As fiber festivals and livestock shows across the United States and many other countries have been canceled, fiber artists and businesses have seen their sales plummet. And festival goers aren’t able to see all of these fiber artists in one place. Fiber Artist Market is a new online marketplace for fiber producers and fiber artists, created shortly before the COVID-19 closures and is currently free for vendors.
Mary, the organizer behind the website, has been involved in the fiber community since she started knitting 30 years ago and has been working with shepherds in her local area and has sponsored FFA/4H kids with fiber animals. Her town has a K-12 Montessori farm school, where she volunteers to teach a “sheep to shawl” every year: the kids raise their own sheep and take classes on everything from animal husbandry to labor law and economics. Then the fleeces from shearing are made into products that are sold at the weekly farmer’s market. Mary’s studio has a micro mill, and they process about 50 fleeces a year and hold classes on spinning, dyeing, felting, weaving, etc. They are the Inland Empire Fibershed SoCal.
Here’s the story of how Mary decided to start Fiber Artist Market, in her words:
I go to a lot of fiber festivals and livestock shows, and over the years I have been impressed with the number of farmers who have sheep and a huge backlog of fleeces in their barns. I frequently buy them and have them processed into yarn, which we then sell at the local fiber festivals, or I try to buy and resell fleeces. Finally it occurred to me that we need an online site to cater to these small hold farmers and independent fiber artists. I found a few friends who were willing to pitch in some start-up money with me, and we got the website started. Our goal was to have it pay us back the start-up cost and then if it made any money we would be able to do FFA/4H grants, internships, scholarships, herd funds, contribute to Livestock Conservancy, things like that.
It took some time as we made lots of mistakes and missteps along the way finding a multivendor platform and all the other things that go into making a website work. Fortunately a local IT guy is willing to work with us for a pittance! We launched it in September with the goal of getting FFA and 4H students’ fleeces online and helping them with some income. Then some local shepherd(esses) asked to be on it and then some of my friends from Black Sheep and Oregon Flock and Fiber, so we said “okay, we can open to the public and see what happens.” We set our prices so they would be affordable for everyone and had subscription packs that would work just for shearing season, a month at a time, whatever anyone wanted to do.
Then came COVID-19 and this whole crisis. Our fiber festival, our farmer’s market outlet, WEFF, Maryland Sheep and Wool all started canceling and suddenly numerous fiber producers and independent fiber artists were locked out of their usual outlets. Because we are small, self-funded, and do not rely on income from the site, we were quickly able to agree to make the website completely free to fiber producers and independent fiber artists. We project we can continue to underwrite the costs of the website, IT, licensing, etc. for about 6 months and then re-evaluate what we need to do. That should take us through the fall shearing season and hopefully the viral crisis will be abated by then.
Since that decision we have just been working on how to get this out to people who might be vendors or buyers and give them the opportunity to sign up and set up their own store. The site is a secure site, SSL covered, with secure payment pathways to the vendors, and privacy is protected as stated in our privacy statement. We are very concerned about getting any spam postings so are keeping a close eye on that and will remove any immediately. We have some great vendors already but have essentially unlimited space for more.
So, if you are a fiber artist, please take some time to see if Fiber Artist Market might be a good fit for you. And if you are a buyer, please check out the offerings on Fiber Artist Market (and check back frequently as new vendors and items are added). Finally, please spread the word about this marketplace. Thank you for your help.