Sunday, 24 April 2011

What do you expect from a Craft Fair?

What do you expect from a craft fair?  The obvious answer to this would be.... craft.  However, would you expect it to be craft made by the person manning the stand?  Or would you expect to see items which have been handmade by someone else in the UK? Or perhaps crafted abroad? Or would you ever expect to see items which have been made by a machine? Or ...tat!

In answer to these questions - you may see anything!  I've shown my work at craft fairs which actually have been all of these.... Again, the theme of this follows on from my previous blog - the general public is not getting what they expect unless they are attending a craft fair which is selling genuine handmade goods.  I was astounded to attend a craft fair once to see that someone was treating it like a car boot sale.  They literally had emptied the contents of their 'tat' bin and were selling it on a stand next to a lady who made the most beautiful felt bags which she'd painstakingly made at home.

I naturally pay more attention to silver jewellery when I attend any craft fairs and in my home county a lady attends many craft fairs and sells imported, machine manufactured silver jewellery, set with gemstones which makes no pretence of being hand crafted - but she sells well at every 'craft' event she attends.  I on the other hand, was at one craft fair with her and had my first and last craft fair where I didn't sell a single item.  Why? because she imports the silver jewellery made into very nice looking pendants, rings, bracelets and earrings (nothing that can't be bought in the shops anywhere in the country of course) and she pays less for the completed items than I pay to purchase my silver bullion BEFORE I've even started working to make a unique piece of jewellery.  Of course the customer believing it to be 'craft' fair will choose the vastly cheaper option.  Do they question why it's so much cheaper?  Think back to the San Jose Chilean mining disaster last year - the health and safety record of this mine was particularly appalling.  There is no guarantee that this imported jewellery didn't come from a similar mine - destroying people's lives for cheap and cheerful silver jewellery to be sold in the UK.  My bullion is only purchased from dealers who adhere to the Golden Rules of mining - which ensures the workers and the surrounding countryside is protected.  People hear the words 'blood diamonds' but who really knows what this means? or if they do, in all honesty who thinks too much about it?

I now personally only attend fairs where I know that genuine craft is being sold.

The problem is that there's a conflict of interest with craft fairs.  The organisers are wanting to raise money from the event by selling the stands to the 'craft makers' and the customers attend expecting craft, so they don't necessarily think of it being anything other than craft when they attend.  However, if the organisers want to sell all their tables anyones money is as good as the next persons!  This is a generalisation because of course there are some very good craft fair organisers - most notably ones who require pictures/examples of the work being sold on the day.  I know THEN that this is a craft fair that I'm happy to attend to sell my work.

Q: How many ways can the general public be hoodwinked?
A: Quite a lot
Q: What measures are put in place to protect them? 
A: Sometimes it does seem - very little!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

What is the definitition of handmade silver jewellery?

I recently blogged regarding a company going into administration and mentioned that although initially when I used to visit, there was a lot of handmade silver jewellery I had found it lacking of late, despite seeing adverts on Google for them selling handmade silver jewellery.  So I thought I'd discuss the concept of handmade silver jewellery.

First of all I'll start off with what I deem to be handmade silver jewelley - an item that is completely made by hand.  However, other people's definititions of handmade silver jewellery are radically different.  If a person has any input into a piece of jewellery which is silver, then this seems to be described as handmade silver jewellery.  Having given a talk on silversmithing about a month ago, I researched some websites which did just this. I found one which sold contemporary handmade silver jewellery from Mexico.  The pendant was machine made (cast from a mold), the bail was machine made and I can only presume that someone in Mexico had squeezed the bail through the jump ring at the top of the pendant to enable it to be described as handmade. It was a butterfly pendant in silver measuring 2cm x 3cm and cost £26 excluding the chain, plus postage. The purchaser would believe that they've bought an item of jewellery which has been made by hand and for the price it would seem to be a good buy.  However, when you consider how cheap silver is in Mexico being one of the largest exporters of silver and how cheap it is to mass produce cast items of jewellery such as this, then is the buyer getting a good deal?  The answer definitely has to be a resounding 'NO'.  To my mind they are being hoodwinked! 

Before I became a silversmith, I was bought a gift of a 'handmade silver ring' and I loved it, it was extremely expensive and I thought, a 'one off'.  Only to discover later when I became a silversmith, understood hallmarking and how to make silver jewellery myself, that it was machine made and imported and the person giving me the gift had been totally ripped off.  There could not have been any element of 'handmade' in this ring -so the trader was most definitely breaking trades description. 

But whilst there is no accurate definition of handmade silver jewellery, then ANY item which has had any input from a human hand, no matter how miniscule can be described as handmade. 
So where does this leave the buyer?  I think that these leaves the buyer in a very difficult situation because unless they ask the retailer to describe how the item has been made, then they really are not afforded any protection from people selling handmade silver jewellery.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Hi Ho Silver Ltd in Administration

An interesting week in the silver jewellery world this week.  On Saturday 2nd April, I heard that Hi Ho Silver in Dorchester was shut.  The local boutique (Every Cloud) was inundated with people walking to the other end of the street to view her collections.  Good news for her, but what had happened to Hi Ho Silver?  On Monday, I noticed the website had a message posted stating that they would 'be back soon' and by Tuesday a blog was posted by them to state that due to difficult conditions on the high street, Hi Ho Silver had been put into Administration.  The website had been purchased by the former owners and that they would be operating as mobile events.
What causes companies to go into Administration? Apart from the fact that the company owes more money than it can afford to pay - so the Administrator's job is to redeem assets and pay off the people that are owed - priority order being for taxes first!  Any Limited company ensures that the individuals in charge don't have their personal assets seized which means that they can use their personal assets if they wish to start again if that's what they wish to do.
Bank's can call in debts, putting companies into Administration if they believe that a situation of debt will only get worse or refuse to lend further thus making it impossible to continue trading.  Quite often over expansion can create such problems, coupled with sales not matching the expansion. With numerous shops on the high streets of South West England and the rent and rates payable, staff wages to pay and reduced sales one can assume to be the key factor leading to the demise of Hi Ho Silver on the high street.
However, the question also comes into play (which is what interests me the most), the phrase 'Handmade Silver Jewellery'   I noted quite often that Hi Ho Silver had advertised with Google 'Handmade Silver Jewellery' and yet when I looked, I found that I was hard pushed to find anything which wasn't machine manufactured.  So what is the definition of handmade silver jewellery? A topic for another blog, I think!
It's sad to see another institution disappear from the high street - although when there is a resurgence of buying quality handmade items within the United Kingdom is it not perhaps surprising when a company has reduced sales if their prices are the same as 'handmade in the UK' but the majority are machine made imports?