by Lydia Krupinski

Tis the season for holidays, food, family and friends. As some people prep for the fellowship, reflections, and feastings of Thanksgiving, others around the country are already salivating at the midnight shopping promises of big box stores and retail chains. While the term Small Business Saturday may not be as catchy as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the first Saturday after Thanksgiving has been designated as such to encourage consumers to support the vendors in their own communities.

In the spirit of this week’s holiday and the upcoming shopping stampedes Sprout Chicago would like to highlight a group that’s launching a special campaign to remind Chicagoans to spend their dollars locally this holiday season. Urban Folk Circuit is a group dedicated to supporting and growing the handmade craft and music community in the city. Started in July of 2010, the team unites artisans from around Chicagoland in monthly traveling craft shows that highlight the diverse talents and skills of handmade business owners.

Sprout Chicago caught up with Kelli and Jess, super-crafter extroadinaires and founders of Urban Folk Circuit, to pick their brains about crafting in the city and their latest campaign: Shop Chicago for the Holidays.

Describe the Urban Folk Circuit for our readers.

The Urban Folk Circuit is Chicago’s only year-round, traveling craft market series. We host monthly markets at various bars and music venues around the city showcasing local artisans and acoustic musicians. On average, we showcase 25 artisans at our monthly markets. We’ve had as many as 55 and as few 18. We are the only craft show that occurs on monthly basis, year round. We are also the only craft show that changes locations each month and we showcase musicians at the same time.

What inspired you to start the group? 

We saw a need for local artisans (ourselves included) to generate an income year-round. We also wanted to introduce the handmade movement to neighborhoods across the city as the majority of art and craft shows are in Wicker Park.

What first drew you into the world of indie crafting? 

Kelli: I began crafting in the summer of 2007 when I was fresh out of college and had too much time on my hands. At the time, I was unaware that there was a larger community of crafters or that people sold their wares at craft shows around the city. I decided to start selling my work when my inventory grew too large to maintain! I was introduced to Etsy around January 2008 and began selling at shows at that time.

Jess: I have always been a crafter, beginning fully with my obsession with my doll house and making clay food for it. I have always sewn and done a multitude of projects for myself, but like Kelli, didn’t realize that there was a larger community of crafters making a living from their creativity. Around maybe 2005, I heard about the No-Coast Craft Show in Minneapolis, where I’m originally from, and got excited about one day participating in it. I began selling my candles in the winter of 2007, first on Etsy and then in local shops and craft shows in Minneapolis.

Explain the concept of your latest “Shop Chicago for the Holidays” campaign.

Money is powerful and choosing to exercise mindful consumerism is revolutionary. We are extremely passionate about promoting local artisans and personally feel called to shop as local as possible when purchasing any items, but especially holiday gifts. We want our money to line the pockets of our friends and fellow indie business people, not huge corporations.

In your eyes, why is it important for consumers to support local business?

80% of cash spent in a neighborhood stays in the neighborhood; it’s reinvested in the neighborhood. We believe in supporting local livelihoods and stand for handmade over mass produced. Every product you buy should have a face; you should be able to trace it to its maker and know that it was produced ethically and with regard to environmental consciousness.

What has been UFC’s greatest success in 2011?

We are thrilled with having completed one full year of craft shows and generating the amount of press we did! We are also so grateful for the relationships we’ve made with many of our artisans.

What is the biggest challenge of leading your piece of the Chicago indie craft community?  

Our biggest challenge was managing all aspects of hosting each individual market and incorporating all the ideas we have for the future. We are slowly growing our team and have many exciting goals for 2012!

What should local craft junkies be looking forward to in 2012?

We are in the process of creating a DIY Department of the Urban Folk Circuit! Stay tuned!

What is your favorite conscious living tip for the holidays?

Forgo wrapping paper! Get creative by making your own gift bags out of fabric or wrapping your gifts in reclaimed paper bags, old maps and posters, or newspaper.

And if you each had to be a vegetable, what veggie would you be and why.

Kelli: I would be an asparagus because it’s the first vegetable of the season, delicious, and only to be enjoyed fresh for a few weeks!

Jess: I would be a carrot, because that is my favorite vegetable.

Support Urban Folk Circuit and their incredible mission by visiting one of their upcoming markets!