There’s something quite transformative about speaking your truth out loud.
The effects are still resonating inside me from recent opportunities, readying me for the next time.
Event/Show etiquette is something usually not discussed, except when it’s shockingly violated, and then only amongst the vendors sharing stories.
But lately, I’ve been speaking my mind even more freely and it feels so good.
At the start of a recent show, after hours of set up in the heat wave the day before, hauling in and arranging hundreds of pounds of my creations, along with other vendors setting up in the blistering afternoon, after paying for both booth and set up help, the morning of the show I cheerfully greeted a woman strolling through early.
Historically, the people who are first at a show are serious buyers wanting the best selection from which to add to their collections of treasures. But all she had to say disapprovingly, even accusingly after looking at the price tag was, “These are expensive.” As if it was fact rather than opinion. As if I was in the wrong to value them as such.
I do sometimes hear, ”Why is this worth $100?”, so I responded as usual with, “These are original hand-printed fabrics, and the clothes are not made by children”.
Most people don’t think about WHO is paying the price for that cheap thing in the store. Someone always is. The price of every cheap thing in Western world stores is paid for by someone far away. Especially the new norm trend and bane of landfills that is fast fashion.
However, this time for the first time I calmly added before I could even think twice, “Don’t ever say that to an artisan- we don’t enjoy perks of a guaranteed income, retirement pension or paid holidays.”
I was angry afterwards. I wanted to say, ‘Walmart is down the street, why are you at an artisan event?’ I didn’t tell her that Laila Goddess is actually under priced for what’s involved and invested to create it. That’s a decision I made so that mature women who have a fixed senior income can enjoy adding pieces to their wardrobes. It’s priced so those who are new to buying real quality clothing can enter that arena and feel really good.
Most of the time I don’t bother responding to these types of criticisms and save my energy because I know ultimately the complaint is not about my price point, it often reflects a lack of worthiness to have something beautiful and unique that will wash well, hold its’ colour and last for years. You get what you pay for.
But this experience was at the start of the show, we were all fresh, eager and open to engage with the visitors face to face. Last thing you expect is to have a passerby shit on your creations.
What lingered though was my new declaration of boundary, ‘Don’t ever say that to an artisan’. Next time I’ll add the why, ‘It’s disrespectful’. Sometimes I just want to wake people up out of their thoughtlessness. Visitors browsing through a show for an afternoon of entertainment don’t realize how vulnerable the vendors are after investing so much to be there, and especially after the lock downs that hit, amongst other jobs, all the arts so hard!
That’s what I tell people who ask for a discount,’ No discount, you’re getting great quality and I haven’t been working for 2 years.’ Strange they have to be reminded. They wouldn’t think to ask at a regular store but somehow artists have to deal with a lot of attempts from buyers to get a lower price- as you would attempt at a garage sale. Painters tell me it happens all the time!
The times I’m truly exasperated I say,” You’re actually lucky I’m willing to work so hard to create these original clothes so you have opportunity to enjoy them.”
The thing is there are two important parts to the show equation, not just the buyer, but the creator as well is equally important. Very very few people, and I only recently, understand that the power dynamic is fundamentally balanced in the essential truth in these exchanges of creation and purchase. Each one needs the other.
The show ended with another situation I was unprepared for. This time by another vendor who asked me to pull out specific coloured garments and said she’d return after going to the loo. She did return and was in my booth for 45 minutes, keeping me as well as my only change room occupied. Finally she decided on 5 pieces and asked me to wait a few minutes while she got her money. I packaged up her purchase, wrote up the bill, and gave my attention to the next curious visitor.
My initial uneasy feeling became increasingly uncomfortable as time went by for not having the garments in the bag out on the rack for others to see. After a very productive 2 hours of selling, I left my booth to venture out to look for her at her husband’s booth. He informed me she’d left 2 hours before! I showed him the bag, the bill, told him she’d promised to return to pay. He knew nothing about it, clearly uncomfortable and called her. She answered, giving me her excuses about leaving the show and casually said she’d call me about the purchase in the next day or so. Noting her complete lack of accountability I wasn’t going to let my clothing, including a very popular dress, be ransom to her whims no matter how big the potential sale was.
I reminded her I’d kept these five garments aside as requested for five minutes that turned into 2 hours, not being sold to anyone else, but she refused my suggestion to have her husband pay for it now and bring it home, followed by, ‘I’ve already said sorry, what else do you want?’. Rather than quietly walk away, I told her how disrespectful her behaviour was especially coming from one self-employed vendor to another. It’s not OK to treat people this way.
She could have remedied her change in plans by simply asking her husband to get word to me that she’d left and make other arrangements for the purchase, or tell me to release the garments she'd promised to pay for so they could find another home in time before the show closed. I called her out on her disrespect.
I said it not to change the situation, the sale was nada, but to state the unspoken and make the wave into consciousness.
I don’t put items on hold for anyone, having been caught too many times with that dangling sweet carrot turning bitter. I totally respect when someone says she’ll think about it after trying on a garment, or promises to come back next day when not so sweaty or without impatient kids/husband, and we both understand the desired garment might not be there at a later time. But this was different.
Mobilizing the freedom to speak clearly and firmly, well, that experience lingered much longer than any leftover static as I processed just how much of my time and energy she wasted without a second thought. Don’t monopolize an artisan’s attention and occupy the only change room at a busy show if you’re not serious about a purchase. There are people who feel entitled to do whatever they want no matter the consequence to others and it’s important to say NO. Nothing in this world is going to change if you and I don’t say NO.
By reflecting back the true colours of bad behaviour, we’re saying NO to the one who needs to know.
I’ll never forget when I heard Phil McGraw say on his show. “You train people how to treat you.” Oh it’s so true. Honestly I’m sharing these stories as a beacon to dare speak up and re-train those who treat you differently than you want to be.
”If I am not for me, who will be for me?” Hillel the elder observed in 110BC. It’s still hard to do 2 millennia later, and yet so worth it as each time gets easier. These stories are not comfortable to share and yet I’ve decided it is all part of the process of mastering my voice for my highest good. Maybe you’ll be moved to do the same sooner than later. I hope so. We’ll wake up the world together… one appropriate NO at a time.
There’s a happy ending to this story. The last hour remaining in the show balanced out the sour experience when I sold the equivalent of that abandoned bill to new enthusiastic fans of Laila Goddess.
Karma is a most interesting phenomenon to observe, isn’t it?
This show’s success surpassed the 2019 event with both new and returning LG clients and apart from these exceptions I'm sharing to illustrate a point, it was a fun fabulous weekend full of wonderful visitors.
To those of you who appreciate artisans and the work we put into our creations, these gifts of love we make in every shape and size and medium, those of you who invest in and support us, who encourage us to keep making more, those of you who come out rain or shine, heat wave or snow storm, who line up patiently to get in, pay entrance fees, those of you who recognize that we equally share in and experience the marvelous magical alchemical exchange when creativity is expressed and witnessed, I thank you with all my heart.
YOU are why we keep daring and striving to make meaningful personal art.
YOU are why risking an entrepreneurial life is worth it.
Thank YOU for seeing us and believing in us. In me.