Return of the craft fair: a welcome Christmas gift for small crafting businesses

As lockdown loomed, the inability to attend sports matches, weddings, baptisms and pubs was big news. But very little was said in the media about craft fairs, which many small business owners relied on for income.

Craftspeople like Deborah Williams, of Gwynedd-based handmade gifts brand Mooshkin, really missed craft fairs and markets – and not just due to the loss of income.

“Having a stall at a craft fair is about more than just making money,” says Deborah. “They’re social events too. When you sell at these events regularly you become friendly with other makers on the ‘circuit’, especially at regular monthly events where it’s usually the same stallholders every month. When you’ve not seen them for a while you really miss them.”
One of these regular events is Criccieth Craft Fair, which Deborah has been attending as a stallholder for a few years.

“I work from home as a web designer, as well as running Mooshkin,” she says. “There are days when you crave a bit of human company. Not being able to go to the Criccieth fair felt like being cut off from my friends. Although some of us are connected on social media, it’s not the same.”
Deborah’s main business had become quiet due to her largely working with clients in the tourism sector, which had all had to close down indefinitely. And as she’s a director of a limited company, rather than a sole trader, there were few options for financial help from the government.

“I spoke to Business Wales a few times, and every time it was the same thing: no help for you because your business is home-based, so no rates grant. You’re technically not self-employed, so you don’t qualify for that grant either. The only help I could get was furlough pay, but because I had commitments to my clients for things like website maintenance contracts, I couldn’t furlough full-time. At the beginning, you had to furlough for a minimum of three weeks at a time – so I worked the first nine days of each month and furloughed the rest of the time.”
Being furloughed kept the wolf from the door, but it left Deborah frustrated because she had to spend three weeks out of every month unable to do anything business-related. “No answering the phone or emails, no crafting, no promoting either of my businesses... it was tough, though happily I was able to use my furlough time productively by turning part of my garden into an allotment and growing vegetables. Mooshkin’s social media accounts weren’t updated for months at a time, and I couldn’t post in Facebook craft groups in case HMRC accused me of claiming furlough pay fraudulently.”

Although several ‘virtual’ fairs were promoted on social media, Deborah couldn’t join them as a seller, thanks to furlough. Also, she says, lockdown helped a lot of hobbyists launch small businesses, increasing her competition. “But what I’m seeing now, talking to these new crafters across the UK in Facebook groups, is they had really inflated sales for Christmas 2020 and now they’re disappointed that they’re not selling much online this Christmas. It’s almost as if the handmade market has become a bit saturated.”

Thankfully, for Deborah the opposite has been true. “I had a few small sales on the website last Christmas, mostly thanks to friends and family. But this Christmas has been really good for Mooshkin – as well as increased online sales, I’ve attended four Christmas fairs and my takings at each of those were much higher than I’d had at Christmas fairs pre-Covid.” It was around September that Deborah started to see a few Christmas fairs being advertised in Facebook groups. “I was thrilled to see that fairs could happen again. Initially, none were near enough for me to want to travel to, but then I received a message from the organiser of the Criccieth fair and I was ridiculously excited!”

October was a quiet month for Deborah’s web design business, and as the furlough scheme had ended she was able to start crafting and promoting Mooshkin again. “I spent most of October surrounded by glass paints, my paper cutting machine, reams of card and box after box of beads and glitter. The place was a mess! But I was determined to build up stock and introduce some new products, particularly greetings cards, in time for Christmas. And it’s just as well I did, because in November my web design business suddenly became ridiculously busy, and it’s been that way all through December too.”

The morning of the first fair at Criccieth, Deborah says she had butterflies and turned up at the Memorial Hall half an hour earlier than she needed to. “I’d woken up much too early and was fretting a little, wondering if people would turn up, whether they would buy anything, whether it would feel weird to do it all socially distanced and wearing a mask... but I was worrying over nothing. It was amazing to see my friends again, and customers seemed determined not to leave the fair empty-handed. A few other stallholders decided they’d rather wait until the spring, when perhaps the Covid risk might be lower, so I’m still missing them... but it’s good to have something to look forward to!”

The Criccieth Craft Fair takes a break in January and February and returns to the Memorial Hall as a monthly event in March 2022. For more information, please visit Organisers of craft fairs in north Wales can advertise for stallholders by joining the Craft Fairs North Wales group.