London Craft Week begins today, in its own words showcasing “creativity and craftsmanship across art, fashion and design”.
In the three years since it was launched, London Craft Week has doubled in size, which is not entirely surprising, given the UK is abuzz with talk of “artisan” products and “craft” businesses, from niche brands of beer and gin to furniture, jewellery and pottery.
Many are micro-businesses
The first point to make is that “craft” covers a wide spectrum of economic activity, and it is fair to say that London Craft Week tends towards the top end of that spectrum. Sponsors include the Loewe Foundation, originally set up as a collective of skilled leather artisans in 1846, the gun-maker Purdey and Dunhill, producer of upmarket accessories.
At the other end of the spectrum, the craft economy overlaps with the so-called gig economy of precarious part-time or zero-hours work in, for example, craft coffee bars or artisan butcher’s shops.
So how big is Britain’s craft economy, however defined?
In April 2016, the European Commission declared: “In the United Kingdom in 2012-2013, 43,250 people were registered as employed in craft industries and the number of craft businesses was estimated at 11,6205.”
The latter figure was taken from a report compiled on behalf of the official body the Crafts Council, which said it accounted for just 0.2 per cent of the British business population. More than half of these were micro-businesses, operating below the threshold for registering for value-added tax, “suggesting a strong reliance on small independent makers”, said the report.
A fast-growing sector
More recently, writing in The Guardian in November 2016, Rosy Greenlees, executive director of the Crafts Council, put the craft economy within the context of a wider “making economy. She said: “Craft and making can be artisanal but the myth swallowed by politicians is that it is little more than this. A cute, niche sector.
“But Britain has quietly built up a £3.4 billion making economy, influencing everything from the automotive industry to smartphones.”
She added that “craft” practices were being adopted by mainstream businesses: “Companies ranging from Adidas to Ikea have set up design units based on the craft innovation model.”
This, added Ms Greenlees, is not surprising when one considers that “consumers no longer want mass-manufactured goods but products that are bespoke and have that golden element all marketeers now crave – provenance”.
In November last year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sports said creative businesses – including crafts, fashion, publishing, and advertising – contribute £91.8 billion to the economy. Furthermore, creative-sector output grew by 7.6 per cent between 2015 and 2016, more than twice the average for the UK economy as a whole of 3.5 per cent.
This growth rate suggests that larger craft businesses may emerge before too long, with a need for capital investment. As Ms Greenlees put it in November 2016: “The sector has not given birth to any super-companies,” adding: “Yet.”