A couple of weeks back I visited the ‘Handmade in Britain’ crafts fair in Old Chelsea Town Hall, the 10th anniversary show of craft & design. The first thing that hit me was the ornate beauty of the building. A large neo-classical structure that sits on Kings Road in the company of the likes of the Saatchi Gallery and high end shops.
When you step into the main hall you cannot help but stare in awe at the intricate delicate detail of every inch of the room, which plays host to weddings, markets and an array of community events. That day, it was the crafts fair and it was the perfect aesthetic.
Sat within the meandering purpose built stalls were a diverse range of crafts, each stand carefully put together with the same love and attention as each piece of work it hosted. I first spotted Rachel Ducker Wire Sculpture, an eclectic collection of wire sculptures in human form ranging from life sized figures to small suspended pieces, tucked into the corner of the room. Each passer by unable to walk past without stopping.
I then came across the work of Fiona Daly Textiles, beautifully handwoven contemporary textile designs. Her work includes pieces like the Nordic Lumber Sholmit Striped Grey Wool Blanket, a mix of Blucefaced Leicester/Hebridean wool with Shetland wool, which was inspired by patters found in a traditional 1930’s Nordic lumbercoat. The soft touch and classic design, gently complimented the surrounding room.
The more I walked, the more I noticed the diversity of the collections. Each stand was shrouded in uniqueness. A group of artists, using their collective power for the good of their industry, it was their creative cluster.
I got chatting with Fiona Daly, while looking at some of her work. She mentioned to me that she runs her business from an organisation in Clerkenwell designed to build a ‘strong future for craft and design’.
The building hosts an array of crafts people like jewellers, engravers, theatrical costumers, musical instrument makers and designers, fashion designers and like Fiona – textiles.
When visiting each stand, you cannot help but sense the comradery between the exhibitors. Every piece of individual craft adding to the greater good of the cluster. Visitors attracted to view the work of someone specific, see the work of someone else, or the two traders of similar craft, inspiring each other through their designs, forcing them to raise their game and ensuring the strength of the cluster.
We see this type of collaboration in many areas of the creative industries. The film industry in Soho, creative agencies in Manchester. When they are geographical, they are measurable, but in my own experience they are constantly appearing and evolving in more capacities than just geography.
As a musician, we formed creative clusters with other bands in Dublin. We would play gigs together, travel together, swap information and vouch for each other to other industry professionals. It was an imperative part of the process for us, and presented many opportunities, and like most clusters, it happened organically. It made us better at what we did.
Now that I am studying, I see more creative clusters forming, this time between students. People of different nationalities, backgrounds, skills and industries coming together to share knowledge and help each other through different assignments. Utilising the skills someone learned in one industry and teaching them to someone else so they can transfer it into their own domain, all forming organically with the right support structure in place. While these clusters will form naturally, the support structure is key to maximising the potential of the cluster, which will make a local region stronger and in turn make a country stronger.
The key to innovation and the strengthening of a domain, it is through this collaboration that we innovate and it can only make us better at what we do, both individually and collectively.