Beautiful Handmade Statement Necklaces and other Fabulousness from Neena Shilvock - Inspirations and Designs From the Week Gone by
Hello folks, how are you today? It has been a week since The Handmade Fair and fortunately I had some time off from work to recover. It was one hell of an experience, and I thought I'd write about my time adventure honestly, so that anyone thinking about exhibiting there in future can read about it.
If I had found this blog post by Jes Hooper before I paid to show at The Handmade Fair, I might have had fair warning of what was to come. Unfortunately I only read it a week before I was due to exhibit and although this brought my enthusiasm levels down to a trickle, I was prepared to give the Kirstie Allsopp machinery the benefit of the doubt. Well, at that point I had no other choice.!
After all, Jes' blog was about Hampton Court in 2016, right? And surely the organisers would have taken his comments on board, right? His experience must have been almost universal across all the vendors, so surely they would have paid attention and sorted it out, right?
This was the quotation in the original blurb :-
1.5m x 2m @ £567.00 +VAT
1.5 x 3m @ £805.50 +VAT
2m x 2m @ £756.00 +VAT
2m x 3m @ £1,130.00 + VAT4.00 +VAT
I was being very careful with my outlay (sensibly, as it turned out) so I rented the smallest space available, and had been warned that Wifi, power and 'furniture' would be extra. In the event, Wifi and power added another £120 and I also had to buy public liability insurance, so the grand total was about £800. We also had to factor in the daily drive to Ragley Hall which is about 35 minutes from us and petrol costs.
Included in the costs were :-
Back in January, when I saw the ad for exhibitor applications I was about to get on a plane to India, and sent in a link to my website. When I got back I was pleased to hear that the organisers thought Caprilicious was a good fit and my application had been accepted! Oh joy!
I spoke to the organisers and asked if anyone had actually looked at my website, and why they thought it would be a good fit, and all the right noises were made. So, I went ahead with the deposit and started to whip myself into a frenzy of excitement. New creations rolled off the press and I didn't bother to put them on the website as they were earmarked for the Fair.
A while later I got the show manual, detailing all the other costs. I had to work through it to decide that I didn't really need any 'furniture'. The paperwork said if I wanted to paint the walls another colour, I could pay extra; I could paint them myself, but would have to pay to have them repainted at the end of show, I could have Wifi, I could have power, I needed to fill a risk assessment form, I needed to provide a declaration, I needed to buy public liability insurance for up to 5 million pounds - the list went on and on and at first it seemed like they were going to even charge me for the very air we breathed, and rain was an optional extra too - someone must have paid for it, as we had plenty!
I had to read the paperwork over and over, and finally found the relevant bits and paid for them within the multiple deadlines specified. I was approached by Mollie Makes who were sponsoring the event, as well as the makers of the Annual asking if I would pay for an advertisement, but I had to decline as there was no budget for this.
We were allowed to set up a day before the show, so Mike and I drove down and were a bit taken aback by the stark reality of the tiny space. I immediately revised my plan for setting up and put more on the walls as I realised there would be very little space on the table - indeed it was fractionally too big and had to be put in on the slant. I put a couple of little tables out in front with a cloth over them to increase the space available to me. I decided to take the jewellery in in the morning, as I had not purchased 'security shutters' - which turned out to be a sheet of cloth stretched out over two wooden poles with padlocks on them! That would have cost us approximately100£!
We set out nice and early on Friday morning and my friend Gabbie agreed to meet us at the fair to help set up. The traffic had other ideas, with three separate mile long traffic jams, and we were late.
Oh jeez, what a to do - the car wasn't allowed near the marquee as we were half an hour past the deadline, the security guys at the gate were rude and obstructive, I was nearly in tears and just about ready to turn around and leave when I found Freya, one of the organisers - she was cool and collected, got one of the men to help me carry all the gear in, and we set up in twenty five minutes flat. I had no clue where anything was in my boxes as by then my head was all over the place, and without the assistance of my three trusty helpmates would have been completely lost. As it was, we got the last tweak in place and moved the boxes out of the aisle just as they declared the fair open.
And suddenly, there she was! Kirstie Allsopp, who opened the Fair, glided down the aisle like a regal swan, surrounded by minders, minions and cameras. 'Any minute now, she's going to wave like the Queen Mum', I said to Mike.
She stopped at prescribed points smiling widely at the cameras and continued along her way out of the marquee. And that was the last we saw of her. She went off to do some talks in the auditorium but was gone as far as we were concerned! If anyone was hoping for a bit of celebrity endorsement, they weren't in luck. The same thing happened with Liz Earle the next day - she was around for even less time than Kirstie, and we never even caught a glimpse of Patrick Grant although we were assured that he was around. I certainly wouldn't recognise him if he bit me on the ankle.
Kirstie's input at the Shopping Village was so minimal, it was almost unnoticeable and all the stall holders who had come to 'Kirstie Allsopps Handmade Fair' were more than a bit disgruntled. However, in the official photographs released later on it appears as if she was everywhere like a rash, smiling and waving and having a great old time with her public - these will undoubtedly be in the sales pitch for next year and a whole load of new exhibitors will fall for it. A few people who had booked into her talks in the afternoon waited to see her, but the exhibitors, who had also come a long way to meet their idol who was after all the big draw, were very disappointed. Of course we did not expect her to stop at every stall, but a hello and a stop and chat at various points through the day would not have gone amiss. Everyone felt very let down and deflated by her non appearance.
Indeed, she could have done with taking a few lessons from the Queen Mum on how to be gracious!
What annoyed us exhbitors, and some members of the public most (if one reads the Facebook feed) was that some vendors were reselling pre bought items. There was a lady two doors down from me selling silver jewellery - it was so obviously made in India and was as handmade as if someone bought a meal home from a restaurant and claimed that it was handmade in a kitchen by the chef.
There were people selling raincoats from Ireland, and tagua nut jewellery from Columbia, Himalayan Salt lamps to name but a few items which were obviously made elsewhere and bought in by the dozen as well as people reselling handmade items that they had bought from others. If one looks at the foreword of the annual, the goods for sale ought to have 'been lovingly made by the exhibitors', but many of them simply weren't. It irked us artisans who had worked our fingers to the bone to have to share space with these people.
It became obvious that as space remained vacant, the organisers had filled it with just about anybody who was willing to stump up the cash rather than reduce the size of the shopping tent. I do know that people on Etsy in the UK were being contacted by the Handmade Fair Company and given a load of flannel, telling them how wonderful their products were and asking if they were interested in signing up at the last minute. It is of course initially exciting and flattering to receive an unsolicited email such as this, but these people were smart and consulted one another before signing on the dotted line. Fortunately (for them) they had read Jes' blog, and that put them on guard. A link was posted in the thread of the Etsy vendor's conversation - which is how I found it, alas, only too late!
I spoke to other exhibitors who were all uniformly annoyed about the same things as I was - the etiquette of not moaning about the show seemed to have evaporated by the end of Day 2. Everyone had something to say about Kirsties vanishing act and the preponderance of non handmade items.
The other gripe was the £6 parking charge levied on the visitors - this meant that they all arrived as early as they could, to spend the maximum time possible before they went to the talks and demos - I was surprised at the number of people who walked in at 930 am.
However, this meant that everyone was exhausted by 4 o'clock and went home. The exhibitors were left with very few people in the grounds after that, and we twiddled our thumbs till six o clock closing time. Perhaps the parking charge should have been halved after lunch and people who didn't want to come to the talks/demos could have dropped in then, just to visit the shopping village.
There were also simply too many jewellery stalls which made me think that the curating of the show could have been managed better - I counted at least ten stalls selling jewellery - if properly curated, there should not have been more than 3 - 4 stalls selling similar items as this is not fair to anyone.
I met a lot of folk and spoke to hundreds of browsers. For an introvert, that is a major achievement in itself! I speak to a load of people in my day job as a doctor, but that is a very artificial situation. Here, I present my very soul on a plate and ask for peoples indulgence, whereas as anyone (including me) who has visited a hospital knows, a doctor - patient conversation is a completely different kettle of fish.
Almost everyone who stopped by, whether they bought my jewellery or not, thought it was fabulous and colourful. Some of them even went so far as to say that mine was the best jewellery stall in the place, mainly due to the colourful display (I bet they say that to all the boys!).
People said that my jewellery had the WOW factor, that it spoke to them, that they were drawn to my stand like magpies - however, the sales did not overtly reflect this. Perhaps Caprilicious was not right for the Handmade fair and a bit too colourful and 'in-your-face' for middle Englanders.
Perhaps London is where I will find a larger concentration of Caprilicious Women - the things people admire and comment on is not always the same as what they buy. It may also be that the people there were just researching ideas for their own crafting endeavours, in which case I wish them well. They might have done better to look on Pinterest than wasting their money coming out to the fair.
The other jewellery exhibitors were mainly selling tiny silver pieces, which though undoubtedly attractive, do not make for an extremely colourful display. Some people even stopped by to say that even though they didn't wear jewellery, they wanted to tell me how attractive they found my display. This was heartening as I had spent a lot of time researching it and had worked hard at being creative in putting it together in such a tiny space.
I handed out a lot of business cards - some people were a bit overwhelmed by the number of stalls and were exhausted by the time they had been around once. I might have done better to pick a stall near an exit - walking down a long aisle to come back to me once they had been around all the stalls must have been exhausting for them and I'm sure I missed a few sales through that. However two people have already contacted me and bought jewellery online, so the business cards are already working their magic.
Some of my pieces are hard to photograph and it may be difficult to imagine what they would look like when worn - they need to be handled and tried on first. I sold quite a few of those to ladies who seemed delighted with their purchases and walked away wearing what they bought. Some of my chunkier pieces have sat on my books for a while and were snapped up at the fair by ladies who loved them. I would be the first to admit that they can sometimes be a bit daunting, but I love creating them and wear them quite happily myself.
The Handmade Fair company sent a young girl who had only been working for them for a couple of months to ask us if we wanted to register for next years show. We were offered a 'loyalty discount' if we booked straight away with an option to cancel by June. The exhibitors next to me pulled out this years paperwork and found that the price quoted was exactly the same, there was no discount - unless of course next years price has gone up, which would be disgraceful!
Some people signed up as they found it too awkward to speak their mind knowing that they could cancel once they went back home, but others, like me, said thanks but no thanks straight out. I explained the reasons for my decision that I have enumerated here - it wasn't her fault, poor girl. She said 'Kirstie isn't here because she had filming commitments', but I wasn't having any of it - Kirstie had a commitment to the Handmade Fair and should have been around to make sure that it went well. Throwing us a few minutes of her time just wasn't good enough. Unfortunately this experience has put me off large scale exhibitions that are commercially run to line someone elses pockets. There was no thought to the care and attention given to producing our exhibits and we were pitted against people who were reselling someone elses assembly line goods.
I've had a week off to recover. My oldest friend, whom I've known since I was four is coming to stay from Canada and as I haven't seen her since we left school in 1976 I am very excited. A few more friends from school will be joining us so I shall be very busy this weekend. One of them had me create the jade and silver necklace and earrings in the picture above for her, but then asked me for studs as well, so this is what I came up with during the course of the week. I hope she likes them, I actually prefer the original ones. What do you think??
Have a great week and I shall catch you next week, same place, same time