Thoughts on Shopping Small this Spring

I am so thankful to be able to put together our market and serve not only our local makers but our community of shoppers looking to buy small run and locally made. Your $3 admission allows me to take time away from my own art practice to organize First Pick Handmade and create a curated space for my fellow makers and designers to showcase their work. Even if you just show up, you are supporting handmade. Since we started in 2017, we’ve also had a booth covered by your door admission for someone who either needs a leg up or a helping hand because we’re not just a market, we are a community. As a community, I believe we are better, stronger, and more resilient when we work together.

Markets are an important link between maker and shopper. Knowledge of what is available locally is a huge step toward intentional shopping, as most of us are quietly working behind closed doors for the majority of the year. Having an event to share our collections at allows us to show and tell (and sell) to the public who may not otherwise know we exist; and we also get valuable feedback for future items. 

We talk a lot about the importance of local and it’s hard to write a post championing Handmade without casting “non-handmade” as the nemesis, but It’s really apples and oranges how small fashion and design businesses operate vs larger companies. In fact, it’s more apples and watermelons, and even among the watermelons, there can be differences, with fast fashion giants vs big brands with more thoughtful production. Think Shein vs Patagonia. 

I think one of the important things to keep in mind with handmade is that while we all want to succeed and pay our rent, we also want our fellow designers to succeed too. Our community ties are strengthened at markets, not just with our customers but with other brands, who we know feel the same pressures and joys as us. Sometimes it really feels like Handmade VS Everybody, doesn’t it? 

Lately, we are seeing friends and colleagues announce their departure, restructuring, leaving Vancouver, closing. Today on my Instagram feed, I saw two different businesses announcing their closure and it has me wondering: is it Vancouver, is it our age or is it just that now we post on social media instead of quietly closing down? 

We have recently seen an increased need for support for small businesses across the board Makers who choose to produce in Canada are not only subject to increases in material costs, gasoline, and basic living expenses, we are also hit with the additional high rent costs for our workplaces and higher wages for employees and contractors. Many friends have taken to social media to spread awareness recently and it’s really troubling to know so many of our maker friends are struggling, but we are glad they are opening up the dialogue. We thank them for their honesty in shining a light into the dark corners and courage to speak their truth. 

To small businesses, it’s death by a thousand cuts with not only rising costs on things, but trying to stay competitive and relevant to customers. Maker burnout is also a real thing as wearing every single hat every single day and having it feel like it’s never enough is exhausting. Social media used to be a great tool to get our work out there, but now posts are barely being seen despite paying for ads. The situation is  frustrating situation and I don’t blame anyone for raising a white flag. 

There are so many factors making it hard to be a small company right now, and we in turn feel for our shoppers who we know are also struggling to get by at times with high costs everywhere. We know everyone is stretched thin these days and we are always so thankful when you choose to shop with us instead of buying from larger brands who are able to offer things like free shipping, huge discounts and multiple drops throughout many micro-seasons. 

Bigger brands can afford to make less off individual items because they are selling mass amounts of products made with cheap overseas labour, synthetic materials, and false trends created to increase FOMO, with the ability to spend heaps on advertising across all forms of media to cast the net as wide as possible. They can do bulk buying of fabric and have leverage to demand lower prices on things, or make items in factories that operate more like fast food chains, with each person making a small amount of hundreds of items instead of anything start to finish. While their retail locations may employ locals, store profits don’t necessarily stay in our communities. 

The nice thing with handmade is the person who made it is generally the person you’re giving your money to. They (and their family) are the shareholders making decisions at their kitchen table, not a boardroom somewhere. Your purchase is buying groceries and dance lessons, not another vacation home or investment property.

When you buy something from one of our First Pick Handmade makers, you are getting a product from someone who made the entire item, made the pattern, did the marketing for social media; someone who wore all (or most) of the hats involved in getting that item from an idea in their head to an item in your hands. You are paying for their years of experience, either in school or trial and error. You are paying for every moment in their life that led to that piece they made. 

Buying handmade is buying art with a functional purpose, that serves a need beyond just desire, and therein lies the difference between a handmade shirt and one from a shop online.

Buying locally made is never going to be as cheap as fast fashion, but not only is the majority of that money staying in our shared community economy. It also supports skills and the associated machinery in our community, which we are at danger of losing every time a local factory closes when someone moves or retires from making. 

Smaller brands are a better environmental choice, too, with many of our brands using high quality natural fibres, recycled or deadstock materials, made-to-order practices and made-to-last small run production. Shopping from local artists and designers is the epitome of “buy less buy better,” “slow fashion,” and “quiet luxury.” With handmade, the items are one of a few by nature. A number of our companies working with deadstock textiles make to order so as not to waste fabric, thereby being able to offer the items longer and to people who actually want them.


By shopping in person at our market, you are saving the shipping cost on each item, and the associated packaging waste, so that’s an environmental win as well. You also know you like the items you’re taking home, creating a better satisfaction with the items you own (plus, less frequent replacement). Having a connection to pieces is more satisfying than opening a box only to decide to return half of it.

Art, ceramics, skin care and jewelry are all easy items to source handmade, so if you are looking to support local, this is a great place to start. Most of us have more than enough clothing, so updating seasonally with a few select handmade items is an easy way to keep things more conscious while still satisfying the urge to have ‘something new’ and staying on a budget (since we’re not starting totally afresh). 

We need you folks, and we believe you need us, and this is why we are all still here holding on. Visiting us at First Pick Handmade is not only a fun way to spend your afternoon, but by knowing what is available prepares you for future intentionally-made purchases and is more an act of defiance than consumerism. I’m hoping that markets such as First Pick Handmade can provide a bit of critical mass to show the public that “craft” can include desirable items and sophisticated pieces so that we need not look beyond our borders for them. 

We don’t want to encourage overspending, but if you’re planning to buy something this season, we ask that you think local first because in turn, we look forward to being able to support our local community with our own purchases.

Thanks again and we look forward to seeing you at Heritage Hall on Sunday March 31st from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Janna / First Pick Handmade