Not about Money. Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Fair

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire __a happy stitch

{peg fairies by Sophi Karkeek}

Ack! It has been over a month since I wrote here! I always find it a little embarrassing when I neglect the blog. I do this funny thing where I talk in my head to you guys but don’t match it all up with pretty pictures and non-imaginary words and then lose track of just how long it has been. Silly brain parts.  I just finished up a holiday art fair and had a great time mixed with the usual bit of stress and mental wrestling.  I thought a lot about the financial benefits of a craft fair versus the other reasons I think you should sell at a craft fair and I thought I’d write it all out in case anyone else is pondering these same questions.

The past month has been so busy.  I know everyone can relate to that.  This time of year is intense, man.  For makers it’s even more intense because it’s often the most lucrative time of the year.  Imagine adding to the steep increase in holiday parties, family obligations, school events and gift shopping by having to create ten times as much as normal then promote and attend a craft fair.  It’s kind of insane. I’ve been having heart  palpitations for the last month and I only do one holiday sale! I’m sure other artisans have it much worse.

In the midst of my crazy, stressed-out, not-stopping-to-shower efforts I asked myself, “Is this really worth it?”

It’s a pretty decent question, actually.  Ignoring the cost of supplies, let’s just focus on time.  I worked probably 50 hours a week for three weeks, creating items to sell.  That’s a lot for me, considering I have kids with me after 2:30 each day.  In addition to the sewing I did during the week with the kids in school, I stitched whenever I could on the weekend. I snuck in sewing time while my husband made breakfast on the weekend, while the kids were at birthday parties or playing quietly, and I orchestrated it so I could hand-stitch while watching TV at night so my husband didn’t feel he had lost me completely.  It takes so much time to make things.  On top of the time spent making items to sell, of course, is the time spent selling them.  I was at the Holiday Boutique all weekend and Friday night, counting travel time I spent nearly seventeen hours at the sale itself. I’ve added it up, I made around $4 an hour.   Once I account for the cost of my supplies, it’s even less. These are awfully discouraging numbers and has been one of the reasons I don’t focus much energy on selling handmade items.

Here is the thing, though, I left the sale on Sunday thinking, “I am definitely going to do that again next year. In fact, I should probably do more craft fairs”.  How do I reconcile this heart and head conundrum?  I’ve been thinking about this for the last two days and pieced together the reasons, beyond money, to sell at a craft fair.

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire __a happy stitch

{Karen S., Emma, Me and Kourtney)

+ Connections Nurture Us

Art Fairs are a place to meet and connect with other artists. In the three years that I have been doing the same art fair, I’ve made friends with the other artisans. The Holiday Boutique, as it is officially called, is the place we can be certain we will be able to come together and catch up.  I’m very lucky because the market I sell at is structured in a way that really encourages these connections.  The Holiday Boutique happens inside of an existing fabric shop, my beloved Rock Paper Scissors, and all items are inventoried into the store’s system so the artists don’t need to run individual sales.  This means customers can wander the store and choose items from multiple booths but still only need to do one transaction. It makes it more likely that people will shop across many different artists and builds the sense that we are all in it together.  Well, because we are all in it together!  Connections can happen at any market, though, and I’m learning just how important these connections are.  We compare our successes and failures; share contacts and ideas; and encourage each other all weekend long.  It’s a safe place to talk about pricing decisions, secret sources for hard-to-find supplies and other nitty gritty details but also bigger picture stuff…what moves us and keeps us feeling excited and new.  These connections form our networks of support and advice.  Being a hand-maker is kind of an odd existence, having people can be a life-saver and a sanity check. In my mind, building a community of people around me that understand the world I’m trying to form is one measure of my success.

These people warm my heart. I know there are lots of artisan Facebook groups and I’m a part of many of those that I love but nothing beats an in-person brainstorm. If you only ever sell on-line or through Etsy, you miss out on this artist-to-artist connection. And, the hugs. I got lot of hugs this weekend, hugs are really damn great.

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire __a happy stitch

{Wendy Reo with Freestyle Crochet}

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire __a happy stitch

{the inimitable Tracy and ceramic artist Kanae}

+  Real Life Visibility & Customer Connection

On-line promotion goes a long way these days and it gets you out in front of thousands of people but there is something so valuable about real-life connections with customers.  I got to chat with so many of my customers and I heard their stories about how things they bought last year were still cherished at their house.  They became a human to me and I become one to them. For me, many of my ‘customers’ have also been students in my sewing classes and frankly, the line between us is completely blurred.  The labels either don’t fit or just don’t matter anymore. We are just people who like to make things and talk about it together.  That’s a deeper reach that you get through an on-line relationship with a customer.

The art fair also provided immediate feedback.  I created two new kinds of clutches, one style sold out completely and I didn’t sell a single one of the other. I figured out pretty quickly which were the most popular! If I decide to make a pattern for these creations, I know which one to make it for, now.

You also never know who is seeing your work. I left my business cards out on the table and had to replenish the stack every few hours. I’ve scoffed at this ‘you never know who could see you’ argument in the past because it doesn’t help me weed out the sales are are just actually not worth my time and effort.  But, if the art fair is well run and other artists are at a similar level of quality work then I do think there is value in this unknown ‘being seen’ possibility.

That visibility can lead to other possible opportunities down the road. I often sell an additional 25% of my work through requests that come from people contacting me after the sale is finished.  These customer connections are as invaluable as the peer contacts.

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire __a happy stitch

{stunning bags by Karen Shearer}

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire __a happy stitch

{chokers, dog scarves and jewelry from Bone and Arrow}

+ Use It as a Creative Driver

A strange thing happens to me when I prepare for a craft market. My brain switches from thinking about what I like to make or buy and instead starts trying to conjecture about what ‘people’ might like.  It’s as if I forget I am technically a ‘people’.  Of course, I have a certain style and like certain things and that seeps into what I make no matter what.  I made an extra effort this year to remember what I heard over and over again at Craftcation, which is some version of “Make what you would buy. That’s your unique vision“.   I made the conscious decision to use the Holiday Boutique as a driver of creativity and operated from a place of exploration and curiosity. This is an amazing creative fire for someone like me. I’m very selective about what i bring into my home and kind of stingy. So, I honestly don’t buy much beyond the necessities (and books…I love books and well, fabric). The end result is that I made some of my absolute all-time favorite items.

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire :: Playful Fabric Buckets by a happy stitch

I hunted around for perfect, unique fabrics and make dozens of fabric baskets and even paired some with pom-poms and suede from a thrift store jacket. I used up my good, japanese linens because that’s what I would buy.  I wanted to make the unexpected and beautiful. I used the pattern I developed in this tutorial.  I kind of thought I would make a few of these and then I just kept making more and more.

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire :: Playful, Linen Fabric Buckets by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire :: Playful, Linen Fabric Buckets by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire :: Playful, Linen Fabric Buckets by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire :: Leather Indigo Fabric Buckets by a happy stitch

I also knuckled down and designed the exact zipper wristlet I need in my life. I have chronic back pain so I hate carrying a purse, which always weighs down one side of my body unevenly, but I need something that keeps my hands free. It has to be playful and beautiful but just big enough for the essentials of phone, and wallet. Any bigger and it will inevitably fill up with heavy junk.  I have been meaning to really nail down a good design for this for a long time and the craft fair was just the lit fire I needed. Again I found textiles I love and paired it with bits of suede and metal zippers.  I made something I would buy and I love it. I even used pieces of canvas from indigo dying I did a few weeks ago (more on that in a later post, I’m addicted!).  I also designed a few smaller clutches with snap closures (the ones that didn’t sell) and bohemian style key fobs.  I had a last minute idea to use my indigo dye on a few tea towels and love how they turned out.  I’m so proud and in love with all of it.  I can’t wait to make more and take it in a few different directions with other unusual textiles.

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire :: Leather Zipper Wristlet by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Market! Connections and Creative Fire :: Leather Zipper Wristlet by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Fair! Indigo and Linen Clutches-by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Fair! Indigo Clutch-by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Fair! Bohemian key fobs-by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Fair! Indigo Tea Towels-by a happy stitch

Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Fair! Indigo Tea Towels-by a happy stitch

So, maybe it’s not about the money.  Or, not just about the money. I walked away from this Holiday Market on cloud nine and that’s because I felt rich in experience and in creative energy.  I’m sure I could minimize my stress and decrease my time just by being better prepared.  Next year, I won’t be spending time developing patterns (I don’t think…you never know what new idea will come along) and deciding on fabrics or hunting for supplies.  I can do all of that ahead of time and get right to the making. That will help with the money side but I also know there are invaluable connections to make and reigniting of the creative fire to enjoy.  Plus, now I have lots of clutches to give as teacher gifts at the kid’s school. 🙂  Have I missed anything? Do you sell at craft fairs? How do you make it work for you?

2 Comments on Not about Money. Other Reasons to Sell at a Craft Fair

  1. Patricia Burns
    December 9, 2016 at 11:00 am (11 months ago)

    Inspiring blog Melissa

    Reply
    • Melissa Q.
      December 9, 2016 at 3:47 pm (11 months ago)

      *blush* Thanks!

      Reply

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