Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the first craft fair I ever organized. It was July 21-22 at the TransAlta Arts Barn in Edmonton. Back then it wasn’t even called Make It, it was called Stop & Shop and I produced it with one of my best friends at the time, Ally Ng. We met in the summer of 2006 while selling at a street festival. She had a line of jewelry, and I was slinging Booty Beltz. We had an instant connection and became fast friends. Ally taught me so much about life and opened me up to a whole new world. She was (and likely still is) a lot more free spirited than I am and taught me so much about an alternative way of thinking and being.
Shortly after I met Ally we began going on the roads selling at festivals and events. We had such a blast and there are some memories we shared that I will never forget as long as I live. We were both in our 20s, a bit wild and crazy, doing what we loved, and getting into all sorts of trouble together. It was magic!
I can still remember the day we came up with the idea to organize our first craft fair. We had been vending at so many other events and both shared the idea to produce one of our own. I mean, how hard could it be right? Our plan was to have a craft fair that our friends would want to go to, so this meant there needed to be a bar and DJs! It didn’t take long for us to come up with a blueprint of what the show would look like. I had come up with the name Stop & Shop previously and luckily for me Ally dug it.
Over a few months we started to execute our plan. We had no clue what we were doing, but we were both so passionate and excited so we didn’t mind putting in long hours. Ally’s boyfriend (now husband) Cory also helped us out a lot. I still have the notebook where I did all the budgeting for our first ever Stop & Shop. We were scheduled to each make $875 each which isn’t a lot considering how much blood, sweat, and tears we put into planning it.
A couple days before the first ever Stop & Shop I got really nervous. We had hurled ourselves into this thing, and I was worried it wasn’t going to fly. I remember Ally was also scared because the 25 artists, makers, and crafters were all our friends and peers. Luckily we had each other as support because there was no turning back.
Our parents worked the front door so Ally and I could still have our own booths at the show. It was pretty funny to see our moms and dads taking the loonies because people assumed they were the ones organizing Stop & Shop. I don’t remember how many customers actually came through the show, but I still remember having a conversation with my dad on the Sunday after the show and telling him I had a feeling it was going to be big.
After regrouping from our first Stop & Shop, Ally and I decided we wanted to do a holiday show back at the TransAlta Arts Barns. This time instead of only renting out the lobby, we decided to triple the size of the show and rent out the entire theater! People thought we were crazy, but Ally and I believe strongly in our visions and knew we could make it happen.
We produced 5 events together, and the last two were at the airplane hangar on Kingsway in Edmonton with over 100 exhibitors. The last show Ally and I organized together was a tough one for me. A year before I had moved to Vancouver along with my brother Chandler. In the early days of Stop & Shop, him and his friends would often help out at the front door along with our parents. It was an easy sell because they could drink beer and talk to all the pretty girls that came into shop!
One day Chandler came to me and said he had an idea. He explained that he wanted to start a T-shirt company for men because he saw all the bored looking dudes coming to Stop & Shop with their girlfriends. There was nothing for them to buy once they were at the show and Chandler wanted to solve that problem by creating simply designed shirts that were very different than Ed Hardy, which was super popular at the time (at least in Edmonton!)
He came up with the name Ole Originals because it was the name of our Swedish grandfather and Chandler’s middle name. In only a month he had created designs, made a simple website, and screened a bunch of Ts. I have to say I was a little worried when Stop & Shop started because hardly anyone was stopping at his Ole booth. Because my brother is ambitious he got a ton made and I’ll never forget how deflated he looked when he had hardly any sales in the first few hours. As a big sis my heart broke for him because I knew how excited he was to start his own business.
Then something shifted. People started to stop at his booth and buy. I’m not sure if he changed his approach to selling, but at the end of Stop & Shop he had killed it! Back in the day Chandler used to help me sell Booty Beltz (not always willingly!) and it was SO cool to see him succeed at his own passion project.
Because my brother is ridiculously tenacious, the next craft fair he participated in was the One of a Kind Show in Vancouver. It’s not usually the type of show someone would do as their second ever event, but Chandler had already knew the industry inside and out because of Booty Beltz and Stop & Shop. His Ole shirts flew off the shelves once again and he began to start to really believe in his idea.
At the time he was working for a marketing company in New Westminster as a sales guy. He was really good at his job, but didn’t feel over passionate about it. As he started to gain confidence with Ole he realized he could do it full time. This was also around the same time that things between Ally and I were beginning to crumble. I was living in Vancouver and she was working full time as a kindergarten teacher. Our working hours were so different and I felt our visions and goals were also shifting apart.
I knew the partnership wasn’t working any longer, and Ally was one of my best friends so it was so challenging to know how to handle it. I loved her, but I knew in order to take the company to the next level we couldn’t remain business partners. One day Chandler expressed interest in teaming up and taking the concept to the next level. He wanted to quit his sales job and do his own thing full time and thought we would be great partners in growing the handmade community.
This is when I knew I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life, and end things with Ally. To this day it still remains my second hardest breakup. Ally is one of the kindest, sweetest, amazing humans I’ve ever met and to tell her I could no longer run Stop & Shop with her gutted me. I still tear up when I think about how horrible I felt having that conversation. As much as I didn’t want to end things, I knew in my heart I wouldn’t be able to live my dream if I didn’t. It was a seriously hard talk, and shifted our friendship significantly.
Part of the agreement with Ally was that neither of us could use the name Stop & Shop, so Chandler and I had to come up with a new name. I don’t remember the moment the name Make It came to me, but I knew instantly it was a good one. Funny enough Chandler didn’t agree and for a long time he wanted to change the name to something else. I’m glad I won that battle!
The very first Make It show we organized was at the Boonie Doon community centre in Edmonton. It kinda out of the way, so out of fear that no one would come, I went door to door handing out flyers! I felt like I had a lot on the line because it was my first experience without Ally. She also had a booth at the show, which is proof of how awesome she is.
Overall the first Make It was pretty solid. My mom and dad worked the front door so I could sell Booty Beltz and Chandler could sell Ole Originals. We had a lot of friends come and help out too. Even though the first Make It was much smaller than Stop & Shop, I knew Chandler and I needed to start somewhere and it felt good to begin on a new journey.
In 2008 we had our first Vancouver show at the Roundhouse Community Centre. I remember the incredible Danielle LaPorte did a consulting session with us right before, and told us if we treated our exhibitors like rockstars everything else will fall into place. To this day my team and I still reflect on this golden piece of advice. The first Make It Vancouver was also during the weekend of the Sun Run which kinda killed us on the Sunday, but overall people did well enough they signed up for the next show.
Over the past 10 years my life has felt surreal at times. Everyday I get to wake up and live my dream for which I’m incredibly grateful for. I have had some crazy highs and some pretty terrifying lows. My journey as a craft fair organizer is not something I would ever dream of doing, but reflecting back is makes sense that I am where I am today.
Last night I saw the Phantom of the Opera with one of my best friends. We figured out we had both seen the same performance in Edmonton about 25 years ago! Although we didn’t know each other back then, it made a significant impression on both of our lives. Seeing that show at such a young age moved my little soul and woke up something in me. For years I wanted to be an actor/dancer and pursued it until my early 20s. I loved performing more than anything, but I knew I wasn’t talented enough to take it to the next level.
If I had continued to try and make it on the stage, Make It wouldn’t exist today. It’s pretty crazy to think that the decision to stop pursuing theater pulled me into the life I live today. When I tell people what I do for a living they sometimes look at me with a blank look on their face. It’s a peculiar pursuit, but I’m beyond happy I listened to all the little impulses along the way that have guided me to this point in time 10 years later. I know I’m meant to be doing the work I’m doing and that’s a powerful and glorious feeling. Even when the days are long and hard, I know I’m blessed to be living the dream I once dreamed.
Make It has only succeeded because of the people who have supported it. When Ally and I organized our first Stop & Shop I thought there was a chance no one would show up. I was scared our friends who paid for a booth would be mad at us, and my reputation would be ruined. There were so many reasons why I was scared to try organizing a craft fair, but there was a burning flame inside of me that said DO IT!
Currently I’m finishing up a book about this very subject. It’s called Make It Happen (of course!), but the book has evolved into something beyond what I originally imagined. When I first started out I thought it was going to be all about the handmade community, but the further I went down the rabbit hole of research, the more my own perception shifted. Making it happen is a universal concept and applies to so much more than making things and selling them. It’s about turning the burning desire of an idea into reality.
Writing the book has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life. I hate sitting in front of a computer to start, but I also have realized how much of my own beliefs I’ve had to challenge by writing it. Make It Happen is a book I wrote for myself because I wanted to prove I could do it. Now that it’s in final edits and we are working on the cover design I feel like I’ve almost crossed the finish line.
Now the scary part soon begins because I will have a book on the market that people will judge and maybe criticize. I pour my soul into everything I do, so I feel vulnerable that something so close to my heart will be out in the world. But I also know that by not sharing my experience I’m holding back and not shining my light. If Ally, Chandler, and I did not guts to create the shows we did, the Canadian handmade community would not be as strong as it is today. There could be some people who might have never started pursuing their passion because we didn’t step up.
We all have light, love, and gifts to give. It’s scary as fuck sometimes, but please don’t ever let that hold you back. If you have it in you, share it with the world. We need it and you have no idea how many lives your work my touch as a result. The Phantom of the Opera rocked my 11 year old world and something woke up in me as a result. I know millions of other people are touched by Andrew Lloyd Webbers work, which is why he’s so successful. Hopefully some people feel the same way about Make It.
To commemorate my 10 year craft show anniversary I got a tattoo today. I kinda backseat designed it with the artist, which was hopefully not too annoying for him! The tattoo (which you’ll see on Instagram sooner or later) is of an eye. I love eyes because they allow you to see. I saw the vision for what became Make It long before I had the nerve to do it. When you can see it, you can do it. My whole life is a result of this and I talk WAY more about it in my book.
This was a much longer post than I thought. If you’re still reading, I’m flattered! You will probably also like my book, so keep your eyes open in early November because that’s when it’s coming out. I’m also opening up an event space in Gastown in August that I can’t wait to tell you more about. Just follow along on the interwebs to find out more.
If you’re a Makie, or ever have been one, I want to thank you. Like really really REALLY thank you. It’s your belief in me that has made this whole thing possible. Without you there would never have been a show and I might be still be a hippie selling Booty Beltz at music festivals!
An extra special thank you to Ally, Chandler, and Team Make It (Brigitte, Diana, and Rachel) for allowing me to make it happen!