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Strange Folk Craft Festival celebrates five years

Katie Miller, \"indie\" jewelry designer.
(David Weinberg)
Katie Miller, \"indie\" jewelry designer.

By David Weinberg


O'Fallon, Ill –

The Strange Craft Folk Festival celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Attendance has doubled in size every year since Autumn Wiggins founded the festival in 2005; 15,000 people showed up last year.

The success of Strange Folk has inspired Wiggins to launch several new projects, some of which aim to completely change the way good are bought and sold.


This weekend the Strange Folk Craft Festival will take place in O'Fallon Illinois. The attendance of Strange folk has doubled each year since independent crafter Autumn Wiggins founded it in 2005. Last year 15,000 people showed up. The success of Strange Folk has inspired Wiggins to launch several new projects, some of which aim to completely change the way goods are manufactured and sold to the public. Reporter David Weinberg brings us her story.


Autumn Wiggins is an indie crafter who sells her wares at festivals and on etsy.com, a marketplace for handmade arts and crafts. She creates tiny worlds inside mason Jars. But she also has some very big ideas. Like changing the global industrial economy big.

Wiggins: "I'm performing these, they are almost scientific experiments with creating systems in public. I would say indie crafting kind of parallels with food, people are trying to go local and organic and indie crafts are the same thing only with things that you own that are not technology but that make you an individual."

Wiggins is also a web designer. She recently created The Upcycle Exchange, a website that connects indie crafters with people who donate old junk that crafters then use to make things.

Wiggins: "I had a gal she brought me a jar of buttons that were her grandmother's and it was amazing because I put the buttons out for the crafters to pick through and they all went at it like a pack of wolves and all of these buttons that were her grandma's sitting in a jar are now going out into the economy and making money for these crafters. [that are trying to make a living at what they do]."

Wiggins is part of a community of people trying to incorporate the do it yourself movement into the global economy. One of the reasons this is becoming a reality is the explosion of new places for crafters to sell their work. Small boutiques that specialize in local hand made products are opening up in cities around the country and dozens of new craft shows and festivals are growing in attendance each year.

Wiggins: "It's really exciting for all of us right now. That we are in this horrible economy yet we are all very hopeful and very encouraged. Even if we go to a show and it kind of bombs we can usually make more money even on a bad day at a craft show than working all week at a part time job, say."

Another reason why all of this is possible is the emergence of new technologies that were previously unavailable or too expensive for the home crafter. Take for instance sheet metal.

Katie Miller: "How we've grown as a business is, anything I can get a jewelers saw through I'm going to try and make jewelry out of."

This is Katie Miller. She makes Jewlery in the basement of a small boutique in Maplewood. She says it used to take her several hours to cut a single piece of metal into a pair of earrings. But now she can take her design drawings to a small fabricating shop in St. Louis that cuts her pieces for her with a laser cutter.

Miller: "The sky is the limit almost on what you can cut now with a laser or water jet."

Miller is now able to make enough jewelry that she quit her full time job as a clinical research coordinator at Washington University and teamed up with a woman in Kansas City. Together they created their own brand of jewelry called Scarlett Garnett.

Wiggins: "At the core of it what were trying to do is compete with big box stores."

Again Autumn Wiggins:

Wiggins: "And I don't think we are ever going to take down Wal-Mart but I think if we work together Maybe we could be in Wal-Mart and actually be creating enough of a buzz that people demand it."

Wiggins' next project is a creative commons licensing website that she hopes will change the way crafters copyright their designs. Say you have a pattern for a purse that you created. Instead of copyrighting that pattern and saying I'm the only one who can make money off this design, a creative commons license would allow anyone to make that purse as long as they attributed it to the designer. The idea is that collectively crafters could make enough of that purse to fill wholesale orders to big box and department stores.

Clifford Holekamp: "I think it is feasible and what has made it more feasible is technology. Technology interestingly, the way I see it is almost re-democratizing capitalism."

Clifford Holekamp is a senior lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the Olin Business School at Washington University. He says that the rise of indie crafting is an example of an economic concept called creative destruction.

Holekamp: "If someone else can do it better it's the right thing that somebody else maybe goes by the wayside. So I absolutely root for whoever can provide a good or service in a way that is superior to the people before it and ultimately it's the consumer who wins."

Attendance for the Strange Folk Fest this weekend has doubled each year since Wiggins founded the event five years ago. She says this proof that more and more consumers are willing to buy independently made products which, if the trend continues is a very good sign for the future of the indie crafting movement.