The Curse of the Craft Fair – An Open Letter to Organisers and Crafters
Making a living as a crafter is hard. Ask any crafter and they will tell you that.
The cost of materials only ever seems to go up, the price people are willing to pay for your work only ever seems to go down. The time it takes to make your work seems irrelevant to many people. Yes, it is definitely a hard way to make a living.
And that’s assuming everyone trying to do just that is playing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, on too many occasions, that’s not the case.
And that’s where the curse of the craft fair comes in. In an ideal world a craft fair would be the ideal place to show off your work and make sales. But increasingly, that’s not what a craft fair is; not somewhere to show off your handcrafted work and sell to people who appreciate both the quality and the time it took to make. These days, finding a good craft fair is hard. “Craft fair” has come to mean selling fair, where handcrafted goods make up a small proportion of the goods on sale. There will be lots of handmade things of course, but many of them aren’t what you could call crafted. Yes, I am being snooty about what hand crafted means.
Worse than that this though is the huge amount stall holders who are making it harder to make a living as a crafter. Their prices are low – unfeasibly low; sometimes charging little more than the cost of the materials. And of course buyers want the best price they can get – we all do. But when someone charges a pittance for their work, it can make genuinely crafted, honestly priced goods look expensive. It drives expectations of what buyers can get for their money.
And that would be ok, except for the wonky playing field I mentioned earlier. How can they get their prices that low? Well, they have few overheads of course. Perhaps this is a hobby, so they don’t feel the need to charge for their time, or they are making items to sell for charity and are donating their time.
Well, there’s an issue, right there. People who are trying to make a living from their craft can’t afford to work for free. They have to charge for their time, and even then, the majority are working for well below minimum wage.
And there are other overheads – public and product liability insurance. It’s not a huge cost for most crafters, but it adds up. Plenty of part-time, spare time, hobbyist crafters go without, or don’t even realise such a thing exists. Thankfully, most people will never need to call on their insurance, but what if one day they do? If, Gods forbid, an item you made caused injury and you were sued, damages could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. If you can’t afford to pay that from your own pocket, you need insurance!
Then there’s the thorny issue of tax. If you’re making items to sell, you must register as self-employed (unless you’ve set your business up as a limited company). You must be registered, even if you also have a job. You have to declare the income you make from your craft, even if it’s just a bit. Even if it’s below the personal tax allowance. You have to be registered as self-employed once you are offering items for sale, even if you never sell anything.
And what else do I see people skipping? I regularly see handmade toys that have never been near an EU safety test. In the UK, if you sell handmade soft toys, or something that looks like it might be a toy, or something that would appeal to children, you have a legal responsibility to test those toys against the EU safety regulations. It’s not expensive, it can be done at home. It’s a bit of a faff, but it’s illegal to sell toys in the UK without that paperwork.
Most handmade toys I see at craft fairs are in breach of this law. A good many of them would never pass, as you can see the stitching isn’t strong enough even with a quick glance. Many of the people selling them are unaware of the regulations surrounding them. Here’s a great article about the process of testing, with links to lots more information, to take the legwork out of getting yourself ready to test.
And then the one that gets up a lot of people’s noses: copyright infringement. Minions might be cool, and might be a popular thing with the kids right now, but that doesn’t mean you can draw, paint, stitch or stick their image on anything and sell it. You don’t own the rights to their images, and you can get into a lot of trouble for doing so. The same goes for most things you didn’t create.
Yes, Disney sells. Disney also sues. And they don’t just go after the big guys who use a Disney image without their permission. They go after the little guys too, and they win (how could they lose – what defence is there to using someone else’s intellectual property without permission to line your own pockets?). And when they win, they will get the money you’ve made thus far, the stock you have, the means of production (your tools and materials), monetary damages. And your lawyer will take what’s left. More than one crafter has lost their house over selling items which infringe someone’s copyright. So why do it?
Of course, I’m not the first person to say any of this and I won’t be the last. But there is something more that can be done. Organisers, it’s time to step up.
You want to organise a great event, with great stalls, lots of people attending, lots of sales. Happy punters all round. You can help make that happen. You can help create an environment where crafters can make a living selling quality goods to people who appreciate quality handcrafted goods.
When you take bookings, insist on public liability insurance from every stallholder. Insist that they give their UTR (Unique Tax Reference) when they apply for a stall – this proves they are registered as self employed and are not dodging tax.
Insist that any toys on sale at your events are EU safety tested (all toys that pass these tests must carry the relevant EU safety label, so it’s easy for you to see – no label, no selling).
Insist that anything which infringes copyright is taken off sale (hint: if it’s Disney, Warner Bros, anything currently in a film etc it infringes copyright – along with a great deal besides).
It’s in your own best interests to do this – apart from getting a reputation for quality events, you are keeping yourself safe. If a claim is made against one of your stallholders and they don’t have insurance, you are next in line. Your insurance company will love that (you do have organisers’ insurance, right?).
If someone is selling copyrighted goods without a license, you are also liable to be included in any legal proceedings for allowing it to be sold.
So this is a heartfelt plea on behalf of all the dedicated crafters out there, the ones who are trying to make a living out of their work, the ones who meet their legal obligations, pay for insurance and generally work in an ethical and professional way to please stop accepting bookings from those who don’t. Don’t drag the handcrafted “industry” into the gutter by allowing poor quality or illegal goods at your event. Insist on the proper paperwork from your exhibitors and when you say you are holding a craft fair, please don’t accept bookings from non-craft businesses.
And if this is the kind of event you already run, thank you! And if you are also based in the East Midlands, please contact me – I’m looking for great events where artisans and designer-makers can sell their wares.