Review of May Events: Capsule Design Festival

I have attended two previous Capsule events as a shopper, but this was my first time as a vendor.  All in all it was worth it (I made about twice the cost of my booth) but it wasn’t an investment with major returns.

The event happened on Sunday, May 25th, from 11-6, on several blocks surrounding Patricia’s Green in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. The booth fee is a fairly steep $190, considering you are not provided with shelter, parking or furniture of any kind.  We all got nervous when it rained the day before, and a chance of rain was predicted for the day of the festival as well.  Luckily, things stayed dry.  If nice weather had been assured, the turnout may have been better, but nonetheless there was a pretty steady stream of customers throughout the day.  I was set up on Linden Street, however, and a fellow vendor told me that his table on Octavia Street between Hayes and Grove was only receiving about half the traffic — a good thing to know considering you get to choose your own table location.

Compared to other craft/handmade events, the Capsule Festival has a reputation for being a little too cool for school.  It’s definitely hip and on the high end price-wise, but it seems like a good venue for artists whose goods are too time-intensive and costly for the average craft fair.  At Capsule, there are plenty of buyers who are prepared to spend over $100 on a well-made item, provided you accept plastic.

Scattered thinly amongst the uber-hip artisans were a few typical “street fair wear” booths.  Their goods may have been technically handmade, but not by anyone in the U.S.  I heard complaints from some artists who were placed next to such ventures, since their prices were glaringly cheaper, and a few customers were so relieved to finally find a “bargain” that they failed to realize that they came out to Capsule just to shop at H&M.  I know that Capsule juries it’s applications, and I know that they walk the fair themselves, so I can’t imagine they allow such vendors to return in the future.  It used to say specifically on their website that Capsule is not a venue for mass-produced discount merchandise, but I can’t find that statement anymore.  Maybe the definition of “independent design” has changed?

Depending on my schedule and how busy I am in general, I may sign up for the October Capsule Festival.  It’s right in my neighborhood so it’s ridiculously convenient.  It’s also nice to have an event earlier in the holiday season.  You can do some first-hand market research before the big rush and adjust your inventory accordingly.

Tip: Sunscreen the [email protected]$T out of yourself before any seven-hour outdoor event.  I had such a wicked raccoon tan I couldn’t take my sunglasses off in public for a week.

The Rumors are True

The Renegade Craft Fair is happening in San Francisco July 12-13th! Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until this past weekend, which happened to be a week after the application deadline.  Luckily, there are many other craft fairs happening in the area this season with applications still open.

AltCraft: (American Craft Council) August 15-17th at Fort Mason.

  • Cost: $300 for three days, 10 ft. booth space.
  • Deadline: May 23rd (e-mail [email protected] for more info)
  • Comments: Fort Mason doesn’t really get foot traffic.  Luckily, AltCraft is well established so they get a good number of visitors.  I might consider applying for this is it weren’t happening the same weekend as my wedding!

Mission Bazaar: May 17-18th at the Armory at 14th & Mission

  • Cost: $300 for two days, 8 x 10 ft. booth space, includes table and two chairs.
  • Deadline: Today!  Payment deadline extended to May 13th.
  • Comments: This is happening the same weekend as Bay to Breakers and the public is being charged $5 admission, perhaps to cover the cost of entertainers.  I’m going to wait until the holiday Mission Bazaar at least.

Roadworks: (Center for the Book) September 20th on De Haro Street between 16th & 17th (12-5pm)

  • Cost: $80 for a full table, $40 for half
  • Deadline: June 13th (tables $100/$50 after deadline)
  • Comments: Sounds like a cool, fun event (they print linoleum carvings with a steamroller) but it’s only five hours long.  I’ve got some time to think about it.

While I fully support having outlets for crafters to sell their wares I have to wonder, are all these craft fairs saturating the market?  I mean, Baz Biz, Mission Bazaar and Capsule in May, Renegade in July, AltCraft in August and Roadworks in September gives San Francisco residents more than one event every month.  Even I don’t shop for gifts that often.  I fear that with application fees rising and more events crowding the calendar that fewer crafters will be able to afford to vend.  That means customers would start seeing the same people over and over (a complaint I’ve already started hearing) and attendance would start to drop off. It’s a vicious economic cycle, I know, but I don’t want to see it hurt the handmade “industry” by turning craft businesses into a passing fad.