Earlier this week I attended the preview night of Collective: A Maker’s Exhibition, which was a celebration of the designer-makers’ work who were part of the Craft Council’s Hot House Scheme, and made up the Southern Cohort. This cohort brought together creatives right across the Southern counties, giving them the necessary guidance in starting their own business ventures.

There was a range of crafts on show; from knitting to furniture making; and even within craft disciplines, it was obvious to see that each maker had their own style and work ethos. Schemes, such as this, show that a career within the craft industries is possible, and are especially encouraging for younger people entering into the industry. I found it interesting to note that there was a range of backgrounds represented; some maker’s having trained in apprenticeships, others at private craft schools, and some through higher education courses.

I caught up with Charles Dedman, a furniture designer-maker from Hampshire, who trained at Kingston University and is now the designer at Gaze Burvill, the Outdoor Furniture Company.

 

When did you do the scheme and how did you come to be selected?

I took part in the 2016 Hothouse program with sessions starting in January and running till July. The selection process was by applying online, and then those who show interest and talent are called for an interview at the Craft Council HQ to show their work and explain their aspirations. This is a pretty intense experience, but it was very clear from that first impression that the coordinators and partners are only there to support the maker.

What did you do as part of the Hothouse program?

The participants are grouped into regional Cohorts – being from Hampshire I was in the South Cohort. This reached from Falmouth, Bristol and London. As a group of 14 we met once or twice a month at various establishments around the south. The sessions were essentially master classes in Marketing, Finance, Business, Presentation and Creative practise.

What was the most valuable lesson learnt?

For me it was understanding the furniture industry better, knowing how diverse it is and where I fit within it. The skills in finance, marketing and business obviously are key to a successful practice but for at this stage I needed to understand what I wanted and how to go about it.

How did you find working/learning with the other designer-makers?

In a word – ‘amazing!’ I learnt as much from them as the guest speakers. Despite being from different disciplines (jewelry, ceramics and textiles), we all shared a huge amount of the same concerns and issues. As we got to know one another better, the sessions became very open and supportive. Those guys can relate unlike any of my friends.

How was the balance of genders? – Do you think this affected the dynamics of your experience?

With 6 guys and 7 girls in the group, mixed across the disciplines we didn’t really experience any biased thoughts. I guess across the cohorts, it was much more female focused as you moved north with the disciplines more in Ceramics and Jewelry. Nearly all the furniture people were in our cohort and two of them were girls. If it was all male, I guess it might have had a different dynamic, but I didn’t find that any of the skill sets were more relevant to a certain gender.

Have you met any influential, or inspiring people through taking part in the scheme? Were any of them women?

Yes, many influential people. My personal mentor Angus Ross has been fantastic and very generous with his time and knowledge. I am in fact visiting him in Perthshire this new year! Its funny but nearly all the Craft Council and Hothouse coordinators are female. I don’t know why this is, but they all were very supportive and engaged with the program. And of course the 7 girls in my cohort have been so great and we will definitely keep in touch.

I have also taken part in 3 shows since finishing with one showing at present. (New Designers One Year On, TENT London, the Northern Design Festival and our independent Hothouse exhibitions- Collective– 15th-20th November).

How important do you think schemes such as this are in cultivating the future of the furniture industry?

Hugely important. Without a contact, a new wave of aspirational furniture designer-makers, the industry will stagnate and be controlled by the established few. Without Hothouse, my brand would be much less known and my efforts to promote and make a mark would be much harder. It is very evident in furniture education courses that there is hardly any focus on furniture-business, how to make your skills and talent commercial. Shame, as it is a great industry with no shortage of talent. You need to know the ins and outs of business to stay afloat.

 

* A full list of the exhibitors and links to their sites can be found here: http://jackypuzey.com/collective-a-makers-exhibition/