Surveys are wonderful things: if you read the right ones they fill you with hope. One that I’ve seen says the market for original British craft is larger than that for original British visual art. It also says that 5.6 million pieces of craft work are bought in an average year in our country. But it’s finding a sufficient concentration of those potential buyers, and at a time and in a place you can access, which is the difficulty for most craftspeople.
There are wonderful shows like the British Craft Trade Fair taking place this weekend at Harrogate, or on a smaller and more textile-focused scale, the Selvedge spring fair in London a few weeks ago. But having the resources to attend multiple fairs in a year is beyond many of us operating at the smallest of small scales. For makers and dyers of yarns, the additional puzzle is defining where you fit into the craft-scape. Are we to be classed as ‘contemporary craft’ or are we, because of the heritage behind us, ‘traditional’ makers? I could hardly call what I do anything other than contemporary, even though spinning as an activity has millennia of history behind it.
When you look around at craft fairs, though, I wouldn’t fit at most of them. So am I more akin to a ‘designer’ and should I be classed as part of the ‘fashion’ industry? Or am I making something which is art in woolly form, so should I be classified with the artists? Defining what you are is easier for some crafters than for others. It helps if you have a finished product resulting from your craft, such as fine basket-maker, friend and fellow spinner Eleanor.
Defining routes to markets for craftspeople has spurred on Juliet Bernard and colleagues to launch Planethandmade recently. Their aim is to bring designer makers together with markets and media to help them on their way: a service which will be much in need. They’re starting by engaging us in conversation and through quick and easy questionnaires, available on their homepage.
Makers need the oxygen of publicity, both online and offline in the printed media, to create an appreciative following. In advertising terms, you need ‘above the line’ (mass broadcast, print and physical/tangible) promotion, as well as ‘below the line’ activities (relationship-building more directly with customers) to give yourself a sound business footing. (Oops, the ‘day job’ is showing!) But don’t let statistics bamboozle you. It’s certainly impressive that over 95 million Tweets were sent each day in 2011, and around 200 million people accessed Facebook from their mobiles. It might well be that online retail sales in Britain topped £50 billion in 2011, but that doesn’t make online selling the best option for everyone. Some of us will need the far more bespoke and focussed help that people lie Juliet at Planethandmade can provide.
Following its Spring conference in March, the Heritage Crafts Association is to hold a marketing seminar in September this year. It’s another step towards bringing crafts marketing up-to-speed with the modern world and, as their Parton, HRH The Price of Wales put it in his conference message: “…not simply hanging on to the past, but ensuring that they [craft skills] continue to bring genuine economic and cultural benefits to our communities today - and for generations to come.”
If you’re trying to find some of of the 4.4 million people who aspire to own original craft works, then may you find special, swift and successful routes to market in the coming week, and beyond.