The 14th annual Handmade Arcade offers one-of-a-kind exposure for local artists and business owners.
By: Neil Strebig
When Enta residents Joyce Swope and Allison Butka decided to step into the T-shirt printing world, they didn’t necessarily have a plan, according to Swope the couple decided to just “jump in.”
“We built out our garage into a print shop,” Butka said.
The two officially launched Enta Print Circus earlier this year during the historic Women’s March on D.C., donning their handcrafted “The Whole World is Watching” shirts. Since, the pair has offered up a series shirts and tank tops with creative, satiric and empowering messages on them that in Swope’s words “represent us.”
Etna Print Circus is just one of many local businesses that will be featured at next weekend’s Handmade Arcade, an event celebrating the craft and do-it-yourself culture.
The 14th installment of the Handmade Arcade rolls into town on Saturday, December 2. The marketplace will feature over 170 vendors, 12 of which will hail from the Northside and surrounding areas.
“I think people [will] love that you have the opportunity to meet the designer,” Handmade Arcade communications director, Jennifer Baron said. “It is much more than consumers; it is very much a social event.”
Baron, who originally became involved at the inaugural Handmade Arcade back in 2004 as a vendor has witnessed the event and its influence on both participants and guests evolve over the years. To her, the opportunity to speak with the creator of the product is something unique and integral to the convention’s success.
“I think people do care for that connection with the maker,” said Baron.
For Troy Hill resident Sarah Ashley Baxendell, that ability to speak directly with customers is vital to her business.
Baxendell created Corner Alchemy Apothecary as a means to help people “get one step closer to mother nature.” Baxendell, who works full time as a permaculture designer, uses a variety of herbal and natural products to create chemical-free remedies, elixirs and lubricants for customers. Majority of her products are what she described as “plant-based water cocktails” and often require a bit more explanation than similar commodities on the market.
“Selling this type of stuff requires a lot of educating the consumer,” she said. “Since our products take a little bit of explanation I look for places with a lot of foot traffic.”
Like Baxendell that desire for a larger audience is also what attracted first-time vendor, Emily Lockerman. Lockerman owns and operates Trilleypads an online business based out of the North Hills specializing in handcrafted leather moccasins for children. The Handmade Arcade offers her a chance to get a tremendous amount of exposure and in her words the opportunity to “get my moccasins on more kids and put my name out there.”
That exposure is critical for new businesses. The difficulty of getting a business’ name out to potential clients is a hardship faced by all start-ups and is something that Baron and fellow Handmade Arcade organizers recognize. Thus, they have implemented an annual networking event prior the launch of the event every year. According to Baron, the event focuses on not only familiarizing new and returning vendors with Handmade Arcade’s mission but also introducing them to potential marketing opportunities.
“The people we have met already have been really awesome,” said Butka in regards to last week’s networking event. “Around every corner, there has been someone there who has helped us with some crazy opportunity … it’s been wild the support we have found.”
According to volunteer coordinator and Mexican War Streets resident, Deborah Allen, that support system is the fabric that the Handmade Arcade is built around. Following a participant survey from last year’s event, Allen noticed that the number one response was in regards to the impact the craft convention had on vendor confidence whether they had a full-time business or just a part-time operation.
“Even the people who weren’t making it a full-time business, [said] it gave them the confidence to make it into a business,” Allen said.
Allen also helps her boyfriend, Doug Schafer with their small business, Vinyl Resting Place, which utilizes derelict, scratched records and repurposes them using other upcycled materials into beverage coasters.
Allen has been with Handmade Arcade since 2005 and like Baron has helped mature the event into one of the most important craft events in the country. Since its inception in 2004, the event has grown every year in both vendor and guest attendance. This year, the event is expected to draw over 9,000 visitors.
According to Baron that should lead to an expected combined gross profit of over $250,000 for participating vendors. To her such statistics are not only highlight an immediate impact on commercial success for the craft community, but also with the growing size of the event Handmade Arcade has been able to incorporate a number of progressive programs including the Youth Maker Scholarship Program, the Hands-on Handmade activity area and the “Craft Corridor” which features 19 first-time artists.
“We have a number of vendors tell us it is their most lucrative event of the year,” said Baron. “When we started there was nothing like this in Pittsburgh.”
The Handmade Arcade will be at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh on Saturday, December 2 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The event is free to attend but interested parties may opt for special “Early Birdie” passes that allow early entrance to the event and can be purchased at the Wildcard in Lawrenceville or The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh in Mt. Lebanon. For more information on the event visit the Handmade Arcade website.