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Renegade Craft Fair 2011: [Silence]

I’ve had quite a lot to say in the past regarding the Renegade Craft Fair. Last year I wrote a five-part series covering everything from my favorites and purchases to the sponsors and the economics of participating in craft fairs. I’ve spent many, many hours thinking about this stuff. So what do I have to say this year?

Nothing. I didn’t go to the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn this year.

Why?

It didn’t really cross my radar. And by the time it did, I had other plans. Plus, thundershowers were predicted.

Seriously, I was not inundated with blog posts in my RSS reader as in years past. CRAFT Magazine didn’t send me emails about the fair, and I never saw a post on Facebook. I realized it was the weekend of Renegade just a day or two before, and my “hey, let’s go to the craft fair” date was out of town. MrApparently doesn’t really enjoy the craft fair, and Apparently Jr just wants to run around the field and eat whoopie pies. So we went to our local park, and I didn’t give it another thought.

That seems weird to me, and I’m sure says something about the evolution of the Renegade Craft Fair and my relationship to the selling of artisan goods in general. But you know what? I don’t really want to analyze that. Maybe next year.

Renegade Craft Fair: Final Words

2008 Craft Fair

first craft fair booth, 2008

This fifth and final post on the Renegade Craft Fair is two years in the making, and I’ve been letting it simmer while on vacation. (If you haven’t read parts 1-4, scroll down!) My overall summary as a fair-goer is simple this year: yay Renegade Craft Fair, go crafters, good stuff, lots of fun.  That’s the experience I’ve had two of the three times I’ve been there, and I probably would have enjoyed the second year considerably more if I weren’t a crafter myself. I was in search of unique handmade goods that showed talent and originality, and what I found in 2008 was booth after booth of silkscreening.

As an artisan/crafter/maker/sewist, however, the experience and the question it leaves me with is multifaceted: what works at a craft fair (and in the larger world of selling handmade goods), and is that how I want to spend the time I devote to making stuff?

Few would argue that if the goal is to make money, the answer must be “sell goods that are quick and easy to produce at an affordable price point.”

More pieces of the puzzle:

  1. From the buyer’s perspective, items should be charming, clever, pretty and/or useful. In a craft fair situation, a reasonable price encourages impulse purchases. (In a shop, price may be less important…but I suspect that the same person willing to buy a $600 handmade wedding dress on Etsy isn’t going to pick one up at the craft fair.)
  2. From the maker’s perspective, goods should be fast and relatively easy to produce.

And where do we net out on this for maximum profit?* Multiples. Not sewing, not knitting, not woodworking or needle felting or any of the many crafts that require a good deal of precision and time. But yes, our old friend silkscreening. Because once you’ve created your art and burned your screen, you can print shirts and totes until your squeegee hand falls off. People love t-shirts and onesies. They’re not expensive, and one can actually cover one’s labor as well as the material costs. And this is my theory as to why last year’s RCF was Silkscreen Central: people had figured this out.

See also: Many paper crafts. Digital collage sheets. …printing…multiples.

*Let’s leave out of the discussion for the moment that profit may not be the crafter’s primary motive. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s agree that while many, if not most, makers do so for the sheer love of creating, in a craft fair situation the goal is to sell as many goods as possible.

My particular situation: I love to sew and knit. I create more stuff than my family and I can possibly use/wear/gift. It’s delightful when people enjoy your stuff enough to purchase it, and the cash pays for more materials. My little Etsy shop putters along nicely and my local community has been generous with custom orders. I’m pretty happy with my level of involvement; what I put in and what I get out (both tangible and not) feel balanced.

But once a year I participate in a local craft fair, and then the rules seem to change. The goal shifts to “what can I make quickly and sell at a price where people will buy, so that the weeks spent preparing feel ultimately worthwhile?”

And unless I can find some love for silkscreening or some other printable, I’ve yet to find my answer.

Renegade Craft (pt.4): A Word About Their Sponsors

Every fair and festival has sponsors, and generally we just sort of tolerate them with the understanding that without the corporations who donate goods and money in exchange for advertising, the event may not be able to take place. But really, who gets excited about banners that say Coke or Goodyear or Verizon? Do people really think, “Fantastic, the Met Life booth!”?

This year’s Renegade Craft Fair turned my idea of corporate sponsorship on its head. While the fair had 8 or so sponsors (the website has been updated and the list of sponsors removed), only three entered my field of vision. All three made a very positive impression, strong enough that I want to tell you about them, which is not a feeling I generally have with event sponsors.

Etsy is practically synonymous with the fair; just about every vendor has an online Etsy shop. Their large corner booth offered lots of freebies: vegan lip balm, pin-back Etsy buttons and letterpress cards that read “Etsy is cool.” I took one of each to send along with the next three sales from my own Etsy shop. They also had a table with a cute little make-and-take banner project printed on fabric from Spoonflower, but no one was working on the project when I visited the booth.

Rowenta teamed up with Lotta Jansdotter for a booth (or, in RCF parlance, a lounge) where one could stencil a tote bag. The small booth was packed with enthusiastic crafters, trading brushes and stencils and complimenting each other on their designs. Everyone appeared to be using the same two colors: navy blue and kelly green, which lent the whole project an organized and strangely stylish feel. I made my way to the back of the booth to see if I could buy a soleplate cleaning kit for my new Rowenta Focus, but despite a display of irons, nothing seemed to be for sale. I’ve used a few vague words in describing this booth…it wasn’t very clear how to participate or if the products were for sale, but the Rowenta lounge brimmed with creative excitement.

RCF Swag

Thank you, BurdaStyle! Can you identify this fabric?

My favorite sponsor was BurdaStyle, a sewing web site with a double-wide booth. In theory one could sew a drawstring bag right there, but in reality they had only two machines and so they seemed to be giving away the materials so people could make the project at home. Again, this seemed to be the case – the booth was understaffed and the only person who seemed to represent BurdaStyle was helping someone with the machines. BurdaStyle was extremely generous with freebies, and I left the booth with a fat quarter of beautiful fabric, striped ribbon, a sizeable bag of buttons and a spool of Gutermann thread with which to make the bag myself. I didn’t see a pattern, but I’m sure I can figure it out! I also picked up a personal measurements card, which is about the handiest paper giveaway ever. Thanks, BurdaStyle! (Now, let’s talk about your web site, which I no longer use. It’s not very user-friendly.)

Despite some lack of clarity in the sponsor booths, all three that I visited showed some real effort and enthusiasm, which is more than one can say for most event-sponsor booths. So thanks to those companies who turned their promotional opportunities into something actually cool and memorable.

By the way, the fabric I took home is lovely and I’d like to purchase some more. Can anyone identify it? I know that Westminster donated the fabric, but I can’t find this style on their site. Please leave me a comment if you know the designer or the name of the fabric! Some web sleuthing reveals: it’s Sunset Veranda from the Treetop Fancy line by Tina Givens. Apparently I have a thing for painterly fabrics, because I like everythin gin this line and everything by Laura Gunn.

Next: What Have We Learned from 3 Years of the Renegade Craft Fair? It’s going to take me a few days to write up this summary and analysis, because it’s all still coming together. But I think you’ll be surprised at what I have to say…

Renegade Craft Fair (pt.3): Must Haves

When the fair was in the pool

One of the interesting quirks of the fair having moved to McCarren Park is that the booths are now arranged in one enormous circle around the perimeter of a track and field. A handful of booths have been relegated to a small park across the street; I felt a bit badly for these vendors until I recognized several of them in exact same corner spots from last year, so perhaps they didn’t mind. But what this layout does is to make it nearly impossible to see an item one might purchase and say with any honesty, “I’ll think about it and come back to this booth.” Taking someone’s card might remind you of the seller, but between the distance and the heat (obviously a variable), the odds of actually making another loop around the track to hunt down that booth are slim. And you can’t take a short cut across the field, because there’s a soccer game in progress.

In the past there’s been a little booklet of all the vendors and their locations so you could make notes, but I didn’t see one this year.

All of this is to say: if you see something that you like, even if it’s made in multiples, your best bet is to make a quick decision. This isn’t optimal for me; I prefer to look at everything and then go back to make my purchases. (This is also how I approach the farmers’ market.) I also tend not to buy from the first few booths, because what if I spend my whole budget and then see something I must have? But between the circular layout, the noonday sun and a desire to keep my very pregnant companion comfortable,* I tried to be more impulsive than usual.

*She actually did far better in the heat than I did.

Exactly What I Wanted

Purple Vines Shirt by Umsteigen

I made three purchases at this year’s fair, each of which represents a slightly different experience. Only a few booths from where we started I discovered Umsteigen, which you might think I would steer clear from as it’s a silkscreened clothing purveyor. But their designs were beautiful, they print on a bamboo/cotton blend, and this one shade of purple attracted me in a way I am rarely drawn to clothes. Done. I wish buying clothes was always this easy.

Won Over by Kindness (and Price)

Not until we were halfway around the track did I make my second purchase, from the one-woman sewing operation run by the talented Christine Haynes. Most of her offerings were dresses and reversible cotton skirts, but I was drawn to a beautiful green floral circle skirt with a complicated fastening system of ties and snaps. I wish I could show you a photo, but Christine said it was one of a kind. The shockingly low price suggested it may have been a prototype or an “oops,” but the craftsmanship was sound and it fit perfectly. Add to that how lovely Christine was in helping me try it on, plus she won me over with her Peter Pan collar and by pointing out that we have the exact same taste in handbags. Sold! And my purchase came in a simple silkscreened reusable tote bag. You can visit Christine’s blog for photos of her work. And she teaches sewing classes in L.A., too.

Little Bear

imagine this spiral-bound

Nostalgia Sells

My last purchase was an impulse buy from Overdue Industries, which recycles old books into new journals, jewelry and other charming whatnot. While I was taken with the wire-and-book-cover necklaces featuring images from vintage knitting books, I couldn’t resist a journal made from an old hardbound copy of Little Bear, one of my favorite childhood stories and one which I read often to Apparently Jr. I love that the journal even has a few stray pen marks, and some of the original pages are mixed in with the plain sheets. (How clever is it to create a product where something like stray pen marks add to its charm?)

I was quite pleased with my purchases, but I should also note that my budget for the day was less than what I spent. I was hoping to buy some gifts for Father’s Day and upcoming birthdays, but it can be tricky to buy handmade goods as gifts for others.

I should also note that the two food vendors, Urban Rustic and Lefty’s Silver Cart were quite busy, and the farmers’ market nearby only added to the overall delightful feel of an afternoon spent among those who sell their own wares.

Next: Sponsorship Done Right

Renegade Craft Fair (pt.2): Made Me Look

Part Two: Those Who Made Me Look Twice

When browsing a craft fair, booths can be divided into three, or possibly four, categories: those which don’t even catch your eye or which you scan but skip right past, those which draw you in but you realize quickly that there’s nothing there for you and leave, and those where you stay and browse, perhaps (and hopefully!) even making a purchase. This post features a few vendors in that last category: those who caught my eye and deserve some attention.

Aya Rosen's Octopus Glass

A Different Octopus by Aya Rosen

LoucheLab offered a sweet little freebie: Aya Rosen’s Little Coloring Book of Interesting Things. Her octopus promotional postcards were also compelling and I must confess, perhaps suitable for framing. One may go on Apparently Jr.’s wall of oceanic art, nearly all of which was purchased at the RCF in 2008. I also loved that she had a table on her booth where you could paint on glass. As I was browsing, a friendly woman (Aya herself?) approached me to say that while all the seats were currently full, one would open up shortly. While I wasn’t planning to stay, I certainly appreciated the invitation.

I couldn’t figure out why the dotted baby dress at Enfant Terrible‘s shop was so appealing; I learned later that Salt Chunk Mary‘s daughter has one, so perhaps I have seen it in action at some point.

Jar of Wonder offered the only felt food that I saw at the fair. As a felt food aficionado and craftsperson, I was compelled to look, but I’m afraid they weren’t quite ready for prime time. And I’m not sure why they removed the entire play kitchen from their already sparse booth (unless someone purchased it, in which case, you go, Jar of Wonder!). I do applaud them for their effort and good packaging. People were definitely taking their packaging up a notch this year, which I found appealing from a buyer’s perspective.

I spent some time pondering a purchase of bgreendesign‘s silkscreened trees. Perhaps a little more attention from the people manning the booth might have sold me on it. I know it’s not always easy to chat with potential customers all day, but you do have to interact with the people who visit your booth. And seriously, people: either put prices on your items or display a price list. You lose dozens of sales every day to introverts…or people who just don’t like asking for prices. I am one of those.

My favorite topiary by life {with tigers}

(Also, when someone does ask for a price, please don’t say “I could let it go for $x.” It’s a craft fair, not a yard sale.)

My favorite item that I didn’t purchase, and the winner of my imaginary “most unique” award, goes to a charming, oddly named shop called life {with tigers}, which makes (among other things), the most darling little fabric topiaries. On an equal-but-opposite note, they also make catnip toys that look like severed legs.

A late addition to this post: the pretty fabric-flower hairpins at WREN Handmade. All of her items were so prettily arranged and packaged. I didn’t pick up her card but I thought of her items a few days after the fair, so they must have made an impression!

Up Next: What I Purchased, A Word on Their Sponsors, and One Strategist’s Analysis (or, How to Succeed In Crafty Commerce And Retain Your Sanity).

Annual Report: Renegade Craft Fair 2010 (part 1)

Renegade Craft FairPart One: Overview

Those of you who have been reading Apparently for some time may recall that the 2009 Renegade Craft Fair sent me into a vitriolic fit. But I’m getting ahead of myself…let me present some context.

In 2008, the first second Renegade Craft Fair was held in Brooklyn. (The RCF itself began on 2003, in Chicago.) Mr. Apparently, Apparently Jr. and I braved the heat and sun of McCarren Park Pool, a defunct pool now used as an event venue, to wander up and down the many rows of crafty goodness. I was stunned and delighted to find so much creativity and talent. Plus they had some excellent cookies for sale, as well as real root beer in glass bottles.

Last year, the fair moved to nearby McCarren Park, and was set up around the circumference of a soccer pitch and running track. Again the day was sweltering, and my compatriots were not quite so pleased. But my excitement and enthusiasm was quickly squelched as I encountered booth after booth of silkscreened t-shirts, onesies and tote bags. I’m not a total crankpot; some of the actual silkscreened images were just lovely. But something about all that screen printing just rubbed me the wrong way. While there’s definitely artistic skill involved, it seemed like a cheap way out, and it left me disappointed.

This year Mr. Apparently wisely sent me off to wander the fair at my leisure, and in the company of an extremely pregnant SuperFastReader, I set a critical, vaguely skeptical eye upon the crafty offerings. And I was pleased with what I saw. Yes, about half of the booths (a loose guesstimate) had silkscreened goods, but the quality of those goods seemed to have improved: organic cottons, bamboo tees, and attractive designs.

The following is an off-the-cuff list of stuff that stuck with me from the fair. In the next post, I’ll feature a couple of my favorite vendors, and in future posts I’ll show off my purchases/acquisitions and offer a few thoughts on what I’ve come to think of as the Craft Fair Dilemma. But for now, What Stood Out This Year:

- Upcycling. Many booths featured clothing made from other clothes. While the pieces were one of a kind, each designer’s booth often had a sort of cohesiveness – for example, a rack of tank dresses in the same silhouette, but made from different colors of jersey knit. Or polyester a-line skirts.

- Hand-sewn handbags. I saw quite a few vendors of these this year, notable also for a small number of patterns executed in a large number of fabrics.

- Not much jewelry, and what I did see was fairly unique: silver rings inlaid with cement, recycled bakelite pieces, artistic metal pendants.

- Expensive dresses that were dry clean only.

- Lots of pretty nature-inspired silkscreening, most of it on t-shirts and some of it on wood. Less hipster-ironic screen printing. This is a good thing.

- BUTTONS. Everyone seemed to have some sort of button for sale. Some of the booths gave away self-promotional pin-back buttons as freebies, while others charged a buck or two for artsy designs. A strangely large percentage of the booths where fabric was used as a raw material also had fabric-covered buttons for sale at relatively exorbitant prices (more on this in my final post). Do people actually pay $10 for three buttons? Really?

Up Next:

Part Two: Favorites and Really Unique Vendors

Part Three: My Purchases

Part Four: Actually Cool Sponsors

and finally Part Five: An Analysis from the Perspective of a Small-Time Artisan, in Which You Might Be Surprised at What I Have to Say. Stay tuned!