From Maker's Market to Online Marketplace – How COVID-19 Has Impacted Handmade Jewellery

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It’s been a turbulent market for craft businesses, alongside much of the rest of the economy, as they face enormous economic challenges caused by COVID-19. The handmade jewellery market is no exception.

In March 2020, a Crafts Council survey of 600 UK makers found that orders were already down 67 per cent. The loss of income from cancelled craft fairs and teaching and hosting workshops, plus the impact from Brexit, has left makers in a precarious situation in the post-pandemic world. At the end of 2020, a comparable survey from Craft Council found that nearly a third of respondents were still in need of financial support.

However crafters are creative by nature, and resilient too.

Many have used their teaching skills to run virtual workshops and classes to sustain income and build a network of budding crafters eager to learn skills during lockdown.

Can’t go out? Go live!

There has been a sharp upswing in live video on social media during the pandemic as handmade jewellery makers filmed themselves from their studios or added virtual jewellery-making classes. Some enterprising makers posted kits to students, so that they had the tools and materials to follow along. Although some jewellers plan to restart classes as restrictions ease, many will continue with the digital lessons as well.

Lockdown was the impetus many jewellers needed to build a stronger, social media presence by proactively engaging with customers through social media. For example, many makers asked customers to take a picture of the product and tag their business. Social movements like #SupportTheMaker helped amplify their efforts by raising awareness of struggling independent businesses.

From a consumer point of view, the desire to ‘buy local and move away from the high street’ has increased throughout the past months. Galleries have recognised their role in supporting customers to do this - with curators using social story-telling to bring the stories of their makers and materials to life online during the pandemic.

Impact in 2020

COVID-19 forced artisan jewellers to adapt their business at lightning speed, but it also gave many the impetus to look at their business model and question what they needed to prioritise - focusing on tasks that generate the most revenue. Similarly some had to reduce their offerings – those selling over multiple platforms, or websites where you pay per listing had to trim their product range down to their best sellers.

Other challenges were developing business protocols during the pandemic – changing details of shipping, order handling and safety- and navigating delays and unforeseen expenses in sourcing materials and fulfilling deliveries.

Sales started appearing everywhere by April 2020.  Sellers were realising that there was a demand for retail therapy but customers wanted to believe they were getting a deal. Jewellers joined the rush with sales and discounts for “sharing the love” – i.e. following and tagging a product in a post. For many this proved an innovative way to pick up new customers.

Changing customer choices

The pandemic has brought a focus on relationships and celebrating special occasions with meaningful gifts. This was evidenced by the recent De Beers Diamond Insightreport (November 2020) which showed an increase in demand for engagement rings - many more bought by women, interestingly, and for same sex partnerships.The report noticed an increased ‘awareness of and gratitude for one’s life and relationships are ever more top of mind.’

Jewellery is an industry based on personal milestones but also on personal service - in person or online. When it comes to buying a unique piece of handmade jewellery, people want to connect with the maker. For many, building on those personal interactions were key to maintaining a successful business.

Lockdown brought a new appreciation of the planet too, with a consumer shift towards sustainable homemade and handmade products instead of the big corporate brands producing hundreds of units per hour. Makers and artisans can only create a finite number of pieces in their career and many pride themselves on using sustainably and locally-sourced materials.

Lessons from lockdown

COVID-19 served up a wealth of challenges for artisan jewellers, from trying to juggle a business whilst homeschooling to cancelled trade shows and Brexit disruptions.

On the other hand working remotely and flexibly seems to have strengthened the artisan community, through online craft forums and Facebook groups. These groups enabled designers to learn from other creative entrepreneurs, while also gaining access to potential partners and suppliers.

Despite its undoubted challenges for artisans of all types, 2020 was the year the UK public rediscovered professional makers, even though they couldn’t visit their studios or craft fairs. This was especially true for jewellers. Far from assuming people wouldn’t buy jewellery in hard times. It seemed that people developed a need for meaningful, heirloom gifts - for themselves or as a present for a missed loved one. Despite, or even because of COVID-19, people still want to buy handmade jewellery to celebrate life’s milestones.