Colours, lights, music, action: ‘Top Drawer’ indeed. A real sensory experience! Great for visitors, competitive for exhibitors….

How times have changed from the acoustically loud, clunky roadshows I started my career in. Here, the entrance felt like an exclusive high-net-worth club – all trance music, pink lighting and a black fabric tunnel (yeah that’s how HNWI’s roll these days..)…

….which opened out into an Aladdin’s Cave of colour, texture, music and design. Right across the board, from gift cards to gardening ….. merino throws to terracotta crockery….. dresses to chocolate…. there was something to catch the eye and explore, all while listening to the broadcasted sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club.

A giant playpen for creative ideas. 

Certainly, as advertised, it was an adventure in design. If you are a designer, craftsman or maker, this is perfect territory to garner energy and enthusiasm. From heavyweight design company Zaha Hadid Design to ubiquitous gift brand Caroline Gardner and trendy accessory retailer Sunny Life Australia (available in John Lewis), the bar was high. (It had to be, to commit to the stand price!) Plus loads of brave newcomers (let’s face it, launching a business is brave!) too like Camilla Thomas Textiles and Aura Que were exciting to discover.

And the stalls themselves were beautiful to look at. Experiential marketers eat your heart out. Exhibitors had clearly spent thought and time setting up, highlights from Ian Snow with trapeze-looking wooden structures, and a tropical-designed stand from Creative Lab Amsterdam.

Look But Don’t Touch

This innovative stand curation was needed to be noticed. The sheer size of the fair plus so much beauty on display by creatives, all with an eye for detail, meant it was easy for product-rich stalls to get lost in the noise of cleaner, well-curated stalls. I fear bootstrap newbies who spent a lot of money hoping presence would reap reward will now be disappointed.

Unlike fairs for Tech, wine, beauty and food, all where delegates can use and sample the product, conversation was much less apparent between business owners and delegates. Even art fairs get more interactivity. Visuals were everything.

It is a competitive world.

The closing words of the closing presentation on the closing day (…called ‘The Rise of the Designer Maker within Retail’ by Jess Sims of West Elm…) were: ‘if you have an idea roll with it now – because if you don’t someone else will!’

It’s true – the fair pointed to the saturation of the craft market (in the strictest terms this was craft, albeit swish craft!). Overwhelmed with greeting card companies, merino throw companies, mug companies,  entry-level craft products are a tough old game.

A game of call-to-action versus visual seduction

In a world where consumers are increasingly hard to capture and keep, getting the right balance between commercial and visual focus is the holy grail. Those that can do this will be rewarded. Stand outs were Kapten and Son and Cool Trade Winds, who both had beautiful, simple stalls and also included hard stats – PR boards and customer figures to pique interest (we all want to be part of something popular so it’s a visual draw). A simple tactic but added weight to their presence.

It will be interesting to see how this show develops over the coming five years and what sort of makers will be present. It speaks to the direction of the retail industry that Zaha Hadid Design – probably the most known and established there – calls her only physical shop a ‘gallery’ as an ode to the craftsmanship of the works.



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