Unsuccessful Spitalfields stall

Sadly, our first stall at Spitalfields was not a success – neither Tess nor I sold a single item!

You can’t say we didn’t try. Tess painted a beautiful banner backdrop and provided some lovely purple velvet covering for the table. The colours and textures of her hats and bags and my scarves and eyeglass cases made an eye-catching display, I thought.  Sadly, the buying public just didn’t seem interested.

My fellow stallholder, Tess, in front of our first stall at Spitalfields market

Of course, maybe our products weren’t good enough, or maybe they were overpriced. However, we concluded that there were probably two main reasons:

1. The type of market – Friday at Spitalfields is advertised as a fashion market, with stallholders varying “from designers and artists to resellers with an eye for the undiscovered and new”. There were a few other stalls besides us selling hand-made items like jewellery, hair ornaments, and brooches. But most of the other stalls were selling cheap fashion – the one next to us was hawking dresses for £10 (and attracted more interest from shoppers). We met and talked to an artist from Norfolk, Annette Rolston, who was offering beautiful linoprint silk scarves and prints – she didn’t sell anything either. She was firmly of the view that this was not a fashion and crafts market, but a general market that attracted people looking for cheap deals.

Too expensive for bargain hunters?

2. Not many visitors – We weren’t expecting Friday to be as busy as Sunday – after all, one of the reasons we decided to try out Friday was because the stall cost £30 rather than the £95 it costs on Sundays! But the number of visitors was extremely low. The lady who was running the stall behind us, selling sunglasses, said that footfall has really dropped off over the past couple of months, and that more people are just messing around, trying stuff on but then not buying. Another stallholder who was selling appliquéd brooches, which cost only £3, also said that people were picking up each one, examining them carefully, and then walking off, only to come back a while later to buy. Obviously the decision to spend £3 needs careful thought! Annette had also signed up for the Sunday market, so it will be interesting to hear whether business was any brisker today than on Friday.

But we’re not giving up just yet. For our next retail appearances we’re splitting up: I’m going to try the Tip Top Table Sale at the White Lion in Streatham on Sunday 1 May. And Tess will be at the Sheep and Wool Fair at Spitalfields City Farm on 15 May.

Tess also has her own Flat Sheep blog.

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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

7 thoughts on “Unsuccessful Spitalfields stall”

  1. Your stall looks fabulous, well laid out, beautiful work, colourful and tactile, I am really sorry you and Tess had such a frustrating and disappointing experience. Two years ago I made the difficult descision NEVER to take a stand again at ANY fair, craft or otherwise because what I found was that it didn’t matter WHAT I brought or what I charged I almost never sold enough to cover my costs. Each morning when I would head off to an event I would be filled with anticipation, each night so disappointed and wondering was it me, my felt or what the heck was wrong. Once over the last 18 months I broke this promise (because a really good friend organised the fair and I wanted to support her, it was one of my better venues previously and it only cost 20 Euro), disaster. I am not trying to put you off continuing with fairs (and I don’t want to sound as if I am moaning!) but your work looks so beautiful I think it might be worth your while setting up a free online shop and uploading some of your pieces to Big Cartel (http://www.bigcartel.com). I am suggesting Big Cartel because unlike Etsy (which works well for some) I think that the quality of work is very good in general and it is a much more exclusive looking store front, see what you think! X

  2. Bless you Nicola – you’re such a consolation as well as inspiration! Tess and I were thinking that maybe we need to look at the Etsy route – but I’ll check out Big Cartel, which I hadn’t heard of.

    I’d committed to my next sale anyway, and judging by its website it looks as if it’s more craft/handmade stuff and less cheap sweatshop clothes, so I’ll give it a go anyway. But it’s good to know that it’s possible to survive without trekking off to endless fairs (and get invited to give nice workshops in the US!).


  3. Your stall looks lovely colourful and inviting !
    It is a hard task to make sales of beautiful quality handmade craft when the punters are expecting / used to ‘bargain’ imports.
    Thank you for sharing your tale and glad you’ll both keep trying- I wish you success with your next market. Maggie

    1. Thanks Maggie! The Spitalfields experience seems a long time ago now – two years – but it taught me a lot. And I’m still learning with every market I do! 😉

  4. My sympathies – but also congratulations for putting this in your blog. It isn’t easy to write about things that don’t work and people are often cagey abut their sales, preferring that everyone thinks things went brilliantly. I have read Nicola’s comment and totally agree that fairs and shows are often grave disappointments. I make scarves and shawls (traditional in feel) and in the past have shown at quite high-end shows – but haven’t sold enough to cover costs. At these events I think people are often looking for the novel and unusual in wearables and they save their ‘classic’ purchases for galleries and shops which is where my work sells best. But shows aren’t necessarily always about selling. If people try things on you have an opportunity to assess colours, sizes etc and in my case, I can give out leaflets for courses etc. Anyway, do keep going, learn from the experience, and try other avenues. There is no reason why people should not buy your work. Good luck.

    1. Don’t worry Isabella – it’s still one of my most popular posts, according to the stats. 🙂 As you say, I think people appreciate a bit of honesty about which markets work for them and which ones don’t. I belong to an organisation called Makerhood, which is all about local makers sharing information and supporting each other, so I’m a strong believer in being honest.

      Two years on, sales are improving, though I sell more shibori than felt these days. I think it’s partly because my felt vessels are not as “functional” as scarves – if I take them to my usual markets people admire them but always ask what they can use them for. Appreciating them as objects of beauty apparently isn’t enough these days. 😉

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