Artist, Local Business Owner Wins Award
By Sean Sullivan
Local artist Eujin Kim Neilan almost missed a most-important missive.
Notified via email that she had won an award sponsored by the state of Massachusetts, the Natick resident and business owner initially overlooked the message.
You’ve qualified for… You’re one of the lucky winners who… Congratulations! You’ve been selected… Such is the subject-line language of senders trying to break through the defenses we’ve all erected against their digital deluge. Electronic mail that is of real concern to us comes camouflaged amid a cacophony of retail offers, promotions, and political pitches.
It’s the story of the email inbox that cried winner. And always mindful of our limited time and bandwith, our default setting is skepticism. Among the seldom-receding flood of fundraising and sales emails, it’s easy to miss that one message in a bottle, bobbing in the flotsam. Luckily for Neilan, the senders followed up by floating a second.
That was an email informing Neilan that her venture, “Uni-T,” had been among the roster of regional businesses chosen to receive a manufacturing award from the state.
The citation is granted by the Massachusetts Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, a group comprised of more than 60 Massachusetts legislators drawn from throughout the state. Working since 2014, the group advocates for manufacturing interests in the Commonwealth.
The caucus grants the award to Massachusetts-based businesses that innovate, inspire and are part of a sector that’s cornerstone to the state economy. Businesses honored with the award range vastly in the scope and substance of their manufacturing. Uni-T is essentially a one-person operation, but shared space in the awards spotlight with giants like Pfizer, New Balance and Moderna. Neilan refers to her venture as a “micro-business,” a term she uses to distinguish artists and artisans seeking success and satisfaction among a field of businesses large and small.
“It’s just me,” she said, reflecting in her shop a few weeks after receiving the accolade. Uni-T was awarded by the manufacturing caucus for “entrepreneurship, artisanry, and community engagement.”
In an event held in Worcester this year, the annual awards have been part of the manufacturing caucus’ mission since its inception. Neilan attended the in-person ceremony on September 28th to receive the award, which now hangs proudly and prominently beside her workstation at the shop.
An email Neilan received from Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka touched on why the Natick shop was being cited.
“I have long noticed and appreciated the wonderful work you have been doing for years…” it read. “producing eco-friendly shirts and generally promoting ‘made in Massachusetts’ handcrafted products that emphasize the environment and well-being.”
Uni-T is a venue for local artisans and artists, which has offered an eclectic mix of hand-made works of art in Natick for more than ten years. A longtime children’s book illustrator and visual artist, Neilan began printing her artwork onto T-shirts by hand a decade ago. These she originally offered at Natick’s farmers markets, and the business has grown from there.
Uni-T soon expanded to a store located in the Natick Mall, and began welcoming other local artists to sell their wares in the shop/studio space. The store soon became a magnet for local makers wishing to sell their art, and a market for customers seeking something different and sometimes unique.
The store has recently relocated to a retail spot near its Natick Common roots - a small shop situated on Court Street, within sight of the white farmers market tents that spring up Saturday mornings during warmer seasons.
“I felt really honored,” said Neilan of the award. “It is such an honor and joy to be awarded by doing what I love to do. I feel like I’m receiving this on behalf of all the artists and makers of Massachusetts.”