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Direct from Market: Chicago

The Chicago Market beckoned buyers to experience the fun of the find. Spread across two re-organized floors of the iconic Mart building with nearly 150 exhibitors new to market, and several in-demand categories, the Market belied notions of having scaled down. Joan Dyer, MMPI's director of marketing, talked about the impetus behind the new Emerging Artists section. "We wanted to bring in resources that buyers would definitely not see in any other wholesale market. We coached emerging artists on successfully marketing their products; we now have 20 new and talented exhibitors ready to wholesale interesting products that were previously only shown regionally at craft fairs." Also new were a Boutique section showcasing specialty, custom and one-of-a kind products, Fashion featuring apparel and accessories, and a Gourmet Aisle filled with enticing gastronomic offerings.

Floral Design Bobbi Cup Winner Carolyn MinutilloFloral Design Bobbi Cup Winner Carolyn Minutillo
The special display in the Mart's northwest lobby by Cadmium Interiors highlighted new products and lines from showrooms, established vendors and newcomers. The market provided an opportunity for companies not yet branded to find their feet. Buyers enjoyed the chance to meet new artists and hear their stories. Debra Egli, buyer relations manager spoke of MMPI's one-on-one strategy to incentivize buyers; they went out on the streets, stores and galleries of mid-western cities such as Ann Arbor and Madison to encourage them to shop at Market. The strategy seems to have paid off, especially with small-time buyers who have local gourmet stores, start-ups, or small retail presences. Special events and programming from the North Central Chapters of the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) which included seminars on trend, color and interior design, as well as a 30 minute Iron-Chef style floral design competition for the Bobbi Cup were other draws.

Illusions by J.T. RobinsonIllusions by J.T. Robinson
It's All Handmade

Beckman's Handcrafted, undoubtedly the big attraction, welcomed new exhibitors as well as old stalwarts and new members of the Fair Trade Federation. Word-based and graphic items with quotes, aphorisms. and witticisms on coasters, tiles, cards, wall décor, lampshades, textiles and jewelry were ubiquitous. Illusions by J.T. Robinson,  showed MDF board coated coasters and Tag signs with pithy sayings, as well as Charming Shades, its new line of fabric-based removable magnetic lampshade attachments embellished with embroidery, and decorative accents. Dilynn and Greg Puckett's passion for family, friends and home is the impetus behind the duo's Language Art  collection of location photography translated onto eclectic décor art. Chicago Style Collective returned this year, adding four more designers in its fold: Juana Ryan of Stella Lily Studio showed photo tiles of Italian carrera marble with original photo-transferred designs in which the grain of the marble becomes an integral part of the print. With filed edges and an acrylic industrial coating for waterproofing, the tiles are popular for kitchen backsplashes, can also be made with a hanger to use as wall art. Occasionally Speaking is a line of elegant cards on heavy-weight Italian paper with public domain quotes that designer Bridget Verdun hopes will aptly express card-givers' sentiments. Betsey Siber of Foxglove Accessories displayed an interesting line of postage stamp jewelry available in color families. Having exhibited solo earlier as Kiku Handmade, Laurie Frievogel, the Collective's fourth new designer, showed colorful cheese plates, trivets and large serving platters of modern, fused glass, and an array of lovely, free form bowls made from interspersed strips of printed and opaque glass. Barbara Schmidt, a retired Chicago lawyer, now parlays her 15-year passion for tile-making into B.A. Schmidt Arts' beautiful, delicate porcelain pendants and wall decor inspired by yoga, Indian art, and the designs of William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement. The frames of her tile pictures are of hand-picked, quarter-sawn oak made by an Ohio wood-crafter.

Shine HandmadeShine Handmade
Wood was another popular material. Newcomer Rocky Mountain Rustic, displayed unique decorative ducks combining smooth, polished wood bodies with naturally weathered feathers. Crafted from naturally weather-hardy, insect-resistant juniper and cedar fence posts that were planted over one hundred years ago in ranches and fields in the great Rocky Mountain West, each duck is one-of-a-kind, with its own special wood grain and natural coloring. Second Chance Art & Accessories repurposes vintage architectural salvage into unique artwork and home décor. It displayed Maison de Paris, a unique coat rack fashioned from a section of a reclaimed door; the original painted finish was sanded and sealed, the panels replaced with an antiqued mirror, and three vintage knobs for hanging completed the retro rack.


Monarch DesignsMonarch Designs
xtiles, yarn, and fabric-based décor were much in evidence, especially among Fair Trade vendors. Baabaazuzu, now in its 20th year, transformed men's dress shirts and vintage tablecloths into its newest line of dresses, skirts, tank tops, cap sleeve tops and head wraps. Janet Catlow, owner of Shine Handmade table linens, designs limited production home accessories in beautiful patterned fabrics that are matched with complementary patterns with meticulous attention to detail. Debuting at market was her Table for Two, in washable cotton comprising a bordered runner that can be laid across a standard table, 22" square mitered napkins in the border pattern, and unique tied napkin rings. Entertaining four people? Simply add another set. Dassah, Mallory, Tulip-three eponymous styles from Ann Perry Designs were dress-inspired hostess aprons of cotton and polyester, that sported ruffles, prints and tuxedo pleats for entertaining with élan!

Handmade jewelry was a mainstay at the Market. Studio B's delicate styles reminiscent of leaf reticulation in rings and a 3" cuff bracelet were a contrast with the bold and unconventional solid-colored rings and bangles set with a single diamond from DuePunti. Monarch Design brought out a new line of Blingers-monogram photo charm pendants that can also hold mini photos. Retailers can keep costs down by ordering blank pendants along with sheets of monograms from which customers can choose their letters. World Finds expanded its recycled kantha jewelry line with three new styles: a brass flower cuff, a statement necklace and recycled kantha woven hoops.

Kristen Ley of Thimble PressKristen Ley of Thimble Press
Artistic Debuts

At the east end of Beckman's Handcrafted were the throng of Emerging Artists, notable among whom was Thimblepress from Mississippi, winner of the Best Booth Display Award. Multi-talented artist Kristen Ley, runs a letterpress/art/sewing/design/woodworking studio that offers distinctive letterpress and hand painted cards on cotton-based paper, artwork, home goods and wearables. Bartosz and Margaret Sobieszczanski of Chicago-based Esclusso unveiled CCandle -an elegant line of wax sculpted candles that incorporate natural botanicals and interesting dye combinations-that have flowing, curvilinear lines reflecting the pair's multidisciplinary design and architecture background. Intricate and delicate crocheted jewelry from Crochetlaces, and contemporary fashion jewelry by Kendra Renee were

eye-catching. Newcomer, Woolbuddy, showed a charming, colorful and whimsical collection of handmade little animals that is the brainchild of Jackie Huang, an erstwhile animator at Lucas Films. Seeking soft, safe and cute toys after the birth of his daughter, Huang discovered the joys of creating animals from felted wool. Yarn, instructions and felting needles are available as starter kits suitable for children. Pet-lover, Rachel Ingram of Perpetually Yours has for the last two years, transferred her eye-catching, original illustrations of stylized dogs onto colorful stuffed, washable pillows in eight shapes that are accompanied by a tag with breed information. Pet owners can even match their pillows with custom hair clips. Heart Felt's intricate hand-sewn "fascinators" are mini hats, headbands and clips that combine sequins, beads, bows and vintage findings into artistic retro and 30's styles. 

Heart FeltHeart Felt
Gourmet Delights and Novel Boutique Offerings

Enticing aromas wafted in the air from the Gourmet Aisle which, along with regular Market exhibitors, included food vendors from neighboring Midwestern states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana who were exhibiting their wares in partnership with their respective state Departments of Agriculture. A mouth-watering selection of dips, relishes, soups, chocolate, candy and pre-packaged mixes, displayed with innovative packaging and serving ideas, elevated the concept of food as gifts to a new level. Wisconsin-based Becky's Blissful Bakery offered generous samples of handmade, hand-wrapped layered (not just flavored) caramels that are 100 percent organic and gluten-free. Organic brown rice syrup imparts a soft, pleasing texture to the caramels that come in ten flavors. Chicago's own Sweet Thumb Arrangements featured Starbursts, Reese's cups and Hershey's kisses in innovative and lively bouquets perfect for gifting and

Sweet Thumb ArrangementsSweet Thumb Arrangements
premiums. One could not pass by Pittsburgh Goodies without noticing the giant granny smith apples double dipped twice - first in caramel and then in Belgian chocolate! The apples, which have a shelf life of four weeks (five if cello-wrapped) are supplied by a special apple farm. DeBrand Chocolates expanded its line of boxed chocolates with two gorgeous new designs of boxes handmade with chocolate. My Favorite Gourmet showed soup mixes and spices for dips, while Dupre Marketing's Plentiful Pantry's lemon bar mix was accompanied by a yellow lemon-shaped ceramic baking plate. Dishoom Foods' Cobra Corn debuted two varieties in a spicy fusion of flavors sure to please any palate. Delectable delights were not confined to humans alone; Lucky Pet Brand displayed all natural, American-made, sugar-free treats for dogs using human grade ingredients. The company also makes a low-fat line for calorie conscious pet-owners, products with healthy flax seeds, as well as Halloween, Christmas and Valentine pet treats.

The Market's Boutique section included vendors receptive to custom and specialized orders like Samoe Style which showed an interesting new line of convertible handles in handbags that sported cheerful citrus and earth colors. Algonquin, IL-based artist and inventor, Marg Rehnberg of BlokHaus Magnetics debuted her line of magnetic wooden blocks on which a patented technology prints photos/art and custom designs to encourage customers to "Pik your Blox, Blok your Pix." Available in three sizes along with magnetic FrameStix and 3D BlokRisers, the magnets have many possibilities for creative expression: personalized, living photo albums, wall art compositions, backsplashes. The MagneticBlox can be displayed on any surface painted with a proprietary magnetic paint additive or on Magnetic BlokFrames.

New at Showrooms

The relocated and remodeled permanent showrooms-along with Chicago Apparel and Accessories showrooms on the 13th floor-made shopping for buyers easier and more convenient than the sprawling displays at other markets. New to the Mart was Rocket Rep who carried new mini and three-packs of the popular Automoblox line, now featuring 40 styles of cars with interchangeable parts. Also popular was their line of spikelets pens and booklets and journals from Optari made of a spiky, squishy material, and the Fobbs handbags for kids with magnetic closures. Hot sellers at Market were their Soccer, Smiley Kitty and Skeleton mini flyers by MukikiM. Another popular product was the all natural Spuds line invented by Jill Wymore featuring ‘spudmer' (non-polymer), a non-toxic, bio-degradable material for kids' serveware that are colored with organic pigments. Wymore also makes Teardrop freezable baby teethers of spudmer filled with buckwheat husk. Squishables' plush animal pillow and giant cushions were also selling well.

When asked about business trends, Jennifer Brooks, owner of Charlie and Me observed, "People are writing deeper and higher orders. New stores are opening up or acquiring existing shops. Earlier, buyers would stick to the tried and true, but now they are more open to new products." Charlie and Me introduced several new products: New Dimensions with jewelry and toys and a variety of premium products customizable for breast cancer awareness; Woodstream's eye-catching wind spinners and bird feeders were brand new at the market; Glitz See motion-activated purse lights were a hot seller, and a line of calendars and planners from Mead.

Business was brisk at Anne McGilvray & Company where regional sales manager, Cindy Persing spoke of the latest trends-moustaches, squirrels and bacon-and gave a run-down of their top sellers: Vandor's collapsible water bottles with a patented lid and a wide-mouthed opening for chunks of ice. Vandor's licensed line of superheroes from Marvel and DC comics is a consistent seller as are its holiday lines featuring the Grinch, Rudolph and Peanuts.

Debuting at Market was London-based Spinning Hat, with novelty and off-the-wall homewares like bookends and coasters inspired by vinyl 45 RPM records. Classic clock phones and pocket laser light shows from Can You Imagine evoked a good response. Archie McPhee's Accoutrements was on-trend with ‘baconalia'- bacon band-aids, bacon wallets, bacon jelly beans and gumballs, gummy bacon, and even a bacon frosting! Yay! Life! now in its second year, had its Yay! Bacon! magnet too, along with new colorful celebratory designs. Finally, a new line of bath products-shampoo, lotion and sugar whip-featuring Moroccan Argan Oil from Primal Elements was doing well.

Highland GraphicsHighland Graphics
At Peterson Associates, Everrose, literally arrived the day before the Market opened, and is new to the industry. Everrose showcases a red rose that is picked in Peru, preserved by a special technique that sucks out its moisture, and can be presented as a special boxed "gift in a card." Peterson's other new lines: Harman with indoor-outdoor placemats, bath and table linen and a range of bathroom accessories and collections of headbands, handbags and clay beads from Calypso Jewelry. Highland Graphics, another new line, expanded its American Woodcrafters and High Country collections of wood signs and coasters to include three-piece hanging signs and the popular collegiate and tavern signs. Just introduced in January, is its Spot-On pet line of mugs, signs, coasters and packaged gift sets featuring tongue-in-cheek humor from anthropomorphic dogs.
Squid LondonSquid London

Diane Baker & Company moved to its new showroom and unveiled the Bella Banquet line of reusable paper placemats, April Cornell's extensive summer collection, and a line of exclusive pillar candles containing essential oils in eight fragrances by Parisian fabric designer, Manuel Canovas. Debuting at Market, London-based Squid London Umbrella's Squidarella umbrellas that change color when wet have been hot sellers at Patti White & Co. Also doing well were Lucky Me leather luggage tags and products from California-based Soul Boost. Doug Thorson Sales displayed faux flame wax pillar candles by Luminara with realistic, flickering wicks that create 80 hours of care-free ambiance with just two AA batteries. At Sarm & Nastovski, new to Market and the Midwest were Roux Maison's all-natural laundry detergent, made in Tennessee, with the promise of stain removal in three strengths - sport, delicate and regular. Big sellers for the firm were American-made, eco-friendly, washable pet beds and freezable rope toys colored with vegetable dyes from Jax and Bones, as also quality, colorful, embroidered Aspen Yoga Mats.

Shopping at the Market for her new gift shop, Marian Goodwin, owner of Rosepointe Cottage Tea Room in Chardon, OH, was excited by her finds at the Market. "I like the variety of items in Chicago, especially in the temporary exhibits, and I like supporting new artists. I also appreciate the opportunity to find Fair Trade goods. And everyone is very kind and friendly." It's reason enough to look forward to the Chicago summer Market, scheduled for July 18-23, 2013.


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