Interview by Lara Carvin
In 2014 three women sought to fill the need for a quirky, chic craft fair in the Knoxville area. They found vendors, booked a venue, filed the paperwork, and spread the word to make the Retropolitan Craft Fair a reality. Two years later the event is still going strong and growing even larger.
One of the founders, Taylor Harris, is also the casting director and brand manager here at Red Arrow. We sat down with her to learn a bit more about the inner workings of this one-of-a-kind event.
Q1: Who are the organizers of the Retropolitan Craft Fair?
Taylor: There are three of us who work on the fair together. I act as business manager and handle a lot of the operations side of things – budgets, timelines, business licenses, taxes – most of the behind the scenes things that keep us legit – basically the most glamourous job.
Lacey is in charge of all things décor and creative – if you ever come to a fair and think, “That display looks amazing – who thought up this awesome theme then hand cut and died all those individual tissue paper flowers?!” It was probably her. Alyssa is our awesome director and the one who, after years of us all just talking about it said, “Hey, let’s actually do this.”
Q2: And why did you assume the role of business manager?
Taylor: I think because of the three of us, I’m the most right-brained. I like to be crafty and creative – Alyssa and I stayed up many a night in college knitting (pretty wild!), but I’ve always loved the other side of things, too – creating timelines, budgeting, spreadsheets. There’s nothing like the feeling of organizing a bunch of unruly data into one beautiful Excel file!
Q3: Why did you three start this craft fair?
Taylor: Mainly we did it because we thought it would be fun. We all really liked going to fairs in other cities and enjoyed being creative ourselves. Since Knoxville didn’t have any events like this – there was a Farmers Market but nothing with that indie vibe we love so much – we decided to start our own.
Q4: Once you decided you were going to make the fair happen, what were the first steps in making it a reality?
Taylor: Our first and most important step was to think about who we are as a fair. We had to figure out our own personality and style, which really helped everything fall into place – from our first venue to the décor and even less traditionally creative things like our application process.
Q5: Where did you find vendors?
Taylor: Most of our vendors are regional – Nashville, Asheville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Atlanta. We wanted to find makers who meshed with our style and had that Retropolitan feel. We returned to some of our favorite fairs to talk to makers in person and, of course, Etsy was a great place to find potential vendors as well.
Q6: How do you get vendors to participate in your fair?
Taylor: Our main job and something that we’ve managed to do well is to bring the people! Marketing and getting the word out in the community is extremely important because it gets people there so our makers can be profitable.
We also take care to be professional and treat people well. In the beginning, we had a close friend who’d been a vendor at several similar fairs in the past, and she gave us some good guidance on vendor relations and expectations.
Q7: How do you decide on the final selection of vendors?
Taylor: Retropolitan is a juried fair, which means that, once applications are in, the three of us vote on which vendors to accept. We try to maintain a good mix of makers (pottery, clothing, paper, home décor, skincare, jewelry, etc.) with high quality goods who are really representative of what Retropolitan is all about.
Q8: Do you have any sponsors or partners?
Taylor: We have some awesome local sponsors! Some donate money that we can put toward fair costs and others donate their services or products. We have a lot of great support in the community, and we’re so grateful for those relationships.
Q9: What is your favorite aspect of organizing this event?
Taylor: I love fair day – I think we all do. The whole reason we do this is to bring a unique, high quality event to the people of Knoxville and to give these regional makers a platform they might not otherwise have in this area. We love bringing people together and feeling that sense of community.
Q10: What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of making the event happen?
Taylor: Permits, ordinances, guidelines – those are the nitty gritty parts of my job that can be tricky. It’s all about trying to wade through all the information and get to the heart of what is required to actually get an event up and running.
Q11: What advice would you give someone trying to start their own event?
Taylor: Go with your gut. That’s something Alyssa always says, and we really try to put that into practice. A lot of people will give you advice or may have certain expectations, but you have to go with your instincts and do what’s right for your event.