Sunday, 18 December 2011

A bit of a rant about 'craft fairs'!

My final craft fair (of 2011) has been and gone, and I'm afraid to say it was somewhat of an anti-climax to the end of my first year of selling. The location, the time of year and the fact it was the most expensive craft fair I've done meant that I hoped it would be a big hit. However, sales were pretty low for most stall holders I spoke to and footfall within the venue was poor as well.  The organisers had put a lot of time and effort into advertising the event with radio ads, posters, distributing leaflets, even handing them out in the street on the day. 

My stall at 'the event of the year'!
One crafter has already pointed out that it is almost as though members of the public need to be reminded how special it is to buy handmade.  Not mass produced, not cheaply made in a factory thousands of miles away, but lovingly designed and made by talented crafts-people who invest a lot of time into their creations - often earning less then minimum wage themselves.  It is sad, but it seems that people just aren't prepared to pay for someone to make a special one off item, instead they are drawn to the high street where they will give a gift that thousands of other people will also receive. 

I've gotten thoroughly bored of the high street this Christmas - the shops are full of the same stuff they are full of every Christmas.  Rarely do I see something and think 'oh, that's different, I haven't seen that before...'.  With each craft fair I've been to I always see something with that added WOW factor! 

Whilst we may not be able to compete with the high street's prices, us designers/makers/sellers can certainly show the high street a thing or two about originality. There is also something to be said for being able to actually talk to the person who made your item, and this can be to the customer's advantage - us designer/makers *love* being asked to make something with someones specific likes/tastes in mind!

I have a theory that perhaps the term 'craft fair' puts a certain image in peoples heads.  Not an image of pretty stalls selling modern, bright, beautiful products, but one of the complete opposite.  Cold, drafty church halls, stalls selling home-made jam and with rubbish tombola's.  (Don't get me wrong - I LOVE home-made jam!)  Today's craft fairs are full of the most modern crafting I've seen, the most beautiful and often designer fabrics are being used, new arty/crafty techniques, handmade jewellery made from a lump of silver, and fancy and beautiful looking cupcakes that would make your eyes light up!  There has also been a lot of criticism over a recent 'crafts' tv show that somehow failed to showcase the 'Best of British' as it actually promised.  (I won't go into it, the least said the better, but the images it portrayed of the British craft scene were hardly enough to change the public's mind about handmade.)  Eek, there, I've said it.....

It seems very apparent from reading other blogs and speaking to people via Twitter that the 'buy handmade' message is certainly getting out there - BUT it seems that only those who do actually 'hand make' realise just how important it is to support other crafts people.  The problem lies with getting the message across to everyone else that it is worth supporting handmade.  Yes, products may be more expensive, but that's because people in the UK are trying to make a living, it's not someone in a sweatshop hundreds of miles away. 

I think I saw it quoted somewhere recently (can't remember where), but I have to agree that it's not necessarily my products that are 'wrong', but just that the people who visit the fairs I've done just aren't 'my' customers.  My quest for 2012 will certainly be to find new outlets for my products, designs and ideas and to expand on plenty of new ideas I have swilling around in my brain.  The Internet has certainly been my friend when it has come to sales these past few months, Twitter and my blog have been great advertising tools.  It is certainly very disheartening when I look at my sales figures from craft fairs only for them to drastically drop when I subtract the huge amount I have had to pay out for tables at such events.  If I hadn't had such great sales other than the few craft fairs that have been a bit disappointing, I'd certainly be looking closer to home and thinking that my products just aren't what the public want, but I get great feedback from customers, and I'm lucky enough to get repeat orders, so that does bring about a degree of confidence in what I make being 'good enough'.

So, all-in-all, a post that was originally going to be about cute t-shirts I've made lately, took an entirely different twist and ended up with me getting quite a bit off my chest!  I certainly feel a bit better now, but what do you think?   Is it as simple as thinking that we need to re-define 'craft fairs' or does it all come down to the turn in the economy?  And if you've never been to a craft fair, I'm just wondering what image the term actually brings to mind?

P.S - normal services will be resumed this week with blog posts including pretty images of the things I've made recently :)


  1. This is a great post Rachael! Couldn't agree with you more. I've had a few dissapointing craft fairs in my time. The last one I went to had a fantastic footfall but we could see barely any of the stalls were making sales, inlcuding ourselves. The stall next to us was selling THE most beautiful handmade jewellery (and we're not talking beads...I mean silversmith type stuff which requires a huge level of skill creatively and in practice) - they didn't sell a thing! I think a lot of potential customers are almost SCARED by being confronted by products which are 'new' and 'different'. We are all too used to be told what to like by the big faceless companies who dominate our high streets. It makes me very sad!

  2. Great post. I've noticed a lot of people this year who like me have tried to buy handmade or from indie shops but you are right; it does tend to be people who make themselves. With online marketplaces like etsy and folksy there really isn't any excuse as it's so easy! Plus walking around craft fairs is soo much nicer than walking around a crowded department store! I'm so excited about all of my Christmas presents this year as real thought went into them and I know they have been lovingly made. Let's hope 2012 sees a shift in consumer attitudes!x

  3. Great post Rachel! I agree totally with what you say! I adore handmade things and love handmade gifts. People will pay a fortune for tat in the shops it is a sad fact. I agree with the comment on people`s views on what is a `craft fair` and a lot of people do associate musty old halls with dated crafts, and sorry to say this but stalls full of knitted baby clothes made of squeaky wool! I hope you manage to find lots of outlets for your gorge things in 2012.

  4. Great post! You bring up a lot of good points. And you started me thinking about this problem. What I thought of is that the phrase 'homemade' to me mean that I made it (please don't take this the wrng way, I'm just trying to help figure this out). Perhaps the phrase needs to change, I'm not sure. I do know that I love buying things from craft fairs, but after thinking about how I give it to the recipient, I usually don't say it's homemade because they would think it's made by me. If asked (and I am always asked of I made it) I say, no I got it from this nice lady at a craft fair or something along that line.
    I think we, as a crafting community need to come up with different language for something bought by someone who made it with their own hands. What do you think? Could that be part of the problem?

  5. Fantastic post.

    I have done 5 craft fairs in the last two weeks. Another one coming up on Tuesday. The response has been brilliant BUT a lot of people who have come to chat with me at the fairs have said they didn't realise people like me (meaning the younger generation doing a modern style of craft) existed at craft fairs. I think my table has actually scared some people as they're not used to seeing the type of products I sell.

    A few people have actually said to me "what are you going to a craft fair for? Aren't they supposed to be for old folk!" I think a lot of the general public don't always realise there are actually so many talented artists / designers / crafters etc of all ages on their doorstep where like you said they can buy items that are not mass produced, unique, bespoke etc etc.

    Sorry for long comment!! After reading your post my mind is now buzzing trying to think of ideas to change the way people think about handmade and for them to realise the amount of effort and hard work that goes into designing and making each and every item which sadly is very rarely found on the high street.

    Emma xxx

  6. I have given so many handmade presents this year. The talent that is out there is amazing. I'd rather give a unique card and present made locally than one that has been mass produced in the Far East.
    I've found I've sold mainly to people who make themselves. I agree that the image of the squeaky hand knits needs to be banished. When non crafters buy from me they can't believe that I make my stuff myself. People seem to think handmade is poorly made, not the fantastic quality it really is.

  7. Well said Rachael. It is so disappointing when you put so much of your time into making beautiful items for them not to sell. I have a hand written sign on my stalls to tell customers that I design and make all of the items that I am selling as some of them don't realise this, even though I sell at CRAFT Fairs! I don't think organisers who allow sellers such as Phoenix, Usborne etc help this problem.

    I have decided to sell at less fairs next year and concentrate on the internet side of things. I'm sure you will be successful, your work is beautiful x

  8. I've come to the conclusion this year that the only people to really make a good decent earning from craft fairs are the organisers who are charging for the stalls.

    There's a certain feeling among craft fair sellers that discussing earnings is a big no no but I've been breaking that unspoken rule this year and told my fellow stall holders exactly how much I've made at each and every fair in the hope that transparency about whether it's possible to earn a decent wage at craft fairs can be easier for those just starting out at them.

    I have no solutions though, I don't know what to suggest to get people to actually hand over their hard earned cash...I'm just about the moaning this year.

    Maybe next year I'll be more positive on craft fairs as I go into them as a way to sell my handbag workshop sessions instead of just selling finished products.

    It's nice to have company in my rant :) x

  9. I dont really have anything to add to all the lovely comments you've had except to say that I've been there! My last craft fair of the year (last weekend) was exactly the same - poor footfall and pretty poor sales. I've found it hit and miss at most of the craft fairs I've been too this year. I figured it was just a case of keeping at it!

    I too am looking at different (but the same!) things to do next year and, like Emma, my head is buzzing with ideas and I cant wait for 2012!

    I really hope you're not too downhearted cos your products are amazing. Enjoy the christmas break and look forward to a fresh start in 2012 :)

    Luv Rhi x x

  10. Very well said xx I think this year has been particularly hard on everyone here's to a better year in 2012 x

  11. So sorry to hear you had a poor doo, I know ot too well and thats why I hardly do any now, I find selling on fb far better though I do miss setting up my stall. Relax now for Christmas
    Heather x

  12. Very well said, completely agree with you! I find that I do better if I go to a specific artisan/designer/maker-type fair where the organiser is selective and only allows stallholders to sell things which they have handmade themselves, rather than a usual craft fair which lets sellers exhbit things which they've bought in to re-sell or allow Phoenix card sellers / Jamie at Home reps etc. Nothing against these people but it's unfair competition and doesn't necessarily attract people who appreciate the love, time and effort we makers put into our work - the trouble is a lot of craft fair organisers, if they aren't a designer/maker themselves, are only interested in filling up the table spaces with whoever will pay for a stand.

    Let's hope the handmade message continues to grow bigger and bigger next year and there are more good quality handmade fairs for us to attend.


  13. I completely agree! I would much prefer a thoughtful handmade gift than something someone has bought which is made in its thousands. Last year I gave all the ladies in my extended family handmade make up bags with minatures in and the went down so well. This year I made some tree decorations for a craft fair my friend was at. They were selling really well on ebay but didn't sell at all at the craft fair because apparently they were too expensive! (They were only £2) I do think community's need to pull together now and promote local goods and services else it's all going to get a little less personal.

  14. I did a couple of craft fairs years ago and it put me off for life. I don't understand a lot of the comments about about allowing Usbournes and Pheonixes to sell?

    As I was reading your post, I was blaming the same TV programme so it made me smile to see you say that! I watched the programme as there's never anything about craft on TV, but she annoyed the hell out of me, taking REAL craftspeople's designs, whipping her own up and then passing it of as her design to win a competition! I have the book and the items displayed in it are the ones the craftspeople made, not the ones she made. Oh, I've gone a bit off-topic there!

  15. As regards the Phoenix and Usborne comment....

    I have nothing against these sellers, infact I used to be a Phoenix trader myself, I think their products are great.

    I just meant that I don't mind selling along side them at school fetes etc, but I think a craft fair should be for handmade goods only.

    At one craft fair, I was selling my personally designed, lovingly handmade wash bags at a stall next to a lady selling mass-produced imported bags. Some customers didn't realise mine were handmade and couldn't understand why they were priced differently.

    If we want to re-educate people's shopping habits, we should be clear about the types of product that are sold at craft fairs, and the kinds of (fair) prices people should expect to pay.


  16. Well, I might as well weigh in with my 2p. I agree with Wendy. We did craft fairs last Xmas season and there were the worst, most soul-destroying experience I believe I've ever had. Yes, the only person who appeared to make money were the organisers, although perhaps the people doing re-sale of cheap little items made a quid or two.
    I had worked so hard and spent so much on materials that I was literally embarrassed in front of my husband about my failure, the only person whose professional opinion really matters. It was awful.
    I said never, ever again. I decided to find other ways to make money from crafting. I sold or gave away almost everything that I had in stock but it took nearly a year.
    I'm so sorry to sound so negative and I fully admit I probably didn't pick the right venues. But it was SO awful I couldn't bear to keep trying.
    And it's a decision I've never regretted. My business plan, if you can call it that, means I won't make money for a long time, but I think if I keep working hard at designing and writing I will eventually succeed. Maybe.
    This is a wonderful post Rachael, and it's very good to get crafters thinking about the way we approach retail sales. I don't have a precise answer, but the dialogue itself is empowering.

  17. I am very new to crafting and enjoy learning new things. I am however an inveterate visitor to craft fairs. I love them and envy all the talented crafters. Crafts have become so popular with Hobbycraft and The Range selling exciting things to make that I think the enthusiasm for making does not match the demand for sales.

    So thought I would let you have my observations

    The most vibrant fairs I have been to have been those where stalls cost a huge amount to rent and where you have to submit examples of your work to see if you are of the standard they require. The people who seem to attend these I suspect have disposable income and think nothing of spenting £80 or a lot more on an original hand blown glass vase or a silk hand embroidered bag. These crafters travel the country and I suspect make a reasonable living. Such fairs also charge a significant entry, yet you can hardly move for people peering round 100+ stalls, with remote card payment machines churning out receipts.

    At the other end I see local “craft fairs” attended by those who just pop in for a coffee and cake and who seem to keep their purses out of sight. I fully admit I will often spend £5 but rarely more, but often spend nothing as I haven’t found anything that inspires me or there is nothing original. Too often there are several stalls of pretty jewellery which look pretty much the same and bundles of beautiful bunting everywhere. There is a limit to how much bunting and jewellery one wants (especially in the current economic climate).

    That said, I had my first craft stall in December. I broke even got some nice comments. Lots of people didn’t sell anything and the ones who did best were the charity stalls. Maybe organisers should look at limiting similar stalls?

    I think that people don’t give as many presents as they used to. Often charity donations are given in lieu.

    I will continue to craft and hope to make a little bit of money.

  18. Well it was very interesting reading everyone@s thoughts!! I've never done a craft fair before< i would like to but i worry my stuff wouldn't sell!! I find that people I talk to assume that handmade stuff isn't as good as high street stuff....don't ask me why!! So they think it will fall apart etc!! I hope to get the courage up one day to try and sell at a fair!!

  19. Too right Rachel! This is an issue not confined to the UK.
    I did a craft sale last year where I sold NOTHING and was even questioned about how my handmade lavender sachets could have Canadian grown lavender since "lavender can't grow in Canada." Thank heavens my plants couldn't hear the cow, er, customer.
    I now only make gifts for friends and family and items on commission. I love the things I do, and the pleasure it brings to me.
    I was taught from an early age that getting a handmade gift is very special. Maybe that should be the worldwide message.
    Congratulations on your tutorial! The bags are lovely and you deserve the recognition. Way to go! Handmade forever!
    Merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine.

  20. What a fantastic post!!! Of course, I TOTALLY agree with you!!!

  21. Great post!
    I must say, i only did one christmas craft fair this year (ok - thats mostly because I am only just starting to sell my stuff again), and was very lucky in my choice. It was a church based fair in a huge church, organised by a lovely man who gets roped into organising it every year - he has managed to build up a very impressive list of crafts people who come back time after time. The stands were extremely well priced (cheap actually) and it had such a lovely atmosphere. Sales were pretty good too.
    That said, I know that it was a pretty unique experience, and I am very nervous about trying out any other markets/ fairs. I worry that i will be wasting a day sitting around behind an expensive stand, which i could spend at my machine making loads more stock. But i guess stock must be sold somehow;-).

    I really enjoyed your 'rant'. I often feel that people really dont have a clue! I have given handmade gifts to friends that have taken me hours of thought and preparation to create or to choose and been met with a look that says - 'so you are too cheap to buy me a real gift' - needless to say they dont usually get a second gift;-). On the other hand - i love the look on a recipients face that says - 'wow you cared about me so much to go to such and effort to create something so unique - just for me! (i keep those friends around;-)
    A handmade/homemade/handcrafted (call it what you will), gift says so much more than a mass produced 'faceless' item.

    Love the posts - keep them coming!


  22. A very well written blog post ~ and having done (and survived!) my first ever craft fair back in November, I agree wholeheartedly with you! I do think that the message is getting out there though, so maybe it's just a matter of time... ?

  23. I co-run a monthly handmade market, we found it sounded nicer to call it a market rather than a fair, we promote alot about the quality of handmade and the creators of the gifts.
    Our market is only small (approx 10 tables) but because its monthly we have a lovely following and regular customers coming back as each month is different :) i think our vintage tea area helps too :)
    I know how down hearted you can feel after an awful craft fair, the next one will be better, i promise :) x

  24. You can make some serious cash selling your hand made items at craft fairs. It could even be a gold mine


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