Taking Buy/Sell Merchandise Out of Art and Craft Fairs

By Carolyn Edlund


Artists’ businesses are being hurt by show exhibitors who cheat and sell imported merchandise. What can be done about this serious problem?


Street crowd


If you exhibit and sell your art or craft work at retail fairs, you are aware of the plethora of imported goods which are being passed off as original art and handmade craft and sold at these venues.

Although it varies widely from show to show, unscrupulous people are applying to exhibit, claiming to design and make work in this country. They often undercut prices and hurt business for the real artists and craftspeople who are the reason for these fairs existing at all.

Art Fair RadioRecently, Connie Mettler of Art Fair Insiders asked me to participate in a BlogTalkRadio show from Art Fair Insiders (listen to it here) on the subject. We were joined by Carroll Swayze, an artist who has made it a personal mission to help eradicate this serious problem.

It’s frustrating to hear how Carroll witnessed an exhibitor drive from a show at the end of the day to refill their merchandise from the back of a semi, stocked with goods from China which were being sold as handcrafted American work.

We talked about solutions to the problem, and there were many discussed. Ideally, show promoters should be stopping this type of activity before the fact, by requiring information from applicants so that they can be screened out by the jury, and by visiting all exhibitors at the show to verify their authenticity.

What happens when you attend a fair and strongly suspect that another exhibitor has buy/sell merchandise in their booth? We talked about reporting infringements during the show and how communication between promoters and artists can be improved.

What’s your experience? Do you regularly see buy/sell merchandise at the shows you attend? Does this make your blood boil? Have you done anything about it?


  1. Hi Carolyn, I don’t sell at craft fairs but it seems to me that if the promoter has a statement in the contract stating a no tolerance policy for goods that are not handmade in America and a no refund policy for those who violate the contract And that violators will be escorted out, perhaps that would be a deterrent. Or maybe my thoughts are over simplified.

    • Mickey, this is part of the ideas discussed on the radio (see link in article) as well as the applicants signing a pledge that they are the designer, listing references including suppliers ( which are checked)and improving communications. Promoters who don’t care that buy sell is let in risk their reputations and their shows.

  2. I wonder why show organizers even bother putting the “must be hand made” rule in their guidelines any more. Yes seeing buy sell at a show is very annoying, especially when they’re doing better than you! But I must confess I’ve never complained personally to the organizers, only commented on it on the feedback forms.

    • Deborah I hope you do take the time to bring it to the attention of the promoter. Listen to the many ideas discussed on the BlogTalkRadio show for ways to do this.

  3. I haven’t gotten into the fair/festival business yet myself, but I love to go to them. And, yes, it does make my blood boil to think that imported goods may be allowed or let in by mistake. If it were me, I’d go to the show organizer first and report it. I’d also be tempted to go to the local media even though it might annoy the organizer and jeopardize chances to participate in the future.

    • Sue, it would be very helpful if fairgoers themselves approached the promoters who allow this in. After all, this is a main source of income for them!

  4. Hi Carolyn,
    I will share an experience I once had. I participated in a so-called juried show here in Seattle. It ran 3 days and held 2x a year. At the first of the two shows, I discovered a vendor selling imported mass produced junk from China. I also discovered a vendor who was not making her own work, a violation of the terms of participation. IMHO, two separate components of the same problem: greed. To handle the woman who was supposedly selling her own hand crafted silver work, I went over during a lull (husband watching my booth) and introduced myself. Then I picked up a piece of silver jewelry and innocently asked her “gee, this is beautiful, is it fabricated or lost wax cast.” Blank stare. Then she went on the defense and said “why do you ask?” So I said, “well, I’m just curious about your technique. ” She got all flustered. Then I said, “well, I’ve got to go relieve my husband.” I had already picked up a card and had her name and contact info. I will also add that she revealed that she had a partner who was working another show for her at another venue which told me that she was in violation at the other show of not being present as “the artist.” Later that day, I called one of the organizers. I told them of my experiences and I pointed
    out the other vendor with the crap from China with his name and space number. I told the organizer, in very polite, but no uncertain terms, that she and her partner had not done their jobs. I told her that if these two vendors were participating in the next show, that I wanted my deposit back and that I would let other Seattle based metalsmith artists know what was up. The organizer admitted other artists had already complained as well. The show did not go beyond two years.

    Now you asked what to do about it. Well, I think there are several ways. Let’s face it, if there are no artists to participate……1) If it only costs $25 to $50 to get a booth space, stay away. There will be crap from China or other mass produced stuff. There also won’t be buyers who can afford my price points so I don’t apply to these shows. 2) Who is the jury? If the jury are the organizers and not independent artists, stay away. 3) Artists must do their research. To that end…..
    4) There is a great resource that all artists can use to find the top shows. It is called: http://artfairsourcebook.com/index.pl
    I personally will only apply to the top 100.
    5) I realize that a lot of people make their living at craft and art shows. Not everyone has the financial resources to say, pull out if they find vendors such as the two I described above. I know from talking to other vendors, they were also really pissed. If we all banded together,
    and demanded refunds from the organizers, that would go a long way towards sending a message to these greedy organizers. We have resources where we can call out these shows to other serious minded artists so they know to stay away.

    I hope these responses help!

    • Ellen, I think you are far from alone in your experience. At least you took a pro-active approach to the matter, pointing out to the promoters that this offense was taking place. Many times they get away with allowing buy/sell into a show just to sell spaces.

      I agree that applying to only shows with better reputations will help resolve this problem for you.

  5. Filling out a feedback form is fine but festival organizers need tp know that artists are going to also talk and warn one another off from participation in their shows. We need to all act together on this issue!

  6. Don Kelley says

    An extreme thought. It seems to me that there could and should be some recourse for the buy-sell vendors we see at seemingly good art fairs. After all they are thieves pure and simple. Sure it’s offensive to us artists and we take it personally, but think about it. For every dollar they take in is a dollar taken out of our pocket! How does that go unpunished? If there are laws against robbing a store …….. Seems a bit extreme maybe but when I depend on selling my art to pay my bills and make a living and the buy-sell vendors are taking money away from me I think filling out a survey form at the end of a show doesn’t cut it. Many of the shows know of these vendors and ignore it because they want to fill their booth spaces. Should we use the L word? Maybe litigation would be a deterrent?

    • Hi Don, thanks for you opinion on this. I think a lot of the problem is that individual promoters are dealing with these people, and they will each have their method of punishing this blatant disregard for their rules. And you are right, some ignore it to fill the booth space. So there is no across-the-board way that is being used to get rid of the problem. I’ve also seen buy/sell vendors who have “proof” or stories to back up their claim that they are making the work themselves. In the heat of the moment at a show, the promoter may feel unable to expel an exhibitor without more information.

Speak Your Mind