“We’re always trying to educate shoppers as to why it’s important to shop small, shop local, and shop handmade. So we’re doing that along with our virtual events…as we approach the holidays, we will be sharing the impact shoppers can make locally when they shop handmade,” says Carrie Nardini.
In a typical year, I Made It! Market and its sister event, the Neighborhood Flea, host events that expand the horizons of both consumers and artists in Pittsburgh, PA. Shoppers discover local, handmade goods and artists have the opportunity to make new connections and become more profitable. Both events are known for their community-oriented, personable atmospheres.
In 2020, Covid-19 completely altered the way that vendors and shoppers can engage. Now, Carrie Nardini, the founder of I Made It! Market and the Neighborhood Flea, is working towards ways to keep supporting artists and encouraging folks to shop small.
“Artists, especially fine artists, are used to communicating with their customers through in-person events. So their ability to have sales through online shopping was not there. Or, their products may be extremely cumbersome to ship,” says Carrie.
Social Media: A Virtual Spotlight
The Neighborhood Flea, which takes place from May to October in the Pittsburgh Strip District, features 60+ vendors and attracts hundreds of shoppers. Attendees can purchase an array of vintage and handmade items from a unique collection of vendors, some of which also host workshops for craft-making. All vendors apply to the market and are juried by type of ware and quality of work, ensuring that there is an exciting mix of goods. Carrie is also intentional about accepting novice makers to help them showcase their work. This season, the flea was not able to take place due to Allegheny County’s gathering restrictions.
To connect makers with shoppers and widen their online reach, Carrie utilized social media to support the vendors who would have participated. This season, the Neighborhood Flea Instagram showcased a variety of vendors and their work.
In early April, Carrie transformed an in-person event for I Made It! Market to a virtual one in two days by using Facebook and Instagram (along with Facebook and IG stories). For the first time, Carrie had to educate her vendors on how to participate in a virtual event. In their experiment, some vendors had great success with making new connections, increasing their social media followers, and bringing in good sales.
“[The event] was testing the temperature of how these things work and how much work is involved. It was a lot of work, even though it didn’t seem at first like it would be,” says Carrie.
Outside of social media, Carrie also organized monthly Zoom check-ins for her vendors that allowed them to support each other and learn more about online marketing together.
New Collaborations in a Digital Space
“How do we have community-centered activity that happens virtually?” Carrie asked herself.
I Made It! Market hosts events throughout the year, including popular ones around the holiday season. This fall, I Made It! Market will be expanding beyond the Pittsburgh region and joining with two Ohio based events, Cleveland Bazaar and Crafty Mart in Akron, to create Shop Holiday Handmade, an online event.
Carrie made connections with craft show organizers from across the region after events became virtual. They encouraged each other throughout Covid-19 and put their heads together to figure out how they can best support their artists. From their conversations, a new collaboration was born. On the weekend of Small Business Saturday—Novembmer 28-29—150+ artists and makers from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Akron will join Shop Holiday Handmade.
“We’re hoping that since things are virtual, that people who are fans of handmade will be fans of our people, regardless of which city they’re in. It will only help to create stronger bonds between our organizations,” says Carrie.
For the event, I Made It! Market, the Cleveland Bazaar, and Crafty Mart are also creating a new website that supports live events and makes vendors’ online shops easily accessible. And, to maintain the personable feel that in-person events create, the website will also include features for shoppers and vendors to interact.
Like many, Covid-19 has created a completely different scenario in which Carrie runs her businesses.
“After always being go-go-go and knowing what my goal was and the steps that I needed to take, this is a totally different scenario; you have to try different things and create new connections,” says Carrie.
Throughout the Covid-19 public health crisis, Carrie continues to meet virtually with her eforever peers, who are able to help her work through her unique challenges.
“Once someone knows what your business is generally about, you’re able to dig a little deeper than if you were just getting coffee with someone. I feel like everybody has a vested interest in their fellow group members’ businesses…” Carrie says.
“I have a responsibility to my artists. So it’s been a juggle. I don’t want to rush and do things that maybe wouldn’t make sense just to do them. ”