Knoxville Weekend Feature: Creative Manufacturing

Video produced by Knoxville Weekend

Written by Susan Alexander

There’s a lot of buzz these days about Knoxville’s creative manufacturers and connecting them with the architects and designers who oversee new construction or retrofit old structures. It’s the same sort of buzz that surrounded the farm-to-table movement when restaurants began sourcing their ingredients locally.

So what is creative manufacturing? Essentially it’s being able to make handmade products on a scale that can be incorporated into architectural design. It might mean being able to create signs out of metal or a conference table from wood or chandeliers from glass.

Chandelier at elkmont.jpg

Derek White creates custom pieces out of metal and other materials at Bird on the Wire Studio in East Knoxville. You can see his sculptures at Ijams Nature Center, light fixtures at Elkmont Exchange and outdoor signage at Sugarlands Distilling Co.

“I always wanted to be sculptor, an artist, and creative manufacturing provided me a platform,” White said. “I love working with local businesses. Most I’ve been blessed to work with have brought me on board as a team member rather than just someone they’re hiring. They share their vision and let me become part of that. They give me permission to pick their brains and be creative and thoughtful. People like Elkmont come and say we need all these elements, what can you do to extend our brand. I know their budget, and I’m able to see those visions come to fruition.”

“I think it’s very difficult to have an authentic vibe when you’re buying things out of a big box store,” said Knoxville entrepreneur and real estate developer Joe Fox, who’s a partner in Elkmont Exchange. “Local makers add authenticity.

“Local makers were a major piece in putting Elkmont Exchange together. It had a quarter-of-a-million-dollar impact to local makers. Pieces were made by local makers to create that vibe,” he said.


“From day one we’ve used local makers, and even today as we expand at our distillery, we’re including local makers in that plan,” said Brent Thompson with Sugarlands Distilling. “We’ve used metal fabricators and graphic designers and videographers. They’ve all created something that serves a purpose for the business.

“You can buy anything online but there’s something missing, and that’s heart.”