Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Folksy Summer School

I thought I'd share with you the fantastic weekend I've just had at the Folksy Summer School in Sheffield. When Folksy first revealed they were planning a weekend of workshops and speakers for designer-makers I knew immediately I wanted to go. There were a nailbiting few weeks while they decided on dates - it would either take place on a weekend when I was going down to Cornwall for a friend's wedding, or the 10th of August, when I was free. Thankfully they picked the 10th and so I bought an earlybird weekend ticket the first day they went on sale! A few weeks later I booked my train ticket from London to Sheffield, and two nights at a Premier inn (£29 a night, bargain!). I was all set! Just had to wait until the big day now...

The only photo I took during the weekend...
So finally, last weekend, the day came. I got the train up on the Friday night after work, having spent much of the day refreshing my twitter feed to see what was being shared under the hashtag #folksyschool. Straight to my hotel bed once I got there, to make sure I had a good night's sleep. After getting up early for a nice buffet breakfast I made an almost disastrous error: assuming that buses in Sheffield run at the same frequency as those in London... Whoops; luckily the hourly bus was running late so I made it in time to register before the first talk at 10:30.

The location Folksy had chosen to hold the weekend in was lovely - a woodland centre set in the beautiful Ecclesall woods, about a 15 minute bus ride south of the city. It was much more 'us' than a boring corporate hotel or conference centre; the slightly rickety marquee, white plastic chairs and picnic tables seemed very right for such a unique, creative bunch.

The main talks took place in the marquee and were a great mix of different styles - teaching, sharing experiences, and just telling us interesting stuff. Highlights for me included:

  • Patricia van den Akker from The Design Trust who had so much enthusiasm for helping small creative businesses, and so much sensible straightforward advice about how to expand and grow - including the breakthough idea that it's OK if you want to just grow your business to the limits of what YOU can do, and don't want to start outsourcing, licensing designs, or employing others
  • Nick Hand who made amazing films of craftspeople around Britain while cycling its coast (watch them here)
  • Chloe from Hatastic whose story of going from her first headpiece which she made for herself, to selling on Folksy, to being regularly featured in Vogue and stocked in Fenwicks
  • The guys from Mini Moderns who shared their branding and how they tell their story through their advertising and packaging
  • John Willshire AKA Smithery who really got us all thinking about marketing, and challenged the usual mantra of having one tagline for your business which you repeat over and over
  • Doug Richards who fired us all up at the very end of the weekend and reminded us that just charging for materials and your time - however well you pay yourself - does NOT make a business! Don't forget the profit!

All the experts who spoke, and many others as well, gave their time over the weekend for 10-20 minute 'one-to-ones' with attendees, sharing their wisdom and helping solve individual problems. I must admit I never got around to having a one-to-one - I just couldn't decide what I wanted to ask about (apart from, how the heck do you fit everything in to the 24 hours in the day!).

I did go to one of the photography workshops run by Lyndsey James and am now hoping to make it to one of her more in-depth workshops to learn even more about using my camera. She had some really good ideas about staging and styling your shots, and I've started thinking about ditching my usual plain white backgrounds for something a bit more exciting (though again, where I'm going to find the time to reshoot my whole range, I don't know!).

Apart from the workshops and talks there was a chance to try out a few crafts - I gave lino printing a go with James Green (a Folksy seller from Sheffield) and I was very pleased with the result. It was so nice to have the luxury of a bit of time to do a craft that wasn't sewing cat collars! There was crochet, screen printing, letterpress, book binding and sewing projects to try out too.

Wait- I did take one more photo! Lino printed my logo!

There was of course plenty of time to talk to other attendees too. I was a bit nervous, going to the weekend on my own - as was everyone else, I think! But it was so easy to just get chatting in between sessions, because you knew you have something in common: a love of making and a desire to turn this love into more than just a hobby. We shared our frustrations and failures, the difficulties of working alone so much, of squaring your craft activities with a full or part time job, and how to be seen as professional when you make pretty hairclips in your spare time. We brainstormed names for new shops together, shared our favourite places to buy fabric and other supplies, and told each other our shortcuts and tips for selling online. It was  wonderful to feel part of a vibrant growing community, and be valued by everyone there, whatever you did.

Surprisingly, the majority of people there didn't sell on Folksy. Some were planning to, some sold in other outlets. I think Folksy had done a lot of local advertising as a lot of people hadn't had too far to come. It was nice as a seasoned seller to be able to share tips with 'newbies' on setting up your shop, and answer their questions about Folksy, Etsy and having your own website. Their enthusiasm was catching - I found myself looking at what I did through fresh eyes.

Other aspects that were great - the whole place was decorated beautifully by bunting that had been sent in by talented Folksy sellers, and the food available was just perfect. Some was free (coffee, tea, biscuits, fruit, icecreams, lots of sweets!) and some was to buy (a tuck shop run by Cocoa Wonderland, sandwiches each day from Sharrow Marrow, and a great roast pork BBQ on the first evening which meant I didn't have to eat alone!). There was a fab goodie bag for us upon arrival, including a lovely notebook, more sweets, pens and pencils, a little pack of quilting fabric squares, and a plethora of useful resources. If you ever had a question about what was going on it was always easy to find either a Folksy staff member or one of the helpful volunteers.

Talking of the lovely Folksy staffers, the weekend for me was topped off by the journey home. I'd just sat down on the train when who should come sit opposite me but Frankie from Folksy who I'd spoken to just before leaving the site (to say well done - he'd been standing up at the front of the marquee for the entirety of both days, attending to the sound levels and sorting out mikes and slideshows!). We had a great chat about everything to do with selling craft online, he asked me how I thought Folksy could be improved, and told me some of the challenges the small Folksy team face when deciding which changes to implement next. Then when I mentioned Mog's Togs, he said 'Oh, you're Mog's Togs? I know your shop!'. My head nearly exploded!

So in conclusion... I think you can tell, I really enjoyed myself! For the first time in a while my brain is whirling with ideas for Mog's Togs. For about the past year, since I really reached the limit of what I could do with the business in my spare time, I have had so little time to try anything new that I've actually suppressed new ideas, which is kind of sad and has made things less fun and more mundane. It's frustrating that I've just started a new job, so need to put the hours in there and can't implement everything at once; but I'm now wondering about writing myself an exit plan from full time employment... exciting times! (Don't tell my brand new boss...). If Folksy run the Summer School again next year - and I really hope they do - I strongly recommend you think about going. It's great for getting the creative juices flowing and giving you loads of inspiration to keep your business growing and changing. I'll be going again next year, and bringing Mum too!

(I feel bad that I only took two photos to show you! There's a Flickr group with photos of the weekend, if you want to see some more.)


  1. Sounds like you had a great weekend! Your lino print is gorgeous - very impressive :)

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