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Cottage Industries

By Michelle Collins |

Faced with the options of flipping burgers or digging ditches for the summer, Jeremy Kingston invented a third option and opened his own business. Through his company, Artchild Productions, he produces and distributes art around Toronto, ON.

"I have a friend, and through that friend I have found pretty much an untapped, unlimited supply of artists: they're all looking for work, and they're all extremely talented. We wanted to apply what they do best to something that could make money for us."

The Liberal Arts student chose Henna Art for his debut. The brown mixture applied decoratively to the skin is popular in the warmer months. Unlike a tattoo, henna is temporary and, if you use natural ingredients, completely safe.

Festival foraging
Festivals, traditional occasions for wearing henna designs, have become the most successful and profitable venue for Kingston. "We had an absolute windfall on our debut weekend. We had a comeback on our investment that was just amazing for what we paid that first weekend to do the show."

Kingston has found festivals more profitable than operating in the heart of the city. He does not have to pay for a permit or a license to set up a booth at an outdoor event.

Rick and Joan Dixon have also found success in the festival circuit. The pair owns and operates Dixon Forge in Saskatoon, SK, while maintaining full-time jobs. Rick says being a vendor or a demonstrator at the festivals is essential for his business. The Dixons stick to juried festivals and events, as they tend to offer more sophisticated goods and services. They would like to attend smaller, more local fairs; however, Rick simply couldn't keep up with the demand created by participating in these shows.

Blacksmithing has gradually increased in popularity over the past two decades after interest declined drastically between the end of World War II and the 1980s. "We can produce a lot of things that you just can't get anywhere else, just like any other craft. We're finding that people are getting tired of the mass-produced things that they can find in the department store," says Dixon.

Skilled in their craft
Dixon often meets people who think blacksmithing is an easy and quick craft. After teaching more than 400 would-be blacksmiths at the Western Development Museum, he knows that it takes extensive instruction, practice, and a certain amount of talent. "You'll get people who think they can go home and make it. A lot of times, people will ask me how long it took to make something, and I'll tell them 17 years. That's not far from the truth because it takes that long to learn."

Kingston also faces challenges when educating his customers. He credits his head artist, Archie Bayot, with providing quality designs and work for a reasonable price. Still, buyers are often looking for the darker, more visible henna. "We carry the natural brown henna, and people just want the glue. They want the black stuff that you can put on at [popular amusement parks], which can irritate skin. It can even be fatal in large amounts. It's really hard competing with that," he says.

After the hottest season
Kingston, who is entering his last year at the University of Toronto, plans to continue Artchild Productions beyond this summer's festival season. His plans include fall art shows and a line of t-shirts. "The questions are: 'Is there a market there?'; 'Who wants to buy it?'; and 'How do I get it to them?'"

The Dixons look forward to having time to explore what Rick describes as a hobby out of control after the busy summer season. Rather than relaxing after his impending retirement, Rick plans to discover how far he can go with his craft. "There are still a lot of things that I want to do with it. I can take a lump of metal and turn it into a flower; it still blows me away that I'm able to do that sort of thing. I really want to push myself to see what I am capable of, to see what my limits are."


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