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Handmades In The USA: Streetfair Culture

Handmades In The USA: Streetfair Culture

Laura Collins of Pansy Maiden knows a thing or two about Street fair’s and the culture around them.  She’s been hand making her beautiful vegan bags for years, and selling them one customer at a time.  Her take on the romantic nature of handmades make us want to pick up and move the country to take up a craft.

Street fairs are romantic. Hear me out on this one. Street fairs have been happening for as long as artisans have been making beautiful things. And that has been since…well…the dawn of civilization. Long before modern, big-box chain stores where selling mass-produced, disposable, thing-a-ma-bobs constructed from inexpensive,  unsustainable materials (for examples, visit your municipality’s landfill), independent designers have been hauling their painstakingly hand-crafted, unique works of art to village greens for perusal by potential patrons for centuries upon centuries. Just close your eyes. Can you hear the rustle of a parasol and the swish of a petticoat as a young lady-of-the-court, beau on arm, makes her way quickly down a dirt path as she eyes the most unique, seemingly-made-for-her brooch? Can you see a flapper-chic Parisian woman with a freshly cut bob lazily enjoying her Saturday afternoon at a street fair when she just happens upon the most exquisite hats designed by the relatively unknown designer, Gabrielle Chanel? I find such romance in these thoughts. Thoughts of centuries worth of lovers buying heartfelt, handmade gifts for their other half. Thoughts of generous souls throughout the ages finding something meaningful and transcendent to wrap up for their bestie’s birthday. Sepia-tone visions of women from days-gone-by, walking amongst artistically adorned tents, treating themselves to an artisan-made ring which, unbeknownst to them, will go on to become a family heirloom. These romantic thoughts of street fairs of yore fill me with a warm glow and such pride in knowing that I am now a small part of that history. Not only because I sell my handcrafted, vegan bags at such fairs, but because I choose to support fellow independent artists whenever possible. And so can you!

A cute bag from Pansy Maiden

These days, craft/street/art/indie markets (pick your favorite moniker–I use them all) can be found just about every single weekend in just about every single American city. It’s never been easier to support independent artists in your community and buy your own future-family-heirlooms. In fact, running a Google search for “Craft Fair June 11, 2011”  yielded over 36,000 results. That’s a lot of handmade goodness in one day, USA! One of the largest shows taking place this upcoming weekend is one I have the great pleasure of participating in: Brooklyn Renegade.

Just some of the goodies that will be available at this weekends fair.

Brooklyn Renegade is one of the largest craft fairs in existence. With over 300 juried exhibitors, this fair is sort of like a little crafty (some might say “hipster) Brigadoon. Today McCarren Park is just a green space with a running track, by Saturday, it’ll be a virtual artisan metro-area, chock-full of white tents containing just about anything you could possibly dream up. By Sunday evening, everything is gone. No more white tents. No more future-family-heirlooms. No more one-of-a-kind sterling silver brooches. No more zombie T-shirts. (Yeah, you read that right.) I guess, for me, this transformative nature adds to the romanticism of these fairs; they are rather ephemeral (although usually perennial). Here today, gone tomorrow. Over like (snap your fingers) that.

Yeah, sure. You could go to your fancy computer machine and visit ecommerce sites like or individual artists’ websites effectively making your own virtual craft fair. You can have a look at two-dimensional representations of the artist’s work and wonder what the piece feels like to the touch. If you have any questions about the artist’s process, you can always “Google” them or shoot them an email. But how does that compare with a face-to-face meeting? What can be gained by shopping at an art fair versus shopping online? Well, since you asked…

1) Nothing compares to a face-to-face meeting. When I say “face-to-face,” I mean direct contact with both the artist and the artist’s work. As I’m sure you realize, quality can be felt and seen. Wares can be tried on. Friends can be asked for opinions. And honestly, how many times in your life have you actually met the person who lovingly created something you own? How cool is that?!

2) Relationships can be formed. “Hi, my name is Laura and I’m a real person. I make bags. Nice to meet you. Let’s stay in touch.” No, I wouldn’t say that to you if you walked up to my tent. That would be weird. My point is, I love meeting people who are interested in what I do. Don’t we all? And in turn, I am interested in what you do. I mean, if you are talking with me about my vegan, sustainable bags, I bet we have lots in common.  So, if a person comes to my tent and strikes up a conversation, I’m going to remember them the next time they email me.

3) Artists test new products at craft fairs. Craft fairs are the perfect place to test out new designs which are currently unavailable anywhere else. Think of it as market research. It’s mutually beneficial; we get immediate feedback, you get first dibs! In addition, lots of artists like myself who offer set styles in set colors in our online shops, offer one-of-a-kind bags at shows just to mix it up a little.

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4) We are a socially responsible bunch. As a whole, most indie artists (and shoppers!) are do-gooders (MTV thinks so too). While walking the paths between tents, you will notice that a lot of us use sustainable materials in our works and promotional materials. In addition, I have been delighted by the growing number of vegan crafters letting their vegan flag fly. Because of our general interest in doing good, many organizers of indie-type craft fairs will invite non-profit groups to table at the fair and hand out information to the willing masses. This year Brooklyn Renegade has invited Grateful Greyhounds to the fair. This organization finds suitable homes for ex-racing greyhounds and educates the public about their plight. Yay!) So, not only will you leave with amazing crafty finds, you will probably have learned a thing or two about how to make the world a better place.

5) Get out from behind that computer! It’s been reported that most American’s are deficient in vitamin D. Come out and enjoy the sun! Soak up some vitamins! Be inspired! Experience the great  outdoors while shopping handmade! And the people watching is bound to be good.

I leave you with this task: Go outside this weekend and find a street fair. If you are in the NYC area, make it Brooklyn Renegade and come find Pansy Maiden‘s tent (#36) and say hello. And just to keep it in the vegan family, stop by and say hi to illustrator Michelle Cavigliano of My Zoetrope (#231), home of quirky, happy art made by a vegan.