Leatherworking in the Time of Cholera (er…COVID)

To say this has been a rough year is a pretty monstrous understatement. I’ve started this newsletter article about half a dozen times, because I’ve been trying to not make it just one long whiny rant. No one needs that kind of nonsense in their inbox. But I DO think it’s important to do a slight recap so that when I get to the end of this letter, you’ll have a better appreciation for the request I will be proposing. 

If this comes off anywhere as political, please understand I do not mean it to be so. It seems like you can’t separate politics from anything these days, but this is genuinely not a political screed. Again, a company newsletter is no place for politics, it’s about connection with your community. With that being said, here we go.

I started Two Ravens Trading Company, officially, in the fall of 2018. I set modest goals and pushed into 2019 hard. I booked as many shows as I could, even though I had no idea what I was doing. If you want a laugh, head over to our Instagram and take a look at the pic of the first show I booked. I had this God-awful green tablecloth and about 20 items for sale, it was sad. But I kept pushing and developing different products. I never wanted to just do wallets and belts, but even if that’s all I did, I wanted them to be excellent.

My application package to Ren Fair

In spring of 2019, I applied to be in the Bristol Renaissance Faire.  After several months of waiting for an answer, I was rejected because I didn’t really have a “style” or enough product. It was disheartening, but I didn’t really have any choice, so I just keep moving forward. I kept booking shows and going anywhere I could afford the time and money to book. I was barely “making table” at any of these shows, meaning that I was barely making enough money to cover the costs incurred to be at the shows.  The process of applying was usually nerve racking, because I was usually targeting “judged” shows, meaning that I had to submit pictures of my work and craft show set up for approval, before I was allowed to go to a show. Even though I’m sure they the show promoters weren’t too stringent, it’s always hard to submit yourself and your work for summary judgement. 

But for the most part, 2019 went well. I considered that even though I wasn’t making a lot of money, I was laying the groundwork for future success.

I still have the mug!

Then real fortune struck near the end of 2019. The promoter of one of the shows I attended approached me and we began discussing the possibility of starting a sideline company for a specific style of leather goods. Ostensibly, he’d be the money and promotions man and I’d be the design and production guy. The potential was massive. Around that same time as we talked back and forth, I had applied again to the Renaissance Faire and after meeting with them, I had been given a very strong indication that I’d be invited to join them for the 2020 season( this was confirmed, officially, in the early months of 2020!) . Furthermore, all the shows that had been accepted into for 2019, no longer required a judged application for 2020. Because I had made it in once, they all pretty much assumed I’d be bringing the same quality to my 2020 tables. As such, 2020 was REALLY shaping up to be a massive year for Two Ravens Trading.

Then…well…you know. 2020 has been an absolute nightmare.

The would-be partner had his shop shut down and obviously couldn’t move forward with financing a new venture with so much uncertainty. Bristol Ren Faire (with the State of Wisconsin swinging back and forth between keeping us locked down forever and opening wide) couldn’t be sure if they’d be allowed to open their doors and opted for the safer path and closed for the first time in something like 40 years. And I watched with despair while one after another, after another, after another show closed. No less than 12 small, medium, and large craft and art shows closed around me, even the ones that I’d booked. In fact the first show that I booked that actually stayed the course and was open was in Iowa in September!!  (It was a great show, by the way, and I recommend “Jodi and KT Invite you” to any of my fellow crafters out there.)

To add insult to injury, I watched fellow crafters that had small shops get shut down and deemed “non-essential” while places like Amazon and Walmart were expanding like crazy and going on massive hiring sprees. I don’t pretend I am the only person that got screwed in 2020 and it was frustrating for not only my family to get hurt by the government’s reactions but all the other crafters I’ve met in the last couple of years. And now, to finally have the CDC come out and all but admit that COVID was not nearly as deadly or dangerous as we were led to believe, well, it’s almost too much to bear, to be honest. Again, I don’t mean to be political, and I am certainly not diminishing the loss of life that did occur. But I am convinced that overall, the damage done to the nation came much more from the government and its agencies then from the disease itself.

So here we are, looking hard at the final quarter of 2020. I am determined not to let it go to waste. I’m still going to book as many shows as I possibly can. I am going to keep pushing the web presence, with things like Instagram and this newsletter. I am going to keep trying to come up with beautiful, functional pieces of leather that you can hand down to the next generation. And I’m going to try and do it with a smile as I set my sights on 2021.

So, as I do all that this fall, I’d ask a favor of all of you. This final quarter, please make an effort to find small and local makers and crafters and spend your money with them. I know it’s very early, but Christmas season is going to be showing up on the shelves of Walmart and other big box stores soon. There were SO MANY people that were dubbed “non-essential” these last few months and the fact is they were all essential and they were hurt badly through no fault of their own.