24 April 13

DIY Trunk Show: 10 Years Strong

10 years ago, Amy Carlton and I met up at Kopi Cafe and we drank pots of tea and ate some delightful cookies and we talked about how great it would be if there was an independent craft show that happened at the beginning of the holiday season where all of the crafty people we knew, and maybe some people who would be new to us, could get together and sell great handmade things to people they didn’t know. At the time, Amy was running a jewelry making business named “Stet” (she’s an editor geek) and I had just started Poise.cc. I don’t even think I’d registered the domain yet. So I guess I was just making bags and giving them away to people for silent auctions and raffles.

We were young and energetic and naive and we laughed and said “How hard could it be to run a craft show?” Oh, little did we know. Except, we were mostly right. It is easy to run a craft show. It wasn’t hard to figure out where to have it and thanks to all of our personal contacts, it wasn’t hard to find people who were interested in having a table. It wasn’t even hard dealing with the city to rent a HUGE room at Pulaski Park (although now that room seems so small). We gave them a money order, they gave us a handwritten receipt. We pulled in favors from friends and had a website designed. We answered emails. We went on WLUW and talked about the show and about handmaking items. We joked about awful it would be if no one showed up to shop.

And 2 weeks before the show, when we were doing all the last minute bits, we snapped. We were tired. At the same time, we turned to each other and said “Do you really think we need to do this again?” We didn’t answer each other, but we nodded knowingly. The night before the show we taped off the spaces on the floor (along with our ever-present and helpful guys Andrew and Jim) and then we went and slept the sleep of the dead before arising way too early and making it back to the space where we set up our own booths and then opened the doors and ushered in 32 crafters.

32! It’s a small number now. A tiny show. But it seemed so HUGE then. After everyone’s tables were display-ready and the crafters were fortifying themselves with coffee and had taking last minute show jitter pee breaks, we opened the doors and shoppers came through them. People we didn’t know came in the doors and bought things and high-fived us. College journalists interviewed us and tried to get us to say “Well, it’s not your grandma’s craft show.” (but we didn’t, or maybe we did, but we wouldn’t say it now) And we were high on endorphins. Literally high. I was dizzy with glee. And then, at the end of the show, as I was rushing people out the door so we could vacate the space on time, a complete stranger of a man came up and asked if he could give me a hug. I was shocked and confused and agreed. And he hugged me. Amy saw my fearful eyes and walked over to us slowly. When he was done hugging me, he grabbed my by both arms and said “Thank you. Thank you soo much. This was my sister’s first show and she’s had a horrible awful year and getting ready for this show brought her so much joy. I went from being afraid for her sanity a few months ago to seeing her soar with pride and confidence today. Thank you for her, but thank you from me, too. I loved seeing that side of my sister and I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for you guys and this show.” And then he ran away. (That woman he was talking about? Still selling stuff and she’s awesome!)

And we looked at each other and said “So? next year?” And we nodded while grinning from ear to ear.

And then the next year we wrote the Craftifesto. And there were 3 rooms of crafters. Almost 90 crafters in 3 rooms with several food vendors set up and people started making cute and awesome kids clothing.

And then the next year we did it again.
And then Amy started grad school and I did it mostly (and mostly half-assedly) by myself.
And then the Chicago Craft Mafia generously stepped in to help me make it better. (And I will forever be indebted and grateful to the original CCM crew for doing that. And if you have attended the show in the last 6 years, you should, too. Because if they hadn’t stepped in and carried the burden, it would have died.)
And then we got some new members who also helped.
And then we got bigger.
And then we moved to Broadway Armory.
And then I recognized that the DIY Trunk Show was a business. A business that takes at least 500 hours a year to run. And I was tired and burnt out and knew that I wasn’t up to doing it again. I just couldn’t. The thought of having to send out applications and accept fees and sign contracts and make sure tasks were completed kept me from sleeping.

And then I thought “There doesn’t have to be a next year. This doesn’t have to go on. There are other craft shows now. Maybe I should do what I wanted the second-wave feminists to do and hand over leadership to a younger group of folks.”

And that thought felt GREAT! And I timidly mentioned to a few of the mafia members who had been with me from the very beginning that I was thinking I was done. And they all agreed that it was time to move on. That the show could only be awesome if the folks organizing it were behind it 100%, and I wasn’t. We weren’t. And it would be better to have no show, than an awful show. And then I mentioned it to Rebeca Mojica and she said “Well, I am going to hire a new position soon and I wanted to find a way to make my shop more of an integral part of the community. And then we talked seriously. And we what-iffed. And we created lists and did math and looked at numbers and translated that to dollars and realized that this was the right move for both of us. I could get June back (hello backyard and glasses of iced tea). Rebeca could cement her biz as an integral part of community development.

And today she announced it officially. I’ve signed over the reins. What legal stuff exists is now in her name. I’m still helping with details as needed. I’m not walking away completely. I’m filling in gaps and providing history and working on answering really hard questions like “If you could start over, what would you have done differently?” (And I honestly can’t answer that. I keep trying, and I can’t.)

But I have no doubt that Rebeca and Blue Buddha Boutique are the right ones to run this now. Nor do I have a doubt that my stepping back was the right answer for me right now. I’m excited to see this show from the outside for once. I’m excited to see the magic that so many other people have talked about. I’m excited to look at the whole picture instead of worrying about details. It’s going to be great. I have not a doubt in the world. I feel lighter and excited. Just like I did 10 years ago when we got this crazy idea in the first place.

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