Clever Octopus: Creativity and Sustainability
Interviews & Features
At Clever Octopus, Founders Sheri Gibb and Jen Lopez understand the value of art accessibility in Utah. Oftentimes, materials, classes and workshops can be financially out of reach for beginners, creating an imbalance between creatives who are able to explore their artistic goals and creatives who are held at bay by differences in income. In 2015, Gibb and Lopez created Clever Octopus, a “craft thrift store,” along with their Creative Reuse Centers (CRC) that run on donations and a waste stream-reduction system to provide affordable and accessible art supplies, classes and community for beginners and tenured artists alike.
“We hope that people will see themselves as artists and creative people who can make small changes that prevent waste from going to the landfill by changing their habits and by extending the life of existing materials,” says Gibb. Clever Octopus’ first material donation drive collected 23,300 lbs of art and craft supplies, which led to the opening of their first official CRC in 2017. As the material donation cycle grew, Clever Octopus moved into their current location in South Salt Lake in 2019. “Our community is filled with families and individuals who are downsizing, decluttering or purging, which constitutes about 50% of our donation intake,” says Gibb. “The other 50% comes from businesses and industries striving to decrease their carbon footprint.”
Clever Octopus’ operative method and mission have served our community in preventing waste, and the experience their storefront offers only amplifies their goals. With themed rooms, a consignment shop “Reuse Market” and a large warehouse full of treasures in the back of the space, creatives can indulge in the prospect of an artistic endeavor. “Some of the coolest items we have in the warehouse include donated materials from 3form, like massive panels made from environmentally conscious materials and small tiles that have … natural fibers, shells and plants [pressed] in them,” Gibb says.
“We hope that people will see themselves as artists and creative people who can make small changes that prevent waste.”
Alongside this range in products and materials, Clever Octopus offers low prices, recurring sales/promotions and a Nonprofit Reward Program that gives back to other local organizations. “When a customer shops with us and spends over $5 they get a bottle cap that symbolizes $1 of value and can buy more tokens if they wish,” says Gibb. “They then plop [the token] into a nonprofit bin of their choice on our wonky octopus collector. This value, consisting of community and Clever Octopus donations, is tallied at the end of the month and is awarded in materials by Clever Octopus to these nonprofits.” Some nonprofit recipients include the Humane Society of Utah, Queer Spectra and Sewing For Lives.
Since 2019, Clever Octopus has been collaborating with fellow nonprofit Craft Lake City for the latter organization’s annual DIY Festival to further enrich Utah’s creative community. Gibb says, “We provide materials to CLC for decorating at the festival in exchange for booth space, as well as providing a $50 gift card [and] a $20 membership card for all five people in their Artisan Scholarship and Mentor Program.” This year, they will have a booth at the festival featuring creative kits and products made from donated materials.
As the year goes on, Clever Octopus is looking forward to welcoming the community back into their space with in-person workshops and classes. Gibb says, “We have an exciting Reanimator Threadworks sustainable fashion series. This three-part workshop teaches people how to reimagine materials into functional uses like bags as well as instructs Octopeeps how to repair clothing. All skill-levels are welcomed!” Clever Octopus is also holding their youth summer camps through the end of August and hope to expand their store capacity to allow for more visitors. To learn more on how to participate in their workshops and classes visit, cleveroctopus.org or stop by their store at 2250 S. West Temple! Clever Octopus is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.