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?