Television presenter and British craft champion, Kirstie Allsopp supports The Great British Exchange and its aim to connect British made products with retailers. On learning about The Great British Exchange being a hub for British made products for retailers, Kirstie sat down and talked to us about British makers and her thoughts on the businesses making great products here in the UK.
The Handmade Fair launched in 2014 and Kirstie is patron of the event. This year The Great British Exchange will be supporting the three day craft extravaganza and we asked Kirstie what motivated her to get involved and what experience does she hope visitors and exhibitors gain from the event?
"I first started working with the independent makers when we made 'Kirstie's Homemade Home' and I've been making craft shows and books ever since. When Brand Events approached me about doing my own fair it seemed like the perfect next step.
The most important thing for me is for everyone involved to have the best experience possible. The exhibitors have an opportunity to push their business and sell products, the visitors get a unique experience of learning something new or expanding on a skill they already have and the makers get to teach their craft on a mass scale.
Seeing a tent full of people learning to basket weave is a heart warming sight and I truly believe that everyone has a craft they can do.
Not to mention the food... it's incredible!"
Here at The Great British Exchange we have spoken to Handmade Fair exhibitors and they are often looking for ways to move their businesses forward, whether that be building their brand, expanding their product ranges or looking to expand their sales to retailers.
We wanted to know what Kirstie's thoughts were on the biggest barriers for British makers when trying to move their businesses forward and what help would she like to see them offered?
"I suppose the big challenge for small makers is the jump from producing small quantities to bigger production and distribution. It's daunting and and difficult to know where to start but I do think the leading retailers are in a unique position to support the wealth of talented makers we have in the UK and we are seeing more of that all the time.
However, it has to come from demand, the more people want to buy British made the more the retailers will get behind it to supply it.
And to all the makers, whatever your size, never under estimate the power of social media - keep Tweeting, Instagramming and posting. You never know who's looking!"
Kirstie has always been conscious of the provenance of the items in her home and we asked her for her thoughts on whether people are becoming more aware of where products come from?
"I think there's a much greater awareness now of where products originate from. Customers are becoming more concious of mass market versus independent producers and I think most people generally want to appear more individual. To be able to say, 'Oh I got this from a little place I know', I think there's a real appeal there.
One of my favourite things to do is to browse Portobello Road Market on a Friday morning with my other half. He's a property developer and son of an antique dealer so he has a keen eye for hidden gems. I love seeing the stalls full of china, pottery and cutlery to rummage through. I've got a big collection of jugs at home in Devon so I'm always on the look out for a new addition."
Looking ahead to what 2016 has to bring, we asked Kirstie what's on her radar and are there any exciting projects on the horizon which she can share with us.
"The best thing about The Handmade Fair for me is learning new things. Caligiaraphy, papercutting and needle felting are some of my favourites. I'm obsessed with anything block printed at the moment, particularly fabric. It's a wonderful technique that's been around for centuries and has really made a come back lately. I can't claim to do my own but I'm very good at buying it!
And baskets... I have the most ridiculous collection. Again, another skill that's as old as the hills but still very much alive and the final product is endlessly useful!
I was approached recently to do a cookery book which I'm very excited about. As a family we entertain a lot, we have guests to stay most weekends and the house is often full of hungry kids asking where the next meal is coming from, so, food is a constant topic in my house. I've been taught some wonderful recipes from friends to professional chefs and it's a chance to share these in the new book. I recently discovered that my great grandmother wrote a cookery book in 1925 so maybe it was meant to be!
So with everything that Kirstie has learned about The Great British Exchange what would she say to a retailer or producer who's thinking of coming on board?
"Coming up with a quality product is hard enough, distributing it and getting it out in to the market is a whole other challenge and a real stumbling block for small businesses. The Great British Exchange can bridge that gap, so I would say 'Get on board!'"