by Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director, Crafts Council
To demonstrate the UK population’s appetite for the handmade, the Crafts Council has spent the last few months compiling a major report into the market for craft – and the results are as encouraging as we’d hoped. The number of people buying craft has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, with 88% of the people surveyed saying they are in the market for it.
It is almost fifteen years since the first such report was published by Arts Council England, as a companion piece to a report on the visual arts market. So much has changed since 2006, when digital technology was still in its formative years and the iPhone was yet to be launched. It was a time of financial boom before the bust of 2008. Craft was something of a side show to the visual arts: Grayson Perry had just won the Turner Prize and the fact that he was making pots was more contentious than his cross-dressing, despite the more conservative attitudes of the time.
So, the Crafts Council and eight leading national partners* from across the UK have worked together to investigate the characteristics of the market for craft. We wanted to understand more about how best to stimulate, support and grow that market. We wanted to know who’s buying craft, what they’re buying and why, how big the market is, how routes to market are changing, and what kind of infrastructure can best support it.
Interest in contributing to the research exceeded our expectations, with over 1,600 craft businesses, and a whopping 5,000 responses from UK consumers across the four nations. And this enthusiastic response is reflected in the report’s key findings – including that 73% of people surveyed had bought a piece of craft.
Digital technology has certainly transformed the market, despite initial arguments that people wouldn’t buy craft online due to the importance of seeing and touching a handmade work. While our survey showed craft is most commonly purchased at fairs or markets, over two thirds (69%) of respondents said they would buy pieces online, reflecting the wider trend in retail which has so disrupted our traditional high streets.
Over the last ten years we have witnessed the rapid growth of the experience economy – of active rather than passive leisure activities – backed up by our findings, with over 40% of respondents having been on a course. At the same time there has been a huge rise in everyday making, with many of the millions hooked by the Great British Pottery Throwdown and Great British Sewing Bee going on to try their hand at making themselves.
The report also reveals some surprises. Collecting art and craft has traditionally been an older person’s game, however, the research indicates that more younger people (aged between 25 and 34) are now buying craft and more of them see themselves as collectors.
Of course, the market for craft is not confined by national boundaries. Both the US and Europe are important export territories for UK craft businesses, so we are really pleased that, with additional funding from the Department of International Trade, we have been able to extend the research to the USA, surveying craft consumers in New York and Los Angeles. We found that 74% would buy a piece of craft compared with 88% here in the UK. Interestingly, 28% have bought from a UK maker and 59% would consider doing so, pointing to considerable potential for growth. The Crafts Council is also a partner in the World Crafts Council’s EU funded Crafting Europe programme – a pan-Europe project that will enable us to link our findings to their wider craft market research plans, deepening our knowledge and understanding of consumption habits across the Channel.
There is no doubt that having solid evidence is important for showing the value of craft, and making such information freely available to others is a key part of the Crafts Council’s mission. Our findings will help craft businesses understand their consumers better, while also informing our longer-term market strategy and the role the Crafts Council can play in strengthening the craft sector. At a time when the economy is going through great change, knowledge is power.
*Arts Council of Wales, Contemporary Visual Arts Network, Craft Northern Ireland, Craft Scotland, Crafts Council, Creative Scotland, Creative United, The Goldsmiths’ Company, Great Northern Events/Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair