Sunday, November 6, 2016


There was a lot of discussion about fibre instructors getting a #fairfiberwage over the Labour Day weekend and a few weeks afterward.  But there is another aspect of getting a decent wage from fibres and that is from selling textiles.

I chose to become a professional/production weaver about 41 years ago.  I have been doing craft fairs for about 37 of those years with my own booth.  At one time I concentrated on table textiles and sold my place mats, table runners, napkins and such wholesale at the largest gift show in western Canada.  So let's just say I have a fair bit of experience doing shows at both wholesale and retail levels.

Let's also say I have had a fair degree of experience listening to the people that come through my booth.  Let's say I have learned about things like limited budgets - from both sides of the equation.  Because the one thing you do not do as a modern day crafts person making 'traditional' crafts?  You don't get rich.  And if you do manage to make money at it, you are working hard.  Very hard.

The one thing I don't want to hear, while standing in my booth?  "Your prices are way too high.  I can get a scarf at the mall for $25."  My inner voice is responding "Then go to the mall." while I smile and nod and actually say "I understand about limited budgets."

Abby Franquemont was very open about the costs of teaching, so let me be equally open about doing craft fairs at a 'high(er)' level.  

Let's take a theoretical craft fair.  One in a large metropolitan centre with a long history of presenting a high quality show.  Let's say it is open for 5 days.  Let's say the booth rental for this show (for a corner booth) is $2400.  Then add on any extras that you might need to rent for additional electrical beyond the 750 watts provided.  That might cost $100.  Let's say you rent a carpet.  That might be $75.  And so on if you need additional draping for storage or a fitting room (if you are selling clothing that needs to be tried on in private).

Or, if you don 't want to rent things like rug, lights, additional draping, you need to purchase and ship it.  Bear in mind that any draping must meet local fire code regulations, which is more and more often needing to be rated as fire retardant if not proof.

Generally most show contracts require the exhibitor to have $2M in liability insurance (in addition to whatever off site insurance you choose to have for things like a road accident with a van load of product, or theft of the vehicle before you get it unloaded - believe me, it happens).

So we chose to purchase our own flooring, lighting, etc.

This theoretical show is 450 miles away.  Now we need to add in things like the gas/mileage/wear and tear on the vehicle.  Current gasoline prices mean that this trip, to and fro, is going to cost around $200 just in gas, windshield washer fluid, etc.  Meals on the road will add another $150 or so.  The hotel for 7 nights at say $120-$150 depending on whether or not parking is included means an additional $840-$1050.  Plus any meals we buy because we are too tired to make something - at 10 pm, in our hotel room.

And that is before the doors even open.  So show costs are, worst case scenario?  $3800.  

Perhaps you have noticed there is no provision in that list for the material costs of the product, the operating costs of the studio (or even the insurance premium, but that is for the entire year, not just one show so I'm not including it here.)  There is also no mention of the labour of making the textiles.  Nor of paying any helpers that might be required - helpers who (unless they are a spouse) usually expect to at least get minimum wage.  Currently just under $12 in my province.

The uncounted 'costs' of doing craft fairs is the long hours involved - the making of the product in the first place - the set up, the hard physical labour of getting booth and inventory into the building, standing on a hard floor for, in some cases, 11 hours a day (10 am to 9 pm), sleeping in a hotel room, wondering what the weather will throw our way both back and forth, as well as during.  The hours of dealing with the public (which for an introvert is exhausting, but necessary).  And then there is the product development - the sampling, the sampling, the sampling - before I ever put a textile into production.

So no, I am not selling my scarves for $50 each.  They start at $100 and go up from there.  While it is possible to buy a scarf at the mall for pennies in comparison, what I am actually selling is my design aesthetic, my experience, my skill at making textiles.  When you buy a scarf - or a tea towel, or a place mat - from me, you are buying a piece of me.  

Comments from people who have purchased my textiles also report that you are buying quality - quality that lasts.  Textiles that can be used and enjoyed, in some cases for decades.


Sandra Rude said...

Right on, Laura!

spinpygora said...

If a person buys a handwoven textile, they are buying a piece of art (imo). Buying a scarf at the store? Another disposable textile that will end up being one of many clogging up a landfill somewhere, someday. So, no comparison.

Esther Benedict said...

Thank you for continuing to share your experience and insight. As someone who is thinking about going down this road, this information is invaluable.

Liz said...

The whole thing just makes me tired. And yet, I just keep doing it. Possibly because its the only thing I want to do.

Sharon said...

I occasionally get the individual who wants to make a deal when buying multiples. I was shocked the first time I was asked and now I just say politely, thank you for your interest but I can't discount my hourly wage any further.

Ian Bowers said...

Every aspect of your Blog rings true and consistent with our experience.

In addition I tracked sales in the two months before and after the show. Sales dropped as the show approached, customers were looking forward to meeting and buying from us in person, then at the show there was a definite peak in sales, followed by a drop off as customers had stocked up. Overall there was no net gain in sales for all the costs involved. We have stopped shows and put the extra expense into making our web site more visible (850K position on WWW - see, most competitors are at 4.5M or worse) and 'sticky', to increase the sales; it seems to work.

I do think that sometimes the comment, 'huh, I can get that from a local store for far less' contains a message that the product is not sufficiently unique and can be confused with the store item. Saying to the customer 'pick it up and feel the difference, or these colours are not what you will find etc...' is not an answer. The product has to speak of its individual-ness on first sight, in a way that the customer can spot the USP and justify their purchase to their partner/friend/neighbour.

Peg Cherre said...

Here, here, Laura. All too true, and very well said.

In terms of total sales, shows are getting worse with each passing year, at least in the northeastern US. I'm thinking about what this means I have to do next, and am not certain of the answer, but I do know that for me, at least, it's not to schedule more shows. My 64-year-old body (and brain) can't handle it.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I can never afford your textile items, but I truly appreciate that they are worth every penny that is being charged for them.

Rachelle said...

I think the people who say they can get it for $12 at the mall are often not going to buy anything anyway. Those who appreciate craftsmanship are aware it isn't what you find at the mall and if they can't afford it will at least admire it and consider saving for it at a later point.