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11 things I learned at the Vancouver Folk Fest 2013

July 13, 2013

For my first summer of doing events and festivals, I thought I had things pretty sorted out. I had done some pretty big street festivals up to this point (like Vancouver Car Free Day and Khatsahlano Festival). I managed to do all the set-up and tear down myself on many occasions. I was able to pack all my stuff, including 7 bins of clothing, into my small sedan. But with so many events happening in the summer, it's hard to stay ahead with your planning. I was pretty much taking things weekend by weekend until I realized I was just a couple of days away from the Vancouver Folk Fest. This festival is a 3-day long event with over 170 different vendors who come from all over the place. The bazaar is like a little city when it's all set up. It was a pretty big production! The vending hours were 10am-10pm so it was pretty much a marathon. Anyways, I learned a few things as a vendor that I want to share with anyone who might be able to relate. Here goes!

1. Don't try to load everything on your own... and don't forget to wear sunscreen

The thing with the Vancouver Folk Fest is that it's on the beach. It's a pretty rad setting, but that means you can't drive in to your spot to load (legally anyways). That means that it's hand-cart only... from the parking lot about 200 meters away. I had one of those fold up dollies that tends to work for short runs, but I was really wishing I had a flat dolly AND an extra set of hands. It was my fault for not asking anyone to help me, but it took me 2 full hours in the blazing sun to get all my stuff to my spot. If you are by yourself, do yourself a favour and leave that extra handful of stuff for the next trip. You will regret it half way through when you're dropping shit in the gravel. More trips will make you happier. Also, put on sunscreen, wear a hat and take water breaks.

2. Bring lighting

In July, the sun goes down at around 9:20pm. We were supposed to sell until 10pm. I didn't think that 40mins would be such a big deal until I realized everyone wants to shop at the last minute... when it's dark. Luckily our neighbors were smart and had lighting. I had a bit of light by proximity, but I would have been in the dark otherwise.

3. Bring snacks and a water bottle

Yes, pretty self-explanatory, but one thing about the Vancouver Folk Fest is that there are no food vendors allowed in the Bazaar. That means you either have to buy expensive festival food or go hungry. Bring a bunch of snacks like fresh fruit and easy to transport meals. There is a water fountain so a water bottle is a must.

4. Things get damp at night

Ah, multi-day festivals. Every vendor's dream. No set up on Saturday or Sunday! Woohoo! Except for the fact that all your shit gets damp at night and when you have clothes they can get a bit musky. I don't really know how to fix this problem (without having to cart 7 bins back to the car which is not exactly convenient), except for putting some good lids on my bins. It all tends to dry out in the end. Also be prepared for rain. Your canopy is your best friend. Craigslist is a good place to find one and if you buy it in the winter, you'll probably score a good deal. Don't get a commercial canopy, they're bulky. Mine is Swissgear and is super compact.

5. Don't go it alone.

Yeah, I know this is kind of obvious. Don't try and work 14 hour days by yourself. You think you would know better, but sometimes you want to be super-vendor, especially if it's your own company and you don't want to burden anyone by asking them to volunteer their time to help you. I hadn't lined up any help until a couple days before, and was super lucky and grateful to have my friends Jessica Chen, Shannen Eis, Janelle Fontaine and Naomi Beckingham come help me out. They were godsends! Thank you guys!

6. People will alter your shit, don't take it personally

At the Folk Fest, don't take it personally when someone buys your shirt and then you see them wearing it it all cut up the next day. This happened to me. A girl from one of the steampunk-ish vendor booths LOVED my anatomical heart shirt. I was pretty proud of myself that I was able to appeal to the alt crowd, even though my stuff is geared towards yogis. Then I saw her the next day wearing my shirt, but completely cut up with my logo cut out. The only thing that remained was the heart graphic. I laughed.

7. Don't be discouraged by the $5 imported stuff

I don't mean to rag on other vendors. We're all in the same boat, I get it, but one thing that got to me at the Folk Fest were all these vendors who were selling $5.00 wrap skirts on the floor. People were flocking to these piles of deals like flies to a... you know what. I'm all for deals and selling off stock for the summer, but I wish people cared a little more about where things were made and who they were made by. I know some other vendors who were selling ethically sourced/handmade/eco-friendly stuff were a little frustrated too. Your $25.00 shirt looks freaking expensive next to those guys. It's ok. If your stuff is good, you will find a buyer.

8. Go tradesies on your stuff

The best way to build a community of local vendors is to use/wear each other's stuff. How do you do that? The barter system! Trade your goods with others and you don't have to spend a cent to get all sorts of cool swag. Then take a picture of it and do your fellow vendor a favour and Instagram/Facebook the shit out of it. Then go on Facebook and like their pages. Yes, do it!

9. Take lots of pictures

Imagine you are sitting at your computer and blogging about the event you're currently vending at. Wouldn't it be nice to have some pictures? Don't get caught up in everything without taking pictures (for the blog, the Instagram, the Twitter, the Facebook, etc). Yes, there are the obvious things to take pictures of, like your booth, your friends, the concerts, the marketplace, etc. Also take pictures of things that inspire you, like creative booth set ups and cool ways to display your goods. We are all learning from each other. Also, don't be afraid to introduce yourself to your fellow vendors and ask them about how they built their booth or where they source their really awesome bamboo fabric from. You will never know what kinds of awesome information you can find just by talking to your fellow vendors.

10. Expect your phone to die

So, you're one of those clever vendors who has a card reader for their phone (I use Square). Awesome job; being able to accept credit card has been amazing for my business! However, it's only going to work as long as your phone works. Long vending hours at an outdoor location equals: your phone is going to die. I bought an external battery charger that plugs into your phone from Wireless Wave for $40.00 (it's called the Powerrocks Super Magicstick). It saved me. Make sure you have one, or another phone with the credit card app downloaded onto it. Don't forget to charge it over night!

11. Give yourself breaks and enjoy the festivities

You're at a festival after all! People go there on their own will for a reason! Sometimes when you're in vendor or work mode, even the funnest of events feel like work. It's easy to get into a lull, especially if your sales haven't been going as well as planned or you're dealing with all these bargainers who just got back from their trip to SE Asia and want to haggle for your goods (yeah, I've been there too). Give your helper friend the money belt and enjoy some music, already. Then take a stroll on the beach and breathe in some ocean air. You deserve it!

Here are some pics I took with my friends at the festival:


The Folk Bazaar


Our booth set up


My friend Naomi and I


My friend Shannen and I


My friend Janelle and I


My friend Cristina and I


Someone sporting a bag I made :)


Not a cloud in the sky!


Sunset at Jericho Beach!



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