Crafting at $4 a Gallon

As the organizer of what is becoming a craft show of epic scale, I have a unique perspective of the handmade movement in my region. Participants in Strange Folk are not limited to St. Louis though. This year, we will host 120 vendors from across the country, and even Canada! I’m excited, and very much in the thick of preparations at the moment. There is one glaring issue that I did not anticipate dealing with though…the dismal economy.

First, came the disappointing news from some of our former and potential sponsors that such contributions had been stricken from their budget. Then, I started hearing the various woes of crafters. They couldn’t afford to travel here due to gas prices. They had to go back to working “real” jobs full-time. Their small businesses were no longer financially sustainable. Disheartening as that is, a silver lining is unmistakable.

I see a definite surge in resourcefulness. Crafters who used primarily store-bought materials to make merchandise for previous shows are now integrating reclaimed supplies. In large part, the marketing angle has expanded from “kitsch” and “handmade with love” to “repurposed” and “eco-friendly”. I do not doubt the genuine motives behind the green crafting trend, but simply ponder if this is a perfect storm of necessitated environmentalism. The eco-friendly commercial supplies we desire may still be difficult to obtain, but we have a distinct advantage over corporate manufacturing in the realm of creative reuse.

The negative cliches of mass production and globalization have helped to launch the handmade movement, but all too often I feel like we preach to the converted. Now, as prices on imported goods increase significantly, more people feel that if they can’t get a good deal, they may as well support organic farming or a local business instead. If society is gaining ethical clarity through what they purchase, then indie entrepreneurs may well have a seat reserved on the gravy train.

That’s why despite the fact that patrons to craft shows may have less money to spend this year, I’m optimistic that there will be more of them. Using the right buzzwords(without going overboard in the “green” department) and reaching out beyond the normal target audience could be a pretty effective marketing strategy at this point in time.

What were once inefficient methods of production are now celebrated as vehicles for diverseness. Buying handmade imparts lasting satisfaction, and is increasingly a more eco-friendly choice. So, it makes sense that we should thrive in today’s economic landscape.

Written by Autumn Wiggins

This 2008 interview pretty much sums it up:

1. How would you describe yourself?
An oddly situated performer of thought experiments

2. Do you have any anecdotes about your work (how you got started, frustrating moments, or funny stories)?
At this year's Maker Faire in San Mateo, I gave a presentation on how the trend of green crafting can ultimately address the problem of consumption and waste. Dale Dougherty,the publisher of Make and Craft, later had a gift delivered to me, a staple bound book of poetry: Music Like Dirt by Frank Bidart. This is the last thing one would expect to take home from an event so focused on renegade technology. To my surprise, it was an existential reflection on the human need to make things that I now find myself going back to whenever I need some inspiration to look beyond the materials and processes of crafting.

3. What kinds of things do you do for fun?
In my spare time I enjoy amateur astronomy, outdoor adventures, collecting domain names, and hanging out at coffee shops.

4. What interesting projects are you working on right now?
I'm working to organize community involvement in upcycling, and have a few top-secret website projects up my sleeves!

5. Where do you live? Kids, pets, spouse, occupation?
O'Fallon, IL, a suburb (and I mean a totally typical suburb) of St. Louis, MO. Rather than moving to the more culture friendly urban environment, I am staying put and annoying the heck out of Wal-Mart by throwing a massive indie craft show(Strange Folk) in their backyard. I have a husband, Doug, and two sons: a 7 year old mad scientist named Jack, and 6 year old Max, who we think is an aspiring tattoo artist since he's so fond of drawing all over himself with markers. To pay the bills, I do freelance writing, mural painting, and website design, sell my handmade crafts, teach art classes for kids, and work part -time at a local coffee shop.

6. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
The concept known as "Cradle-to-Cradle" is a blueprint for sustainability that states everything we manufacture should be either biodegrable, infinitely recyclable, or intended to be upcycled. This is the basis for many of my ideas of how the crafting community can be more widely involved in solving the environmental crisis.

7. What is your favorite food/color/tool?
granola/green/sewing machine!


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  1. I see this too all the way into my classroom. My department chair just told us that we need to find more ways to recycle in our classroom. More recycled art projects. I have already come up with 2 or 3 new ones that I hope to share once school hets underway.

  2. Great post!

    DUCF has definitely been thinking along the same lines. We are struggling to become more environmentally responsible on a more limited budget this year.

    For us, it’s turning out to be a balance of good intentions. For example, we haven’t been able to purchase carbon offsets, but we have been able to make our food vendor a local, vegan restaurant.

    Would love to hear other ideas for “greening” a craft fair.

  3. Colleen, I teach an art class for kids, and have lots of great recycled projects. I was thinking about posting about them here or on Eco-Childs Play. Since the school year is about to start, this might be the perfect time to do that.

    Stephanie, Hey girl! I was planning a post about that too (probably Wednesday). It’s a struggle to be squeaky green on a limited budget(just look at the Democratic National Convention!). Plus, there is a dilemma about marketing materials which inherently end up in landfills or as litter. I think you’re right though, we just have to find a balance in these tough times. 🙂

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