(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the needlecraft sector
In the past many shops that now sell a range of needlecraft products used to mainly sell hand and machine knitting wool and other yarns. Over the years the popularity of knitting has fallen considerably, for a number of reasons:
- people are generally more affluent so that they do not need to make their own clothes
- the availability of cheap imported knitwear means it is cheaper to buy than to make in many cases
- children are often no longer taught knitting and prefer other activities, such as playing computer games
- people want instant results and are too impatient to make up their own garments
- young women are starting a family later in life, and more and more often not having children at all. Having a baby and wanting to have hand knitted baby clothes is one of the main reasons why many young women take up knitting
As a result, many wool shops closed down and survivors branched out into other product lines that were more in demand, such as craft and hobby materials. Some outlets started making online sales - in some cases to customers all over the world - and this helped their businesses to grow.
Recent years have seen something of a revival in interest in knitting. Several celebrities such as Scarlett Johannson, Naomi Campbell and Goldie Hawn have taken up knitting and some catwalk designers, such as John Galliano, have featured knitted garments in their ranges. Designers have also supported a growing demand to wear locally produced fabrics such as Scottish cashmere or lambs wool - and this has also encouraged people to start knitting. In some areas knitting groups have been set up to encourage beginners and one day knitting courses are held in many shops around the UK all year long. In some areas after school clubs have been set up to teach children and young people craft skills and there are encouraging signs that younger generations are becoming more interested in needlework and craft activities. Websites like Folksy or Etsy allow people to sell small quantities of handmade goods - like hand knitted sweaters and scarves - without the expense of setting up their own outlet. This all helps to encourage people to take up knitting and related needlecrafts, either for their own enjoyment or to sell.
Of course, like in other retail sectors, the huge growth of the web and e-commerce represents a major threat as well as an opportunity for needlecraft shops. A huge range of needlecraft products is now available online, often at very competitive prices, and some shops struggle to compete.
The Brexit vote in June 2016 was followed by a fall in the value of the pound and increased inflation. Many yarns are produced abroad and the fall in the value of the pound meant that imported goods became more expensive at the same time that rising inflation reduced consumers' spending power. The knock-on effect where costs go up at a time when there is little room for increasing prices is that retailers' margins suffer.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association or club is an excellent way of staying up to date with industry developments. There are a number of organisations of interest to businesses in the needlecraft sector, such as:
- the Knitting and Crochet Guild. The Guild is dedicated to promoting knitting and crocheting and publishes a quarterly journal, SlipKnot, as well as offering various courses and workshops
- the UK Hand Knitting Association (UKHKA), which promotes knitting and represents the interests of manufacturers and distributors of yarns
- the British Wool Marketing Board
- the Confederation of British Wool Textiles (CBWT)
- the Crafts Council, Craft Scotland and Craft Northern Ireland
You can find out more about these organisations on their websites.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way to stay up to date with developments. Trade journals of relevance to the needlecraft sector include Craft Business and Craft and Design - you can find out more and subscribe on their websites.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show for the needlecraft sector, such as:
- Craft, Hobby and Stitch International (CHSI)
- The Knitting and Stitching Show
You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. The Exhibitions UK website includes details of forthcoming exhibitions in many different industry sectors.