Tuesday 30 June 2009

Alternative Markets

Here's a little article I wrote about my experince of trying to 'break' the London craft market scene. Writing it was pretty cathartic as it allowed me to review some elements of my past that I have nagging feelings could have turned out differently. Que sera....

As a young Fashion Design student, I couldn’t wait until I graduated to start creating and selling my ideas. So in the third year of my degree, I began making bags and found some stockists by tentatively approached local independent shops. My first few sales generated an excitement that, years later, still motivates me today.

After moving back near London and conducting more research, I decided that obtaining a stall at one of the increasingly popular London design markets was my way forward. From the more established Camden, Portabello and Spitalfields Markets, to the lesser known Greenwich Market, to the newer UpMarket and Backyard Market, three or four years ago these were rapidly gaining in popularity as locations to discover a wealth of talented young designers offering exciting alternatives to the increasing homogeny of high street fashion. Designer/makers display their handmade or customised wares in stalls, which often replicate the feel of mini-boutiques. The absence of high rents, business taxes and other overheads theoretically mean they can concentrate on experimentation and product development.

A buzz began to surround these markets, subsequently press attention followed. The councils and private businesses that owned these markets soon realise that, as the stall holder inquiries and waiting lists grew, a lucrative profit could be gleaned. Stall prices for the more established markets rose prohibitively for new start-ups, if you were able to acquire a much-coveted pitch in the first place. Cheaper alternatives were the new markets being created to capitalise on this trend, or accepting a pitch at an established market but on a midweek day.

Becoming part of the Designer/maker market scene has become increasingly costly, particularly when you add transportation (possibly including parking and the London congestion charge), and not least the time and money outlay needed to create a whole stall’s worth of stock in the first place. Finding small independent shops to stock your products continues to be an option for someone starting out, which eliminates some of the preventative costs of market trading. Some of those early stockists also gave me invaluable support, suggestions, encouragement and feedback. However, often the slow turnover in small shops and crippling price mark-ups can result in meagre, if any, profit for the wannabe designer.

For the last couple of years, another option for Designer/makers who wish to sell their creations is Etsy.com. Etsy, and the proliferation of similar sites, acts as an online market, in which the seller has their own ‘shop’ and pays a small fee to Etsy when a purchase has been made. Like stocking in an existing ‘real’ shop, Etsy and the likes avade many of the problems and costs of market trading, with the added bonus of avoiding high price mark-ups.

However, although Etsy and similar sites do have the benefit of making your items available world wide, there are a couple of notable downsides. The first is that Etsy, by far the best known of these sites, is saturated with creations, making hits and sales very rare (unless you are able to attract online traffic another way, perhaps through a popular blog which attracts ‘fans’). The second is one that applies to all online shopping: it is impossible to try on the garment or item before purchase. Sometimes it is necessary to see something in the flesh to fall in love with it!

Something that I am involved in, and would like to see more of in the future, is collectives of creative people setting up mini-markets/exhibitions/sales featuring their own handmade items. Potentially prohibitive because of the organisation required to make it possible, and advertising needed to make it a success, but it is an exciting option never-the-less. This allows sellers to take back control of how and what they wish to display, whilst re-establishing one of the most positive elements of markets, namely giving customers the ability to meet and interact with the Designer/maker.

Ultimately, there is no perfect solution for low-fi fashion makers wanting to sell their goods. However, by applying some of their natural-born creativity to the selling process, there will always be ever-evolving options for this vibrant niche.


Ruth B said...

Zo, I love this piece about selling hand made items - your tenacity and experience is a real inspiration. It's so easy to give up when it gets tough, so it's good to hear some considered and honest views of the market place! The sheer joy of a stranger picking up your item from your carefully designed 'display' table, and handing over their cash for it, is unparalled - long live the market stall...real or virtual! x

naughty little pony said...

You coming to London then?

I'm so excited. You bet I will be free on the 9th of Aug!!!

I was just thinking how your post makes me want to visit brick lane, and now it will be in the best company possible.

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