Over the weekend, I attended a Renaissance festival at Hammond Castle in Gloucester. I was still on vacation, so I really wasn't thinking about work (much). I certainly didn't go looking for new vendors.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of makers at the fair who create more than cosplay accessories.* There were henna artists, leather workers, metalsmiths and a delightful woman making flower crowns, handmade wands and bottles of pixie dust. Most of them sell through their own websites and/or through Etsy.
Then this morning, I heard that the President has declared this "Made in America Week." Much of the news surrounding that pronouncement focuses on the fact that President Trump's own companies don't uphold the American-made values he's promoting. True enough. However, I'm thinking in a different direction.
We hear a lot about the demise of retail. Well, I do, anyway. Small retailers lie awake at night pondering the Whole Foods/Amazon merger and Macy's shutting down stores and the latest figures about online shopping vs. brick and mortar.
What I see in the brands we carry and what I hear in conversations with vendors like those at the fair, though, gives me hope. I see stay-at-home moms becoming entrepreneurs in their own neighborhoods. I see people who start a "side" business that becomes successful enough for them to leave their "real" job.
When the media or politicians talk about "small business," they're talking about companies with under 500 or even under 1000 employees. To an Etsy paper maker or an independent yarn shop, that's laughable. Those aren't "small" companies! We're talking about makers who sneak two hours a night after the kids go to bed to pour candles. Or little shops that employ maybe 1-3 other people.
These are the small businesses making a difference, though. The maker movement has momentum. At the fair, I heard one gentleman talking about how a few years ago, they hoped to have 800 people come through over the course of a weekend; this year they had that many just in one day!
This is what gives me hope: small, person-to-person business is actually thriving. Go to a craft fair and you'll find new artisans year over year. Talk to your friends and you'll probably find at least one who is doing something in their spare time that they sell through some small channel or another. Sure, buy your books through Amazon and your music through iTunes. Those products are all going to be the same no matter where you buy them. But when you want something interesting, unique, different, special – you'll find a whole community catering to you!