The Craft Fur Duck

The old image of crafts needs changing.

by Mike Hartnett (May 21, 2007)

Why does the Wall Street Journal think we’re a “dowdy” industry? The answer goes back to the early days of the industry, when it wasn’t an industry as such. There were no craft stores as we know them today.

Needlework, knitting, florals, sewing, quilting, and framing were separate industries. Scrapbooks were simply photos glued into albums.

Back then “crafts” were little more than what Scouts did on a rainy day. A major category was “basics” – glue, chenille, pom poms, wiggle eyes, and plastic foam.

For many people, that was their first – and lasting – impression of what crafts are. It was my impression, too, and my early days in the industry did nothing to dispel that image.

I joined the industry in 1979 as Assistant Editor ofProfitable Craft Merchandising, one of the leading trade magazines. I didn’t know anything about trade magazines or the craft industry, but I was hired anyway.

Soon after I arrived, the editor gave me a how-to article to edit for the next issue. In those days there weren’t many instruction books, so the trade magazines would occasionally publish such articles to enable independent retailers to create made-ups for their stores. The instructions for that project were burned into my brain forever. Title: A Craft Fur Duck

1. Glue two plastic foam balls together.

2. Cover them with yellow faux fur. (Hey, this was a high class magazine; we didn’t call it fake fur).

3. Glue a plastic duck face to the front. (Yes, boys and girls, the industry used to sell plastic duck faces.)

4. Cut a couple of small pieces of chenille and jam them into the rear lower portion of the duck.

5. Jam two duck feet into the bottom. (Hey, if you sell plastic duck faces, you gotta sell duck feet.)

I recommended to the editor that we headline the article, “Take This Duck and Shove It,” but he demurred.

My first trade show.

A few months later I attended my first HIA trade show, 1980, in Anaheim. I was astonished by the size, but even more astonished by the made-ups in the booths. I called my wife that night and told her that I hadn’t seen a single project I’d want to have in our home.

It sure took a while for that to change. For a long time the trend was “cute.” Many designs – it seemed like most – had to fit into what I called the Smiling Bunny Syndrome.

Since then of course the situation has improved. Kid’s crafts, while still strong, are now only a department. Crafts has evolved into an umbrella term encompassing almost everything a creative person could want.

And the aesthetic quality of projects – well, there’s no comparison. At the 2007 edition of what’s now the CHA show in Anaheim, every booth I saw contained made-ups I’d be happy to have in my home.

But for many people, the Scout image lingers, and that’s why Martha Stewart’s active involvement in the industry is, in fact, a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you like Martha or her products; she deigned to appoint our industry as worthy of her interest, which should give millions of consumers permission to enter our stores and realize we offer far more than craft fur ducks.

(Note: To read previous entries in Kate’s Collage, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on this entry or any industry issue, email CLN