We’ve spent a lot of time, these past few weeks, firefighting with and alongside our customers. Nearly every one of them is a valiant small business who’s had to rapidly adapt and, in some cases, even abandon and re-think their entire business model because of Covid-19.
The courage and resourcefulness of this community is both humbling and inspiring.
We started our Covid-19 #SmallBizHeroes series to shine a light on some of these businesses and their owners who are somehow finding a way through, and whose approaches, attitude and ingenuity can teach us all something valuable - not least in giving us all hope and a determination that we can come through this.
This week, we spoke to Rebecca Hunter and Catherine Dunne, founders of SoLo Craft Fair, who run beautifully curated pop-up craft markets across South London.
Farillio: Hi Rebecca and Catherine. Tell us a little bit about SoLo Craft Fair. What do you do and why did you set SoLo up?
Rebecca: We’re two friends and also Makers. I’m an artist and part of a collective called ‘Drawn Together’, and Catherine owns a jewellery business called London Lily.
One day over a Christmas drink – or two – we came up with the idea to run our own craft markets in South London.
We initially ran the first one as a one-off event. But the format turned out to be so successful that one thing led to another… and here we are, four years down the line, with a track record of successfully running weekly craft fairs.
Farillio: Such a lovely concept. We’ve had a peek at your website and social media and love what you do!
So how was everything going for SoLo Craft Fair before Covid-19? What plans did you have for the future?
Catherine: We had huge plans. We were opening up our second ever pop-up shop, we had three markets taking place across the remainder of March and April.
The future was looking so exciting.
It was devastating to cancel it all. Not only for our company, but also for the small creative businesses we work with.
Farillio: It’s just the worst thing. This has been the toughest of times for almost all small businesses, but those in the events industry have been incredibly hard hit.
When did you realise you would need to start changing what SoLo does?
Rebecca: It was only in March really that conversations came up about cancelling events. At the time, not knowing the scale and speed of what was happening in the world, we thought about just postponing events by a couple of weeks and we hoped that would be sufficient.
Obviously we were very naive about the situation back then.
Farillio: I think we all were. Nobody really knew what this would mean. It’s been so surreal.
We really admire your spirit and determination to not let this awful situation overwhelm you. The obstacles must have felt huge at the time. How did you overcome them?
Catherine: Well, sadly, without people going out, there can be no physical craft market, of course. We wanted to still think creatively in this time, as well as still being able to support the small indie businesses we normally work with.
So, we came up with the idea to have a 'virtual craft market' where makers and artists who rely solely on their creative business as income can post a product to their stories and tag us @solocraftfair on Instagram.
We then reshare it to our stories between 12-2pm GMT every Saturday. Customers can 'visit' the craft market by watching our Insta stories or visiting the highlights, and click through to any traders they like the look of to browse and buy products that take their fancy.
Farillio: We love the power of social media at Farillio, so it’s great to see how you’ve harnessed it to still keep supporting your independent business and help people access beautiful crafts.
How have your crafts businesses and customers reacted?
Has anything changed as a result of you and/or them doing business in this new way?
Rebecca: It's been great! We’ve had hundreds of Makers take part, and thousands of visitors over the 4 weeks we have done it, which has been incredible. We absolutely love seeing the posts where people have sold items during the market, as we know it is working.
A big change has been our transition from being a local craft market to an international one, with people from all over the world taking part.
We felt it would be inappropriate to charge for the markets when so many small businesses are suffering. But as we’re makers ourselves, (Catherine owns London Lily and Rebecca is one half of Drawn Together Art Collective) we can profit by making sales in the markets ourselves.
We do not have any budget for marketing, so one condition of makers taking part is that they promote the event on their social channels. A strong emphasis of this event is community. We all need to help each other out during these times.
Farillio: That’s amazing to hear! Since we announced we’d be interviewing you, the team at Farillio have been making wishlists of what they’ve seen in the SoLo virtual craft fair and want to buy!
Can you see yourselves staying virtual – or retaining a virtual presence – even when the Covid-19 rules are relaxed?
Rebecca: As many of the makers taking part aren’t from London, it would be a shame to lose connection with them, so we’ve had a few discussions about possibly making the virtual markets a monthly event on a weekday evening.
Farillio: Having seen the success of the format, it would be amazing to be able to keep it going for all the makers outside London. It feels like a really inclusive way to come together!
Finally, any words of wisdom/hope/ support for the small business community to ensure we #LeaveNoSMEBehind?
Catherine: It can be hard to adapt, but there is something very satisfying about finding a solution during these times; and it makes you explore options you may not have done before. It feels like the business is reinventing itself all over again, and it’s been very rewarding.
Rebecca: I’d say: stay positive. The beauty of being a small business is that your skillset will be huge (we're all responsible for our own creations, marketing, accounts etc.), which means you're more qualified than most to adapt in these weird times.
Farillio: We love that perspective, Rebecca and Catherine. It’s a wonderfully comforting and motivating reminder of what we’re all capable of when we think outside of the usual job.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and we wish you the best of luck going forward. We’ll be keeping SoLo Craft Fair in mind for all our up and coming birthdays! It's more important than ever to support independent businesses and artists…and those SoLo wishlists are burning holes on our desks as we type this up!
If you'd like to find out more about SoLo Craft Fair, you can visit their website at www.solocraftfair.com on or follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Why not pop into their next virtual craft market?
Don't miss out - free help from terrific experts is right here
SoLo Craft Fairs are also part of Farillio’s #3hrPledge movement and we’re matching Rebecca and Catherine to one of our business experts who’s generously pledged their time to support small businesses looking for help and support right now.
If you’re a small business and would like guidance on any aspect of your business from law, sales and marketing to HR, funding and finance, drop us a line today and we can connect you with one of our pledgers who are donating their skills and experience for free to ensure we #LeaveNoSMEBehind.