Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Random Rant: What Happened To The Good Ol' Fashioned Craft Fairs?

Lisa and I thoroughly enjoy visiting craft fairs. That dates back to 20 years ago when I made handcrafted dolls and we participated in craft shows most weekends. We've always preferred handmade, handcrafted, and homemade. There's a certain charm to that and it's not something you can find at any retail store.

As of late, probably in the last year or so, we've been noticing a shift. The shift started before that, but it was gradual. Now, it's quite noticeable. More and more craft fairs are allowing independent sellers/consultants. These "vendors" are selling an array of products. Wax burners and tarts. Leggings. Nail art. Skin care products. Diet shakes. Kitchen gadgets. Jewelry. Kitchenware. Makeup. The list goes on...

Last year, Lisa and I visited at least a dozen craft fairs. Most of these craft fairs were filled with independent seller/consultant vendors. A few of these craft fairs had more independent seller/consultant vendors than local artisans.

The craft show we participated in on Saturday had a multitude of these independent seller/consultant vendors as well. 

When I visit a craft fair, I expect to see it filled with local artisans proudly displaying their handmade, handcrafted, and homemade items.

What I don't want to see are displays filled with overpriced foundation and mascara, meal replacement shakes, and $20 banana slicers.

You belong at a vendor show...NOT a craft fair.

I'm not coming down on these independent sellers and consultants. I applaud their efforts. A lot of people on my Facebook feed sell this stuff. And, while the continuous live videos and constant posts to lure people into trying their product irritates me at times, I get it.

It takes a lot of work to succeed in any type of independent seller/consultant position. A lot of these people are gravitating towards this option to earn extra money. To make ends meet. To  assist with the cost of their kids participating in sports or dance. To put food on the table. To earn vacations. There's nothing wrong with that and, again, I applaud those efforts.


These products are not items you've made personally. You didn't sit at a sewing machine for hours and days on end sewing those leggings. You didn't make those foundations and lotions in your kitchen. You didn't mix essential oils and wax to form those wax cubes to melt in the warmers you also didn't handcraft.

It's not a craft. You're not a local artisan. You're a business trying to sell a mass produced product. 

On the flip side, I can't entirely blame the dilution of authentic local artisans at a craft fair on independent sellers and consultants. The hosts of these craft shows have a hand in this shift as well.

If you're hosting a craft fair/show, you need to know the difference between a craft fair/show and vendor fair/show.

When you advertise as a craft fair/show, you need to fill your spaces with local artisans.

That's what people expect. That's what people want. 

You need to stick to certain guidelines and only allow people who are selling handcrafted, handmade, and homemade items.

Standing your ground might get a bit uncomfortable. Maybe you're not filling spots with local artisans as quickly as you anticipated. Maybe the craft show/fair date is quickly approaching and there are still spots to fill. Maybe you have several friends who are independent sellers/consultants and are begging you for a spot.

Tough shit. 

This is when you need to reconsider how you advertise. Maybe next time advertise as a vendor fair/show.

As a host, you need to clarify. Be specific.

If you don't think that people notice, they do. Vendors, visitors, and potential vendors.

Lisa and I have talked to quite a few local artisans at these craft shows/fairs. They're frustrated. Stressed. Disappointed. They honestly thought they were paying for a spot at a genuine craft show/fair.

"Had I known it would be swamped with people trying to sell makeup and Tupperware, we wouldn't be here."

"I asked for a list of artisans that would be here prior to the event, but no one would answer me."

"I made it quite clear that I didn't want to sell my goods at a craft fair that allowed Thirty-One. How can I sell my handcrafted quilted tote bags and purses when I have someone selling Thirty-One a few tents down from me?"

We've also overhead a lot of comments from people visiting these fairs and shows. They weren't happy with the amount of independent sellers/consultants.

I know quite a few local artisans, both near and far, who refuse to participate in events that allow independent sellers/consultants.

If we were to consider doing more craft fairs/shows, that would be a deterrent for us as well.

I've been working in the marketing field long enough to know that things have changed drastically in 20 years. Even working online for 10 years, I've witnessed a considerable amount of changes from then and now.

We're living in the digital age. There's an app for just about everything. Social media streams are the source for advertising and selling these mass merchandised products.

That is wonderful and I embrace that. I do. 

However, my heart sinks when it starts diluting the talented local artisans who spend hours and days and weeks making handcrafted, handmade, and homemade goods.

Despite the digital age and tech, there will always be a place for old-school. Old-fashioned. Local artisans. The Mom and Pop goods. Farmer's Markets. Craft Shows/Fairs.

Let's keep these things authentic. Unclouded by the latest in wrinkle creams and kitchen gadgets.


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