Working the festival circuit as an artisan

Local clothing designer shares her story and some advice

Fast fashion produces a great deal of clothing and factories mass produce tons of products, but artisans, artists, and clothing designers still create their own products. Sabrina O’Donnell is one such example.

O’Donnell is the creator of Sabrina Butterfly Designs, a locally owned and made clothing line she started in the summer of 1998. She sold her clothing line at a store where she worked and also attended two festivals that summer.

“Funny enough, I started at a festival. That’s how I first started my business, with North Country Fair, which was a festival I grew up going to as a child,” explains O’Donnell. 

That same summer, she also attended the Jasper Folk Festival as a vendor. “I just knew that that was how I wanted to conduct my line of clothing and my business and reach out to that kind of audience.” 

After the two festivals, she returned to Edmonton and looked at other opportunities (like craft markets and farmers markets) to determine her target audience.

“In the end, my target audience is summer music festivals. That’s actually where we make a large part of our income,” explains O’Donnell. Through each festival, O’Donnell gains clientele. She also has an online store and a shop in the Montrose neighbourhood where she makes the clothing.

Sabrina Butterfly Designs is located in Montrose. | Stephen Strand

The festivals she attends varies from summer to summer. This year, she is attending the Calgary Folk Festival, the Filberg Festival in Comox, B.C., and the Bear Creek Folk Festival in Grand Prairie. This will be her 17th year at the Calgary Folk Festival. She has attended the Edmonton Folk Festival in the past, but hasn’t always fallen into their guidelines. 

“They had a really strict guideline when I first started with them, which was that you had to be a maker of all, and if you had any sort of help, you weren’t able to apply, which was kind of crazy. And it got even more strict as the years went on,” O’Donnell says. 

By her third year as a business owner, she had a child and needed help getting her work done, so she no longer met the guidelines for the Edmonton Folk Festival. But she discovered attending festivals away from home was better for business. 

“I feel like people, when they are at these shows, they often seek out the artisans that are from the same city. They will support them, but they will often ask, “Do you have a website? Do you have a storefront?” She makes some sales at local festivals, but hands out more business cards. “When I am going elsewhere, there is none of that. It’s more of buying on the spot, because they know that’s the time.”

She suggests that when selecting which festival to attend to know your target market and price point. “If you’re at a show with too many lower-priced items and yours is a higher price, people might only have a budget to spend so much at that market.” 

Festivals seem to be the right fit for her, but cautions they can be a lot of work. “A lot of long hours and you [have] the set up and the whole transition of even just getting there.”  

Factors include renting cargo vans to get equipment and inventory to the site, having staff lined up to help set up/attend the booth, lining up electrical needs, renting/buying a tent, applying to attend festivals, producing the necessary inventory, and paying the vendor fee. But hard work pays off.

“I was the sole maker at the beginning. I was doing all the pattern work, the cutting, designing, sewing. And then from there, I started getting piece work help. I did some small manufacturing and then I had some help in my old location, and now I have two employees that help me here,” says O’Donnell. They make everything in house, which allows people to go into the shop and see what they have, along with samples of upcoming designs.

For more information, visit sabrinabutterflydesigns.ca or visit her store at 6007 120 Ave, Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.


Featured Image: Sabrina O’Donnell has been designing her own clothing line since 1998. | Stephen Strand

Stephen Strand

Stephen works in broadcasting and writes for fun. He can be seen walking through the neighbourhood.

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