In the US, we have craft shows, Martha Stewart’s American Made competition, some juried craft competitions, and craft fairs like Renegade. But for full-on support and great outlets for high quality, serious artisans, it’s hard to beat Britain. They have great support for the arts (never enough and always at risk, of course) and a deep, deep system for training, showing and selling the work of truly skilled artisans.
One of the best new venues for this is The New Craftsmen. It’s a great idea, a mouthwatering site, online store, periodic pop up, and if all goes right and it gets funded via Crowdcube (a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding site out of the UK) an actual brick and mortar store in London.
The idea is simple: to bring together the work of makers who use traditional craft skills in modern ways and to sell that work to a discerning audience that understands the value and power of craft. As the founders themselves put it, "The New Craftsmen represents a vision of sustainable, real luxury, expressed through dedication to makers, materials, method and design." Amen to that.
The New Craftsmen was founded in 2012 by Mark Henderson, Catherine Lock, and Natalie Melton, who, since 2010, toured the British Isles meeting and documenting the lives of makers, and finding and assembling the finest materials, skills, and craft products of the British Isles.
The founders ethos runs through their business model: "We seek out makers and iconic objects that are deeply connected to culture and place, we forge collaborations with designers and makers to offer a contemporary take on specific skills and materials, and we offer our customers a range of services that enable them to customize and develop bespoke pieces."
Mark Henderson, one of the founders, is a former Alfred Dunhill executive, and is now the Chairman of famed Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes. And this pedigree shows. He gets that a great deal of the challenge of craft is how it's marketed. In a recent interview with the UK's CRAFTS magazine, Henderson said that one of his seminal moments came at the UK Crafts Council's Assemble conference two years ago: "Somebody there said that the problem with the luxury goods industry is that it has hijacked the craft agenda. I thought, 'No, stupid, the problem with the craft industry is that it's not very good at marketing itself.'"
Henderson found kindred spirits in Natalie Melton, a former Commercial Director of Arts and Business, and Catherine Lock, a former product, trend, and brand developer for British high street brands. And thus was born The New Craftsmen.
The makers under The New Craftsmen umbrella are some of the best Britain has to offer. Some of our long-time favorites, such as Robin Wood, Helen Carnac, ceramist Nicola Tassie, and Chris Eckersley, together with new "finds," like Eleanor Lakelin, London Honey Company, and Doe Leather. The highly curated mix of crafts ranges from jewelry to pen knives to sheepskin rugs. Oh, yes.
The site is a delicious balance of product, story, and perspective: nothing overwhelming, nothing to detract from the feeling of calm, refinement, and fresh luxury—an important distinction. And the pop-up (open until September 28), has not only beautiful products but maker events (workshops, demonstrations, readings and more), too, that help tell the story of craft, create deeper connections with buyers, and transform buyers into connoisseurs.
Go see for yourself.