Pay fair trade to art fair vendors

Opinion: Columns

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Marnie Rourke

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I was one of the vendors at What's Blooming on Harrison in May, and I would like to thank Olya Dailey and Jill Salzman for all the thoughtful, hard work they put into planning the event.

Despite their efforts, as a bead artist with a wide selection of earrings and necklaces, I sadly was very disappointed. I had many admirers, but very few purchases were made. I was not alone. Others told me they were having the same experience. Another bead artist was selling her beautiful jewelry at half price. And it wasn't just the jewelry artists that had this problem.

I only sold a few pairs of earrings. Toward the end of a very long day, a woman and her friend came to look at the jewelry I had made for the art fair. She seemed interested and said my work was quite beautiful, perhaps the best she had seen while touring the Art District. My husband asked her why she wasn't buying anything, to which she responded by saying that it cost too much. I was astonished; my earrings sell for between $15 and $35. They are all one of a kind, and I use a fairly wide variety of materials to create them.

When asked what she would pay for a pair of earrings she admitted had struck her fancy, she said $20, and I was asking $35 for them. For some inexplicable reason, I sold them to her at her price. She received the following: two handmade beads that cost me $6; two large lapis lazuli semi-precious stones, for which I paid $8; the gold findings that make up the earrings cost $3 a pair; and the box they were in cost me 50 cents. A total investment on my part of $17.50. Then there are also shipping costs, the fees to exhibit at the event, the time it took to make them, plus the time I spent at the fair. All the professional articles I have read on pricing jewelry suggest that one ask for twice the cost of materials used — because that is what the buyer will spend. And that was all I was asking. Artisans rarely receive minimum wage for their work.

I believe in fair trade and believe that our local artists deserve the same consideration we offer to those in the developing world. For many creators of fine crafts, this is their only way to earn an income, for others it is a second and much-needed job. And then there are folks like me who view their craft as a worthwhile avocation, yet one for which they should be justly paid.

I know from good experiences that members of our Oak Park community who shop at holiday fairs at various congregations in Oak Park are willing to pay a fair price, and I am looking forward to seeing all of you in church sometime this fall or winter.

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Reader Comments

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Souk Veteran from Marrakesh  

Posted: June 18th, 2012 4:45 PM

Perhaps you've never been through the markets of Morocco or India but your husband opened the door to haggling by asking her to name her price. If the question wasn't asked in the good faith of opening a negotiation then your husband was merely insulting her by implying she was cheap. Asking someone to name their price is a fairly crude, high pressure sale tactic. And in meeting it immediately, you essentially trapped her into a sale. Don't blame the buyer.


Posted: June 17th, 2012 11:24 PM

It's called the free market economy. Welcome to it.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 16th, 2012 10:59 PM

Marnie - I sympathize with the blight of the artists. My sense is Art Festivals are having trouble because so much junk as been introduced to them. I think there needs to be more attention in advance on the background and quality of work of the artists. Bargaining or complaining about the price of art is a cop-out by people being attracted who see the event as a Steet Fair not and Art Fair of Festival. Sheer people volume help the restaurant and low priced item sellers, but not the artists.

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