I wanted to know what it was like to sell your craft wares at one of the large craft fairs. So I asked crafter and designer Roisin Fagan about her experiences at Toronto’s One of A Kind Show! Here’s what she said…
Large retail craft shows are a tremendous amount of work. The Artist/Craftsperson needs to have all of the stock that they would like to sell on hand at the show, especially if the show is centered around the high-volume Christmas shopping season, as purchases are often gifts and time-sensitive.
I am a textile artist, and do all of my work myself. I enjoy every process used in creating a garment or item, from dyeing the cloth to screenprinting to sewing. I also design and print all of my packaging and labeling materials such as the paper shopping bags, care tags and garment information tags. While I love being present and having a large amount of control over each step, it does make for an awful lot of work, and requires a good bit of organizational skill.
My garments are themed, and my design process usually starts with an image that I’ve hand drawn. Next I’ll create a co-ordinating repeating pattern, as all of my garments are reversible or lined. Next I’ll decide on a colour grouping, and then work on samples to get the dye formulas just right. Then the plain white cotton is dyed in batches of about ten metres, and screenprinted.
One of the very first retail craft show that I applied for was the One of a Kind Show in Toronto. I was living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, having attended NSCAD University. A very good friend that I met in school, Kyla Francis and I decided to go through the show application process together, so that we could support each other and also critique each others’ work. We really didn’t think that we would get in, as it is the largest show in Canada, and everyone I knew of that participated in this show was an established craftsperson. Much to our surprise, we did get in – and quickly began panicking!
Very big shows like the One of a Kind Show give you an assigned booth space, in our case ten feet by ten feet. You are responsible for designing and building your booth, and are generally not given much move information than that. You also have to work out the logistics of transportation, accommodation and set-up/tear-down…and if this is your first ‘real’ show, you have to get a credit card processing system, and all of the accoutrements involved in being a business, such as business registration numbers, tax information, and business banking set-ups. Needless to say, I called on the expertise of friends who had previously done this for advice and assistance.
For the first couple of shows, and because this was a new market for me and I didn’t know what ‘market research’ meant, I just made as much as I possibly could, engaging friends and my fella, Ted, to help with cutting and embroidery when they could. As a result, I did make a number of mistakes, including making an awful lot of something I thought would sell, and then it didn’t, as well as not getting enough sleep during a show, which means you really don’t want to talk to people who visit your booth during show hours. Show hours are often long, quite often eleven hours a day, and it can be difficult to talk to potential customers, as well as the interested public for that length of time if you’re tired. I love talking to people, and especially about my work and why I love to do it, so retail shows are a great fit for me.
One of the most important aspects of craft shows for me are the people that you meet while participating in them. I have made great connections with fellow exhibitors, and keep in touch with many of them throughout the year. It is great to have a support system of experienced people that you can turn to when you have questions or need help, and being a part of a larger craft community from across the country helps to build my business as well as keeping me involved in the projects and work that they are doing.
For more information on Roisin’s work see her beautiful website.
If you want more instruction and some really helpful tips, download free my ebook “SCREEN PRINT: The Ultimate Guide” when you join my email newsletter.