Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On craft fairs and handmade gifts

I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.org

I wandered down to the Burnaby Craft Fair on Saturday and I'm sad to say that I was a little disappointed. I mean the crafters no disrespect when I say this. They place a great deal of effort into creating their products and and take pride in their work. But the number of people involved, both selling and buying, seems to shrink year after year.

A family friend who was selling her weaving there echoed the same sentiment. Fairs are just not getting the same amount of traffic as they used to, and it's getting to the point, she says, where it's just not worth it anymore. As someone who was quite active in that community for many years, I find it a little upsetting.

Stepping out to the car, I heard an advertisement for Circle Craft, which is one of the few places that seems to be able to attract crowds anymore. The last time I was there, someone told me that nearly half of all the people selling that year were new, which according to them, was a good thing. But what the high turnover says instead to me is that people don't come back because they don't sell enough to make it financially worthwhile.

I find that the problem with Circle Craft though is that the cost of admission is high, the table fees are high and the commission percentage is also high, so consequently the prices once you get in are all way higher than they would normally have been. I realize that the higher fees cover the cost of advertising and the rental fees for the convention centre, but still, they can make the cost of things a little prohibitive, especially for kids like me who have tight budgets.

One good thing to be said about Circle Craft is that their jury process is very good. They obviously take great care to ensure that everything is hand crafted and of good quality, which is more than can be said about a lot of other local craft fairs.

The last year we sold at the Mission Craft Fair there were two new vendors who also sold silver jewelry. One man was quite open about the fact that his goods were handmade, not by him, but by people in Mexico. The other was selling plain chains, bracelets and lockets that were ordered straight from the Rousseau Chain catalogue. For years there had been friendly competition among a group of jewelers there who were all playing by the same rules, then all of a sudden we were all at a disadvantage because we couldn't compete with mass production.

I can't help thinking that this is just another facet of the erosion of the public sphere by corporations. Maybe I should be writing my Frankfurt School critical theory paper on this instead. If only I had more time.

In spite of my disillusionment I still have faith in buying handmade because supporting real people instead of Wal-Mart makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Not to mention, handmade things are unique. As long as the option still exists I'll take the time to visit local craft fairs and galleries, and when I finally get my shop together on Etsy you'll be sure to know.