Videos by Noël Flego.
Rachael Scharf, the founder of Rachael Pots, is one of dozens of up-and-coming artisans who we met at the Renegade Craft Fair at East River State Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at the end of June. Scharf, 28, was busy selling her handmade clay items, most of which are designed for kitchen use, and fielding questions about her products from interested patrons.
At a series of fairs held across the nation each year, Renegade spotlights entrepreneurs who are just starting out — “the highest quality and freshest voices” in crafting, according to its site — and gives them a chance to interact with the more than 300,000 people who visit their fairs annually.
Face Time with Clients
Scharf is one such voice. She launched pottery startup in 2013, and she has been slowly growing it online ever since, while also teaching clay-working classes in Manhattan. For her, participating in the fair provided a valuable opportunity to meet — and receive feedback from — current and future customers.
“You get new ideas. You know, someone comes and says, ‘I need a spoon rest. Why haven’t you made a spoon rest?’” she says. “I like to make things that … can be a decorative object, but it can also be useful.”
Maud Marrie, owner of Montreal-based Metal by Maud, had similar experiences with customers. She said the opportunity to connect was worth her lengthy car trip traversing the American-Canadian border. Boosting online sales is a challenge for Marrie, who runs her metal decor and jewelry business solo. As such, fairs are integral for spreading brand awareness and facilitating customer engagement, she says.
“I love the fair energy — just the fact that you’re directly in contact with the client, and you meet a lot of other artists. I find it really inspiring,” she adds.
The sentiments expressed by these budding business owners are not unique to Renegade. Women vendors at Smorgasburg (which shared East River State Park with Renegade for a month) and the Union Square Farmers Market, have also touted the growth opportunities that can come from on-the-ground exposure at fairs.
Nor were Scharf and Marrie the only ones to extol the virtues of fair participation during our Renegade visit. Ryoko Kitazawa, owner of suspenders and jewelry purveyor Hooks and Luxe, signed on for this year’s event after appreciating the atmosphere of the fair as a customer in 2015.
“It was such a great success for me,” she says of being a vendor. “It was the first time for me to see customers face-to-face. It’s good to know what customers want, and how they like my products.”
Like her fellow Renegaders, Kitazawa says Hooks and Luxe is “still in the growing steps,” but that she’s seen a steady increase in sales since launching in 2015.
Marrying Art and Business
Beyond extolling the business benefits of taking part in the fair, Marrie, Scharf and Kitazawa are also united in their commitments to marry professional success and artistic passion.
Kitazawa was motivated to start her business after making herself a pair of suspenders from chains. When friends praised them, she went on a shopping spree in hopes of supplementing her suspender collection. “But I couldn’t find them anywhere, so I decided to make them myself,” she says, pointing to a common source of startup inspiration — filling a market need.
After launching her venture, Marrie says she found deep fulfillment in turning her visions into tangible products that sell. “There’s something extremely concrete about it. You work with raw material, and you end up with a finished product. There’s a satisfaction to it that is overwhelming.”
Pursuit of passion is, indeed, often a key to success for female entrepreneurs, as our 1,000 Stories project demonstrated. Another significant motivator for women business owners, according to our research, is finding meaning and purpose in one’s venture. In making one’s products, Scharf says there can be a “divide between art and functionality” for some, but that in her eyes, “even a functional mug is also an art form. It’s an expression of self.”