(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the rural crafts sector
Demand for hand-made and unique craft products has increased over the last couple of decades or so. Home owners have embraced interior design and decor, and many are always on the lookout for new items that will brighten up and enhance their homes. Home makeover television programmes - and programmes dedicated to craft, making and upcycling - and interior design magazines have all played a part in pushing this trend. And people seem to have a new-found desire for beautiful, unique and/or useful hand-made items that are made locally, use found, natural or recycled materials, and are interesting, individual and unique.
Of course, the housing market boom during the early and mid 2000s did the industry no harm. Buoyant economic conditions meant that people had plenty of money to spend on non-essentials like ornaments.
Unfortunately, the economy and the housing market suffered a sharp downturn in the late 2000s. People cut right back on their spending - and in particular reduced their spending on things they didn't actually need. On a positive note, the economic downturn prompted more people to take their holidays in the UK. Many craft shops and galleries are located in tourist areas, and people often buy things like craft items when they're on holiday. Conditions stayed very difficult during the early 2010s but began to improve in 2013 and 2014. The improvement in the economy continued in the first half of 2015 but slowed in the second half and into 2016.
As a result of the increased economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote in June 2016, consumer confidence in the economy fell. The decline continued throughout 2017 and into 2018 as household budgets came under strain due to inflation and limited real growth in wages putting pressure on consumers' disposable income. With consumers tightening their belts and reducing their discretionary expenditure, sales of crafts goods are likely to be subdued, at least in the short term.
The late 2000s and early 2010s also saw the cost of many materials increase quite sharply. Metal, for example, went up considerably in price, as did timber and things like paints and resins. The fall in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote added substantially to the costs of the imported materials. The tightening economic conditions, with consumers reducing their spending in view of the economic uncertainty and increasing inflation, means these additional costs may have to be absorbed, with the inevitable pressure on margins that this will lead to.
Recent years have seen a number of popular websites emerge dedicated to craft and hand-made items. Some, like Pinterest, are social media websites that encourage users to share ideas and discoveries. Others, like Etsy and Folksy, are online marketplaces which aim to bring together buyers and sellers of craft items.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry.
The main organisation concerned with crafts in the UK is the Crafts Council, which aims to promote crafts in the UK and maintains a national register of craftspeople, which is used by shops, galleries and other buyers looking for new work. The Crafts Council publishes Crafts magazine and also offers seminars and training sessions. You can contact the Crafts Council through their website.
The Rural Crafts Association promotes handmade items at craft and trade fairs around the country and can provide its members with details of forthcoming fairs and exhibitions. For more information visit the Rural Crafts Association website.
The Giftware Association (GA) may also be relevant to some craft businesses, particularly those located in tourist regions. Visit their website for more information.
There are also many trade associations and organisations for individual craft activities, which can give lots of help and advice to those starting out. A search on the internet should turn up any groups or associations relevant to your particular craft. Here are a few examples:
- The Greeting Card Association
- British Toymakers Guild
- British Woodcarvers Association
- British Society of Master Glass Painters
You might find magazines such as Craft Business useful for keeping up to date with the latest trends and issues affecting the sector.
You may find it helpful to be an active member of websites like Pinterest - this can be a good way to stay up to date with the very latest trends in craft and design.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a craft fair. As well as checking out competitor's products, you will be able to meet materials and equipment suppliers and plan your future stock buying. The Exhibitions UK website has information on forthcoming exhibitions that may be of interest to you.