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Why is crafting such a tough business right now?

This year I’ve noticed that it’s harder than ever to sell handmade – and having spoken to other makers, I see it’s not just me that’s having problems.

As a maker, when you have a stall at a craft fair and come home with rubbish takings, you start to question whether it’s just that your products are rubbish. You wonder if you’re wasting your time, and whether you should just give it all up and save yourself the bother. It can be really soul-destroying.

You wonder, is it the economy that’s the problem? Are people afraid to spend at the moment? The government claims that more people are in employment than ever before, but when you look closer you see that people who work 2 hours a week on a zero hours contract are considered ’employed’, so the figures are extremely misleading. Local anecdotal evidence suggests that people have either already lost their jobs or fear losing their jobs – which might explain the downturn in spending, to some degree.

And then you get a little cross at all those people who buy absolutely everything from discounter stores like B&M and Home Bargains. The need to get more ‘stuff’ for less money could well be taking cash out of the local economy and putting it in the hands of overseas shareholders. Hey, why pay for little Lleucu’s ballet lessons in Gwynedd, when you could contribute towards some anonymous overseas CEO’s umpteenth supercar?

Is it Brexit, you wonder… are people worried that leaving the EU is going to leave them worse off financially, so they’re cutting back all round? Maybe.

The thing I keep going to back to is the products I make. I have a theory about that…

I get a LOT of people complimenting my work. At craft fairs, people will stand and chat to me for ages about my pieces, especially the painted glass. They seem to love that it’s upcycled – I tell them that I turn trash into treasure, and they think it’s a great idea. And having spent 10-15 minutes chatting to me, telling me how beautiful my work is and how talented I am, they wander off empty handed.

Why is that?

My theory is that although people love to see my brightly-coloured pieces, they don’t necessarily want them in their homes… because the fashion is for neutral colours, and people seem to like following fashion (that’s not something I’ve ever understood, if I’m honest… I relish being different). Perhaps it’s human nature to be a little nervous of being a trailblazer, a trendsetter rather than a follower of trends. What if you get it wrong? What if everyone laughs at you for having something in your home that isn’t fashionable? Not the sort of thing that would bother me, but perhaps it bothers other people.

Apart from being so skint they’re forced to buy everything from Poundstretcher so they get more for their money, the fashion thing is the only reason I can think of for people telling me how much they love my work but seemingly not enough to buy it. I’ve run Facebook ad campaigns with over 100 reactions (plus comments, people tagging their friends, etc) – but no online sales since the summer either. My Etsy shop is also dead as a door nail. Why?

Is it just me?

As it turns out – no, it isn’t just me. I’ve spoken to makers all over the UK, and 98-99% of them are saying the same thing: this has been a tough year for sales, through every channel. Some are having a slightly better time of it through online channels (like Etsy for example); but craft fairs, while well-attended, seem to be more about browsing than buying. There’s a lot of visiting for inspiration going on too, by people who want to find a new hobby (or who want to set up shop as a maker themselves). That’s why I’m extremely cagey about my glass painting technique! ;)

What I can see happening before long is a lot of makers giving up and going back to being hobbyists. What a terrible shame for the handmade industry that would be. Do we really need to have more factory tat in our homes, when there are so many talented makers and artists out there struggling to make a living? Do we really need to have our homes filled with exactly the same stuff as everyone else?

So my plea to you, as we leave 2018 and head into 2019, is this: try to buy from small companies occasionally, instead of the big corporates. In my county, Gwynedd, the local council worked out a few years ago that if every adult spent £5 of their budget each week in a small business instead of a chain store, our local economy would benefit to the tune of £26m a year. That’s just one county. Imagine all the extra jobs that could create – people who would spend more money, and pay more taxes and boost the UK economy as a whole. Really makes you think – and if you can contribute towards little Lleucu’s ballet lessons, or little Dafydd’s football coaching, instead of buying yet another yacht for yet another billionaire… well, it gives you a nice warm feeling!

Please, do try to buy local whenever you can. If you visit a craft fair, buy something small. Even if you only spend £1 on my stall, when you’ve walked away I have a smile on my face and even if you can’t see it, on the inside I’m doing a little dance :)

Speaking of which – look out next year for a cool new ‘buy local’ campaign that I’m going to be launching. More about that another time! :)

In the meantime, I’m done with craft fairs for this year… I’ve managed to visit a few as a customer as well as having my own stall, and am happy to report that I’ve picked up several handmade Christmas presents (and some treats for myself) along the way. I’ll be spending the Christmas period thinking about whether I need to go in a different direction with Mooshkin – perhaps change what I’m making, or make more of an effort to sell through shops instead of direct – and we’ll see where that takes me in 2019.

Have a wonderful Christmas, all of you. May 2019 bring you everything you wish for!

Debs x

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