On Being a Maker, and Buying Handmade
I'm going to be honest here, because this is not a space for artifice: I love to make stuff, but don't often sell any of it. I run an Etsy shop that gets maybe one sale a month, if that. I have my work in one gift shop in Austin, TX that will go months without selling any of my pieces. I can't seem to get responses from any other gift shops from which I inquire. I still have jewelry pieces from, I shit you not, probably about 10 years ago.
And craft fairs. I've done so many craft fairs in my time as a maker/super-small business owner, and so many of them, more often than not, are just one big disappointment. My problem is that I'm an eternal optimist. I would sign up for fair after fair with the hope that "maybe this one will be different." I keep a small table of my work next to my mom's baked goods at the Sayville Farmers Market, and sometimes I sell a piece here and there, but I don't consider that really a craft fair. Sometime during the winter, I had sworn myself off true craft fairs and festivals after one too many soul-crushing disappointments.
But I decided to share a booth with my mom at the Sayville Seafood Festival because a fellow vendor friend of ours raved that she never walks away from it without pulling in at least $1400. Let's be clear: I in no way thought I would make $1400. However, I did hope to sell more than $90 over the course of two days, a total of 16 hours spent in our booth. The only reason we made our table was because we were selling Hester & Pearl baked goods, which also didn't sell as fast as we had hoped.
After the disappointment of the weekend, I went home experiencing an all-out identity crisis because I was very ready to give up on all of this: I can't sell anything online, in a store, or at a fair. I have all this fabric and stock sitting in my room...what am I going to do with it if I just quit making things? Quit making things? If I quit making things, then who AM I?
What's very upsetting is that despite the apparent movement to buy handmade/local, the majority of people still aren't willing to shell out for it. I can't tell you how many times I sat in my craft fair booth and watched customers buy cheap, mass-produced catalog jewelry from the seller across the way. I met an artist at another local street festival this summer who said that she's seeing the same trend. Many people would rather buy crap.
The artist's name is Michelle Brand, and above is a photo of the original piece I bought from her when I met her. I love buying handmade because I know what goes into making something, and I know what a thrill it gives the artist/seller when a customer says, "I'll take it." I hope the next time you're at a festival, you'll do the same.
(Oh, and I decided to not quit because that would be pretty lame on my part).