Craft Lake City sews up DIY businesses, one table at a time
Before Susan Petersen promoted her Freshly Picked baby shoes on ABC's "Shark Tank," before she sold her soft-soled moccasins to the Kardashian clan, before all of that, Utah customers bought them at the Craft Lake City DIY Festival.
At the first Craft Lake City in 2009, Petersen sold moccasins she had made from leather scraps. She was prompted to sew her own because she couldn't find shoes that would stay on her baby son's feet. She also couldn't find baby shoes in the colors she wanted.
Back then, the Provo crafter was also selling handmade baby clothes, bags and blankets. She had an online store, which was "horribly unsuccessful," she says.
But Craft Lake City customers' interest in her distinctive, soft-soled leather baby shoes helped her focus her business on that signature product. Early buyers helped her realize how her baby mocs held the imprints of their baby's feet. "I'm not in the shoe business," she says of her $60 moccasins. "I'm in the memory business. We're trying to create a product that will tell a story about that time in your child's life."
Petersen used to sew 30 pairs of moccasins a day herself. Now her company employs 11 full-time employees, including the two sewers she first hired. Her moccasins are made in factories in California and Ohio, then shipped out of a Utah County warehouse.
Now that she has created something of a moccasin empire Freshly Picked has grown from $10,000 in sales in 2010 to $1 million in sales in 2013 Petersen remains committed to Craft Lake City.
This year's DIY festival, which is expected to draw more than 35,000 people, opens Friday night and continues Saturday at the Gallivan Center. Beyond local crafts, the festival features science and technology exhibits, a kids' crafting area, a busking lounge, two music stages and food vendors.
In many ways, Petersen's business story underscores the success of Craft Lake City as a business incubator. The festival offers a way to meet customers and gain feedback, Petersen says, but it also creates a network for vendors. "Crafting can be such a lonely job at times, because you're working by yourself in a vacuum," she says.
In addition, Craft Lake City bridges the gap between Utah's bifurcated DIY cultures, says founder Angela Brown, editor of SLUG magazine. The festival attracts vendors who might draw upon pioneer-era skills learned at the local LDS wardhouse, who can be seen sharing tips and techniques across a table with a crafting hipster with tattoo sleeves.
Brown remembers attending Relief Society craft nights with her mother, but as a young girl, she wasn't particularly interested in learning how to can fruit. Now, Brown says, her mother rolls her eyes as she watches her daughter pay to take canning classes.
More than anything else, the festival aims to make the idea of crafting cool, Brown says. As always, this year's vendors were selected anonymously by a secret jury. More than 500 applicants vied for the festival's 220 spots.
In six years, Craft Lake City has grown from a SLUG event into a nonprofit offering year-round workshops and after-school programs. New this fall will be its first-ever vendor boot camp, in conjunction with the Utah Arts Festival.
One thing that sets apart the festival is the nonprofit's commitment to supporting local artisans. Another thing: It's free for customers and charges just $150 or $200 to vendors. Volunteers set up tents and tables, both to make it easy for new vendors and to maximize space on the Gallivan plaza.
Other vendors corroborate Petersen's loyalty to Craft Lake City. Brady Burrows, a graphic designer by day at The Mandate Press, promoted his business, Lars Love Letters, at last year's festival, selling cards and posters made from junk mail. He's passionate about papermaking, having taught himself the process and even building his own equipment, including a bottle jack press. He'd eventually like to expand Lars Love Letters, with products such as paper bowls, but for now festival customers serve as a focus group.
A first-time vendor at this year's Craft Lake City is Bradley Winterrose of Heber, who with his wife, Natasha, creates wood toys. He works in his grandfather's and father's workshop, using the same tools as he did when he worked with them as a young boy.
Winterrose is a firefighter, while his wife is a nurse, but after hours they build the toys, which they finish with mineral oil and beeswax from their own beehives.
Get your local craft on
The sixth Craft Lake City DIY Festival, signature event of the Craft Lake City nonprofit, spotlights 220 Utah artisans. Other features include a science and technology display, local performers on two stages, a busking lounge, kids craft area, and food trucks and food vendors.
Where • Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main St., Salt Lake City
When • Friday, Aug. 8, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 9, noon-10 p.m.
Tickets • Free
Also • Utah Brewer's Guild will serve craft brews at the festival's VIP patio, which will also feature food and craft cocktails. VIP tickets $35, at 24tix.com, at the door or the festival's info booth. Only 500 tickets are available to the public.