Q&A: Alyssa Maddox, Director of the Retropolitan Craft Fair

In Q&As, Words With… by Rose Kennedyleave a COMMENT

A_maddoxTravis Schappel

Alyssa Maddox directs the third Retropolitan Craft Fair, an indie marketplace featuring contemporary crafts and upcycled goods, Saturday, May 30 at the Southern Railway Station (306 West Depot Ave.). Maddox co-founded the event with Lacey Strike, Taylor Harris, and Joanna Ivey.

Where does the term retropolitan come from?
I like to wear a mix of vintage and new, so one time my cousin’s girlfriend called me a “retro-politan” and the name just sort of stuck. When I decided to start a craft fair with my friends, that name seemed to sum up everything we wanted: a lovely mix of vintage and modern.

Who decides who qualifies to join the fair?
We have a team of four women who jury the fair. We judge who makes it in based on variety, quality, and “retropolitan swagger.”

How many vendors were there when you started, and how many now?
The first fair had 19, we had 24 in December, and 34 vendors will set up for this one.

How do you find them?
We go on Etsy and do localized searches, travel to different craft fairs in the region, and rely on word of mouth from other vendor friends.

Do you personally make crafts?
I have a craft room where I like to sew, embroider, make cards, and play with my circuit. I love it, but I’m just not passionate—or talented—enough to be a successful vendor.

When the fair comes up are you just working all the time?
Around fair time I work all day as a television series producer at Jupiter Entertainment, then come home and keep working on social media, blog posts, and decor projects for the fair. I pretty much just crash for a week after fair day.

Which vendor is coming the farthest for the fair?
I think the farthest away is Garner Blue from Jackson, Tenn. There are several vendors coming from Knoxville—too many to list!

Who is the most unusual?
I think Modern Garden is really unique. She makes jewelry from broken china. Being a dish collector, I think that is awesome.

Do a lot of the vendors spend all their profits buying other vendors’ wares?
I didn’t realize this until we started our fair, but a lot of these vendors make trades. They’ll trade necklaces for prints or hanging planters for screen-printed shirts. It’s really a neat community these artisans have made. 

What is your thing with vintage china?
I collect vintage dishes, mostly Pyrex. I think it started because my grandma has always collected Lenox, so I grew up going to Lenox and admiring the lovely dishes. As I got older, I started a dish collection of my own. My husband has requested I stop purchasing any more Pyrex mixing bowls, though. I probably own five full sets. I also have an amazing set of Marcrest Nordic dishes; they are my pride and joy.

How does a fair like this come to have a concrete company as a sponsor?
A-Plus Concrete is owned by my dad! And he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’s always supported me in life and of course he supports my small business.

How big could this get?
Honestly it’s hard find a large enough venue for us to grow in that still has that “retropolitan” feel but isn’t too expensive for us to rent. The Southern Railway Station was a great fit for us to grow this time. We don’t ever want to move into a space that isn’t the right fit or our style, but we do want to keep growing! I think we’ve made the right decisions for us so far by going with our guts, and we’ll keep doing that and see where it takes us.

Are you surprised the fair does so well here?
I was born in Knoxville and raised in Oak Ridge. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous, “What if we put all of this together, I front all of this money, all these vendors work so hard, and nobody comes?” But we knew this event was something the Knoxville crowd would be hungry for. Our crowd doubling between the first fair and the second proved that to us.

Will you ever make a lot of money with it?
I’m not sure we ever will. So far none of us have made a dime. We put everything back into promoting the fair and making it successful. We didn’t start it for the money though, so no worries.   

For more information: retropolitancraft.com

Rose Kennedy came to Knoxville to work as an editorial assistant on 13-30’s Retail Appliance Management Series and never saw a reason to leave. Her “so uncool I’m cool” career among the alt weekly newspaper crowd has led to award-winning articles on Dr. Bill Bass and the Body Farm and cyber-bullying at West High School, and treasonous food columns about preferring unsweet tea and feeling ambivalent about biscuits.

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