“Made in the U.K.” is a phrase folks on both sides of the pond are seeing more of these days, thanks to Great Britain’s exploding maker community. Landscape-inspired fine art, tea towels featuring coastal cottages, Beatles-themed greeting cards, Union Jack iPhone sleeves — these are just a few of the items that sellers from Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales are offering.
So pour yourself a spot of tea and catch up with this diverse and multi-faceted Etsy community that’s taking the art world by storm.
In a tiny studio in an old section of Lerwick, the capital of Scotland’s Shetland Islands, artist Kristi Cumming uses acrylic paints on canvas to create colorful, gallery-ready abstract landscapes. “Shetland is stunning, it really is,” Cumming says of her home’s craggy cliffs and pastoral vistas. “My artwork is hugely influenced by my environment; it informs my painting in the shapes and forms and emotions that are conveyed.” Cumming had been participating in two to three exhibitions annually, but when she opened her Etsy shop in March, she realized she could use it as her own online gallery — for a year-round clientele. And she’s not the only one.
Etsy has become a breeding ground for U.K. artists of all kinds. Born in Greece and based in London, Manos Kalamenios makes heirloom-worthy stoneware dishes, bone china vases, and earthenware ornaments — all as beautiful as they are functional. An active Etsy seller with a robust selection of goods in his shop, Kalamenios will soon be starting the ceramic and glass masters program at the Royal College of Art in London to further his craft. “With shows like New Designers, Collect, and the Affordable Art Fair, to name just a few, there is great support in the U.K. for creative minds to flourish. And the huge array of galleries, museums, and gallery shops really fires up the creative imagination.”
For Edinburgh-based Lois Sturgeon of 13Threads, it is proximity to the world’s largest arts festival that fires up her creative imagination — but the breathtaking views from her workspace windows don’t hurt, either. In fact, she designs, cuts, and stitches all her handmade clothing — kimono-style dresses made from Liberty of London fabric, tweed wool and mohair wrap jackets, wide-legged denim culottes — in a room at home that overlooks the Edinburgh castle. The one-off nature of her pieces makes each one a wearable work of art, especially since they are inspired by elements of traditional dress and historic costumes. In her line, old-fashioned flourishes find a new — and eager — audience. “After many years of making and wearing my own clothes and being stopped and asked by strangers where they could purchase them, 13threads was born,” Sturgeon says.
Kirsty Fate of Luna on the Moon, who creates her sparkly accessories line on an old, chipped-gold 1940s Singer sewing machine, is also indebted to the U.K.’s rich history of fashion and design. An Australian now living in London, Fate has a massive glitter collection (“It would be the envy of even David Bowie,” she says) and a serious respect for her adopted home country’s pedigree. “Some of the biggest names in design have come from the U.K.,” says Fate, who runs Luna on the Moon with her husband Steve. “I remember studying Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood at university and feeling incredibly drawn to the U.K. sense of style and its history of pushing boundaries.” Her own bold accessories — handbags shaped like eyeballs and watermelon slices, fried-egg earrings — don’t just push boundaries; they steamroll them.
“Craft and design have always been strong in the U.K.; growing up in Worcestershire and studying art in Hereford, I was surrounded by people who were traditionally trained in all types of specialties, including ceramics, book arts, blacksmithing, printing, and silversmithing — like myself,” says London-based artist Haidee Drew, who brings historical references (and humor) to her artfully cut mirrors, architecture-inspired jewelry boxes, and sustainable bamboo cutting boards. “It’s this solid background that I think has allowed people to branch out and create more unique concepts and mix disciplines. When I was designing my ‘Handled’ boards, I really wanted to go back to my silversmithing roots, so I visited the [Victoria and Albert Museum’s] silver galleries in Kensington and looked at all the wonderfully ornate handles to draw inspiration for my designs,” Drew says.
Above all, the U.K.’s Etsy community is incredibly encouraging. Nicola Rowlands, who puts her quirky illustrations on everything from aprons to cards to custom plushies, was part of Etsy’s Craft Entrepreneurship program in Oldham, England, a town whose decline in business threatened its rich history of exquisite craftsmanship and textile production. Rowlands led a six-week course for a group of 20 people, teaching them how to turn their skills into Etsy businesses. “The students all made products at home but were unsure how to set up online and how to market their items,” she says. “It was really nice to share some knowledge and help them get their products out there.”
Just as Etsy’s Craft Entrepreneurship program helped a dwindling manufacturing town find a new groove, selling on Etsy enabled a meaningful life change for David Simak, who spent 15 years refining his pastry- and chocolate-making techniques in restaurants and hotels around the world before striking out on his own with his wife, Maggie. Now they make all sorts of confections, from salted-caramel marshmallows to whiskey-filled chocolate truffles, in the tiny kitchen behind their Edinburgh patisserie, Zukr, and find a strong second market for their goodies online. “Many people have great skills that drown in the daily life of working for someone else,” Maggie says. “[Running our own business] is like bringing colors to the grey canvases of our lives.”
Shop the Scene
If you’re inspired by the stories of these UK sellers, why not open your own shop? Get started with 20 free listings! Enter the code: MADEINUK2014 at etsy.me/