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Thinking globally: 8 tips for fast-tracking your craft career abroad

How to set yourself up for international success

In a fast-changing world, thinking ahead and looking for global opportunities will set you on the path to success. You might think that selling internationally is an aspiration, but if you postpone it until later you will limit your potential. Now that social media has opened doors around the world, why rely on one market when collectors and commissioners of craft exist everywhere?

The latest report from the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport revealed that the biggest buyers of British craft goods around the world were Switzerland, the Gulf and France, and that the total value of exports grew by 25 per cent from 2010 to 2016. In fact, craft makes the highest level of contribution to overall UK exports of any creative industry, so the opportunities are rife.

‘Working internationally meant I made contacts that I would never would have in England,’ says ceramist Lubna Chowdhary. ‘Usually the shows have participants from all over the world, so your reach is much wider than that of just the host country.’ Leather artist Anita Carnell adds: ‘International recognition gives you a better platform to working in the UK.’

The Crafts Council's Talent Development team advises that you have a plan, research your potential buyers, markets and logistics and then prepare your business for the next steps. It sounds relatively straightforward, but exporting takes time and investment. Here is some useful advice to get you started. 

Image: Pixabay

1. Protect your brand
It’s worth researching how you can protect your brand through thorough IP and copyright procedures. For advice, visit the websites of ACID (Anti Copying In Design) or turn to specialist intellectual property solicitors, such as Briffa Legal: ‘Registering your design in the UK is always a good idea, but there is no centralised, worldwide or comprehensive system for easily protecting intellectual property – each country may need a separate application.’

2. Identify the right markets
Think about where your website traffic is coming from and what feedback you have already had from customers abroad before homing in on specific countries. If you are looking for overseas retailers or galleries, connect with them via social media, and ask if they have stocked UK makers before.  

3. Choose trade fairs carefully
If you are going down the trade fair route, be sure to research which would most suit your work. Ask your peers who already work internationally if they can share tips on which have been most successful, and visit the fairs if you can to check they are the right fit. If you are familiar with doing trade events in the UK, then seek out international events with a similar profile. If you mainly work directly with private clients or on site-specific work, your route to market will differ and you will need to identify individuals who can support you, such as galleries or retailers. 

Textile designer Majeda Clarke recently researched the NY NOW trade fair, but soon realised the smarter route for her work was through retailers, so she explored local shops and galleries on the same trip. ‘I asked journalists and designers where they shop in New York and I visited small boutiques in the Greenwich Village and Soho areas, and managed to get interviews with all of them,’ she says. The Department for International Trade offers funding support for some fairs; they have advisers and provide training events to help you with your business and export ambitions. For details, visit the website gov.uk

Image: Publicdomainpictures

4. Test the water with a residency
Creative residencies are a good toe-dipping exercise into new countries. Being taken under the wing of a residential partner provides a safety net of local knowledge and experience that allows you to find your feet and grow your confidence, while living rent-free or at a subsidised rate. Alongside the precious time to develop your work, an international residency opens doors to local networks and galleries. Look at the British Council’s website for opportunities, and those of cultural institutions across the world.

5. Shipping
A 2018 survey by the Crafts Council revealed that one of the biggest perceived barriers to exporting internationally is logistics and shipping. Make sure you do your research first; refer to its online Export Toolkit for advice, particularly in regards to the right paperwork, tax and tariff codes to consider, or speak to an art specialist shipping company. When making your selection, remember to consider timings: shipping to China can take 30 days and by air only 48 hours, but the cost will be higher. Also consider who is paying the freight costs. Is it you, your customer or a combination? Ensure you know the answer before confirming a sale.

6. Packaging 
You should always invest in good-quality packaging, whether shipping in the UK or overseas. You might not know that some countries (such as USA and Australia) do not accept untreated wood, so select the most robust and suitable packaging for your work. Your insurance will not cover you if damage occurs due to poor packaging. If your item is fragile you might want to consider employing a specialist packer. Glass artist Alice Johnson suggests photographing your goods before shipping ‘as proof of good packaging’. Photographs will help support any insurance claim. Never assume people will repack your work correctly, so provide packing and handling instructions.

7. Duties, taxes and bank fees
In most cases, the importer is responsible for customs clearance, duties and taxes. If you are selling to private individuals, you must inform them that additional costs may be incurred. HMRC’s online Trade Tariff Tool will help you to identify the correct tariff classification for your products. Don’t forget the transfer fees for selling overseas. As Barbara Gunter Jones, an international export consultant, comments: ‘There’s always a charge for moving money.’

8. Cultural awareness 
Do your research to understand how different countries do business, how they develop business relationships, and what products are suitable to their cultural markets. Be aware of stylistic preferences and cultural nuances.

Find more tips in the Crafts Council’s new International Export Toolkit. Book a ticket to Flourish, a two-day conference that will help cultivate your business ambitions, at London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall, 17-18 June 2019.

Nicky Dewar is head of learning and talent development at the Crafts Council

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