There’s no telling how many trade fairs I’ve attended in my 13 years writing about the jewelry business. Dozens upon dozens. Until this weekend, however, I’d never had the opportunity to stand inside a booth and see what working a trade show is like from a vendor’s perspective.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, my sister Julia participated in the Los Angeles Winter edition of the Renegade Craft Fair, where her Drawn for You custom illustration business made its first public showing. I served as her booth minion for part of the time. The fair is described as “a curated indie-craft marketplace showcasing the brightest talents in contemporary craft and design.” I prefer to think of it as Etsy (the popular online marketplace for handmade goods) brought to life.
My sister Julia in front of her booth at the Renegade Craft Fair
For my sister to have been accepted to the fair—which has offshoots in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Austin, Texas; San Francisco; Chicago; and London—was already quite a coup. “Each individual event is juried from hundreds of applications, then curated to highlight an eclectic array of both experienced and emergent designers producing one-of-a-kind and limited edition goods in a wide variety of media,” according to the Renegade Craft Fair website.
From ornate letterpress greeting cards that cost $15 each to handcrafted tree stumps that serve as side tables or stools, the fair had a wide array of merchandise from vendors who pride themselves on creating handcrafted art. Jewelry was, of course, a top draw.
Yesterday, I wandered around the aisles in search of jewelry vendors—starting with the booth located across the aisle from my sis, where a couple of my friends bought some presents. Designed by Jeanette Timm, the Hollywood Fodder line of gold-fill and brass jewelry featured an interesting element: old watch gears strung on chains.
The Hollywood Fodder booth featured jewelry made out of old watch gears.
“I think the gears are so fascinating,” Timm said. “But they were never intended to be seen.”
Timm’s line ranges from $15 for a pair of simple earrings to $55 for a body chain. She says her hottest seller is a double wrap bracelet called It’s Always Sunny.
“I name all my pieces after the television show I’m watching at the time I make them,” she said. “Your friends bought Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey.”
The next booth I visited was Cloverpost, where Nashville-based sisters Tammy and Jennifer Lee were selling a trove of delicate pieces ideal for layering: long pendants with minimalist lines in gold-plated brass. The array of charming stud earrings especially caught my eye: There were swirled snakes, sleek tapered bolts, and tiny realistic-looking revolvers.
“Rose gold is really hot at the show,” Tammy said.
The ear stud selection at the Cloverpost booth.
My last stop was at Nikki Montoya Jewelry Design, a designer based in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. I was drawn to her interesting pendants, most of them made of brass. As I chatted with Montoya, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of JCK‘s readers would consider looking for new designers at a fair like Renegade. After all, the event had attracted some high-profile consumers: There had been a Lena Dunham sighting earlier in the day, and on Saturday, my sister spotted Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin!) wandering around.
Clearly, the handmade ethos that distinguishes the sellers on Etsy was a draw in its own right.
The prices on the jewelry I saw at the fair weren’t high, but that shouldn’t diminish the ambitions of the people who made them. Most of the designers I spoke to said they were working on fine jewelry lines, or could make 14k gold versions of the pieces they sold in brass.
Pendants by Nikki Montoya at the Renegade Craft Fair
Once 5 p.m. came and the moon began to rise over the fairgrounds, I helped Jul break down her booth. As we put away her cards and folded the burlap fabric she had used as a table covering, I thought back to what it was like sitting inside her booth and greeting passersby who stopped to look at her cards and custom illustrations, pieces she’d labored over for months. The fact that people were engaged by her work and interested in it—even if they didn’t purchase anything—meant so much to her. What I was left with at the end of the day was the conviction that designers often start small, selling their crafts at fairgrounds with dust in the air and woodchips on the ground. But these humble surroundings belie their talent. For retailers with a sixth sense for style, fairs like Renegade are a fantastic scouting ground.
The moon sets on the Renegade Craft Fair in Los Angeles.