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
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.cockpitarts.com), which acts as a creative business incubator, to owner- led retail spaces where working shifts can reduce commission rates.
Here Today, Here Tomorrow ( www.heretodayheretomorrow.com) 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.madeinbristol.blogspot.com) 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.facebook.com/winifredandmabel) 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.
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!”