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Thinking global, acting local

Crafts' editor talks to Make Works founder Fi Scott

Make Works is such a beguilingly simple idea, it leaves you wondering why no one had done it before. Essentially, it’s a website that puts designers in touch with local makers and manufacturers across Scotland. Every fabricator, selected by the Make Works team, gets a page where visitors can browse a selection of images of the factory, get an overview of what it does, who it has worked with and the equipment it possesses. You also get to see a short film that encapsulates the company in a minute-and-a-half. Importantly, too, it’s free to use. The factories selected haven’t paid to be there, nor have they vetted the information, so as a result you have an entirely independent, and vitally local, take on their capabilities. 

It’s the brainchild of Fi Scott, a reasonably recent graduate from the Glasgow School of Art and, frankly, a bit of a force of nature. The site came out of the final year project on her product design course. The 27-year old had been working as a furniture maker in Brooklyn, New York, during her holiday when she had the first inkling of the idea. ‘I came home every day covered in cork dust. I totally loved it,’ she remembers.‘I guess at that point I was quite determined to make my own work locally, but I didn’t have a clue where to go or who was around. Where do I go in Glasgow to learn how to turn wood? Over the course of the year I came up with a concept of a very straightforward open directory. Back at the beginning it was more of a quest.’ In many regards she was fortunate to be studying on a course with a laissez-faire sense of what constitutes product design. ‘Its definition was that a product can be absolutely anything,’ she confirms. ‘So it could be a physical thing but it might be a website, an app or a service.’ 

She was keen to grow the site on graduating, but spent the next six months trying to raise money. ‘I applied to every single fund possible in Scotland and basically got turned down by all of them,’ she laughs. She was resigned to paying for the project herself, and had started touring the country in a VW Camper van to source manufacturers, when Creative Scotland and the Jerwood Foundation stepped in. ‘That definitely proves go and do it first and then the funding will come,’ she says.

How did the manufacturers respond to this young designer keen to come and film their work? ‘At the start I found it difficult because I hadn’t realised that the best way to get in touch with factories is just to pick up the phone.’ And, in fairness, they are offered a good deal. ‘They give us a tour. In exchange they get a film, photography and a web presence.’ 

All of which sounds lovely and rather utopian, but how does she make money? Here she gets a little evangelical. ‘It was always really important to me that it was accessible, it has to be as transparent as possible – everyone should be able to use it, no matter if they can’t afford to pay membership.’ At the moment it’s funded by a series of grants from foundations and donations from manufacturers, but she’s aware that’s not a realistic long-term model. So instead she’s setting up a patron system for factories that have got work from the site, or people who have used it regularly. 

And the site is spreading to other regions. There’s already a Birmingham version, with plans for expansion into Derby, Bristol and Bath, Cornwall and Devon, the Arab Emirates and Dubai as well as Copenhagen. Each region pays for training and a licence to the Scottish mother company, but is then left to its own devices to run it. Is it strange to let her idea go? ‘No, I love it. It took me a while, but once I was able to do it, it’s the best feeling. You see people run with it and make their own interpretations. It’s so much about local. I don’t understand the nuances of England and Wales geographically, or even particular cities. It absolutely makes sense that people who know the area would start mapping and doing the project for their city.’   

And besides, she’s got other fish to fry. Launching in early June, Skills Works promises to perform a similar function for the education sector. ‘We’re going
to map every single course and class to do with making in Scotland – where you can learn to throw, find a glassblowing class, right across all the creative skills.’ It sounds like a good idea to me. 

make.works

Photo: Shannon Tofts

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