When we perused the country for our inaugural group of American Made Honorees, we couldn’t help but get fired up over the work and passion of Alisa Toninato, a metal designer based in Madison, WI. As much a creative artist as she is a savvy business owner, Alisa founded FeLion Studios in 2010 and has been shipping state-shaped cast-iron skillets from her Made in America series nationwide. Here, she shares what’s new and what’s next.
Tell us about your American Made experience.
Being nationally acknowledged and chosen by American’s #1 maker – Martha Stewart – and then celebrating this with my fellow Honorees was like gaining clarity of my own craft and being able to see beyond the daily grind. I came back from my time in Manhattan like a warrior enlightened by the inspiration of my fellow Honorees. It was an invaluable opportunity to share a hotel and five days with remarkable people from all over the US who have really honed their craft and business approaches.
I cherished our time together and the incredible synergy we all had with each other. My inaugural class became a very special tribe for me over those five days together. We shared candid stories of our growing pains, business moves and creative destinies. I got tremendous insight from this casual exchange and truly feel like our shared public and social outings produced something incredibly powerful among us that we will ride across our career paths.
What did the weeks following the awards event look like at FeLion Studios?
From the minute we returned home in October through late December, I had one of the most intense production schedules of my career! We created 106 new castings for orders of the state-shaped skillets, which we hand-seasoned and shipped all across the US. With the help of my incredible artisan network and five new interns, we pulled off three iron pours in three different states within the course of a month and a half.
It was incredibly cool and surreal to start receiving calls from people all over the country who just wanted to tell me that they think what we’re doing has inspired them, or that they ordered a pan for someone special in their lives. I heard stories of heirloom cast-iron pans, favorite dishes to make in cast-iron pans and seasoning secrets. I received compliments from trades people and interest from local newspapers, advertising companies and other magazines. It was a trip! The positive exposure in Living definitely inspired not only a new customer base but also businesses and retailers requesting other custom design works.
Talk about a busy holiday season! What are you up to this spring?
I’m beginning to find a niche with restaurants and other commercial ventures looking for design help. Because I’m also developing a commercial line with Cook With Pride (my other company) and working closely with American industrial cast iron manufacturers, I’m able to help facilitate the means of generating cast iron cookware design and then match them with a manufacturer that will fit their product and inventory needs.
I really love working with new teams and helping develop products that require a fresh sense of fun and creativity to a very old process and utilitarian material. Being connected to the industry has afforded me the confidence to open new doors and grow ideas beyond the capabilities of what I alone can produce here at FeLion.
What’s next for FeLion?
I’m looking forward to a few commissions this year, including a 16-foot cast iron logo to be made for the side of a Madison-area brewery! FeLion will be pouring the serving ware for a new restaurant in late Spring. Most of my time will be primarily directed toward Cook With Pride – developing the final designs, managing our manufacturing needs and establishing distribution outlets.
Any advice for budding artisans?
Owning your own business is extremely gratifying and exhausting at the same time. As an entrepreneur, you must trust your gut and have the grit to stand your ground amidst external doubt, setbacks and unexpected challenges.
Know that the learning curve is part of the strength and backbone of your company. Every little accomplishment and growing pain that you get through translates into knowledge, control and ownership. Because you’ll be wearing many hats – learning about bookkeeping, state laws, contracts, leadership and more – you will eventually graduate through many levels of “having a handle on it.” A big help in keeping from burning out right away is staying organized and not taking on projects that go too far beyond your skill level and passion.
Join our American Made conversation by following @americanmademsl on Instagram or emailing us your own American Made story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kelsey Mirando is an Editorial Assistant in Books and Special Projects at Martha Stewart. She’s endlessly inspired by art, travel, and life in the Big Apple. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kmirando.