So, that was quite the hot potato, my Cautionary Tale post. I am glad that it’s been useful to people who were considering exhibiting at the market in making up their minds whether to or not. If you haven’t read the comments, they are definitely worth a read – here they are. I’ve heard from one of the other stall holders, as you can see, but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who disagreed on my take on the event or who is still planning on attending – it would be good to balance it out though I realise such a person may not exist.
One of the points that has come out of the comments is an interesting if contentious one I wanted to explore (even though it’s going to make me sound like a hideous, bitchy snob).
First though, I wanted to make something crystal clear about the market in question in the last post. I am pretty sure everyone is aware which it is and I wanted to highlight that the markets I have done there in the past were run by a completely separate organisation who planned, marketed and organised it very well and who were great to work with. Let’s call them Organiser A.
The market I attended as an exhibitor there last year was their last one at the venue. I believe a different organisation, let’s call them Organiser B, separate from the venue, organised an event the day after the one I was at last year, which was poorly attended and organised (from the information I have been told by several vendors). It is this Organiser B, along with Venue X that are organising the series of events I have been writing about recently. To clarify further, the first event was run solely by Venue X. Organiser A had nothing to do with it and continue to be awesome.
Here endeth the public service announcement on that. I felt it necessary to be clear on that for the avoidance of any doubt, as several of the stallholders at the event seemed confused over who exactly was behind previous events (which is very sad, indeed).
So, on to the next Big Issue. Several commenters, on the blog, by email and on Twitter, have raised the point of there being a need for an event genuinely showcasing Scottish design talent and selling high-end, quality work. Whilst I agree with the sentiment to a certain extent, I also have concerns that organising yet another event is not the answer.
I have yammered on about this previously, and touched upon it at the end of my last post, but I’ll say it again. The market is completely over-saturated in Glasgow for craft fairs. Here’s a potted history lesson for you. Pay attention, class.
7 years ago, tapping “craft fair glasgow” into Google might bring you up one or two traditional events to choose from locally and a small selection of others further afield, all catering towards the sedate, country crafts type market. Today, it will give you a list of links as long as your arm to events all over the city and beyond. 7 years ago, there was nothing for modern makers to take their work to. The traditional events didn’t want us, so I took the bull by the horns and organised my own event.
The Miso Funky Markets ran for a couple of years, largely in the West End of Glasgow and were, if I can be so bold to say it, successful. We brought together a whole bunch of creative people who were frustrated that they had no outlet for their work in the city, some of whom became great friends. I’m proud of what I achieved (with my then-business partner) and some of the people we introduced to have went on to form businesses together, as well as life-long friendships. Eventually, we felt our work was done – we’d helped establish a thriving indie craft scene in Glasgow and people were taking the idea and running with it. They didn’t need us anymore. We were happy (and tired).
The Glasgow Craft Mafia was born (of which I was a founding member, though left quite some time ago as I couldn’t face the politics of it) which organised events, and a few other markets sprung up which were being put on by people who had sense and the skills and contacts needed to make them a winner. People started running classes, workshops, opened shops and craft cafes. Glasgow was a leader for the rest of the UK and it was great.
As recently as two years ago, the scene was buzzing. I was still excited to be part of it. A core of regular events were being run by some pretty cool people who got the temperature of the market just right. There was the beginnings of cross over between vintage and handmade (a topic for debate on another day). The stalls I had were profitable and the people visiting were into it. They were hungry for unique handmade stuff and they were being fed it in plentiful supply.
Then the craft bubble blew up like chewing 3 sticks of Hubba Bubba all at once. Suddenly, what we’d known for years was being cottoned on to by everyone. This should have been a good thing. TV shows started appearing on our screens extolling the virtues of making things at home and now it wasn’t just acceptable to be sitting at home, crafting for pleasure, the impetus was to set yourself up in business and sell your work. And Etsy and Folksy and the myriad other online marketplaces encouraged that, with their quick-start-low-fees model. Suddenly, everyone who’d ever picked up a knitting needle was in business. A magazine was even launched telling you what to make and where to sell it (don’t get me started…). It was easy. And it was fun. We all got swept away on a wave of under-priced pastel-coloured crocheted bunting and we loved it.
But for every 10 people opening up their Folksy shop and selling assembled jewellery and Cath Kidston fabric keyrings at a massive loss, there was a frustrated genuine designer/maker, trying to make a living, sitting at home, weeping into their receipts shoebox (everyone keeps them in a shoebox, right?).
The online market was now completely overladen with homemade stuff. Some of it was very nice. Some of it was shoddily constructed. Most of it was run-of-the-mill average craft. Heck, I probably even bought some of it, so go ahead and judge me and call me an enabler. Where once it was easy to find something unique that had been designed and made by hand in the UK, you now had to trawl through 30 pages of search results just to find one thing that stood out from the crowd. No one wanted to pay a decent price for a quality, designed, handmade item because they could get something similar for a fraction of the price.
The difference between homemade and handmade is not a matter of semantics. It’s a very important point to highlight that sounds so petty but I know that other designers will understand. Homemade does not equal handmade and handmade does not equal homemade. Selling your work for a price that can only be making you a loss contributes nothing to the craft business community whatsoever. It shows you don’t value your own time and work and you don’t value that of other designer/makers either.
So it was only a matter of time before this trend migrated from the online market place to the real world. Soon we ended up in the position we are in today – with each weekend boasting one, two, three or more craft fairs (and fayres – oh, the fayres with a y!). Where are all the exhibitors going to come from for those? And where are all the visitors going to come from? And what money are they going to be spending given we are in such a parlous financial state, nationally? Think about it.
Glasgow is a small city. We have roughly half a million residents. Even factoring in 5% as being interested, that’s just 25,000 people who might actually want to attend. And I’d be surprised if it was anywhere near that high. So the pool of people to attract is relatively small compared to London and the US. Although I fought hard along with others for several years to change attitudes, it was like pissing in the wind.
The recent market debacle confirmed to me that we have come full circle and we are back where we are 7 years ago. The events we have are largely catering to the homemade and the hobby maker with an ever-decreasing number of genuine designer/makers trying to make a living alongside them. Whilst there is nothing technically wrong with that, it’s not conducive to changing the attitude of the general public and making them value the work from designer/makers.
The word “craft” has become a dirty word again. Jo(e) Public will take one look and write it off as inaccessible and expensive as they are so used to toddling along to their local library or church hall (or wine bar, nightclub, tea room…) and picking up a few vintage-look twee accessories for pennies. So why would they want to spend 5 times the amount on something from the next-door stall? To expand on the analogy, it’s like Primark opened on Hebden Bridge High Street and suddenly everyone’s wearing neon legwarmers.
Is another event really going to do the trick? Or is it just going to be lost in the mire? Itwould have to be an event of epic proportions with a killer venue, a crack marketing team and a juried selection process to really showcase designer/makers to the full potential. That’s several full-time jobs right there. That’s partly why, I believe, the recent market failed – although the venue is in a great location and run by a government body with the resources to market it extensively, having one person half-heartedly organising it alongside their daily job was never going to be enough.
Who is going to take a task of that mammoth proportion on board? Because I can tell you from experience, as can several of my indie business colleagues – there is no money to be made in putting on craft fairs. Every last penny of “profit” absolutely has to go into marketing and promotion, as does every last minute of the organisers’ time. It simply is not enough to book a venue, post it online and expect people to turn up. It does not work. Weeks and months of careful planning is required. Who would take that on?
So, what’s the way ahead? For me, it’s not pouring any more time and effort into events where I’ll always just be sticking out as the expensive one. (Apart from anything else, after this post, I doubt anyone would have me). It feels like a scattergun approach to reaching out to new customers. I’m going to pick my outings carefully. Last year, that meant just two markets in my home city. This year – well, maybe that was it, two weeks ago. I’m going to be focusing on trade shows this year. I had a go last year in Glasgow, but this year, I’m off to London to try it with the big kids (because even in the world of trade shows, the same problem exists). That’s a whole other set of blog posts waiting in the wings though.
And sad as it is to say, I’ve started to distance myself and my company from the word “craft”. My work is designed and made by me and my team of helpers. It is, in the true sense of the word, handcrafted. But I am very conscious that to describe it as such may not be to my benefit.
Lots to think about for me. And maybe for you, too.
Disclaimer: If you’ve not met me in real life, then please be assured I am hopefully not as bitter and bitchy as I might have come across here! Honest! I’m just frustrated that this is happening and no one is talking about it. So leave your comments, I’m interested to hear your views.