Friday, 9 September 2011

Assembly is in the eye of the beholder

The argument currently going on on Folksy at the moment could not have come at a more opportune moment for me. This week I was short-listed for best jewellery in the Leeds Retail Awards, in no small part due to my hammering away on Facebook to my fan-page asking them to vote for me, and my mother-ship*, Bird's Yard. I was asking for a short-list position as my SHOP Life's Big Canvas, rather than my jewellery brand.

Perhaps I should step back a bit here – when I took up painting again 3 years ago, I never in a million years expected to become self-employed. I started selling cards with prints of my paintings on, and booked myself a stall at a local craft fair. I was asked for the name of my business, and not being able to make decisions, or think much about anything, I asked online what I should be named. Bel Smith quoted me the infamous Danny Kaye quote – 'Like is like a big canvas, throw all the paint you can on it' – I loved the joyousness of this phrase, and I've always been a believer in 'more is more' in many ways. Between us, Bel and I decided 'Life's Big Canvas' should be my brand name.

How I went from painting to making jewellery isn't important here – what is important is that my brand is Life's Big Canvas, my shop is called Life's Big Canvas, but my jewellery comes under different ranges. My latest one was Dr Mellifera, a range of jewellery created using themes of time machines, Victoriana, magicians and doctors, and has been called Steampunk Lite.

So, back to the retail awards... Life's Big Canvas was short-listed for best jewellery. In my head, this is the same as H Samuel being short-listed – yes, they have 'own brand' jewellery, but they also stock stuff made by other designers. Similarly, I have my own branded jewellery, but I also stock other people's jewellery – Galibardy and Clutterfly being the most well known.

Then my brain stopped working properly. It's well documented that I've had mental health issues, I'm not ashamed of it, and I'll talk about it if I think I need to. In this instance, it seems important to this ramble. I was up against a fellow jeweller in the jewellery category, but they were also in best designer. It made me freak out a bit – I hadn't considered that asking people to vote for me for best jewellery was sort of the same thing as asking people to vote for ME as best jewellery designer. To me, it was nominating the whole LBC shop, and all the designers in it.

I have absolutely no confidence in myself – the thought that people might think I was being big-headed enough to think I deserved to be best jewellery designer seemed laughable. My own brand of jewellery was nowhere near as good as my colleague's. Someone I know asked people to vote for this brand, and whilst I wasn't upset they'd asked people to vote for them instead of me, it cemented the whole idea that people would think I was up my own arse thinking I was an amazing designer. (The fact my brain then went bonkers and started telling me that the whole awards ceremony had been set up so that I would be exposed as a fake in front of the whole of Leeds is irrelevant, but amusing.)

What's this got to do with Folksy? You said it was an opportune time, but you're rambling on about some awards using thinly veiled gestures towards colleagues.

And now how I got from painting to jewellery DOES become important. I do not see myself as a jewellery designer, I see myself as a 3D artist. I always have, since I met Gary Fixter (a college tutor) who told me I was a sculptor. I paint, I make soft sculptures, and I make stuff out of metal wire and recycled stuff. I have a thing for small versions of big things, and big versions of small things (because I have perceptual dyslexia) and I also like making things that look like other things – I did a whole project on different sized cakes made from different media.

The point is I made jewellery out of my sculptures when my sculptures became small enough to become jewellery. I started selling my jewellery when people started buying it.

Stop going on about art – what's this got to do with Folksy!

Currently on Folksy there is I believe what is called a 'shitstorm' going on because they have changed, or according to Folksy admin, are 'reinforcing' their terms and conditions on what can and cannot be sold. It seems to be jewellery that is mainly affected, which has obviously affected many of my colleagues and friends.

Folksy want to stop 'assemblers' from selling on Folksy. An assembler seems to be defined as someone who buys everything to make their jewellery, and then just puts it together – a jewellery designer presumably makes everything from scratch.

When I first heard about this, I was pleased – I'm sick of seeing people on Folksy, Etsy, eBay and Facebook calling themselves jewellery designers who've just bought a bracelet kit and put it together. I've had a jewellery magazine before which has promised a 'how to' make something, and it turns out you buy the 'steampunk' bracelet kit, and then use pliers. This kind of assembling annoys me.

I have a good friend, named here as Moll to keep her anonymous, who makes jewellery. She buys and selects charms, and puts them together with an eye for detail and makes beautiful jewellery. I particularly like the names she gives her pieces, the care she take over her photographs, and the descriptions she writes. Whilst she doesn't make beads or charms, she does not simply 'bung something on a chain'. She asked admin if these new 'reinforcements' would mean she couldn't sell, and they said that this is exactly what it would mean.

Folksy is a business – it's just gone over the threshold for VAT, so they're making money. Moll pays her fees, Folksy takes a % of what she makes from selling, so she has helped them to make money. Now they've started being holier than thou about what is sold. As a business, you sometimes cannot do this. Principles sometimes have to take a back-seat.

For example, I sell scrabble tile rings in my shop. My colleagues know that they are not my favourite thing to sell. I do not think my idea is clever, it's definitely not original, and I sell them as my 'bread and butter' as I call it. I made a scrabble bracelet to go with a range about a girl called Judy, and people asked if I could make a ring – people want to buy a scrabble tile ring, so I provide one. However, if I was talking about my artistic life, I probably wouldn't bring up those bloody scrabble rings.

So, whose side are you on; the assemblers or the designers?

To answer this, we need to decide what an assembler is. Going back a few steps – is an assembler someone who buys everything and puts it together?

Are you including those talented designers who make original design laser cut necklaces in this group then? Decent laser cutters are expensive - someone who painstakingly designs their own pendant using a graphic program, but then gets someone else to cut it is, in my eyes, a designer. But they haven't made that pendant from scratch, and they probably haven't plated the chain themselves.

What about those people who DO own a laser cutter, and do make their own pendants from scratch, but copy the designs from other more successful designers like Tatty Devine? I've seen loads of people doing this on eBay, and it infuriates me. But they're making the pendant from scratch, so aren't they even MORE of a designer than someone who gets their laser cutting somewhere else?

Someone who blows their own glass to make beads is definitely an artisan – but if they just string them together does this make them a designer? Someone who buys in beads and weaves them to a pattern of their own drawing over hours is surely a designer, even if they haven't made their own beads.

You see? It's not as clear cut as it seems. Some of the jewellery in my shop is 'assembled' but it sells – it's 'bread and butter' and keeps my shop open. Some of the jewellery I make myself takes much more thought and time than others. To me, sticking a scrabble tile onto a ring isn't a design, but if I have a beautiful vintage button I think would make a nice ring, and I just stick the button on the ring, it doesn't make me more of a designer, and yet it seems within my principles.

Folksy, once again, is a business. Maybe they should accept the fees given to them by whoever wishes to pay them – if they want to just stock what they believe are artists, then they shouldn't charge anyone to sell on there.

* thanks to RG for coining this phrase in conjunction with BY, which I now cannot get out of my head.

EDIT TO ADD - Folksy's blog -

 - it does actually have the original design/majority handmade argument on this blog - I had read the forum this morning, and was having a conversation with myself, as I tend to do on my blog.


  1. Nice blog post, clearly thought through. I agreed with Folksy on assembling to some extent, however I felt the way they did this was inconsistent and relies on us grassing on each other. That is no way to run a business. I will wait and see what happens but in the mean time I feel very, very sorry for people who's shops have been disallowed.Some used charms and pendants in a lovely imaginative way and clearly designed their stuff using mass produced charms in a original way. I refuse to ask them about my shop and I will not report anyone elses. They should do their own dirty work.

  2. Brilliant post, Chlo.

    I think the only way I can possibly comment is with my own:

    Flo x

  3. Can I just agree wholeheartedly with what Hannelore has said. I am quite cross with Folksy for seeming to be just 'making it up as they go along'. That's not very professional.

  4. Totally in agreement with everything you've written. I am shocked at the 'I'm alright Jack' attitude adopted by many Folksy sellers who don't seem to understand the meaning of the word empathy. One hell of a week and this hoo haa ain't over yet!

  5. Great post and very well put. I have also been shocked by the attitude of many other sellers in what is supposed to be a 'community'.
    I think I know who 'Moll' is and can only say I agree completely with all you've said about her work.

  6. I am right there with you when you talk about thinking the awards were just set up to show you up as a fake - that's exactly the way my brain was working (or not working!) when I left teaching.

    But to get back to folksy - I've been there almost from the start. Back in 2008 there was a similar heated discussion because it was suggested people should "apply" to have a shop, to ensure quality. Although applications haven't been mentioned this time, it's very much more of the same to me.

    I thought maybe the knitters who are using commercial patterns might be weeded out as Folksy have stated it's not allowed - but no, only if the actual copyright holder complains. So for my field, nothing has improved.

    And for folksy as a whole - what a shame.

    If you're interested in the age-old discussion from 2008 it's here:

  7. What a well written post.
    It is such a shame what is happening at Folksy, I don't know why things couldn't have stayed the same. I agree if something is blatantly not handmade or assembled at home (such as a shop brought necklace being sold as the sellers own)then that should be removed, but the 'now not allowed' items have been beautiful and have obviously been put together with care. The people who buy them must agree as I've seen lots of positive feedback.