In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the unofficial capital of hipsterdom, one can spot legions of trendsetters. On any given Sunday, the standard uniform of plaid shirt, suede boots and thick black frame glasses can be found on dozens of everyday cool kids milling around North Street and 11th Avenue. Last month, many of them made their way down to the annual Renegade Craft Fair at Brooklyn's East River State Park to catch the latest showcase of independent designers and artists.
This year, over 500 entrepreneurs and individual artists applied for a coveted vendor spot, but only 246 were accepted. "There is never a particular theme or focus, but we are aware of trends in the crafting world, and that certainly shows in the types of applications we receive," says Sarah Spies, Director of Vendor and Media Relations at the fair. Once you make it through the selection process, the rest is what you make of it, says Spies. "We really just want to create the best, most dynamic fair... we find artists whose work has a particular polish and [whose work] looks like nothing we've seen before."
|There are a variety of items available at the craft
fair, ranging from jewellery to household items.
The license plates in the parking lot mostly reveal localities outside of New York: Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ontario. In all of these places and beyond, the fair has become synonymous with do-it-yourself design and indie-entrepreneurship.
Established in 2003 at Chicago's Wicker Park, the market-style fair emerged out of a desire to identify unique designs and support burgeoning talent. In an interview with the New York Times, founders Sue Blatt and Kathleen Habbley explained that at first, they "just wanted a space to sell their jewellery and purses." Blatt said, "We couldn't find anything that fit our aesthetic." They did know, however, that "there were Web sites out there doing the same types of D.I.Y. crafts that we were."
Today, the fair has expanded to major cities outside of Chicago - Austin, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Los Angeles and even London, England. It has come a long way since the first arriving in Brooklyn with 125 stallholders in 2005 - the same year that Etsy, an e-commerce website that specialises in handmade and vintage items, was also first established. The connection between the two entities is inescapable. In fact, the founders of Etsy spread the word about their up-and-coming site by handing out flyers at the inaugural fair.
As visitors walk around the various booths, the digital and actual worlds merge, giving participants an offbeat experience in taste making. There are a myriad of reasons why people choose to attend the innovative event. Long-time customers come to the fair to meet designers and actually feel items without having to buy them online first. On the flip side, emerging talent uses the fair to showcase their work and test out ideas before solidifying their presence on websites such as Etsy.
|A variety of eco-friendly clothing for men
and women can be tried on and purchased.
Many vendors, like Victoria Bekerman, notice an immediate increase in sales after participating in the fair. "I started from zero in outside markets like this. Even if they don't end up buying, they might go online and order. It's a great opportunity." Based in Chelsea, the jewellery designer began her career while working in the corporate world. At first, mixing vintage chains, oxidised silver, precious stones and brass was just a side hobby. Taking part in the fair was one of the first ways she was able to establish her brand and branch out on her own. "It has been a wonderful way for me to connect with different artists and buyers. I mean just yesterday, a buyer from Anthropologie stopped by my booth."
Trend spotters and buyers are common visitors at craft fairs and are not just limited to Brooklyn either. After participating in the fair's San Francisco stop, Bekerman forged a partnership with a buyer from the city's Museum of Modern Art. Today, her jewellery collection can now be found in over 90 stores across several states.
Nearby Bekerman's tent, fair attendee Marko Manriquez touches a shirt made by Michael Masterson, founder of House of Reboot. "Does it shrink in the wash?" Manriquez asks. The question, of course, ignites a conversation that could never happen online. "My goal is to be an unknown," says Masterson. "I don't want to be available to everyone. I want my collections to be something that are very difficult to get."
For Masterson, the ability to interact directly with customers like Manriquez is the main reason why he decided to participate in the travelling showcase. His collection of jackets, anoraks, denim shirts and hooded sweatshirts are made from new and unclaimed textiles in a bid to break away from fast-fashion culture. Each item is cut by Masterson and sewn on vintage sewing machines. Based in Pennsylvania, he prides himself on his ability to create high quality collections in small batches, doing his best to give each customer a sense of owning something that is limited edition.
Unlike many other vendors, Masterson does not pay too much attention to developing his online presence. The decision to sell his collection less exclusively (online) is related to his desire to keep a level of equilibrium in the design process. Becoming too popular can be limiting. Masterson believes having many orders of the same type of item can water down his collections over all level of quality. "I make about five items a day. I like having the ability to create something of durability, something that can last a lifetime."
Manriquez says that supporting independent designers like Masters at the fair is not just a lifestyle choice, but also part of an ongoing cultural shift. "I usually hate shopping, but I appreciate craftsmanship. The majority of manufacturing jobs have gone overseas, but I think more and more young people are moving away from disposable clothing...clothing that will only last a season or two. Whenever you come across items made in the 1950s or 60s, you notice the level of quality. Now it's all just crap. And I think people are noticing."
The Renegade Craft Fair builds upon the Internet's ethos of open sharing. Visitors and vendors alike are encouraged to experiment with materials through craft workshops. Much like the web, information moves and circulates, through word of mouth, forums and exchanges. Newcomers and established acts adhere to their own design standards whilst individuals peruse the stores at leisure, drinking in the unique and innovative smells, sounds and textiles. As Violete, a long time attendee put it, "I was just really inspired today."
The Renegade Craft Fair makes its next stop in San Francisco at the Fort Mason Centre July 21-22, 2012.
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