Does your city have a cool craft fair — or just desperately need one? Spring is a great time to get started selling your wares, or launch a brand-new sale! I talked to Torie and Cathy of Portland’s Crafty Wonderland, which just premiered in April, and Jenny and Hazel of LA’s Felt Club, which kicks off in May. Read on for some great advice on organizing your own super-cool event, or just selling your work for the first time. I’ve also included a list of other craft sales and events going on nationwide — please comment with your favorites, too!
What gave you the idea to organize a craft fair? How did you get started?
Cathy: We’ve sold our work at so many events ourselves that it seemed kind of natural to take all that we had learned and try to create the craft fair of our dreams. Most of the fairs in Portland are either seasonal (around the holidays) or outside during the summer. Our goal was to provide a regular, indoor venue where all the great artists and crafters could sell their work–kind of a once-a-month DIY Superstore!
Torie: Portland is full of creative people and the community is so supportive of the arts that we wanted to help play matchmaker by bringing together those who create and those who seek out cool handmade items. Crafty Wonderland started as an idea we’d thrown around with PDX Super Crafty for quite some time. It’s hard to coordinate all four of our schedules and Cathy and I were really excited about the sale so we just decided to go for it!
We knew right away we wanted to have it at Doug Fir Lounge so we pitched the idea to their booking agent, then set about the task of finding a name. Ryan Berkley created our graphics and Cathy’s husband, Greg, built our website. Once we had a name, location, and website we were ready to put the call out to artists!
Jenny: I had fiddled with the concept of having a “Felt Club”—some kind of underground meeting a la Fight Club, but with less punching and more bedazzling. I nabbed the FeltClub.com URL intending to create a companion online magazine and recruit crafty participants with it, but never did. I started my own business, Sew Darn Cute, and just didn’t have the time/support/resources to pursue it further. Then a few years back, I was introduced to the organizers from Bazaar Bizarre and ended up helping them launch the first-ever Los Angeles event–I did promotions, volunteer coordinating, and art direction.
I left my day job last year to focus on my business, and found myself wishing there were more year-round fairs catering to my kind of crowd. I couldn’t find much that interested me and figured others might feel the same way. I like the smaller, mellow feel of Farmer’s Markets, but too often, I feel like crafts get wedged into these shows as an afterthought, and vendors don’t get highlighted the way they should. Then the folks from Meltdown Comics started talking to me about possibly holding some kind of crafty event there, and would I be interested? They basically ignited that Felt Club spark in me again— so we joined up and they now serve as our venue and main sponsor. My partner-in-crime is Hazel, Meltdown’s gallery curator. She’s crafty as hell and has a million ideas, PLUS the follow-through to make them happen.
Hazel: I love to organize and coordinate events, so, Gaston, the co-owner of Meltdown, told me that I should start a craft fair. I started thinking about who and what I needed in order to get this off the ground. I went to the person who I thought would be a dream partner, Jenny! I thought, if this thing is going to be any good, I have to have her involved. And much to my amazement, she had a dormant idea that was pretty much the same; only she needed a vehicle and support to make it happen, which is where I/Meltdown came in. So that’s how Felt Club was finally activated.
What are some of your favorite ways to promote a sale? Any advice on doing your own publicity?
Torie: A cheap and easy way to publicize an event is to send out a notice to your mailing list and ask people to pass the info along to anyone they know who might be interested. Also, send press releases to the local media and try to find an angle that makes your event more newsworthy.
Cathy: You don’t need to spend a ton of money on expensive ads–come up with some fun, eye-catching graphics and get a bunch of postcards and posters made. We get 5000 double-sided color postcards for $150-$200 from Phoenix Media. Put stacks of cards all over town: in coffee shops, cafes, boutiques, and craft supply and knitting stores. Plaster them everywhere you go!
Portland has several websites that list cool happenings around town, like Ultra PDX and Portland Picks. You can also list your event on local crafty forums, craigslist.org and the online classifieds for your local papers (some are free!). Put a promo table out near the entrance to the sale with flyers for future shows, business cards from vendors and a book where folks can sign up to be on the mailing list. We got 60 new people on our list at the first show!
Jenny: We’re lucky because our event happens at a retail venue that already gets a ton of daily visitors, so our promo postcards get right into the hands of all those people. Everyone working at Meltdown is really excited about the event, and that word-of-mouth is invaluable. Same goes for our vendors, who tell their own mailing lists about us.
Start planning as far in advance as possible, remembering that local print media will need several weeks’ notice in order to fit you into their listings. It goes without saying that your event needs a website, so make it as attractive as you can. It’s also a nice idea to have downloads available, so vendors or fellow craft enthusiasts can put a banner on their website, print out flyers and hang them up, etc. Having some kind of blog/news page on your site is another good way to keep people in the loop.
Hazel: My favorite way to promote a sale is word of mouth. I really feel that this is the way that Felt Club grew sooo fast! Even though we had press kits, an amazing website and postcards, we were so excited that we got everyone we knew excited, and so the buzz began. I think that the best way to promote a sale is to believe in your sale, make something you’re proud of and are as much in love with as we are with Felt Club. This is where the publicity advice comes in… Do what Jenny says and did! Trust me!! Does it sound like a lot of work? YES! Is it easy? NO! Is it free? NO! Can you make it happen even if you’re poor? YES! ABSOLUTELY! Well… as long as you’re crafty!
How did you find good vendors? Any suggestions for finding the perfect venue?
Cathy: We just put the word out to all the artists and crafters we knew and told them to pass it on. We also got help from Meredith of Handmade Bazaar (a twice-yearly handmade sale here in PDX) who sent our call for vendors out to her mailing list.
Torie: We really wanted to have a mix of artists and crafters with a range of media and price points, which is why Crafty Wonderland is a juried event. With the number of applications we’ve received so far, we’ve been able to rotate the vendors so each month is different from the last. To get the word out, we emailed a call for artists to people we know with a link to our website. The ladies of I Heart Rummage also sent a notice to their list of vendors. We posted the call on crafty websites like getcrafty.com, craftster.org, theswitchboards.com, and supernaturale.com.
Look for a venue in a location that is easy for people to get to, especially on public transportation. Doug Fir was so appealing to us because it’s in a central part of Portland, the area has ample street parking, and people can have lunch upstairs and then head downstairs to shop.
Jenny: I definitely had a list of potential vendors in mind when we started planning, people I either knew peripherally from the craft world or had “met” online. But a good number of our vendors are people we’ve never met, who applied out of the blue and ended up knocking our socks off. It’s especially important for us to focus on quality and diversity, since this is a “mini” craft fair. We’ve only got 22 spots available per month, so we can’t allow, say, 22 jewelry vendors in, otherwise it becomes “The Jewelry Club.” It’s important to mix things up and keep it fresh, which I hope the applicants can appreciate. However, since Felt Club is monthly, you can always apply again next month.
As far as finding a venue, be creative! Meltdown came to me with the idea of a craft-related gallery show inside the store, but it morphed into Hazel and I taking over the back parking lot with as many tables as we could fit. Meltdown offers collectibles, clothes, toys, etc. and it’s a hub of the alternative arts scene in Hollywood, so there’s definitely crossover potential there. Maybe there’s a place like that near you. Whatever your plans, don’t rule anything or anyplace out. Depending on the size of your event, you’ll want to call up a variety of places, from concert halls and bars/clubs to high schools, VFW halls, parks and rec centers. Update: Felt Club has moved from Meltdown to The Echo in Echo Park and now happens every second Sunday of the month.
Hazel: Mostly, we tried to get a hold of and invite people that we knew and whose crafts we liked. I’ve met tons of great people in the arts scene, because I make and do so many things outside of craft fairs. I’ve been involved in the arts scene for a long time, and worked at Giant Robot which is where I met people like Susie Ghahremani and Saelee Oh.
What kind of cool extras did you come up with to set your sale apart from other events?
Torie: Crafting plays such an important role in our lives, and we thought it would be wonderful to offer visitors at Crafty Wonderland a chance to get crafty at a DIY table– they can take a break from shopping, sit down, chat with people, and learn to make something new to take home. Jen of DIY Lounge and Diane of Church of Craft take turns running things, which is a great tie-in for both of their organizations.
Cathy: It was important to us that the sale not just be a retail event. We wanted it to be fun and interactive. We’ve held a lot of workshop-style events with the release of our book, Super Crafty, and it’s so much fun to teach folks something new and see how they take a basic project idea and make it their own. Our first event featured shrine-making, and next month will be felt flowers for Mother’s Day.
Jenny: We came up with the idea to have a bake sale because one of our pals kept saying she wanted to help out and mentioned that she had a bunch of cookie recipes she wanted to try, and that she thought she could donate them to the Felt Club cause. We’d planned on having a Felt Club info table anyway, so it seemed like a perfect place to put ‘em. Our table rates are really low, so we’re pursuing ways to raise more money to offset our costs and help fund promotional efforts and future events. Some of the vendors also offered to donate cupcakes and cookies for the sale.
Overall, the Felt Club Bake Shoppe will have treats plus we’ll be offering Felt Club 1” button sets, dispensing event info, and handing out copies of BUST magazine. BUST recently signed on as a sponsor, which is a big boost for us. It’s nice to have the exposure and even nicer to have something fun to offer our visitors. We see this table as a meet-and-greet/networking kind of area and are really looking forward to it. So many people are pulling for our little event to succeed, and we’re so thankful to have their help.
Some other great ongoing craft sales coast-to-coast include:
Renegade Craft Fair (Brooklyn and Chicago)
Bazaar Bizarre (Boston, LA, Cleveland, and the Bay Area)
Handmade Bazaar (Portland)
I Heart Rummage (Seattle)
Urban Craft Uprising (Seattle)
Feria Urbana (San Francisco)
For more tips on selling your stuff, check out our online business resources for advice on doing craft sales, approaching stores, marketing, and more!
Susan Beal is the only crafter lucky enough to get the chance to sell at both Crafty Wonderland and Felt Club (so far)!