Friday, July 26, 2013

Renegade Craft Fair at Fort Mason

     There is such a thing as having too much fun.  The Renegade Craft Fair taught me that today.  If you’ve ever been to Patchwork (or you’ve read my article on it), you’ll have an idea of what Renegade is all about.  Pump Patchwork full of organic and environmentally-friendly steroids and throw in a chicken wearing sunglasses and you have Renegade.  So, if you like Patchwork, the American arts and craft scene, or fresh designs, you can’t miss Renegade.  But be warned.  Visiting this craft fair may lead to bankruptcy.
     According to Renegade’s website, it “is the first, largest, and most well respected event of its kind.”  The first fair took place in Chicago in 2003 and now appears in many cities: Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, and even London.  Renegade calls itself an “indie-craft marketplace” that hosts hundreds of vendors who make their own products and designs.  You can learn more about the event, dates, locations, and vendors by visiting Renegade’s website at www.renegadecraft.com.  While you’re on the site, don’t forget to add yourself to their mailing list, shop for Renegade merchandise, and check out photos of each event.  You can also follow Renegade on Facebook and Twitter.
     The great thing about Renegade is that the fun doesn’t end after you leave the craft fair.  That’s because Renegade has partnered with Square (also known as squareup), a really nifty company that’s made it easy and secure to purchase from small and independent vendors via credit card.  Vendors simply attach a device to their iPhone or iPad (as well as other Android devices) that allows them to swipe your card, and Square processes the transaction.  You sign with the iPhone or iPad, and you can have your receipt emailed to you or texted to your phone.  Once you enter your email or phone number, you don’t have to enter any information again if you use the same card in the future.  You simply confirm where you want your receipt to go, and it arrives in minutes.  It is, in a word, brilliant.  Hello convenience.  Goodbye, ATM hunting.
     But I digress.  Renegade has used their relationship with Square to give shoppers one online marketplace to find vendors they saw at an event.  Visit www.squareup.com/renegade to check it out.  Patchwork also features Square at its event, but you have to find your favorite vendors on their own websites or on Etsy.  While you're on Square's website, do some exploring.  You can shop other vendors outside of the Renegade family at www.squareup.com/market.  This may be exciting for the shopper who likes to browse and ponder a while before purchasing, but it can be plain dangerous for the indie-craft fanatic.  Still, it’s nice to know I don’t have to wait half a year to get my next craft fix.
     And Renegade occurs in a larger selection of cities than Patchwork.  I myself went to the San Francisco Renegade Craft Fair at Fort Mason.  It runs on July 27th and July 28th from 11 to 7.  But if you can’t make the July event, don’t worry.  Renegade returns with its winter market on December 21 and 22 at the Concourse Exhibition Center.  I suggest using public transportation to the event at Fort Mason because, if you don’t live in San Francisco, the drive to the show takes you through some hairy and congested tourist hot spots.  Fort Mason is about a thirty to forty-five minute walk from the Pier 41 ferry terminal, or you can BART and bus your way there.  However, if you love the challenge of the drive, there is parking available.  And there were plenty of open spots when I was at the show.
     So, what did I think of the event?  Well, “overwhelming” sums up my entire experience.  There were dozens of vendors, each of which had unique and ooh!-inspiring merchandise.  I had my pick of jewelry, clothing, art, bath soaps and makeups, candy, home d├ęcor, stickers, toys, knick knacks…you get the idea.  There wasn’t anything you couldn’t find there.  Not only was I able to find Christmas gifts for multiple people, I was also able to pick up a couple of mugs to add to my collection, some trendy stickers (a flying pug, for example), and some Snapea Crisps to keep up my energy.  The most unique item I saw was a bracelet made out of a book’s spine.  This is a show that definitely makes you believe in the awesomeness of human creativity.
     And the food options were as unique as the crafts.  I was able to sample and enjoy my first Chicken Shawarma as well as a rich potato knish.  You could purchase chocolates, baked pea crisps, vegetarian corn dogs, and gorgeous sandwiches from Lunchpad.  Plus, the location of the event allowed me to enjoy views of the Bay and the Golden Gate while I ate without having to endure the noise and crowding of other tourist locations.
     However, as much as I enjoyed myself, I still prefer Patchwork to Renegade.  And here’s why.  Patchwork is in a roomy building that has enough space for people to browse, socialize with friends, and buy without congestion getting in their way.  It seemed to me that Renegade, on the other hand, tried to fit too many vendors into one building.  The crowd inside the building was awful.  And it was made worse by the fact that the food vendors were inside the building as well, so you didn’t know if you were waiting in line to move down an aisle or if you were waiting in a line to order something to eat. There simply wasn’t enough room to get close to tables, spend a little time looking through merchandise, or move constructively from one end of the building to the other.
     Besides the space being too small for the number of vendors, there wasn’t a clear flow of traffic.  People moved forward and backward on both sides of the aisle, which created hopeless gridlock as everyone tried to decide how best to squeeze past one another.  It took me almost three hours to make a single pass by every vendor, and many of the vendors I just had to give a quick glance because I couldn’t muscle my way closer. I waited for about ten minutes to pay for an item from one vendor because I couldn’t get close enough to him to complete the transaction.
     And the shoppers at Renegade were hopelessly oblivious to manners, etiquette, or common sense.  Again and again, large groups of friends would stop in the middle of the aisle to chat about their weekend plans, their purchases, and any trivial thing they could think of.  Shoppers crowded in front of each other and pushed each other out of the way numerous times, even if a person had merchandise in hand.  And many shoppers would stop in the middle of the aisle to look at a vendor’s booth or change direction without warning and try to go the other way.
     I think if Renegade used more than one building for their event, reduced the amount of vendors to widen the aisles, created chat spots where people could pull off to the side to socialize, or marked the floor to create a flow of traffic, the experience would have been less stressful and more enjoyable. I felt like I missed vendors and merchandise because I simply couldn't see them.
     That being said, don’t let a little crowd phobia keep you from enjoying a very awesome craft fair.  If you want to find unique gifts for friends, unique jewelry and clothes for yourself, or just be impressed by what American crafters are creating, this is a must-see event.   Just make sure to go in with a budget…and a budget enforcer.

Where to begin?

The crowd...

A view of the venue

The unique structure of the booths was as fun to see as the merchandise.

The mugs I found.  A little scare with your coffee?

This was my favorite vendor and the creator of the adorable mugs pictured above.

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