Most of the time, Etsy Denton merchants are available chiefly online, operating shops with the handmade cyber-retail giant, Etsy.com.
Twice a year, though, the predominantly female network of local tailors, jewelers, artisans and designers gets together in a single space so buyers can see the merchandise up close — touch it, even.
Saturday marks the Etsy Denton Summer Bazaar.
“What we really want to do is unite artists with buyers — especially buyers who live in Denton,” said Rachel Aughtry, a pursemaker who serves as a de facto co-leader of the local network of Etsy shopkeepers. “Most of the time, if you go online and come into one of our shops, you see our handmade work. You don’t meet us. This is a chance for us to meet buyers and get to know them better.”
Some Etsy Denton members started selling their wares on-site (in addition to online) at the weekly Denton Community Market. Shelley Christner, a Denton artist who “upcycles” found and discarded objects into a host of functional items — large coffee bean sacks into durable and fashionable ottomans, and discarded fabric into cloth napkins — said the community market was ideal.
“We didn’t do the market as Etsy Denton, but members did participate. It was good because it really brought out the people who were looking for the kinds of things we all make,” Christner said. “At the same time, being out there every week was a huge commitment. You have to get everything ready, take it out to the market and then pack up. It really is a major undertaking.”
More member artists could commit to the fall and summer sales, Christner said. The artists can steadily gather merchandise for the sale and the bazaar — and they could also use the information they collect as Etsy shopkeepers to prepare popular items for an on-site sale.
As of late last week, nearly 50 Etsy sellers had been accepted to join the bazaar. A core group of Etsy Denton members act as a jury so they can keep the event local — the vast majority of vendors live and work in Denton — and ensure that shoppers will have a selection of merchandise that boasts solid craftsmanship and creativity. Some vendors will be coming from Dallas and Fort Worth, Aughtry said.
Etsy Denton jeweler Rachel Nokes said the bazaar can help shopkeepers smarten up.
“The first thing I noticed when I started doing this is that, online, you only have an idea of your market,” Nokes said. “You didn’t really know that market until those folks actually walk up to your booth and start looking at your stuff.”
Aughtry agreed that the sales introduce artists to the demographic they attract online.
“While I have a target market — women of a certain age group — you really do see it before your eyes,” she said. “I sell a different bag to Dallas women. Women in Dallas buy my big bags. In Denton, our college girls who don’t have a lot of money buy my little purses.”
Darien Orr, a photographer and artist, said meeting buyers — instead of getting their orders online through Etsy — can revive a flagging imagination.
“Sometimes you get kind of bored with the things you make,” she said. “For me, this is a way of getting re-energized.”
Orr makes clothing, props and accessories for vintage Barbie dolls, and then photographs them on the go — often around Denton. She turns the photos into greeting cards, and they also grace her business cards.
“When I set up shoots, I make most everything. I make the clothes, and I’ve made cotton candy to use in a shoot,” Orr said. “I try to do my shoots at off hours, because people think I’m crazy, out around Denton lying on my stomach, taking pictures of dolls.”
She’ll also be selling a coloring book inspired by her photographs, Out and About in Denton Original Coloring Book.
Denton artist Nikki Lambert, who upcycles men’s clothing into baby and children’s clothes, said frustration drove her to her sewing machine.
“I fell in love with all these men’s shirts,” Lambert said. “And I got really bored with children’s clothes. Especially clothes for little boys, because it seems like the only clothes for boys have sports or monster trucks on them. I started this back when my kids were young — about five or six years ago — and it was a time when I felt like my body and a lot of parts of my life were out of my control. I feel like this was the one thing I could do.”
Lambert makes mostly shirts in sizes newborn to 6 months, up to 3T.
Nokes said savvy artists can make good money by running a store on Etsy — good enough that she made a career change.
“I was a surgical assistant for two years, and I got sick of doctors yelling at me,” she said. “I was already making and selling my jewelry, and so I decided to go this direction and make this my job. It’s a lot better than what I was doing.”
Orr isn’t an Etsy Denton full-timer. She makes and sells her cards in her spare time.
“I have to work full time,” she said. “I have two kids in college. But I really enjoy this. I do it for fun.”
Aughtry said hordes of artists are trying to make a living on Etsy, which isn’t as easy as it might sound.
“Rachel has given workshops for Etsy Denton about how to understand the business side of Etsy,” said Christner, who also makes and sells furniture online with her husband.
While studying art at the University of North Texas, Aughtry took business classes— a choice she’s glad she made.
“I was already thinking about what kind of business model I’d have to develop to sell my purses before I graduated [from the University of North Texas],” she said. “When you’re working on a visual art or design degree, you don’t have to take any business courses, and I think a lot of artists don’t think about it when they’re in school.”
First, Nokes said, Etsy artists earn and keep customers by making quality handmade items.
“Photos are so important when you’re selling on Etsy,” Nokes said. “I bought a fancy camera, and fortunately I have a good photographer friend who gave me good tips and advice.”
The artists said buyers are attracted to shops with a big selection, good pictures of items and excellent customer feedback — or good, old-fashioned customer service. That includes using sound shipping policies and replacing items broken in transit.
Aughtry praised Etsy for its user-friendliness — shoppers can browse by category, price, color and occasion. The online retailer also makes it easy for shoppers to do business with sellers who live and work in their town.
The artists said Denton is a good place to be in the business of making things by hand.
“Denton is a college town, and people here already support handmade art. They love their town,” Christner said. “Not every town is like this, so we’re lucky in that respect.”
Aughtry said the summer bazaar might be more fun for sellers than buyers, given the popularity of Etsy in general and a national sentiment that promotes American and locally made commodities.
“Etsy is exploding right now,” Aughtry said. “And it’s a really good way for creative people to get into business during an economy where a lot of people are losing jobs. You have no overhead. I don’t have to convince someone to give me a bunch of money to start my business.”
Etsy sold $62.8 million worth of handmade merchandise in March. The site takes a small percentage of each sale, and works to keep the site functional and easy to use.
The summer bazaar on Saturday will be staffed with volunteers to help shoppers navigate the event, and to help vendors. Aughtry said the event is suited for big spenders and thrifty shoppers alike.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
AT THE BAZAAR
A short list of what you’ll find for sale at Saturday’s Etsy Denton Summer Bazaar:
• children’s and baby clothes and items
• vintage clothing
• leather headbands
• fine art
• Denton souvenirs
And if shopping makes you hungry, some of the participating food vendors are:
• Denton Vegan Co-op
• Denton Juice Company
• Armadillo Aleworks
• food trucks
ON THE WEB
Etsy Denton: www.etsy.com/teams/5533/etsy-denton
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/etsydenton
ETSY DENTON SUMMER BAZAAR
• What: Denton artists and handcrafters sell handmade clothing, art, jewelry, home furnishings and tchotchkes.
• When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Center for the Visual Arts, 400 E. Hickory St.
• Details: The first 30 shoppers will receive coupon books to be exchanged for items by participating vendors at the bazaar.