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Craftafarians: making a little go a long way

Arts and crafts are the thing. Katie Sampson on a home-made phenomenon
AT THIS TIME of year it's impossible to avoid the Summer Craft Fayre. Even the humble village fete has evolved into a showcase for amateur craftspeople, inspired by a crop of useful books with titles like Tassel Making For Profit. According to the Crafts Council, one in four of us bought a hand-crafted item last year and the number of registered craftspeople has risen by 20 per cent in the last 12 years.

But crafts are changing; gone is the hairy-armpit, roll-your-own image. The new crafts brigade are more likely to call themselves "designers". As Janet Fitch, chair of the Crafts Council Index, points out: "It's now very fashionable to be photographed in your foundry."

Throwing pots and hand-beating metal is becoming particularly trendy among the young, wealthy socialites known as Trustafarians (from their penchant for hanging out with, and concealing their trust funds from, the locals in the multicultural, bohemian atmosphere of Notting Hill).

Now meet the Craftafarians: young and well-connected, they have realised that with their social skills and good connections there is money to be made in making things. Crafty Craftafarians love networking, and inviting their families and friends, keen to patronise the arts and equipped with extensive disposable incomes, along to their sales. "At some of these sales one will notice very little buying and selling," one Vogue journalist observes. "They are really an elaborate excuse for a social gathering."

However, when the Craftafarians attempt to move on from private sales, they may run into problems. Lance Bowman, the British crafts buyer at Liberty's department store, has to be extremely patient with un-businesslike would-be suppliers. "People may find the notion of having their work sold in Liberty's quite glamorous," he explains, "but when I start talking about deliveries and mark-ups it's less appealing." Some are hopelessly off-beam; he remembers one degree student who was unable to understand why trying to sell glass bow ties to the store for pounds 80 each wholesale was unrealistic. He thinks a too-rarefied education is partly to blame. "Arts colleges encourage their students to indulge in ignorance," he says. "Naughty children can't be blamed if they've never encountered discipline."

Creativity aside, the reality of running a small business can be daunting. Isabel Hanmer, a silk printer from Islington, north London, says: "The business side can be a nightmare, daunting, difficult, and lonely." Christian de Falbe, who decorates frames in unusual finishes, including Dalmatian spots and leopard prints, knows the risks involved, having already had one business founder. "Forgive me for being cynical," he says, "but once the honeymoon period of selling to friends and family is over you discover that the outside world is a completely different ball game. I started out thinking it would be yummy to make a living as a craft person, now I would rather be a businessman being crafty to make money."

However, some young craftspeople clearly mean business. The Small Business Network (SBN) is a group of dedicated young Craftafarians whose wares cover all aspects of craft from hand painted dustbins and silk scarves to dog portraits and fantastical frescoes.

The idea, explains Anneli Pougatch, a photographer and a founder member, is to get the members together at two sales a year and then leave it to them to socialise and network on the basis of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine". "The ideal scenario," says Anneli, "is where someone contacts me to order wedding photos and I then recommend that they contact follow members for the engagement ring and the wedding dress."

Bridging the gap between college and the real world is one of the objectives of the New Designers Exhibition, currently running in London's Business Design Centre. The signs are encouraging; over the last three years, the exhibition's attendance has risen from 12,000 to 20,000. "Craft is enjoying a renaissance," says director Nicole Bellamy. "The more people buy, the more it creeps into the public's consciousness; people somehow have an innate deep-rooted appreciation for hand-crafted things." Good news for the Craftafarians.