Holidays in Washington: Festive markets feature local makers’ quirky wares

An annual holiday market runs at 8th and F streets in downtown D.C. daily through Dec. 23. (Grace Bird/The Current/December 2017)

Sometimes, holiday shopping can feel like a trip to the dentist: boring, tiresome and unreasonably expensive.

But fear not — the District has a festive antidote to any such seasonal gift fatigue: holiday markets with vendors offering quirky, locally made wares. Not only can these markets yield unique presents, but they can also be ideal ways to spend December weekends. 

Downtown D.C. hosts one of the city’s flagship holiday markets, running daily from noon to 8 p.m. through Dec. 23. The 13th annual downtown fair, situated at 8th and F streets NW on the sidewalk in front of the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian American Art Museum, offers a vast array of warm homemade treats and colorful, “giftable” wares that include candles, knits, prints, paintings, homewares, jewelry and more.

Amina Ahmad’s Handmade Habitat traded at the downtown market Monday, offering “consciously crafted” beauty products and candles infused with scents of lavender, spearmint, orange and vanilla, among others, “for the skin and soul.” Maryland-native Ahmad makes all products at her studio in Brookland.

Self-identified “soul brother” Alan Covert, who had a stall Monday afternoon, discovered a talent for jewelry-making as a missionary in Africa in 1985. Covert started up his business 16 years later. While Covert has neither a brick-and-mortar shop nor an online presence, his unique beads and disarming charm (his company tagline is “all beads, no crap”) has spurred business for nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, Van Ness held its second “pop up” holiday market last weekend, offering art, crafts, jewelry and coffee beans from local vendors. It will operate again this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

A vibrant cohort of female makers sold handmade wares at the Van Ness fair, located in the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law.

Local vendors are featured at the Van Ness “pop up” holiday market. (Grace Bird/The Current/December 2017)

Soyini George’s seven-year-old company, Yinibini Baby, offered a mix of baby clothes including bibs, T-shirts, bandanas and onesies decorated with unique prints of animals, among other designs. George worked at a different market Sunday, while her daughter Zarina Farmer-George manned the Van Ness stall.

“It’s just my mom and I,” Farmer-George told The Current. “I like to help.”

Meanwhile, to pay homage to her Ethiopian heritage, Ebise Bayisa started Maré Naturals, a company selling body and bath products as well as scented candles made with beeswax and honey from Ethiopian farms. Bayisa says using these natural ingredients is beneficial because most candles are made with paraffin, a byproduct of petroleum.

“When you burn a regular old candle, you are putting toxins and chemicals into the house,” Bayisa writes on her website.

Another vendor, Aclure — founded a few years ago by Michelle Muri-Sloane — offers a variety of experimental art, prints and baby onesies. Muri-Sloane is now a full-time artist, and she says she is enjoying building her brand, appearing regularly at markets and art shows across the region.

“I’m trying new things at the moment, seeing what works,” Muri-Sloane told The Current. “It is still new to me.”