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D.I.Y. renegades unite at McCarren Park

Hipsters far and wide descended on McCarren Park Pool last weekend for the Renegade Crafts Fair, the annual smorgasbord of alternative arts, crafts and clothing.

What began in Chicago in 2003 has become a must-attend for fans of Do-It-Yourself, or D.I.Y. culture, which seeks to combat the impersonal, exploitive, and corporation-dominated status quo of American consumerism.

“People are sick of department stores and chain stores and the same old items. It’s so cookie-cutter – you can’t be an individual buying these items,” said Sue Daly, 30, one of the fair’s founders.

“This provides a venue to buy more unique items straight from the artists themselves – it gives people a better perspective,” she said.

Daly, a jewelry designer, started the fair because she wanted to physically bring together the growing D.I.Y. subculture, which had been burgeoning on the Internet on sites like the DUMBO-based Etsy.com.

The result was the preeminent D.I.Y. fair in the world. In addition to the Brooklyn fair, which started in 2005, there are now two fairs in Chicago and one coming to San Francisco for the first time this July.

Daly estimated that the two-day fair drew between 10,000 and 20,000 people. They perused the crafts at more than 200 booths, reflecting the work of around 300 artists.

“I follow [the vendors’] stuff on blogs – I like to support people being creative,” said Nadia Lechance, a Greenpoint resident.

One booth was occupied by Faythe Levine and Courtney Heimerl, co-authors of the forthcoming book Handmade Nation, which chronicles the rise of the D.I.Y. community. Levine is also directing a documentary of the same title.

“It’s about promoting a local, sweatshop-free economy. If you can buy directly from the seller, it cuts out a lot of problems,” Levine said.

In addition to avoiding the evils of capitalism and the quality of the craftsmanship, many lauded the quaint face-to-face interaction between buyer and seller as one of the pleasures of the fair.

“I really enjoy speaking with people. It’s the best when customers say, ‘I love your style,’” said jewelry designer Melissa Cohen.

“It’s like they see a little part of me they otherwise wouldn’t get to see.”

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