Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On niches, rejections, and asking the question

As a goth crafter, I am pretty accustomed to people not understanding or liking my aesthetic. It's a particular taste, it has a definite niche, and I'm cool with that. Skulls, spiderwebs, and bats are not everyone's cup of tea and there's not a whole lot I can do to change that.

eeeeek! A spider!

That being said, staying true to my style sometimes results in a "which of these things is not like the other?" situation at craft fairs. I can't help but stand out like a black thumb among other crafters whose work looks more like what Etsy regularly champions on its front page. Depending on what neighborhood the show's in and what demographic it serves, being different can be a plus, or a HUGE minus. I had more than a few customers giggling or snarking at my Halloween-tastic displays at a recent show (and, the show was in October, for heaven's sake! I mean, sure, I follow Ministry's edict that "every day is Halloween," but aren't spooky things the norm at this time of year?).

And, I was positive that my aesthetic was the reason for the big fat no I got last week when I applied to the Renegade Craft Fair for the first time. I've shopped at the Renegade shows -- which are huge, filled with amazing handmade wares, and lucrative for sellers -- on many occasions and have never seen much that resembles my work. That's also true of the brick-and-mortar store they have here in Chicago. I've always sort of viewed the Renegade folks in the same way I viewed the cool crowd in high school -- something I'd love to be a part of, but probably would never attain because I don't really fit in with them.

So, I figured that getting accepted to their show was a long shot in the extreme, but applied anyway. When the rejection email came, I believe my direct quote (edited for a family audience) was, "yep, I got rejected -- and in other news, the pope's Catholic and bears poop in the woods!"

My fellow Chicago crafter Kelli of Greenie Bean Recycle recently wrote a great blog post about getting up the nerve to email the Renegade coordinators to ask why she was rejected from their upcoming holiday show, and getting some useful feedback from them. To be honest, it had never occurred to me to do the same. I assumed I knew -- they obviously were creeped out by the freak with the skulls and bats! After reading her post, though, I decided to suck it up and write a very polite email, asking them what I might do differently to improve my chances in future years. I figured that, if nothing else, they might tell me "sorry, we don't like goth stuff" and then I'd know not to spend my energy (and $25 nonrefundable application fee) applying in future years.

I heard back from them today, and to my utter shock, I was completely wrong about why I didn't get in. Here's a recap of what they said:

1. Their main reason is that jewelry is their most saturated category (which is also true on Etsy and pretty much everywhere), and they strictly cap the number of jewelry sellers. They said I might do better at their September show where there are more vendor spaces.

2. I should consider using less of certain materials that they felt were a little too mainstream. The materials they objected to are not items I HAVE to use. I can find alternatives and perhaps work up a new line that does not depend on them.

Interestingly, the materials they had issues with were not in the photos I submitted with my application, though they are all over my shop. This is really valuable information -- they will not just look at whatever photos you've cherrypicked for your application. If they ask for your shop URL, they will scrutinize your whole shop. In retrospect, I might've temporarily deactivated the handful of pieces that I'm not terribly happy with but am leaving in my shop until after the holidays in hopes they'll find the right buyer-- this line of bracelets, for example. But, I wouldn't deactivate too much, because they noted that my shop was well-stocked. Good to know that they look for that too!

3. Here's the point that practically made me fall over in shock: "I think style-wise that your work is pretty close to our vision of 'renegade crafts'.... I think you're doing really cool things with chains and I like the updated-victorian/gothic vibe!" What? You mean they really weren't pointing and laughing at the freaky black-clad girl and her weird crafts? ;)

So, lessons learned:

*Never assume -- it makes an ass... oh, you know the rest. :)

* Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. The people who run these big shows are people too, not gods. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else, and I believe most of them do genuinely want to see us succeed. (And if you encounter one who doesn't, and sends you a snarkly response in return, is that someone you really want to do business with?)

* The crafting community isn't high school, though sometimes it might feel that way, and there's room for a lot of unique styles and aesthetics. I need to let go of the assumption that every rejection, Etsy dry spell, or unsuccessful show happens because I'm in the wrong niche.

I really encourage anyone who's been rejected from a craft show to consider asking the organizers why. You might be really surprised by the answer -- I was!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall craft show schedule

... also known as, to steal a pet phrase of my father's, "watch as I attempt to cram 5 lbs. of you-know-what into a 2-lb. bag!" Oh well, 'tis the season for spooky gothy sparkly stuff. I can sleep when it's January, right? :)

If you're in the Chicago area, here are some places where you'll find my skull-tacular goodies this fall:

*The Gothic Craft Fairy, Sunday, Oct. 3, from 3-8 p.m. at the 1901 Gallery, 1901 W. Belmont (entrance on Wolcott), Chicago

* Handmade Market, Saturday, Oct. 9, from noon-4 p.m. at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago

* Urban Folk Circuit, Saturday, Oct. 23 form 5-10 p.m. at Cole's Bar, 2338 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

* Handmade Market, Saturday, Nov. 13, from noon-4 p.m. at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago

* DIY Trunk Show, Saturday, Nov. 20, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Pulaski Park, 1419 W. Blackhawk, Chicago

* Handmade Market, Saturday, Dec. 11, from noon-4 p.m. at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago

And, possibly more to come.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Things I learned from my first outdoor craft show.

This past weekend, I vended at an outdoor show for the first time. I've done craft fairs before, but setting up in a field presents many challenges that I didn't have to deal with in an art gallery or indoor communal space. As I suspected, I learned a lot about what works, what doesn't, and what's just plain out of your control when you're showing your work outside!

Your displays probably aren't secure enough. Most outdoor vendors know the importance of staking and weighting down tents so that they don't become airborne in a strong wind (and if you didn't know that -- yes, it really is THAT important.) I'd heard horror stories about flying tents taking out a fellow crafter's entire stock, so was extra paranoid about securing mine, and the tent did just fine. The added bonus of a good secure tent is, you can tie things like easels and table legs to the tent's supports for extra stability.

It was the other parts of my display, which I really wasn't worried about, that succumbed to Mother Nature. (more on that in a bit.) Free hint: If the back supports of your necklace busts are cardboard, they will turn to mush if heavily rained upon. Duh. That didn't even occur to me, and those are now in the trash and will need to be replaced with something more impervious. If you can easily knock a display over with your hand, the wind can knock it over too. Are you planning on reusing your empty boxes by draping them in some nice fabric and placing them on your table to create height? Don't leave them empty -- a bad wind will send them flying even if they're duct taped to your table. I stuck a couple of hardcover books in each one and that helped weigh them down against wind.

These necklace busts are now in the trash -- their cardboard back supports were no match for heavy rain.

Next time I'm going to vend outdoors, I'll take my displays outside on a windy day, throw some earrings or necklaces on them, and see how they behave. I don't want any more surprises!

But even if you do everything right, the weather may still defeat you. As the show was opening Sunday, a freak storm with strong winds blew up out of nowhere. I was horrified when I actually saw one of my weights -- a big bin full of kitty litter -- become airborne. I'm sorry, but if the wind is strong enough to take out something that heavy, nothing short of Super Glue is going to hold down little sparkly pieces of jewelry! The most terrifying moment came when we were struggling to take down the tent walls -- yes, they kept out the rain, but made the wind worse -- and an entire folding table upended, spewing earrings and bracelets all over the ground.

I'm still working on solutions for serious storms going forward -- if you've got a great tip for windproof jewelry displays that also create height and visual interest, I'd love to hear it! At this point, the best advice I can offer is to have a well-staffed table. I had a friend helping me but we needed more than two people to hold everything down during the worst of the storm. I really regretted sending my boyfriend home after he was finished helping me haul everything -- a third pair of hands probably would've saved the table when my friend and I were racing to get the walls down.

Be flexible regarding your setup. I did a test run, in my living room, of my tent's layout, finally settling on an L-shaped configuration of tables and easels with the entrance at the front and me at the back. When I arrived at the park at oh-my-god-o'clock Saturday morning to set up, I was shown to my spot and the person in charge casually mentioned, "oh, and people will be coming into your tent from both sides so you'll want people to be able to pass through the tent." Uh, OK then! So, on the fly I rearranged my setup so that the tables were on either side of the tent, and people could walk right through. It worked out OK, but next time I'll arrive armed with a few different setup ideas just in case of unexpected layout requirements.

Yep, there's the kitty litter bin that went airborne. Also, midway through Saturday I realized that everyone was entering only on one side of the tent and no one really had felt the need to pass through. So I moved my sign to where people could actually see it.

If the weather turns really bad, you also may need to redefine your idea of a functional display. I finally committed the cardinal sin of laying some necklaces flat on the table, and just dealt with it. Did it look bad? Kind of.... but not as bad as having broken necklaces because the easel they're hanging on keeps blowing over despite being pounded into the ground and tied down in three places.

My lovely necklace display, which had to be scrapped when the rain and wind hit Sunday.

Bring more rope, tape, and tools than you think you'll need. At the last minute, I ran out and grabbed a roll of duct tape and some of those big black plastic binder clips like they have at the office. I wasn't sure if I'd need them, but decided to have them on hand just in case. And I wouldn't have made it through the weekend without those two items. The binder clips were great for attaching displays to my table and clipping down my blowing tablecloths... and, well, duct tape solves everything, right?

Sunblock, sunblock, sunblock. As a pale-faced goth who truly prefers to stay pasty white, I am religious about slathering myself with SPF 1,000,000 whenever outside. But it's funny how quickly thoughts of protecting one's skin go out the window when one is more concerned about holding up one's displays and accounting for all the jewelry that just spewed onto the ground in a big old tangle. Yeah, I'm rocking an awesome sunburn on my back right now, since the sun came out and I apparently was sweating off my sunblock faster than I could reapply it.

You can't control some things. The weather, for example. Or, whether other sellers don't weight and stake their tents, which keep falling over into your space. (though, there was one crafter who brought extra weights for those who needed them -- not a bad idea if you happen to have extras lying around!) Or, whether almost every other vendor at the show elects not to ride out the storm, packs up, and leaves. I chose to stay, and I'm glad I did. The day turned sunny, and shoppers started trickling in. But they were expecting a lot more vendors than the six of us who decided to stick it out until the end, and every one of them told me, "I thought this show would be bigger." That's out of my control, though, and all I can do is hope that, next year, Mother Nature is a little kinder to us.

Got a great craft show horror story or lesson learned? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Just a quick note for the Chicagoans...

I'm excited to announce that I'll be doing my first outdoor craft show this coming weekend -- the Crafters Round-up! The show runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7 and Sunday, Aug. 8 in Chase Park, Ashland and Leland (a block or so south of Lawrence) on Chicago's north side. If you're in the area, stop by and check out the work of lots of talented local crafters!

It's been.... an "adventure" getting ready for this show. I've done shows before, but small indoor ones where you get one table, not anything where you need to fill a 10 x 10 tent attractively. I took all of last week off from the Day Job and got to work tackling my HUGE to-do list -- which, I'm proud to say, did actually get done!

Also, I had to finally break down and buy a tent (which is a good thing -- I've skipped applying for other summertime shows because I didn't have a tent yet). My ever-supportive boyfriend and I discovered, during our trial run setting it up, that "EZ-Up" is definitely a misnomer! hahahaha. Living in a small condo, we had no space to set it up, so we hauled the thing to the elementary school parking lot across the street from us and set the thing up there, amid much cursing and squinting at directions. We got some VERY strange looks from the neighborhood dog walkers!

I thought about adding some of my best craft show success tips here, but as of today, I don't know that I've got anything new to say. Stand up and smile in your booth -- check! Create levels with your merch instead of laying it all flat on your table -- check! Weigh down your tent -- check! So, instead of rehashing all of that, I'm going to tell you all, after I've survived this show, what I learned and what I'd do differently next time. I have a feeling I'm going to learn a LOT. And, yes, there will be pictures!

Just keep your fingers crossed for me that we don't have another one of our violent storms with sideways downpours and 80-mph winds, yes?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Even during Christmas in July, every day is Halloween....

In the Do Bats Eat Cats household, the Halloween decorations stay up all year 'round. (I know you're all shocked to hear that!) The spiderweb candelabra and skull votive holder are still adorning my mantel, there's a large fake spider seated atop our stereo speakers, and I'm sure I've frightened a neighbor or two with my skull and crossbones welcome mat. Muahahahahaha!!

It may be July, but some of my fellow Etsy sellers are also putting out their pumpkins, witches, and skulls a little bit early this year.

Today's featured Christmas in July Etsy seller, PinkyCrafts, handmakes adorable scrapbook pages, party decorations, gift tags, die cuts, and other goodies for life's big and little celebrations. I checked out her shop today and was excited to see these cute and spooky Halloween-themed scrapbook pages:

Halloween pumpkin jack o'lantern scrapbook page

"Boo!" Halloween pumpkins scrapbook page

Aside from Halloween, one of my favorite things in the world is Alice in Wonderland, so I fell in love with these adorable "Eat Me" cupcake toppers. I kind of want to pick some up and stick them atop some cupcakes to bring to work -- come on, don't tell me there isn't someone in YOUR office who richly deserves that sentiment?! ;)

"Eat Me" cupcake toppers

All orders placed between July 13th and July 25th in PinkyCrafts' shop will receive FREE SHIPPING! In addition, all orders over $100 will receive an additional 20% off! All refunds will be given via PayPal (Valid only on in-stock items; does not apply to Gift Certificates).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Have a sassy Christmas in July!

Yep.... still hot as hell out there. PSA for the day: if you're going to spend an afternoon sitting outside in the shade with friends, beating the heat with icy cold vodka pink lemonades, for god's sake get some water in you too. Oof!

Speaking of girly drinks, today's featured Christmas in July Etsyseller is my fellow jewelry maker SassyBelleWares! Sassy Steph creates fun and whimsical pieces that pop with color. She and I enjoy many of the same things, such as skulls, sparkly things so bright you can see them from space, and, of course, cocktails.

For the Etsywide Christmas in July promo, Sassy Steph is offering 20% off all items -- enter code "CIJ20" in the message to seller section at checkout & the discount will be refunded via PayPal. Offer valid 7/15-7/31 & cannot be combined with other offers.

Here are a few of my favorites from her shop:

Fireworks necklace

Wino wine necklace

Skull and crossbones pirate link bracelet

Check back tomorrow for more Christmas in July goodies!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas in July!

Here in Chicago, it has been oppressively hot these past few weeks. We Midwesterners are not used to running around the city while trying to breathe air that feels more like wet towels! (All of you people who live in states where humidity and heat is the norm can go ahead and point and laugh at us now. Go on, I'll wait!)

The snow and subzero temps will be back here soon enough, but in the meantime, we all can get a little taste of winter in the Etsywide Christmas in July sale. The sitewide promotion officially kicked off yesterday and runs through July 25, but many sellers, myself included, are running it throughout the entire month.

My shop Do Bats Eat Cats is offering 20% off all non-custom-order jewelry -- prices have already been adjusted so no need to wait for a revised invoice.

"Coraline"-inspired earrings with silver Other Mother's hand charms and Swarovski crystals

Wiggle weave chainmaille earrings with big purple sparkly crystals

Also, all my destash supplies are buy one get one free (lesser valued item is free; refund given via Paypal).

Deep teal blue glass pearl beads

Many Etsy sellers wil be joining in on this promotion and are offering everything from free shipping to buy one get one free deals. I'll be featuring one seller every day (or so) for as long as the sale lasts.

Today's featured seller is DeborahJulian, a New Yorker who creates awesome notecards, prints and fine art photographs, many of which star her cats and the city she lives in. Her black cat Billy was born in July and, according to her, is definitely a proud, showy Leo! In honor of his birthday this month, all her artwork showing this black kitty with lots of personality is 20% off. Here are a few of my favorites from her shop:

City Cats notecards

"Can I jump that high?" signed matted print

A Lazy Afternoon notecards

Check back again for more featured artists who are taking part in this Etsywide sale. Nothing like thoughts of Christmas, snow, and sleigh bells to beat this heat!

Monday, July 12, 2010


card by Maikai on Etsy

Big changes have been afoot at the Do Bats Eat Cats household over the past couple of weeks. My boyfriend's company and my company both had extremely bloody layoffs, within days of each other. In both cases, more than half of the company was jettisoned unexpectedly and, at least in the case of my company, amid lots of tears. I was one of the lucky few who were spared, although we survivors all have to take a small pay cut. My boyfriend, unfortunately, was not spared, and is now in full-on job search mode.

I'm very grateful to still have a job but, man, it was HARD watching all of my work friends breaking down crying while packing up their desks. As for my boy... well, we went through all the stages of grieving his job -- anger, depression, sheer abject terror. We've since picked ourselves up, made a plan, and reworked the budget, and are doing our best to stay positive.

buttons by misschief on Etsy

Oddly, this turn of events has made us want to work even more on our respective crafts -- he is a painter and songwriter, and obviously I've got my shop to keep me busy. We're both so grateful to have these creative outlets. I've been inspired to work harder on my shop because, in these times, you cannot have just one stream of income. Sales are slow for a lot of us on Etsy right now, myself included, but I feel like every sale I do make gets me one step closer to the day where I'm not dependent on some faceless corporate overlord to determine my success or failure.

card by breadandbuttershop on Etsy

That being said, both he and I are new to this whole layoff thing and the roller coaster of emotions it stirs up. If you've suffered or survived a layoff, what are your best strategies for coping?

custom printed cookie topper by bitterbakingco on Etsy

Monday, June 14, 2010

Helping the Gulf Coast, one bead/stitch/sketch at a time.

Like many of us, I'm shocked and appalled at the devastation caused by the BP oil spill in the Gulf. I've seen the photos of oil-covered birds (and regretted clicking the link because images of suffering animals never fail to reduce me to immediate tears), and heard the news reports, but until recently, I didn't really have a picture in my mind of just how far-reaching this disaster was.

I recently came across a website, If It Was My Home, which places a big gray blob, representing the size and shape of the spill as it currently exists, over one's hometown. Here's what came up when I plugged "Chicago, IL," where I live, into the website:

This really stunned me, and hit home in a way that no news report could -- it's hard to picture the sheer magnitude of this disaster when you live hundreds of miles away from the affected area. If the spill were in my city, not only would all of Chicago be buried under sticky brown goo, so would the entire sprawling suburban area, Milwaukee, a substantial chunk of Lake Michigan, most of northern Indiana, and parts of western Michigan. That is just horrifying! It seems so much more real when you're looking at it in relation to where you live.

I've felt rather helpless reading and hearing about all of this devastation, but was excited to discover a small way that I could help -- Help the Gulf Coast, a collective Etsy shop that is donating all proceeds to organizations that are working to clean up the spill. As of this writing, the shop, stocked with all sorts of donated items from Etsy sellers, has made 206 sales and donated $1,000 to Oxfam America. Not too shabby for only being in business a few weeks!

Please consider supporting this very good cause (or donating an item or two, if you're a seller). Here are a few of the items for sale:

My donated piece!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What to do when you're just not feeling it.

I have a day job. A demanding day job. A day job that, over the past five years, has demanded 80-hour weeks, untold late nights and weekends, being on call in the middle of the night (and no, I don't work in IT, deliver babies, or deal in any way with emergencies or life-or-death issues), and far too much of my mental and emotional energy.

But, it is what it is, and I'm miles away from being the subject of Etsy's Quit Your Day Job weekly feature. So, like a lot of Etsy sellers with day jobs, I've got to work with what time and energy I've got. Sometimes I rush home from the office excited to grab the beads and pliers and get to work on a new idea. Other times.... well, let's just say that I don't.

I came home from work late last night after an exhausting day that involved a fair amount of bad job-related news. After shoveling in an unhealthy convenience-food dinner, downing a glass of shiraz, and venting to my boyfriend about my day, I sat down to work on a piece I've had in my head for a few days, which I'm going to donate to the Help the Gulf Coast Etsy shop.

This turned out about as well as one might imagine -- i.e., not at all. The charms weren't hanging the way they should, and parts of the piece came out uneven and misshapen. I even got a little too aggressive with the tools and chipped some Swarovski crystals, so those got dumped straight into the trash. By that time, it was close to 11 p.m. and I practically had fallen asleep with pliers in my hands. Yet, I kept on -- I was going to finish this thing if it killed me!

Of course, I didn't finish. I decided the piece looked like crap and that I didn't have the mental wherewithal at that moment to determine the cause of the crappiness and how to make it less crappy. So I put it away... and then *I* felt like crap for not finishing.

You know what, though? I should've put that project away hours before I did. I wasn't feeling it, and continuing to work only made me more frustrated and exhausted. But, I'd seen that the Help the Gulf Coast shop's sales had exploded over the past few days, and I wanted to donate my item as soon as I could, so I ignored my usual methods of finding ways to be productive when one's day job gets in the way of being at my creative best.

Maybe you're one of those people who doesn't lose your creative brilliance when work is kicking your butt. If so, more power to you -- I'm definitely not! If you're not either, you don't need to let your shop grind to a halt during busy times. Here are some ideas for how to keep your crafty business moving along, however slowly, when work gets in the way:

Set a timer. OK, I cannot claim credit for this one; it comes from Flylady, a site that helps people keep their homes clean and organized. One of Flylady's mantras is, "You can do anything for 15 minutes." And she's right -- whether it's scrubbing the bathroom or weaving a bracelet, you can accomplish more than you think if you set the timer for a small, manageable increment of time and promise yourself to work hard, without stopping, until the timer rings. The bonus of this method is, sometimes the timer goes off and you discover you don't feel like stopping. But if you do stop, that's OK too -- you've met your goal.

Set meetable goals for nights when you've worked late. Be realistic -- if it's 10 o'clock at night and you just walked in the door, starving and exhausted, are you REALLY going to knock out 20 Etsy listings, photograph 10 new items, and create a stunning {fill-in-your-craft-here} from scratch? My boyfriend has grown accustomed to me arriving home from work and announcing, "Tonight, the things I am going to accomplish are as follows..." and then listing off no more than three small, manageable tasks that I know I can get through before falling into bed. Which leads me to my next tip:

Enlist support. If you live with someone or have a friend who can hold you accountable, this helps a lot when it comes to the noncreative parts of a craft business -- packing orders, cropping and resizing photos, or listing items, for example. I've told my boyfriend not to let me go to bed until I've finished putting together a package or Photoshopping my photos, and I count on him to gently remind me when my listing-things-on-Etsy time devolves into checking-Facebook time, obsessively-reloading-Twitter time, or randomly-screwing-around-online-for-no-good-reason time.

Do repetitive but necessary tasks, rather than creative work. After a long day at the office, I might not have the mental energy to figure out that new chainmaille weave. But, I can pre-open and pre-close the rings I'll need so that when I do start that piece, I can jump right in. This is what I should've done with my Help the Gulf Coast piece -- I could've gotten the rings opened and the wire cut, and stopped there, saving the design decisions for when I was a little fresher mentally.

If you have a day job or some other commitment on your time, how do you balance that with your craft? What do you do when you're just not feeling the creative spark?

Monday, June 7, 2010

I can't afford to buy handmade ... or, can I?

Yesterday, I vended at a small, local monthly craft fair. Due to violent storms that kept sweeping through Chicago in waves, there was nearly zero foot traffic. Most of us who regularly sell at this show all know each other, at least vaguely, so much of the day was spent wandering over to one anothers' tables, drooling over the new pretties that everyone had made in the past month, and following that with a heavy sigh and the obligatory "I really wish I could buy from you but I am sooooo broke right now -- maybe if I make some sales today."

Disappointed in my lack of sales, my inability to afford other sellers' sparkly wares, and in my fellow Chicagoans' unwillingness to leave the house in bad weather, I hunkered down with my pliers and chainmaille rings and got to work. I reminded myself that the day wasn't a total loss if I could at least get some new pieces made.

The storms finally eased a bit, and we had a few shoppers come through as the show was about to wrap up. One woman immediately made her way over to my table. She had about a decade on me and looked utterly normal on the surface, but I could tell from the black hair and something about the way she'd carried herself that she'd been goth back in the day. After spending a fair amount of time admiring my jewelry, holding various pairs of earrings up to her ears, and asking lots of questions about my process, she uttered those same words I'd been hearing all day: "I'm unemployed and I have NO money to be spending on this sort of thing -- seriously, NONE."

OK, fair enough. I was in the same boat (though I do have a day job) and I'd been hearing the same thing all day; times are tough for us all. I started to commisserate, and then she added, "but, I'm starting a business and I believe in supporting other small business owners. You can't put out to the universe that you have no money and can't support others, and then expect others to support you, right?" With that, she took a pair of earrings off my display, paid for them, and left with a smile.

Her words are still stuck in my head as I write this. Here was a woman most likely worse off than me, yet she somehow found 10 bucks to support my craft. Why were none of us vendors doing the same for each other? Is it that we really didn't have the money, or that we were choosing to spend our money elsewhere? Speaking only for myself, it was the latter.

I have gotten into the habit of checking handmade venues first when I NEED to buy something -- for example, I recently needed a get-well card for a relative and bought one on Etsy rather than picking up something generic at the CVS down the street. But for those of us, like me, who have a little room in our budgets for the occasional want, couldn't we sometimes choose to swap one want for another? Here in Chicago, $10 buys you one fancy girly martini in a nice bar, cab fare when you're too impatient to wait for a delayed bus, an ordered-in lunch at the office, entry to a club. Couldn't I pass on that drink, suck it up and wait for the bus, brown bag my lunch, or forgo a night out now and then, so that I've got a little extra cash to support another independent crafter?

I generally don't believe in "The Secret" -- positive thinking is all well and good, but I think saying that people who have cancer or are starving to death in third world countries just aren't putting out enough positive, abundant energy to the universe is a load of hooey. But I do believe in karma, what-goes-around-comes-around, do-unto-others, whatever you want to call it, to some extent. And the next time I catch myself telling another crafter that I can't afford to buy from her, I'm going to think about whether that's really true, or whether I could make a different choice so that I can.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Etsy D List team, or, is venting really the secret to more sales?!

When I first started selling on Etsy, I could tell right away that it was not just a commerce site like eBay, but a community of uniquely creative people. But I had no idea how to begin connecting with them. If you've spent any amount of time in Etsy's forums, you probably know what I mean -- those forums move FAST! Any new post you make is buried almost instantly, and posting there can feel as though you're just shouting into the void.

The solution for me has been joining teams. I'm currently a member of three very diverse Etsy teams, and I get something different and valuable from each one.

The first team I joined was the Etsy D List team, which was started by Sandy (soulstone321 on Etsy) last fall as a place where sellers new to Etsy or who just hadn't had many sales yet could gather and share tips in a no-question-is-too-stupid atmosphere. (Seriously -- you should see some of the clueless things I posted to the group when I was starting out!) It's a very helpful and noncompetitive environment -- everyone works to share tips we've heard or ways to improve our shops and increase sales. I almost never miss a new Etsy feature, forum thread seeking out submissions, or neat hack for my shop, because one of my teammates saw it and posted it for all to share.

I am pretty sure that I'm the only gothically inclined person on this team, though I have seen some skully goodness in others' shops. My aesthetic is vastly different from most of my teammates', but thankfully no one laughs at me or runs away screaming when I post to the forums or our private message board squeeing about the latest skull- or bat-infested creation I've posted. (Or if they are, they're doing so quietly where I can't see or hear them, hahahaha).

We promote one another in treasuries, tweet and Facebook (that's a verb now, right?) one another's new items, and recently ran a buy-and-replace treasury in the forums resulting in 19 sales for the team. We also have a private message board which we use, among other things, to celebrate each other's successes and vent about whatever's not going well. In doing so, we discovered a curious phenomenon. If we posted to a thread whining about slow or nonexistent sales, one of us would immediately sell something. Seriously -- this happened to me at least three times -- once within 10 minutes of me posting my whiny vent -- and I am not the only one! Are we onto the secret to Etsy success?!

Since we started the team, several members have been featured in Etsy finds and the Storque, and some have even reached that holy grail of the Front Page. Does that mean we're now too successful to be called D-listers? I don't know, but I'm so very glad that I found these ladies!

Search for the "dteam" tag on Etsy to find items by these very talented teammates of mine -- you'll find everything from crochet to felted hats and purses to jewelry to paper ephemera. If you're a new or undiscovered seller and would like to join the team, send an Etsy convo to VintageCarolina, who's in charge of new membership.

If you sell on Etsy, have you joined any teams, and what's been your experience with them? What can we as crafters do to support one another?

Here are some of my favorite items, handmade by the Etsy D List team:

Felted cat phone cozy by Fiberpuppy:

Harry the Hipster comic book by NerdJerk:

Sassy Peg Leg Pirate Necklace by SassyBelleWares: (see, I told you -- skulls!)

Isn't It Dinner Time matted print by DeborahJulian:

Class of 2010 graduation scrapbook page by PinkyCrafts:

June birthstone earrings by JulieEllynDesigns:

Shades of Silver flower necklace by TheWhirlwind:

Wine crochet-top kitchen towels by HippieChickBoutique:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How it all started....

I made my first pair of earrings when I was about four years old. My parents were going out for a nice dinner, and as they were ready to head out the door, I proudly presented my mother with my creations: earrings made from bright yellow twisted pipe cleaners that I'd "liberated" from my grandmother's craft basket, and wound around bobby pins. I guess I'd thought the bobby pins would clip onto my mom's earlobes? Ouch! My mom was a good sport -- not wanting to hurt my feelings, she proudly put them on and walked out the door that way. And, of course, promptly ditched them as soon as she was out of my sight.

Since then, I've drifted in and out of various crafty pursuits:

• Making greeting cards. Fun, but a little too close to my graphic design day job for me to want to regularly spend my free time doing so. After the year in which I hand-made 112 Christmas cards to send to loved ones and nearly drove myself insane in the process, screaming obscenities at my inkjet printer and getting glue and glitter all over myself, my home, and my cat, I called it quits.

• Making my own bellydance costuming, which mostly involved hot-gluing together flowery hairclips and hand-sewing various sparkly things and metal bits and bobs to bras and belts. I did OK at this, in that everything I made held together during my performances with no "wardrobe malfunctions" or sparkly bits flying off at inopportune times. But, if anyone ever looked at the underside of things I made... yikes! It's a spiderweb-like mess of uneven stitches and poorly knotted threads. At any rate, I took a break from performing due to various life and work commitments, so I don't have need for costuming at the moment anyway.

• Sewing with a machine. FAIL. Nothing more to be said about that. :) My grandmother was an excellent sewer but I never was interested in learning when she was alive. I really regret that now -- clearly, I didn't inherit her natural intuitive talent in this area!

But, I always keep coming back to jewelry. I've gone through several cycles in which I bought tons of beads, then gave them away or sold them at a yard sale, then bought them all back. This time, though, it seems to have stuck and has turned into an obsession! I opened my Etsy shop, Do Bats Eat Cats, on August 26, 2009 and I am having a blast creating gothy, Celtic, Victorian-inspired, and chainmaille jewelry.

If you're crafty, how did you get your start? Do you have an early memory of crafting? And, make me feel better about my sewing deficiency -- which of your crafting endeavors have you tried and discarded due to utter ineptitude? :)