Craft fair promotes homespun holiday gifts
With the holiday shopping season just around the corner, a bubbling craft market set up shop Friday and Saturday afternoon in the Waterfront’s shopping district.
Eighty artists, crafters, and designers filled two vacant retail storefronts with beautiful jewelry, pottery, all-natural soaps and scents, cozy knitted hats, original artwork and prints, adorable baby clothes, toys, and everything in between. The event drew a large crowd of eager shoppers, many of them families with babies in tow, to find special gifts for loved ones — and to try to resist buying too much for themselves.
Ensuring that nobody went hungry, My Goodies Bakery enticed shoppers with vegan and gluten-free baked goods, a stop by Aunt Carol’s Gourmet Dips allowed for plenty samples of tasty dips, and The Sweet Spot came equipped with chocolate to make everything better.
A number of artisans had Pittsburgh-specific products, such as Chuck Beard’s “Abandoned Pittsburgh” photography focusing on old mills and buildings, Carol Skingers’s prints and tiles of a map of Schenley Park, and city-inspired T-shirts by Steel City Cotton Works.
The pop-up craft event was organized by I Made It! Market (IMI), a Pittsburgh-based indie-craft marketplace. Self-described as “a fantastical, nomadic, pop up handmade shopping place,” IMI’s main mission is to create opportunities for Pittsburgh’s artisan community to sell its wares to the public. In the process, the organization aims to create a more cohesive community of crafters that mobilizes to create real change in Pittsburgh through craft.
I Made It! Market is organized largely by business development and communications guru Carrie Nardini, as well as Carnegie Mellon alumna Nina Marie Barbuto (CFA ’06), who co-founded IMI with Nardini back in 2006. Nardini, who holds a master’s in business and a B.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh, saw a need for business development resources for the increasing number of Pittsburgh artisans and crafters.
The movement toward self-sustaining local economies rather than multinational businesses is not a new one, but it has gained support and fresh energy in the last decade with a renewed national focus on local businesses and the emergence of e-commerce
sites such as Etsy, an online craft marketplace that facilitates a direct customer-artist relationship. Although there is growing interest in handmade works, small businesses and artisans still have extreme difficulty competing in the mainstream marketplace in large part because they can’t compete against mass-produced price deflation. In addition, many one-man businesses have limited resources to market themselves to a large audience.
IMI allows businesses to get around these obstacles by effectively doing the media, publicity, and organizational aspects of putting on an event to draw shoppers. As a result, a growing movement of entrepreneurial artists and crafters has quietly developed into a uniquely well-organized community in Pittsburgh.
Crucial to the market’s success has been its collaborative attitude in building relationships with other nonprofits in Pittsburgh — such as the Three Rivers Arts Festival, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Cotton Factory, and Southside Works — which allows IMI to connect with the Pittsburgh community and draw in a wider net of customers. In addition to putting on craft shows, IMI works with small creative businesses that need help marketing their ideas, making websites, and promoting themselves. IMI also collaborates with groups interested in hosting their own craft fairs by bringing in artists and organizing the events. Workshops are available for people of all ages.
With the madness of Black Friday just around the corner, a focus on buying local handmade gifts this year is refreshing. In a society too often overcome by cheap trends, craft shows remind us of the innate value of a product made with care. The artisan quality, the thought that goes into every last detail, and the personal connection you can get when buying a handmade item is worth the extra few dollars.
If you’re interested in learning more about I Made It! Market, check out its website at imadeitmarket.com and come out to the next craft fair on Dec. 15, “Last Minute Shopping at The Boyd Community Center.”