Once upon a time, craft fairs were the stuff of church bazaars. In other words, the hand made goods were created and donated with good intentions but little else could be guaranteed such as the quality of the craftsmanship or the selling price. Fast forward a decade or two and you wind up in a field with a bunch of hippies selling oatmeal coloured pots, macramé plant hangers and stained glass sun catchers. Actually, the first One of Kind craft fairs in Ontario started in a field but evolved into events with ritzy receptions and –gasp–people in evening wear. The headbands and tie-dye got traded in for sequins and tuxedos. Where will we end up?
In St. John's, I have watched with interest as craft fairs have divided and multiplied with alarming and/or promising energy - like some biological experiment. We used to have two big fairs: one at the Glacier in Mount Pearl and the other administered by the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. This later event was considered to be "the professional" craftsperson's domain, where quality was guaranteed. Somehow, with the proliferation of retail venues selling craft (and this is my opinion only) the urgency to shop at the annual Christmas fair faded. But craft fairs did not.
They splintered along lines of age, attitude and interest. The first Fresh Fish craft fair stands out in my mind for its energy, focus on younger makers and the distinctiveness of its products. I recall buying one of the first Andrew Harvey t-shirts with a "think more spend less" motif on it. The shirt was second-hand from a thrift shop and the motif was applied using a stencil cut from recycled corrugated cardboard. My other purchase was a business card holder made from a recycled plastic tablecloth. This was an example of a craft fair with social relevance. It was in keeping with the times rather like the Fair Trade events featuring Zulu Threads. Craft fairs, rather like other forms of marketing, have to sell an experience as much as a product.
Rather than decline, craft fairs are on the upswing. In the past two weeks, I have run out of fingers counting them. The one I was most impressed with was The Printers Fair. To me, it was a fine example of niche marketing. In other words, it provided a clearly defined product to a qualified target group of purchasers. People knew what was on offer and were interested in that specific genre of product even before they walked through the doors of the building. Held at The Rocket Room on the second floor of the Rocket Bakery, it buzzed with positive energy. Shoppers eagerly snapped up lithographs, hand made books, and cards. They discovered new makers. They were excited.