workers, employed in precarious positions and sectors, and without the breadth of background experience to respond flexibly to changes in the labor market, sector-trained young adults are often at a considerable disadvantage. We have decided that an expanded focus on entrepreneurship coupled with access to and completion of higher education, simply makes more sense for this target population. This decision has informed the design of Streetcraft, with its focus on educational and career skills development in the context of entrepreneurial micro-ventures, secondary education completion and college entry, and its high priority on the development of characterological and community-level resources to support resiliency, soft skills development for overall employability and success in higher education, and technical skills development components that are portable across a broader range of career and educational plans.

The second lesson informing the design of Streetcraft is about the importance of the social factors in youth development, beyond skills-building and education. We learned this lesson when the team that piloted the Streetcraft concept lost one of our most talented participants. His life was a mess, with warrants for his arrest and collection agencies chasing him. He also spent most his time with his old crew. We made a decision after this loss to invest far more heavily in social support, social capital-building, and new community development, which are as important, and often more important, than traditional skill building. Our model now works to create a new crew identity with positive pro-social behaviors that replaces previous social networks.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Streetcraft LA is no longer a startup venture and has already conducted an extensive planning stage to test three assumptions: 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 youths’ talents can be monetized and professionalized. Streetcraft piloted its model with 50 individuals, 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% or more.

This planning and piloting process not only tested key assumptions of the organization’s theory of change but also led to the creation of the core infrastructure that drives the program, as well as a set of best practices for implementation. Streetcraft has secured a long-term lease on its retail store location and is currently selling products from former Streetcraft alumni and supporting their micro-ventures. Additionally, Streetcraft has created a curriculum to support technical and entrepreneurial skill building which has already been developed piloted and tested. A network of informal and formal organizational partnerships to engage new talent is already in place, and work to “build out” our curriclum into college credit-bearing courses is already underway. Lastly Streetcraft has hired implementation staff in the form of a paid full-time Creative Director, a retail store and product incubation manager, and a full-time social support specialist.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Streetcraft LA’s leadership team has conducted extensive Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat (SWOT) analyses that have identified key obstacles. First, Streetcraft’s model is contingent upon creating a network of profitable retail platforms. Given the lack of retail background among the majority of nonprofit leadership staff, this could pose a significant challenge to SBCC’s capacities. We have addressed this challenge by engaging outside technical assistance on retail best practices such as inventory management systems, supply chain management, and wholesale.

Second, many of our artist entrepreneurs, though talented and highly motivated, face significant personal barriers to moving forward in their life. These young people often face challenges with basic skills that are in turn rooted in issues associated with poverty: transportation issues, housing issues, legal issues, family immigration status issues, and sometimes a combination of all of the above. To deal with the social barriers that often get in the way of young people channeling their artistic and entrepreneurial spirit productively, Streetcraft has developed a specific social support plan. This social support model includes leveraging capacities of our contract with LA County DCFS to provide a full-time support specialist who develops relationships with participants, identifies challenges and provides coaching and counseling, as well as referrals to a broad array of community partners for free or low-cost primary health and mental health services, alcohol and substance abuse support, housing and childcare assistance, and other needs.

Lastly, we have had to focus intensely on ensuring that Streetcraft is seen for what it is: a youth arts and design entrepreneurship program, tied directly to street art and Los Angeles youth culture. In order to achieve this, we have had to work against the perception that, because the program is operated by a large non-profit organization, Streetcraft is a “social services” program. To counter this perception we have engaged street art leaders to become board members; partnered with local graffiti “crews”; and most importantly we have developed a set of fiscal licensing agreements that directly benefit the artist/ entrepreneurs.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research