Jian Ping's column
Chicago’s “One of a Kind Show”
Jian Ping is author of “Mulberry Child: A Memoir of
China. “ For more information, visit
www.moraquest.
com  or www.mulberrychild.com. Jian Ping’s blog,
which she keeps with a couple of other authors, is
at
www.smearedtype.com.
Jian Ping

Wu said she likes to attend the show as well and
had attended it as an exhibitor two times before.

“Chicago customers really appreciate design and
handmade products.”

The popular four-day show ran from Dec. 3-6 and
attracted approximately 65,000 consumers. The
timing of the show is certainly optimum since many
people took advantage of the opportunity to
purchase unique Christmas gifts despite the pricey
stickers.  

By Jian Ping

The holiday festive atmosphere was in full swing at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, which
was at the Merchandise Mart earlier in Dec. This year marks the 15th annual show during the
holiday season.

I must admit that I knew nothing about the show before. When I received a media invitation to
cover the show, I asked a friend of mine, an interior designer, if she knew anything about it.

“Oh, I love the show,” she said. “You can get unique items there.”

I looked up the show online and decided to check it out. I requested the public relations firm to
set up a couple of interviews for me with Chinese artists and marked it on my calendar.

As if to assure me that the show is worthwhile to cover, I noticed ads for it in the Chicago Tribune,
Facebook and other social media in the following few days. I talked to China Daily about the show and the editor at the English
language newspaper agreed to release a coverage.

I showed up at the show’s opening in the morning of Dec. 3 and was surprised to see a long line of people waiting to get in on
the ground floor. Following instructions, I went up to the 7th floor where the show was held from an elevator located at the far
end of the west side, away from the crowd.

By the time the publicist took me to the showroom to meet with the two artists I was scheduled to interview, the show was
already open, and many people, mostly women, were busy going from booth to booth, checking out items and making
purchases.
Consumers looking at products at booths at the
One of a Kind Show in Chicago.
I was surprised by the large size of the show. The statement that “more
than 600 artists” participating in the show didn’t really register until I
was there: every direction I turned to look, I couldn’t see the end of the
exhibition booths—one after another, the booths, all the same size,
seem to go on and on. Equally surprising was the sight of the large
crowd.

A variety of products were on display, from hand-crafted fine arts,
fashion and accessories, work of home décor, to gourmet food and
children’s goods. I passed a booth selling leather bags, all hand
made, and another, contemporary paintings. One booth selling
gourmet chocolate was passing samples for people to taste. I had to
make an effort pull myself away.

When I arrived at Michelle Tan’s booth, a Chicago fashion designer,
there were a couple of people looking
at her line of clothing. Tan came
to Chicago from Hong Kong when she was a child, and the clothes and hats that she designed are all handmade locally.

“This is my 4th year to be at the show,” Tan said to me after the introduction.

She took me to a couple of dresses displayed in the front of her booth and said with pride that the pink dress (shown in the
photo) was wor
n by actress Gabourey Sidibe in the mid-season finale of the television series Empire that was on air the night
before.
“She loved the dress,” Tan said, referring to Sidibe. Tan
had designed four dresses for Empire.

Tan said sales were always good at the show, and what
she enjoyed most was the direct interaction with
consumers.

That was a key difference from many trade shows that do
not open to the public. One of a Kind Show, a venue for
both consumers and sellers, requires designers/artists
to be present at the show and meet with consumers in
person.

Ping Wu, another Chinese designer who specialize
s in
knit wear
was also at the show.
Michelle Tan poses in front of her booth at the show.   
Wu originally came from Chengdu, Sichuan Province in China, and now lives in Flushing, New York. Like Tan, all her knitted
products, from accessories like scarf and hats to sweaters, are handmade locally. Wu’s passion with knitting started when
she was a child. While working as a physical therapist in the U.S., she took a year off to study design at the IstitutoMarangoniin
Milan, and began to turn her passion into a profession, despite part time.

Wu was eager to share her journey with me. Our talk was constantly interrupted by visitors. I encouraged her to take care of her
customers first.
Ping Wu shows Helen Bacza, a customer at the show, how to   use
a multifunctional scarf she has designed.
It was a pleasure watching Wu enthusiastically
demonstratehow to use her multifunctional scarfs.

“My designs are functional and practical,” she said,
showing a woman the various ways to wear a scarf. The
long gray scarf changed shape magically in her hands,
from a hat over her head, a decoration on her shoulders,
a warmer around her neck, and eventually to a long pair
of gloves when she put her arms into the two tube-like
ends of the scarf with which she had created different
appearances earlier.

Wu’s passion was contagious. During the 20 minutes or
so when I was at her booth, several women walked away
with a purchase.

“This is really cute, really different,” said Helen Bacza, a
consumer trying one of Wu’s scar
ves.
Another customer, Suzzi Paradiso, pointed to a white knit hat displayed on the wall and said that it was what she bought the
year before.

“I’ve attended the show for five years,” said Paradiso, saying she could always find unique items
at the show.