On Competition and Community

I hope you all had a lovely weekend! The Fiasco and I were quite busy, we vended at the wonderful Mount Hope Farmers Market, attended the culmination event of the Great Rhody Yarn Crawl, and went on our first bicycle ride of the season (pro tip: bike paths near the bay are bloody freezing in April winds). There were many, may wonderful moments but there was one unfortunate interaction that put an unpleasant cast over things.

On Competition and Community | Woolen Diversions

Rockin’ my new sweater at the Mount Hope Farmer’s Market.

There is a regular market vendor who sells cold process soap and salt scrubs, etc. As we usually do at these events, the Fiasco and I made the rounds introducing ourselves and checking out everybody’s wares. We try to buy a little something from each vendor (which gets us into trouble at the baked good stalls!) or at the very least admire their work. My love of handmade soap is well-established and I was hoping to buy a new bar from this seller. There was a band playing right near her table so I had a hard time hearing her but during the course of what I thought was polite conversation about her soap scents, the word “competition” made it through the background noise and I realized that something was wrong. I had taken one of her cards so I could add her to my Etsy favorites and promote her as a local artisan, in response to which she said something along the lines of “It’s really frustrating that you’re taking one of my cards when you clearly have no intention of buying my products, you’re the competition.” And then she stormed off to complain to the market manager.

On Competition and Community | Woolen Diversions

Photo via xoginalove.tumblr.com, snagged from Buzzfeed (click for link).

I was floored, to say the least. Stunned, upset, and somehow embarassed, like I imagine most people would feel when treated with unexpected hostility. The Fiasco and I just kept making wounded-sad-puppy-dog-eyes at each other and we were outright bummed in the slow-burning-rage kind of way. I found out later that this particular seller is “sensitive” about competition because she apparently had a bad experience with someone swiping her ideas, her logo, etc. But still, I don’t think that excuses her behavior and it was completely jarring in a creative community where (in my experience) people are usually overwhelmingly supportive of one another. And we weren’t even selling the same items! Even if I had brought soap with me, we make entirely different kinds of soap (hers from raw oils that undergo the saponification process, mine from pre-made soap bases to which I add color, scent, and fun shapes/structure). Did I freak out about another vendor selling lip balms? No, hers were highlighting beeswax from a local honey farm, mine featured lanolin. There is room in the world for multiple types of body care products. Thankfully, the rest of the vendors were wonderfully warm and inviting and we were mostly able to shake off that ugly nastiness by the end of the day.

On Competition and Community | Woolen Diversions

Great Rhody Yarn Crawl haul.

The Great Rhody Yarn Crawl celebration the next day went a great way towards restoring my faith in the creative community. I met up with my friends in the Rhode Island Spinner’s Guild and spent a pleasant afternoon spinning and shopping in good company. I’ve spent many years as something of a nomad, living in different states for just 1 – 3 years at a time. We’re on our third year here in Rhode Island and the fiber community is one of the reasons why I could envision calling this place home in the long term. Most people are so kind and generous with their knowledge, and I love walking into a marketplace and knowing half the vendors by name. The delectable yarn above is from Dirty Water DyeWorks (Lillian superwash Merino fingering base in March Sky, Pumice, and Topaz) and Play at Life Fiber Arts (Skinny Scrumpet MCN fingering base in Cinnamon Jelly) and they helped brighten the weekend considerably. Last but not least, I was pleasantly surprised to meet Tammy of Life and Yarn and Yarn and Life in person! She came by to say hello and it was so lovely to put a face to her blog. She has a great run-down of info on Connecticut yarn shops (and elsewhere), too.

A Playful Day

I appear to have inadvertently blogged along this week’s Love Your Blog challenge theme of “Ugly”, so I’m linking up with everyone over at A Playful Day. While not directly blog-related, I think the idea of jealousy in the handmade marketplace is equally relevant and something that doesn’t get acknowledged very often. Perhaps I’m just being naive to not have expected encountering such hostility myself. What are your thoughts on competition in creative communities? Have your experiences leaned one way or another?

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17 thoughts on “On Competition and Community

  1. What a bummer! That would have put a damper on my fun for sure. I haven’t done any tables at markets, so I don’t have experience there. Very odd. Anyway, I also wanted to say “hi neighbor!” I recently followed your blog and I didn’t even realize you were local:)

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  2. Oh, that is too bad! There are people who are of the mindset that the pie is only so big, and they deal with competition much differently that those (like you, apparently) who think that the pie can grow and we can al support each other, even if we make similar products. Too bad the music was so loud you could not have a conversation, and explain WHY you were taking a card.

    The rest of the weekend sounds fabulous, and the new yarn looks yummy. 🙂

    I recently started thinking about how I fun it would be to go to every state’s big fiber event, and now you have told me about a Rhode Island one to add to the list. Not sure it will ever happen, but what fun to travel around the country buying yarn. 🙂

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  3. I need to start blogging again…
    Anyways, I wanted to say that while I do understand the frustration with competition, it makes more sense to have multiple vendors so that everyone can try new things and get what fits them best. Sorry to hear that not all people feel the same.

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  4. Sounds like a very unpleasant encounter. I guess that not everyone is as embracing of our supportive crafty culture as we are. As with all walks of life, we occasionally encounter someone who is rude and negative. So glad that you were able to enjoy the rest of the event though, it sounds like a great place to vend.

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  5. whoa, what an unpleasant experience! Yikes. I think that there are always going to be people out there that run their lives governed by fear- fear that someone else selling a similar product will take away their customers, fear that someone might take their ‘ideas’, fear that their product isn’t as good compared to another’s, etc. For me, when I meet people like that, it reminds me how toxic fear is- and that I need to shake it off anytime I feel it creeping into my life. Because I don’t want to end up like that lady!

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  6. Wow, that really stinks. I’m sorry you had such an unpleasant experience. She should be more confident in herself and her products. And it’s not like she invented soap-making, I’m sure she has a few tricks that came from someone else. We all do. I’m glad you had a nice time otherwise!

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  7. What a shame, I am a firm believer that we all support each other. In a different world you may have referred someone who wanted her type of soap to her, and vice versa. I guess the best we can do is try to take this as a lesson and try never to behave in the same, hurtful way. Even if you HAD been doing it in a malicious way (would you have done it so openly?) there is a right and wrong way to deal with things which means you don’t inadvertently cause pain to someone else! I’m so sorry for you.

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  8. Wow, that’s too bad….I did buy soap from a vendor on Sunday….it smelled so yummy and we always buy handmade soap…we haven’t used a “store” bought one in close to ten years….but if she’s that sensitive, imagine if she was a dyer and selling at the many events…there is lots of competition..and sometimes it is hard for individuals to stand out…..I’m sorry she had a bad experience….and I’m sorry it soured the event for you…but glad Sunday ended up better and so glad I stopped by to say hello….

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  9. I think she overreacted myself, competition in general is a good thing, it encourages diversity and it also means that if someone has allergies they’re more likely to find something they can use if there’s different base options.

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  10. Fear and insecurity are some of the biggest dangers I think. I have seen that sort of fear of competition, and it is so unnecessary and hurtful and destructive. I can certainly understand how you felt. The market chooses its favourites, and one vendor cannot hope to increase their share of it by attempting to chase off all perceived competition. Don’t let her get you down. Your products look so yummy – I wish I was close enough to make shipping worthwhile! That yarn you got looks delightful – I see a striped shawl all over that yarn you chose… Do you have plans for it!?

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  11. What a shame that happened to you. I hope it hasn’t put you off from doing it again, and it sounds like there are lots of good things to remember about the weekend.

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  12. That sounds very distressing, particularly because your intentions were so misunderstood. That is worst part really, the thought that someone you don’t know assumed your actions were malicious. Breathe deeply, your sweater looks fabulous and you know you are a good person.

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  13. That’s so sad! Has she seriously never had another vendor buy her stuff before? Some people just have a skewed perception of life and worry too much about losing what they think they have. If the things you create are unique, you shouldn’t have to worry about someone stealing your customers, just saying.. Sorry you had that experience! I feel like most people in this community are super kind and supportive!

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  14. I’m sad for the both of you. Her for having to experience the horror of having her ideas stolen. (Been there. It takes a good long time for the bitterness to subside.) And for you, who had pure intentions, but walked into a mind field. It’s a tough area to navigate. I think you’ve done well.

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  15. What an unfortunate experience, but it sounds like you rose above her hostility. Creative competition can be a positive motivating force. It’s too bad that you encountered the negative side to it.

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  16. Pingback: WIPWed #82: The Toes Are the Best Part | Woolen Diversions

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