Value, sustainability and Christmas shopping! An interview with Anne-Marie Shepherd of The Design Trust.
We’ve had the huge pleasure of meeting and working with craft champion Anne-Marie Shepherd over the years. She understands what it’s like to be a maker and has been supporting creative businesses in different ways through her career. She’s worked with show organisers Tutton & Young and The Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen. Her knowledge of craft and all that goes on behind the scenes in the craft industry makes her a valuable member of The Design Trust – an online business school providing practical resources, workshops and guidance for makers and creative businesses. We caught up with Anne-Marie to find out more about The Design Trust’s new business planning resources, as well as big topics of conversations… value, sustainability and Christmas shopping!
Katie: For our followers who aren’t necessarily makers, can you briefly describe what The Design Trust is all about?
Anne-Marie: The Design Trust is an online business school and resource for small creative business owners. We offer free content in the form of blog posts on our website covering all aspects of running a business, from costing and pricing to marketing and finances. We host online and in person workshops, run a vibrant online learning library membership called The Business Club and create a diary and journal planner each year to help keep creative businesses focused, on track and thriving.
Katie: You and Patricia at The Design Trust are a huge support and essential source of knowledge and advice for makers. We know that you work really closely with them and have honest, constructive conversations. Based on what you hear from makers, can you tell us what you feel is the real impact of a handmade purchase?
Anne-Marie: The difference between mass produced and handmade is multifaceted. Handmade incurs so many aspects of usually just one person’s creativity, skill and time.
From the initial idea and the making to the final product and the taking to market – it all comes from the same person. The maker must do it all! It takes time to develop and hone a making skill. It takes even more time to learn and put into action business skills. These all come at a cost, whether that be time or money.
The handmade product isn’t the result of a quick process of mass making, as it is from a factory with practiced workers, with the product then being passed to administrators skilled in costing, pricing, marketing, and packaging. Handmade businesses don’t benefit from those economies.
Katie: Yes and that’s not an easy thing for makers to talk about with customers. A handmade purchase goes towards all these aspects of a maker’s business, as well as supporting the independent physical and online shops and galleries they work with.
Anne-Marie: As a buyer, I am always interested in the story behind the product. The inspiration, the process, the person creating. We know so many makers who were once lawyers, or surgeons, or teachers, or worked in the corporate world and realised that their creative calling was becoming too strong to ignore. How their previous experiences inform their work and practice is a constant source of interest. And this is where the relationship between maker and buyer starts, develops, and continues to build. Handmade has provenance which is so often the draw for buyers and collectors.
The impact of handmade is the talent, beauty, and story. The off the shelf versus the unique.
Katie: So, especially at this time of year, we know that each purchase is hugely valued by the makers and small businesses like ours. These are challenging times, but it’s so important to look at the positives. Do you think we’re making progress in moving away from a throwaway society and that the increased interest in craft has had a role in this?
Anne-Marie: Yes, I do! The weather this year has harshly confirmed the reality of a failing environment. And reinforced the fact that we have to all take responsibility for our own consumption. Whether that be food, homewares, or our clothing. There are so many amazing campaigns and campaigners calling for shopping small, shopping with less waste, or for changing our buying habits and promoting ‘shopping for life’. Refill, Just A Card, Holly Tucker, and Small Business Saturday are all well worth a follow for this.
Craft is definitely playing its role. Not only in the marketing of longevity of handcrafted goods, but also many, many makers are offering mending workshops and services with buyers bringing old jumpers to have new life put into them through beautiful repairing, or ceramicists offering mending services for old but beloved ceramic pieces.
Katie: Thoughtful handmade purchases hold so much value for buyers and lucky gift recipients as well. How would you explain this value to someone who doesn’t usually buy craft?
Anne-Marie: I think the value goes back to what I said earlier about the time invested by a maker in learning a craft and the story behind the making. Craft is made by someone’s hands. A someone with a name and a history. Not by a machine or a system. A handmade object is created with thought, an inspiration, by talent, with care and at times ‘with blood, sweat and tears!’
There is also value in the knowledge that the product is often unique. There aren’t millions of those handcrafted mugs all over the world. Your handmade mug might be the only one with that certain glaze or that handle with that special spot for your thumb to nestle in.
The handmade object also makes you feel a certain way. It brings you joy looking at it, or it brings you warmth using it. Having beautiful well-made items in your life that you know may last a lifetime and which you can potentially pass down to future generations brings a feeling of genuine satisfaction. I have items of handmade jewellery which my daughters have already claimed. I love that they will continue to enjoy and use crafted items in their lives that I have loved and used in my life.
I recently interviewed the embroiderer Emily Jo Gibbs who has the kitchen table made by her father that they used as a family when she was a child in her own kitchen being used by her family. There is so much wonderful meaning in that, isn’t there?
This is the value of the crafted object.
Katie: Well, Christmas is fast approaching and we’re all making lists and thinking about giving gifts to loved ones. Which makers have caught your eye and what’s on your own wish list?
Anne-Marie: There is SO MUCH exquisite work on madebyhandonline.com, I could write a whole blog post for you just answering this.
Sarah Morpeth’s papercuts are delicate, magical and beautiful. I love that she creates pieces across price brackets so you can have a piece of hers to hang on a tree of go whole hog and get an incredible piece of wall art.
I came across Suzanne Breakwell’s paper craft pieces years ago and still think they are amazing. The skill and patience she must have to create such delicate detail in each piece! I’d be all fingers and thumbs!
I have an embarrassing number of handcrafted cups and mugs and add to it often – still. Rebecca Perry’s tea bowls are just gorgeous – classy, understated and I imagine beautiful to hold a warming cuppa in. (Pictured earlier above).
I have always been a fan of Corrinne Eira Evans’ chainmail jewellery and this ring is HIGH on my Christmas wish list – It’s absolutely stunning. (Pictured at top).
There’s nothing like snuggling under a cosy blanket after a cold walk in the hills and I love the colours and pattern on Emma Swinburne’s woven textiles. This blanket scarf is fab!
If someone was going to blow the budget on me (you can always hope), I have always coveted a Sophie Marsham hanging sculpture for the garden. I love the combination of materials she uses and how the metal really shines through the resin.
Katie: Thank you Anne-Marie… of course we love everything on your wish list! Obviously after Christmas comes a new year and that brings a time of reflection and planning for makers. You at The Design Trust have opened your shop for your brand new 2023 diaries and journal planners.
Anne-Marie: Yes, these books are more than just planning tools, they include 50+ pages of invaluable business content across marketing, finance, and time management. They are business handbooks written specifically for creative professionals. They’re available now on The Design Trust website.
Thank you again to Anne-Marie for chatting with us. If you’re a maker and you want to get more organised in 2023, here’s a bit more about The Design Trust’s two options catering for everyone’s needs. We have a special discount code for our readers…
The Diary Planner: A ring bound book in mint / lilac or orange / ochre. This is a diary with week to view for all your to do’s, actions, appointments etc.
The Journal Planner: A hardback book in orange / ochre or dark brown / white. This does NOT have the week to view diary, but instead has a single monthly page where you can write your most urgent and important to-dos, your goals, and any actions around your finances, marketing, etc.
These are full of exercises, tips and tools. The price for each is £50 which includes:
- 2 hours of pre-recorded business training around planning
- 2 x 2 hours of live planning workshops around finances and marketing
- A Private Facebook group where you can ask business questions and get support
You can get 15% off these books and other resources and workshops at The Design Trust if you purchase by 31 December 2022 using coupon code MADEBYH