Craft fair offers unique gifts with a personal touch

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

This weekend’s 10th annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair is the perfect one-stop shop for those who skipped Black Friday and Cyber Monday in favor of buying gifts with a personal touch this holiday season.

The DIY artisan market features more than 100 local vendors and provides a space for holiday shoppers to purchase unique objects that can’t be found in “big box” stores, as well as interact with the artists who make them. Whether you’re shopping for home decor, toys, food or fragrances, the fair offers something for nearly every budget.

The event was created in 2005 by friends Carey Gustafson of Glass Action, Bethany Nixon of Reware Vintage and Amy Cronkite of Craft-A-Way Camp and Small Craft. All three are co-founders of Handmade Detroit, an online hub for local crafters.

The inaugural fair was held at the Majestic Theatre and featured 50 local DIY vendors. Gustafson says the public’s response was far beyond her expectations.

“The first show was attended by several thousand people,” she says. “I distinctly remember looking out and locking eyes with each of us gals, and we just couldn’t believe how quickly we found people to participate.”

Gustafson and her Handmade Detroit colleagues pride themselves on curating a top-notch assembly of local artisans each year. She says nearly 350 vendors applied for the craft fair’s 100 available spaces this year, and deciding who made the cut wasn’t easy.

“We want to surprise people, and we don’t want to look like a Target endcap,” she says. “We take close consideration every year to show exactly what we feel is our heart. Everybody’s welcome to apply, but it’s not an easy show to get into.”

One of this year’s most unique new vendors is the Detroit Marshmallow Co., formerly known as SWEET Artisan Marshmallows. Owner Michele Bezue creates her fluffy treats from scratch with natural, locally sourced ingredients and dashes of flavor from Detroit staples like Faygo Rock n’ Rye, Vernors and Slow Jams jam.

Bezue’s artisan fluff is softer and springier than store-bought marshmallows, and she says almost everyone who tries them for the first time has a comment about how true to flavor they are.

“We’re not using artificial flavor oils, so they taste like what they say they are because it’s in there,” she says. “We don’t use corn starch, so it doesn’t have that chalky outside. We literally have three ingredients: sugar, gelatin, and whatever we use to flavor it with. While they are a cube of sugar, they’re so much healthier than what you would get in the store.”

Another new vendor this year is Sfumato Fragrances, run by husband and wife team Kevin Peterson and Jane Larson. Two years ago the duo set out to create naturally derived perfumes that offer more subtlety and complexity than typical department store fragrances.

Peterson likens his business — and the DIY artisan scene in general — to the craft beer world in the way both offer unique, personal takes on familiar products.

“If you go back 20 years, most of the beer was made by a few large companies, and none of them were very interesting,” he says. “If you go to Macy’s, a lot of scents smell very similar. They’re all made by a few large corporations behind the scenes. We’re trying to find the craft beer buyer, or the person who wants more attention to detail or thought behind the process.”

Gustafson emphasizes that these vendors are small business upstarts, not just weekend warriors trying to supplement their incomes. She advises attendees to come with open wallets and an understanding that what the fair’s artisans offer has more soul than their mass-market competition.

“It’s so important to the public handing over their hard earned dollars to meet the person that made what they’re purchasing,” she says. “When you get that gift, there’s a story. And people tend to remember where that gift came from. There’s a place for ‘big box,’ but there’s such heart behind shopping small and handmade.”

Detroit Urban Craft Fair

6 p.m. - 9 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Sun.

Masonic Temple

500 Temple St., Detroit

Admission is $10 for Friday’s preview night, $1 Sat. and Sun.

Kids 12 & under are free