Wool & Folk, which took place two Fridays ago in Catskill, NY, has had a very messy and public fallout. If you've somehow managed to hear nothing about this so far, I invite you to check out this Craftsnark thread.
I did attend both the Thursday night warm-up and the Friday event, and sadly, saw two of my own Fiber Business Collective members, Meg of Megs & Co and Silbia of Camellia Fiber Company, get truly (pardon my French) fucked with flooded booths and forced to move to very unideal vending conditions.
While I don't feel the need to rehash all the details of the day (you need only hang out on Instagram for a second and a half to see all the accounts circulating), there have been three very clear standout lessons to me that I feel are worth talking about.
So, what can we learn about Wool & Folk 2023?
1. Communication is EVERYTHING.
There's no getting around this: When you are in business, you are required to communicate with those you partner and work with, as well as those who buy from you.
Communication means being open and honest about any situations that may impact your ability to uphold an end of an agreement.
Wool & Folk failed to keep both vendors & customers aware of challenges that were starting to crop up, instead choosing to seemingly push these challenges under a rug and soldier on.
In no way is this event an exception. I see situations like this happen very frequently - they just happen not to be on such a large scale with such a massive amount of social media traction at their backs.
I often see business owners in this industry (ALL the kinds, by the way - tech editors, sample knitters, designers, dyers, etc) choose NOT to communicate delays or issues with those they are working with, mostly due to embarrassment. And unfortunately, embarrassed or not, it makes matters so much worse when we don't give the other party a chance to make plans and decisions based on our delays or issues. It's truly disrespectful.
NOTE: Even if you're working in this industry in a limited capacity, such as part-time or “just for fun”, you are still responsible for holding up your end of a bargain or commitment. It may not mean much to you if something falls through, but it could severely impact the livelihoods of the individuals you're working with.
2. Get shit in WRITING.
Are you a dyer working with a designer on a collaboration? Write up a contract.
Are you a vendor with a booth at a small local event? Get a signed agreement.
Are you and a friend working together on an intermittent project? Make sure you have your ins and outs in writing.
My dear readers, I cannot stress this enough. You NEED to get working agreements IN WRITING.
Getting excited together via Zoom isn't sufficient. A brief email exchange isn't going to cut it. Texting a few details won't be good enough.
GET A CONTRACT. GET IT SIGNED.
Maybe it feels a little intense to fill multiple pages full of legal jargon, but the whole idea is that you are protecting yourself and those you're working with. It's genuinely an act of kindness and respect.
Make sure all the details of your agreements are outlined, clarified, and understood. If something doesn't make sense in a contract, ASK QUESTIONS. If it doesn't match up with what you spoke about, SAY SOMETHING. Don't be scared here - you need to make sure these things are airtight.
If you miss a detail, you can be sure a judge will not. And it can really (again, forgive my language here) fuck you over. Whether or not a dispute or issue ever has to go to court, a contract gives you something that you can look back on when you have questions about expectations, and that's priceless.
3. Business is about relationships.
We don't all have amazing people skills, but we do all need to work with people. Being able to build and maintain positive relationships is a major key to business success.
If you aren't able to meet expectations, fulfill commitments, or take responsibility for any actions you've taken that have harmed others, then you will destroy trust and eventually destroy relationships in the process.
When I say, over and over, that we can't build businesses on our own, I mean it.
We need each other. Primarily because we are humans, and humans are extremely social creatures. But also because we can't possibly contain all the knowledge, skills, and wherewithal to grow and maintain all that we are working towards in and of ourselves.
Know that you will make mistakes, but you can take responsibility for those mistakes. You can work to repair your breaks in trust and the relationships that relied on that trust. But you have to be willing to do that work (because digging in our heels and becoming indignant will get us absolutely nowhere in business or in life - ask me how I know this).
And when others make mistakes that affect us, we can make choices regarding whether or not trust can be repaired and whether or not we'll continue to work with those individuals going forward. But we can also recognize their humanity and extend grace as we are able, because there could come a day when we will need it ourselves.
Seeing the strength and resilience of the maker community over and over again keeps me in awe of it and keeps me within it. While being interconnected on social media has its benefits, I also have to say that there is even more strength in being part of a community that is working towards the same goals. In case you haven't been able to guess where I'm going with this, I would love to invite you to join us in my group coaching membership, the Fiber Business Collective, where small business owners are learning to play big in this industry.
We are also getting ready to migrate the community & resources over to the Circle platform, which will be a major improvement from jumping back and forth between our website and Slack. If you were a vendor at Wool & Folk, and are interested in becoming a member, please send me an email and let me know - I have a special offer for you (good through 12/31/23).
This blog post was previously ran as an email in my weekly newsletter, The Weekly Stash.