All in it to­gether

Whether you’re start­ing a craft business and in need of support, or just tired of go­ing it alone, join­ing a co- op could be the an­swer

Mollie Makes - - Introducin­g - Words: rin ham­burgh Il­lus­tra­tion: NIKI ROEHREKE

Run­ning your own craft business can be tough. As a one- man band, not only do you have to do the mak­ing, there are the ac­counts to think about, the mar­ket­ing, keep­ing the web­site up to date… the list goes on. But what if you could share the load with other de­signer- mak­ers?

Craft co- op­er­a­tives of­fer an op­por­tu­nity to work with like- minded peo­ple in a sup­port­ive group where skills can be pooled and ad­min­is­tra­tive work shared, while still leav­ing space to grow your brand.

His­tor­i­cally, this business model uses a non­hier­ar­chi­cal, demo­cratic struc­ture, but to­day there are lots of dif­fer­ent ver­sions, rang­ing from large scale op­er­a­tions such as Cock­pit Arts ( www.cock­pi­, which acts as a cre­ative business in­cu­ba­tor, to owner- led re­tail spa­ces where work­ing shifts can re­duce com­mis­sion rates.

Bet­ter to­gether?

Here To­day, Here To­mor­row (­to­day­here­to­mor­ is a fash­ion co- op based in London’s Dal­ston, show­cas­ing prod­ucts made by its four mem­bers, as well as their col­lab­o­ra­tive cloth­ing line and some stock from other guest mak­ers.

For core mem­ber Kate­lyn Toth-Fe­jel, it pro­vides a level of support she says she couldn’t be with­out. “If one per­son is busy, some­one else can step in and take care of their part of the business for a while,” she says. “I would never want to run a business by my­self; I need the oth­ers so that we can make de­ci­sions to­gether, and bounce off each other.”

The quar­tet have weekly meet­ings where de­ci­sions are made on a unan­i­mous ba­sis. “Be­cause of the struc­ture be­ing non- hier­ar­chi­cal, it’s also not com­pet­i­tive,” says Kate­lyn. “We all have to suc­ceed in or­der for one to suc­ceed.”

But get­ting peo­ple to agree isn’t al­ways easy, es­pe­cially as a group grows, as Crafts Alive ( www. crafts- alive. co. uk) has. Hav­ing started with just 10 peo­ple in the early 90s, the Welsh co- op now has over 50 mem­bers, all of whom can have their say.

“There can be per­sonal is­sues,” says Jacki, a long­stand­ing mem­ber and one of the cur­rent direc­tors. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to keep ev­ery­one happy. Some peo­ple just don’t want to be in­volved, and some peo­ple want to get too in­volved.”

Crafts Alive mem­bers pay a £ 10 monthly sub­scrip­tion if they’re will­ing to work one day a month in the shop, or £ 20 if they’re not, plus a 25% com­mis­sion rate. Over the bridge, Made in Bris­tol ( www.madein­bris­ op­er­ates a half- way ap­proach, with a pri­vate own­er­ship struc­ture that gives traders the op­por­tu­nity to re­duce com­mis­sion rates by work­ing shifts in the shop – eight hours a week and you’ll pay 20%, 4.5 hours and it’s 30%, or you can be a non- work­ing guest and pay 45%.

“The feed­back is that it’s a lot less stress­ful for them to be able to get on with what they do best – cre­at­ing,” says owner Bry­ony Mor­gan. “But they have the op­tion of hav­ing face- to- face con­tact with cus­tomers. It’s one step from be­ing on a mar­ket.”

Karen Davey and Sarah Pas­coe have a sim­i­lar setup at Winifred & Ma­bel ( www.face­­dma­bel) in Corn­wall. They each take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the shop where they sell their own prod­ucts, but al­low other de­signer- mak­ers to share the space in re­turn for work­ing two days a month. Karen be­lieves the struc­ture is more ef­fi­cient than a tra­di­tional co- op. “I do think you need to have somebody to take charge of it,” she says.

decision time

So, how do you choose a group? “Find one that’s well run, with a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent crafts in a good lo­ca­tion,” says Karen. “Talk to the peo­ple al­ready in the co- op and look at the turnover – if no­body stays more than a month, some­thing’s gone wrong.”

Vis­it­ing the shop is vi­tal, adds Jacki. “Make sure it has good qual­ity work,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to be in a shop that brought my work down. I would also want to be orig­i­nal in the shop. Then it’s a case of look­ing for a good deal in terms of com­mis­sion.”

Once you’ve made your choice, be sure to do your bit and support the other mem­bers of your group, and you’ll be able to reap the re­wards.

“Some peo­ple in the co- op have given up their day jobs be­cause it’s been so suc­cess­ful,” says Karen. “Per­son­ally, I can’t keep up with the or­ders!”

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