A recent article in the UK Guardian newspaper carried the headline ‘People want something that’s not on Amazon’: the rise of the UK craft fair. This claimed that there is a resurgence in the crafts market, with people seeking out products that are different, and sustainable. It also quotes research by the UK Crafts Council showing that 34% of those who buy craft goods prefer to buy at markets, festivals and pop-ups rather than browsing online.
Intrigued as always by interesting statistics, we went in search of some back-up for these assertions. The most interesting source of information was Google Trends, because this can show the long-term growth in popularity of different search terms over time. A quick search for ‘craft fair’ indeed seems to show that there is a marked growth in interest in these events in the last 12 months.
Searches for 'craft fair' in the last 12 months worldwide (Google Trends)
If we look further, however, we can see that the interest in ‘craft fairs’ in fact peaks every year – just before Christmas. It does indeed seem that people look to craft events for their Christmas presents – but they have been doing so for a long time. So the trend identified by the Guardian is not a long term increase in interest in crafts, but rather a seasonal peak in craft events. This is underlined by the fact that searches for ‘craft’ alone peaked in the early years of the new Millennium, and have declined since then.
Searches for 'craft fair' since 2004 worldwide (Google Trends)
Searches for 'craft' since 2004 worldwide (Google Trends)
Playing with Google Trends also reveals another challenge in tracking consumer interest in crafts. Google Trends very helpfully provides maps of the countries with the highest levels of interest for each search term. For ‘craft fairs’ this is not surprisingly concentrated in English-speaking countries – the USA, UK and Ireland, for example. But crafts are not just an English concern – they are found worldwide. The problem is that the name for ‘crafts’ is different – artesanía in Spanish, ambachten in Dutch, for example. If we look at the distribution of interest in artesanía, then we find the main countries are located in Latin America.
Searches for 'craft fairs' worldwide (Google Trends)
Searches for 'artesanía' worldwide (Google Trends)
Interestingly the trend for searches for artesanía in Spanish shows a different development than searches for 'craft' in English. It seems that artesanía is experieincing a revival in contrast to the relative stability of 'craft'.
Searches for artesanía worldwide since 2004 (Google Trends)
If we abandon the fairly abstract world of Google searches, however, there is other evidence to support the growing interest in crafts. A 2023 report on the European Market for Crafts, commissioned by the World Crafts Council Europe, indicates that the European crafts market was worth €50 billion in 2022. Craft purchases are predominantly made by women (69%), and the most popular products are ceramics, textile crafts, woodworking crafts and jewellery, followed by glass and leather crafts. Crafts are most often purchased at a craft fair (51% of respondents). This explains the popularity, and also the seasonality of Google Trends searches for ‘craft fairs’. Not only do consumers tend to buy for Christmas, but producers also know that this is when they will sell more, and event organisers also know they will be able to bring more consumers and producers together at this time of year.
So there seems to be a lot more going on in the craft market than a simple rejection of online buying. The pattern of making seasonal craft purchases has been going on for a long time. Recent research shows that craft-related activity is growing, and that increased interest from consumers is driven by a search for experiences, a desire to learn new skills, and most recently by sustainability concerns. More people are worried about the growth of mass consumption, and they are looking for distinctive and responsible ways of buying what they need. This also explains the growth of craft events as well as ‘maker fairs’ and the trend towards ‘fashion recycling’ and ‘upcycling’ of old clothes. These kinds of activities have become central to craft-related events, such as the recent Ambacht in Beeld (Craft in Focus) fair held in Amsterdam. The 2023 edition of this event included hands-on experiences of clothes mending, crochet, patchwork, woodwork and glassblowing.
Textile craft at the Ambacht in Beeld Festival 2023 (photo Greg Richards)
Glassblowing at Ambacht in Beeld (Photo Greg Richards)
The success of Ambacht in Beeld and similar events shows that the trend towards creative experiences is alive and well. We have seen a significant growth in ‘creative tourism’, for example, since this concept was spawned by the EUROTEX Project in the 1990s. Since then, creative tourism experiences have sprung up all over the world, united by the Creative Tourism Network. Many of the experiences offered by creative tourism suppliers also focus on local crafts, including weaving, amulet making, papermaking, ceramics and chocolate making. Why not combine your Christmas craft gift shopping with a trip to an interesting crafts destination?