We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with the magnetic, whirlwind maker Katie Mabry van Dieren, owner of the Strawberry Swing indie craft fair. One project just simply isn't enough to contain all the ways this passionate woman helps her fellow makers. From running an internationally recognized craft fair, starting multiple non-profits for helping makers successfully break into the scene, still finding time to learn new ways to create art, and pivoting quickly and gracefully during a pandemic, Katie does it all with a brilliant, sparkling smile.
Psst: we have a video version of this interview, too!
Thank you for making time to chat with us, I know it's a very busy time of year for you because you're the owner of Strawberry Swing, which is an indie craft fair based in Kansas City.
Yes, we are in Kansas City, MO and this city is very fun because it is on both Kansas and Missouri sides. We have a street called State Line that literally divides the two states and so I can stand in Kansas and Missouri if I want to. I’ve had craft fairs on State Line Road where literally people are parking in Kansas but my fair’s in Missouri.
That’s amazing! That’s a really fun little thing about the area. So for all of us who are new to hearing about this amazing craft fair that you have, can tell us the story of Strawberry Swing and your involvement there?
We started in 2011, and we’re in Kansas City so we saw that the big fairs never really came here, they came to Chicago and New York and LA. So a friend of mine named Heather Baker--we were all on Etsy, which had just come around then and we had a big group--And my friend Heather actually named the craft fair and started it. She suggested we should all just sell in person since we’re all selling on Etsy and we’re local. So it started from an Etsy group called Strawberry Swing, which is a Coldplay song. I hope they would be happy that we’re using it. And the first fair had about 25 makers (I was one). Then she moved to Colorado in 2013 and I took it over and grew it huge.
And now, we’ve been in Buzzfeed as one of the top indie craft fairs in the world. Our last holiday show had 20,000 guests and more than 150 vendors. So it's really great and Kansas City spends more than $3 million at it every year. We support thousands of local small businesses and makers in the midwest. It’s really fun and it’s a beautiful community. Everyone who comes is super nice, kind, and loves being around creatives.
What an impact it sounds like you’re having not just locally, you’re being featured for expanding the world of crafts and makers. When you were one of those first 25, what were you making? How do you identify as a maker? Has that changed, or you know your craft and you stick there?
I was making with maker name Papillon Kate. I love butterflies and papillon means butterfly in French. I started selling stationery and jewelry and then when I had a baby in 2011, I started making baby stuff. I would design out a felt and sew the felt onto onesies and bibs and I made hats and all kinds of stuff. Once I took over the craft fair, I didn’t really have time to sell. At the first couple Swings that I ran, I tried to sell and manage the fair but it was way too hard, so I ended having people come and sell my stuff for me. But at the Swing, I require the maker to be there so that the guest meets who made their products. So then I wasn’t even following my own rules. I stopped selling and just really focused on this craft fair.
But lately, since COVID, I’ve pivoted where I don’t have the huge festivals because obviously we can’t have huge festivals with 20,000 people. I launched these weekly “Saturdays with the Swing” and we were having only 15 makers outside, every Saturday from August until last weekend. I had much more time to be in my booth and it was much more chill and less stressful.
And I have become recently a florist. Now I’m making floral arrangements because I found it brought people great joy to buy flowers at the event. I just made some pumpkin arrangements and they’re so cute. This morning I’ve already been out delivering some of them because it brings me great joy to make other people happy. I think what all makers like to do, you find joy in what you’re making and then it even brings you more joy when it brings joy to someone else. So it’s all about, in these times right now, bringing joy and a little bit of happiness when we’re all kind of stressed out and a little full of anxiety and things are a little up in the air and we don’t know what's going on. At least we can support each other.
That touches on two things that I was looking forward to chatting with you about. How do you feel when you create something? Joy is one of them and connecting with other people, it sounds like. Is there anything else there in the creation part of it that lights you up?
Working with the flowers. I always love creating the stationary and the jewelry, but working with the flowers has really been something, I didn’t expect it to be something so cathartic. It’s almost like how I imagine people who do yoga or meditate. It almost feels like that, it’s brought me a calm. I have a four year old, a nine year old, my husband is a chef. So we’ve all been stressed. Especially with the restaurant industry, you know because of COVID, his restaurant has been shut down twice. Of course everything was closed for the first 2 months and we didn’t know what would happen. And so it’s been super beautiful to be able to work with my hands. I think the smells of the flowers, and even the eucalyptus leaves I’m using. It’s just been really cathartic. And I want to keep doing it even though I have a lot going on.
I’ve founded a non-profit as well and I also have another business with a maker where we teach, we teach makers how to be successful. And that’s also brought me great joy being able to use the knowledge I have gained over these last 10 years. But the touching and the making and bringing the joy to other people when I deliver the flowers or they buy them from me, it's been super great during these hard times.
Yeah. That’s a wonderful image, working with natural materials
The colors make me so happy, and the smells, all of it.
When you talked about this non-profit you have working with other makers, how does it feel to help other makers? That’s clearly part of your foundational belief system with Strawberry Swing. How does that feel for you?
It’s wonderful. We created, so the one business that I have with another maker, her name is Carly Robinson, and she’s a watercolor artist. She does these incredibly intricate watercolor paintings where she paints tiny little flowers, ironically, and they create the larger design. And we formed a craft show, CEO, last year before the pandemic hit to train people to make money at the craft shows. Because I see at Strawberry Swing, at the same exact show, let’s just use candles as an example. I’ve seen one candle maker make $13,000 in 2 days, and another make $1500. and I’ve kind of figured out the difference and what one is doing different than the other. And Carly is a maker and she’s been about to quit her day job--you’ve heard there’s cliche sayings that art isn’t a job, but it is-- many of our makers start with a day job. I personally was a paralegal when I first started making items and now I run all these other businesses and I don't have to be a paralegal, which didn’t bring me joy. Carly was able to be a full-time maker, she’s super successful.
So together we teach both from the aspect of the maker, and the curator of the show, how to be successful. We kind of pivoted a little to just be selling online because I’ve obviously seen how makers are successful selling online too, because there’s not as many craft shows right now due to COVID. But that has brought Carly and I great joy because it’s a membership group. We have this community that can talk to each other, get advice and actually sit with us. Like last night we welcomed new members and had a happy hour where we had beers on Zoom. It brings this connectivity because our community is really based around craft fairs, which technically we used to have almost every weekend and we miss it in these COVID times, being together. So even if we can talk on Zoom. We have coffee hours, too, sometimes where we can just have coffee together on Zoom and it just feels like you’re connected again.
That’s something that we’re all struggling with and finding new ways to connect. Without giving away all of your secrets, what’s something that is advice you would give to a new maker on how to start that journey of making profit?
Definitely don’t give up. I mean it's hard at first, but don’t give up. We all run into hurdles. And make sure that you ask other makers questions. I mean not like, “How did you make that?” ‘cause that gets kind of frustrating sometimes, but we really are an open community and all are reaching out for each other and want everyone to rise together. I feel like reaching out to a maker who’s already kind of successful or that you’ve admired and say, “I really admire you, are you doing any shows coming up, do you have any (whatever),” I think that’s a really great point. And make sure that you have a digital-- this is hard for some people-- but to have a website. But just Instagram or Facebook can replace a website in these days and ages. Most people use social media and it’s such an amazing free way to have a digital presence. I like Instagram a lot because of the photo aspect of it and I feel like what we do with makers and selling our handmade items, photos are so important. Whereas Twitter, you just post articles and type, Instagram is really important. And it's free. So I feel like instagram is a great thing. If you are a maker, make sure you have an Instagram account.
We do have some free stuff on craftshowceo.com that you can go look at if you are watching this and are a maker, that has ideas and tips about photos and that kind of stuff. Just don’t be nervous, just do it. There are thousands of people trying to do it, so it’s a really great thing to do right now when we’re all online anyways because of a pandemic.
That’s some great advice. Just take a leap, you can’t go wrong and having something for interested parties to look at and see more of your work, and Instagram’s a great place to start. For those of us who will be seeing these makers’ Instagrams, how can we best support local makers.
Even if you don’t have the funds or the means to purchase right now, just share them, comment. One of the best ways to grow your Instagram and your social media is by people interacting. So if one of your friends makes stationary, or one of your friends makes t-shirts, share them, tell people to follow, just comment on their posts with “love your new shirt” or “love that new stationary, this would make a great gift.” Purchasing is always great, of course, and then just shouting them out whenever you can is a great way to do it. Sharing on Instagram and Facebook, you can just hit the “share” button, you can even type, “This is my friend, if you’re looking for” (For instance, we’re the Kansas City Chiefs, that’s our football team. They were the Superbowl winners last year) “if you’re looking for a unique Chiefs shirt, go here.”
So just sharing, even if you don’t have funds to purchase is a great way to support local makers and your friends because we really need it right now. Local makers are small businesses and they’re entrepreneurs. They tend to donate to charities more, bring more sales tax and income tax to the city which in turn, helps us keep our roads nice. And they’re better for the environment because they don’t have all the semis bringing in all the packages to big box stores. It’s really great to support local no matter how you do it.
I love that sentiment of, even if you aren’t able to purchase something, to even just share and keep the community going. What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours, just flowing it all around.
And it feels better. To me personally, I know that I supported someone who actually made a product and then I'm giving it as a gift to someone. That makes it more special to me. And it feels like you can tell a story, too. When people ask you about what you’re wearing. I’ll use the example of Tucker & Scout, that’s one of my makers. You could say, “Her brand is Tucker & Scout, those are her kids’ names, isn’t that cute?” You would not know that if you just ordered them online from a big box store.
That’s something I love about local makers and something I miss about having some of the larger craft fairs we have in our area.
I know you’re pivoting really well with Strawberry Swing right now. Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you’ve shifted from these giant festivals, giant craft shows, to this season’s approach?
We are normally a free fair, it’s always been free. But because last year we had 20,000 people attend our free holiday sale, I realized that I needed to ticket this event. It’s going to be outdoors, normally it’s indoors because we have a pretty cold winter here, but we’re going have Kansas City’s first Christkindl Market. It’ll go four weekends. They have them in all the big cities, obviously they started in Germany, I don’t speak German so I can’t pronounce all of these things well but we’re going to try and reproduce that having special drinks and some of these roasted nuts and all that. We have 50 makers that will be set up outside, in tents, with decoration as an outdoor fest and holiday market. It’ll be ticketed so that I can control how many guests come in.
We are also requiring masks, even though we are outside. We did that at our weekly pop ups the last two months, we required masks even though we were outdoors just to be safe and with social distancing guidelines. It’ll be a safe, one-way path. I'm so excited to launch this, it’s going to be really incredible and it’s a way that we can still support these makers. Because some of them were making half of their year’s income just at my holiday event. We don’t want to give up on them. And it’s also my income, this is my small business too. And so together we’re all going to rise and hopefully in a very safe way where people can still interact and buy amazing, locally made gifts for each other.
That’s great! And if we’re not local, how can we support Strawberry Swing?
You can follow us. We also have a website called Shop Local Kansas City (shoplocalkc.com) that was another pivot I did right when Coronavirus hit because I really didn’t know if I’d ever be able to have a craft fair again. I spent like 48 hours and put over 300 of my makers who were already scheduled to be in my event that we ended up having to cancel, on this website. It’s just a pass through, it’s not me taking any money, it’s just me linking their sites with a really beautiful photo of what they make so you can support them that way.
I also have a non-profit called the Troost Market Collective that you can support if you’re interested in that. We just got on national news. We did six Black Lives Matter street murals. You know how people are painting Black Lives Matter on the street? We did it in six areas of our city. Our city is historically really segregated. We actually have a street called Troost that is called a redline. It was a redline, if you know anything about development. What that means is they intentionally created this redline where the socioeconomic differences were low income on the east side of it and people did white flight and moved to Kansas back in the days of Brown vs Board of Education. So we have a nonprofit where we hopefully can lift that barrier to entry to become a maker. That’s gonna be right on Troost. The building is on this street. So you can follow us, Troost Market Collective, donate to us, we will have incredible makers creating together.
Our idea is to have both people who have never been able to have a t-shirt company in there with someone who already has an existing, very successful t-shirt company so they can mentor each other. Then we partner with the community and throw events and do the Black Lives Matter murals, because we’re an arts organization and we’ve done many murals before and this was a way for us to support Black artists. It’s been really incredible to watch it grow. We’re not in the building yet because the buildings were so divested in. I mean, three years they’ve been working on getting these historic buildings up, able for us to go inside of them. So you can follow us there, too.
We’ll follow along that project for sure. It sounds like you do a lot and you follow your excitement and your passion and that comes across so clearly. It’s beautiful. What about Strawberry Swing are you really proud of? Or what’s one thing, because I'm sure you have so many moments.
I think that community that we’ve created. It’s just beautiful to see everyone come together when we can. And like I said, we were wearing masks outside and I had no problems. I’m sure you’ve seen all of the news that it’s this very arguable thing, wearing a mask, which I don’t understand why, but no one fought us on that. Everyone was totally understanding, they wanted to protect our makers, they wanted to protect themselves. And that’s one thing that I really love about this community that we’ve built. It’s a caring community, and everyone really wants to support each other and be around each other. I feel like that’s what I'm most proud of.
And being able to support the makers with their incomes so they can follow their dreams. One of the things I'm most proud of is watching makers open brick and mortars. Going from their store being my event because they don't have the means to be in a shop, to then opening their own stores. That’s something that makes me really happy and I feel like that’s the end goal of many of the makers, to have their own brick and mortar. I can’t tell you how many times I've seen that happen. And now they sponsor the swing because they made it! It makes me so happy.
So whether the maker’s dream is to have a brick and mortar or really what they want is just to do this thing on the side because they have a different career that’s fulfilling, what’s a wish that you have for all of your fellow makers?
I hope that they just keep going. I know this is so hard right now during Coronavirus. Just keep going. Really try and watch any free things about selling online because so many people are putting their knowledge on the internet right now and teaching. I feel like right now is a great time to get some knowledge on how to sell online, how to up your game with your photos, making your product stand out. Just really get that online sales game right now because we can’t do too much person to person stuff right now. Take this time, if you’re stuck at home, if your job has you work from home, do a little bit of learning on the side too.
We live in an amazing time where there is so much shared knowledge. We can learn from each other so much more easily now.
Right? I learned from you all. When I saw your maker email go out last month, I saw that that maker was from Wichita, which is three hours from me. And I immediately found her on Instagram and was like, “I just read your Duckfeet interview, oh my god, it was so amazing, come do my fair!” And now she’s gonna be in the holiday swing! I mean, that would probably not have happened and I wouldn’t have spent a lot of time reading every email in my inbox but now I'm home all the time. I'm so glad that things like that happen, it’s just like kismet that she was featured in your newsletter, and then I found her.
And now she’s able to be at the fair. That’s something that we love so much at Duckfeet, and why I love that part of my job is getting to chat with you and learning about you and feeling connected, because we are. It’s just feeling into how we are.
Thank you so much. I just got my Duckfeet boots for my birthday last month and I cannot tell you how amazing they are because at the craft fair last weekend, I was on my feet outside in 40 degree weather from 6am to 6pm and normally my feet really, really, really hurt by the end of the day. And they did not hurt!
And they were warm! But thanks for all you all do and highlighting us--We’ve done this switch with COVID, we’ve gone back to the wholesome things. More people are gardening, more people are trying to be creative because we’re at home. For me, I love it. I love slowing down and I love watching people create and stop being so fast and moving all the time. It’s been nice to watch people create. Like myself, I'm now a florist...I mean, not really I can’t say that, I don’t have schooling, I don’t know what flowers I'm using most of the time, but you know.
But you’re exploring it. Flowers have entered your life during this time of COVID, what else do you do if you’re not working or you’re not starting another business? It sounds like you have so many projects. How do you relax?
My family. I relax with my family. My husband’s a chef, he’s an amazing cook, so I don’t really cook too much. I have two boys: one is 4 and one is 9 and they’re really sweet and fun. So I do a lot of hanging out with them. I just watched The Queen’s Gambit, which was the first binge watch I've done. And it was amazing, I highly recommend it. It’s about a woman who becomes a chess champion in a man’s world and it's so good.
That’s great. There’s nothing like being cozy, especially now. I feel like we’ve all let ourselves sink in a little more
What’s the word, hygge?
Yes, in Danish. Just being cozy, the art of coziness. And so last question for you, something I like asking people in general, what’s something really beautiful that you’ve seen recently?
Oh my gosh, I see so much beauty everywhere, honestly. I love nature. And I have really seen some beautiful nature in my backyard. I feel like since we’ve all slowed down a bit, there’s not as many airplanes flying at least where I am. Nature has really blossomed and it feels kind of like a winter wonderland here. It snowed on Monday. I really loved seeing the nature come alive, it’s beautiful to me to watch the birds and the squirrels and the chipmunks and everything else feel free to not be nervous of all the cars driving. And they ate all my tomato plants and I kind of liked seeing that because it froze anyways, so I fed them and that was fun.
Well thank you so much for taking your morning to chat with us, Katie. It has been such a joy and pleasure to hear about you and all the things you’re doing for makers. And we’ll be sure to keep an eye on what’s next for Strawberry Swing. We’ll link to all of the resources you provided as well. And best of luck to you and all the makers for this holiday season.