The notion of a craft maker beavering away in a little rural workshop is not far from the truth.
For most it’s an isolated existence, operating out of a shed or garage at home with a lack of passing trade and peer support except for meeting fellow makers on excursions to craft fairs.
This prompted Limerick-based ceramicist Clare Jordan to set up the Limerick Craft Collective three years ago to create a focal point for craft makers and their work.
“I had spoken to so many makers who were all running into the same issues,” she says.
“So the idea of the collective was to create events and to promote individual makers.”
Quickly the collective also developed an advocacy service for makers as well as providing mentoring, but it soon became clear that a physical location was needed and the Limerick Craft Hub was born.
Drawing on her background in accounting and financial project management, Clare set about acquiring funding and managed to secure €90,000 from the Limerick City of Culture bid project to rent a building, hire staff, and set it up for business.
Exactly a year ago the hub opened its doors to the public with an impressive retail outlet and craft studios.
“We now have room for three makers where they can work, share knowledge and avail of marketing opportunities,” says Clare.
Located at 9 Lower Cecil St, the hub is in a convenient spot off the main Limerick City thoroughfare of O’Connell St, giving it a presence like any mainstream retailer, although that’s where the similarity ends.
“Makers do a stint in the shop each month alongside retained retail staff,” Clare explains.
“The public can see items that are in the shop, being made, and can engage with the maker and ask questions.”
With prices starting at €2.50 for a bar of handmade chocolate by Moon River Chocolate and peaking at €975 for a rocking chair by Ray Walsh, there’s something for everyone here, but if a very special piece is required that isn’t on display, Clare and her staff will organise a commissioned work for a special occasion.
For locals and visitors alike, there’s added value in the shopping experience provided by the opportunity to buy something made locally which they’re unlikely to see elsewhere.
Initially stocking the work of 30 makers, the hub celebrates its first anniversary in business by selling a range of goods from over 54 makers, all of which is carefully curated.
Clare explains: “We have a selection committee which decides what comes into the shop to maintain the standard.”
To maximise selling Clare has brought in professional consultants to advise on selling and merchandising. “We even provide packaging advice to the makers,” she adds.
Browsing around the shop there’s certainly a wide and eye-catching mix of products for sale, ranging from contemporary lighting and metal work to wood work, ceramics and sculptural pieces made by an equally diverse group.
Some are full-time crafts people and others are developing their skills while working on a part-time basis and building a catalogue of craft at the same time.
“It’s an opportunity to grow sales,” Clare explains. “Often the makers are great at craft but might not have the necessary business acumen.”
The customers are wide-ranging too, although Clare says the 35-65 age group forms the backbone of the buyers.
“Tourists in buses and people looking for a wedding gift all come in. Gifting is a big reason. Skincare ranges appeal to a younger crowd while artisan foods appeal to everyone.”
Overall, there’s a mix of contemporary and traditional craft on offer like Aoife Slattery’s funky ceramic espresso cups and Limerick lace pieces made by Eileen Brown who crafts it with shamrocks.
Operating fundamentally as a not-for-profit social enterprise, it’s one that gives something back.
“On Monday mornings the general public are invited into the space to make products with felt which are sold to fund charitable causes locally and in Malawi, and we run craft camps for children.”
In the last year, more than 6,000 people have visited the shop contributing to a turnover of €100,000, and with a silver smith, a felt maker and a ceramicist currently occupying the three available studios, demand is happily outstripping supply.
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