This past weekend I had a stall at the Whitby Gothic Weekend. Whitby is one of my favourite places on earth, and for the past seven years I have attended the Gothic Festival there. So it was with a great deal of excitement I prepared to sell at the event. I am grateful to all the friends and shop supporters who came by and said hello– you kept me sane!
Sadly, selling at Whitby was a disappointment. I found myself displaying all my lovingly hand made, beautiful things in a fluorescent-lit gymnasium which stank of stale sweat and childhood trauma, trading next to people who were flogging 5 pound lingerie and Vivienne Westwood knock-offs. Whatever I was doing was drowned out by cheap tat displayed as if we were at a car boot or swap meet.
One thing I learned this weekend– the context of a market defines you. I had a difficult time explaining that I was a local Yorkshire artist, and that everything was handmade and carefully sourced. My prices didn’t make sense to people, who were seeing bins of things for a pound, all imported sweat-shop type goods.
There was no security and though traders were encouraged to leave their stalls up overnight, the doors were not locked at 5 and people came and went, rummaging through the stalls of traders who were no longer there. I ended up taking all my stock home every night because of this.
As the weekend wore on and sales in general seemed low, other traders became territorial. The woman selling cheap imported jewelry behind me blocked the aisle leading to my stall from the entrance insuring everyone would have to walk the entire perimeter of stalls just to reach mine. Yet, there was no one to deal with this besides a single volunteer who was a stall holder herself. One evening she broke down in tears because she had so much work to do and so many demands put on her.
Yet, traders pay a premium to sell at this event–where is the money going? I split the cost with my stall neighbor, the wonderful Paula from Deadly Desires. We are both new businesswomen and booking Whitby was a big experiment and risk for both of us.
What surprised me was the complete lack of any feeling of community amongst the traders or shoppers, many of whom were not goths at all but people who had come to photograph “freaks” or people in fancy dress– WGW has a lot of people who have no relation to the gothic sub-culture but like to dress up in Victorian costumes and promenade.
I learned that as a trader I need to find markets where the other sellers are also artists and makers, and where we are supported as such. Unless there are major changes to the way things are run at Whitby Gothic Weekend, I will not be selling there again.