Kim Eckroth of Covet & Ginger during her Renegade Virtual Fair ceramics demo
Editor’s Note: the author worked as the Marketing Manager for Renegade Craft in 2013.
In one browser tab, Elizabeth Schweizer offers a machine knit sock tutorial from New York. In the next, Mike Paré of ZOUZ incense demonstrated how he creates hand-rolled incense cones in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In another, Alyssa Blackwell of Hearth Craft Brooms answers questions about her handcrafted brooms from Eugene, Oregon. In the wake of Spring craft fair cancellations, Renegade Craft’s new Virtual Fair is highlighting indie makers in new ways.
Social distancing orders have forced the postponement or cancellation of events around the world. Renegade Craft typically holds 20 events in 10 cities every year, attracting over 300,000 attendees. So far in 2020, that number has plummeted to zero, as Renegade cancelled Spring fairs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Austin.
Makers called for alternative ways to showcase their work, and Renegade responded with a new Virtual Fair, which launched on April 24th. The online-only event (which will take place every Friday and Saturday through May), features “online portals” for a rotating roster of over 100 makers and artists.
Connecting with Makers from a Distance
From her “maker portal” (which included a link to her website and Instagram Live broadcast), Sarah Lasater of Sarlis broadcasted a needle punch pillow demo. “I had originally planned to debut some of my hand-crafted pillows in person at Renegade,” Lasater shared via email. “Instead of having them at the fair, I’ve been inspired to share a workshop about how to make them at home! I’m hoping this will be a useful tool for those who are looking to pick up a new craft, or are feeling antsy at home and just need to make something,” Lasater said.
Melissa Galbraith, the fiber artist behind MCreativeJ, led a tutorial for one of her beginner-friendly PDF embroidery patterns. The design was inspired by a trip to Joshua Tree that was cancelled due to the pandemic. With the Renegade’s Spring Fair cancelled in Austin, Galbraith has been rethinking her plans.“In-person events are a large portion of my business model,” said Galbraith, “I am thankful that my craft is something that I’ve been able to translate to an online audience with live virtual workshops. Staying nimble in these uncertain times has been an important part of the process.”
“Some of the other local craft fairs I had planned to attend, such as Urban Craft Uprising and Valley Made Market have also moved to an online craft fair model. [Renegade’s Virtual fair is] a different approach… I wish I could watch some of the other makers during their live streams,” said Galbraith.
Captures from Renegade Virtual Fair participants
Clockwise from top left: Blown glass demo with Charged Glassworks, incense rolling tutorial from Zouz Incense, forging demo from Kehoe Carbon Cookware, machine knitting demo with Elaine Shen, paper collage with Esther Ramirez, and spoon carving with Amanda Clair.
The majority of participating makers held livestreams via Instagram Live, which is now visible in-browser. Unlike a traditional craft fair, the content of the fair was demonstration focused, with lots of opportunities to watch makers in action. Kim Eckroth of Covet & Ginger gave a wheel throwing and ceramics glazing demo from her Milwaukee, Wisconsin studio. From her home in Bend, Oregon, Amanda Clair demonstrated both machine and hand-carving techniques in her wooden spoon carving demo. Mercedez Rex Singleton showed off her silk marbling techniques from her studio in Austin, Texas.
For Singleton, the Virtual Fair mirrors the demos she offers at in-person events. “Marbling is one of those things that’s kinda tricky to explain,” said Singleton. When her customers see her technique, Singleton says, “There is this spark, it truly feels like magic! Luckily for me, watching marbling is almost as fun as doing it yourself! Doing a live, virtual demo felt like a very natural pivot for me.”
Singleton’s advice to other craft businesses? Help ease the pain of being in isolation. “My customer base is missing the creative outlet that they get by engaging with me in person,” she says. “I am putting together a beginners marbling kit that has everything one needs to marble at home… A way for me to ease the boredom that many are experiencing and keep with my greater goal of fostering creativity in others.”
A New Format for a New Era
Many of the Virtual Fair vendors opted to donate a percentage of sales made during the fair to charity. Sarah Michalik of Charged Glassworks led a lively glass blowing demo, and planned to donate 10% of sales from the fair to Feed America. Megan Lagueruela, the fiber artist behind Megan-Ilene, led a weaving demonstration, and plans to donate 10% of fair sales to Mask For Heros.
Renegade’s Virtual Fairs will continue every Friday and Saturday through the end of May. Makers who are interested in participating may apply online; applications are rolling. The cost to participate is offered as a “pay-what-you-can” sliding scale, with a suggested amount between $50-250. “Whatever amount you are able to contribute is greatly appreciated, and will help Renegade stay afloat and allow for our platform of uplifting artists to survive,” says Renegade staff.
For artists who depend on in-person events, digital fairs may provide a new marketing opportunity. “My online store has been so necessary since everything has been shut down. For artists and craft businesses who don’t already sell online, I think now is a great time to look into it,” said Lasater before her punch needle demo for Renegade’s Virtual Fair. “The most refreshing thing about this is not feeling the need to advertise my products all the time, but to instead involve everyone in the process of making them.”
Erin is the textile designer and artist behind the home décor company, Cotton & Flax. She licenses her surface designs for fabric, home décor, stationery, and other clients. She’s also a teacher, writer, and enthusiastic advocate for small creative business owners. She lives in San Diego, California.