The corporate approach may have no place in the indie nation, but a little entrepreneurial spirit has helped one DIY designer break out of the basement.
Jenna Herbut drew on her business-school savvy to establish Edmonton’s wildly popular, handmade-style show Stop & Shop two years ago. It’s grown to a twice-yearly event that brings 5,000 people through its doors. Now Herbut is bringing her concept—a kind of hip craft show with a clubby atmosphere—to Vancouver with the first Make It market, set for Friday evening (May 1) and all day Saturday and Sunday (May 2 and 3) at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre. The licensed event will find more than 65 indie designers selling clothes, accessories, and more, while DJ Leanne and others spin tunes.
“A lot of craft shows take place in a school gym and have crappy music, and I thought to entice our friends to come, you have to have more of a party atmosphere,” Herbut says in a phone interview. “I was going to New York a lot [before starting Stop & Shop] and looking at what they [craft shows] were doing there, and thought, ”˜Let’s get a DJ and a liquor licence.’ ”
Herbut has always blended her entrepreneurial drive with a love of fashion. While most kids opt to sell lemonade or deliver newspapers, from the age of 12, she earned extra cash by selling homemade jewellery. Later, while she was a business student at the University of Alberta, she created a line of accessories called Booty Beltz as a marketing project in 2004. Working in her parents’ basement, she created belts by sewing buckles and beads onto vintage scarves. Soon, she was selling her pieces in Edmonton boutiques, and upon graduation, parlayed Booty Beltz into a full-time business.
By 2006, her funky belts had gone wholesale: Herbut was selling across Canada and into the U.S. and Japan, employing a team of stay-at-home moms to keep up with the orders she’d pull in at big trade shows. But something didn’t feel right. And it wasn’t until she took time out to sell at a street festival with a friend that she realized what it was.
“I was getting so disconnected with my customer—I was dealing with corporate customers and even a few chains,” she explains. “Plus, it [the street sale] was far more lucrative than selling to the stores because there was a much bigger profit margin. When you’re dealing with store buyers, you’re always trying to appease them. But when I was selling to the customers, I was getting constant feedback.”
Herbut pulled back a bit, and launched a new collection of bags called Bootyfly Bags, a line of reversible, funky totes with interchangeable straps in different colours. She started attending more and more craft-type shows, and with the rise in popularity of handmade fashion—a cult fad that’s lead to everything from the wild success of Etsy.com to the release of entire books, like Handmade Nation, on the subject—she and a friend decided to launch their own version, Stop & Shop, in 2007.
Now, with her brother Chandler Herbut—whose own line, Ole Originals, puts vintage-look screenprinted images like fleurs-de-lis and argyle and damask patterns across guys’ and women’s Ts and hoodies—she’s bringing Make It to Vancouver, where she now lives. She’s well aware that the indie-design-market scene isn’t exactly in its infancy here, with the well-established Portobello West market and numerous seasonal offerings like Got Craft? But Herbut, who wants to stage Make It here twice a year, says the DJ-and-drinks elements set her show apart, as does the strong contingent of Edmonton crafters she’s got in her stead. Sure, she has B.C. designs like Solomon Woodworks’ ethereal jewellery on the roster, but the Alberta contingent includes label Salgado Fenwick’s graphic Ts emblazoned with creepily atmospheric, hand-drawn tree branches and birds; and Northwest Glass and Bead’s lampwork-glass necklaces and bracelets.
“This is more about the atmosphere and the ambiance; we are trying to rebrand craft sales,” Herbut says of the show, letting out her inner commerce grad. “Even the name Make It is two-fold—it’s making the product, but also making it as a businessperson.”