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More Thoughts on the Bead Market

Comparing beads with other categories, and trends from the latest show.

by Deb Murphy and Katie Hacker (July 20, 2005)

(Note: the 7/4/05 edition of CLN and the previous Scene & Heard column include a description and analysis of the current state of the bead category. Here are more thoughts on the subject, inspired by the recent Bead&Button show in Milwaukee.)

Beads and other categories Deb Murphy.

My observations include beading (and "beadwork") as a broad, complicated, and creative art that includes, but is not restricted to, "stringing" beads as is common in the craft and fabric chains. That's the significant difference.

The Bead show reflects an art that includes original patterns, special tools, and complicated techniques just like knitting, crochet, quilting, and decorative painting that is NOT supported or promoted in chains where new components and projects using strung beads are the popular craft.

The innovation in craft and fabric chains is in types of beads to string (new crystals, new sterling, new glass, new acrylic, new findings), and in new projects for strung beads (watches, necklaces, bracelets). It does not broadly include or support bead weaving, lamp work, blowing, 3-dimensional construction, innovative materials such as etched dichroic, and innovative techniques, such as actually Creating the beads, one by one.

It makes sense that the mass market captures the techniques and components that are accessible, understandable, and affordable. Some of these customers migrate to artisan beading. Most do not. In this regard, beading in the chains is just like knitting most customers are stimulated and rewarded by finding new yarns and new patterns that do not require personal instruction same as dec painting, quilting, crochet, and needlework).

The role of "kits" in the bead market is to promote and distribute unique, original, complicated patterns designed by teachers for new projects just like knitting, dec painting, quilting, etc.

All of these categories are similar in many ways. The artisan influences trickle down to the mass market where the most accessible and central items and ideas are commercialized and widely distributed.

Scrapbooking is somewhat different. It does not require intense teaching of techniques it feeds on innovative uses, layouts, designs, surfaces, and components that are easy to understand visually. That is why its hard for independents to compete and survive profitably although they support and provide classes, the constant demand is for innovative new surfaces, designs, and components, not techniques or complicated "patterns."

And I believe that is one of the fundamental reasons why scrapbooking is uniquely and hugely successful across all channels mass, discount, craft and fabric chain, stationery, gift, grocery, drug, direct, web, and home party.

Beading books, kits, classes, beads, findings, tools and components obviously exist and are very successful in craft and fabric chains. What distinguishes the BEAD market is the artisan techniques, the handmade beads, the complicated patterns and techniques, and the reliance on teachers and designers for innovation.

Same story, generation after generation, traditional handcraft after traditional handcraft: Artisan to independent shop to mass appeal to chain distribution. And usually, the artisan marketplace pays no attention to the "craft" industry; it's the other way around, as it should be! Crafts is a feeder industry (and a VERY successful one!) for artisan handcrafting.

(Note: Deb President of Deborah M Inc., a product development/consulting company. She can be reached at dmurphy3388@earthlink.net.)

Trends from the Bead&Button show Katie Hacker.

Millefiori: Chinese-made in a wide variety of colors and shapes.

Kits: Saw lots of simple, trendy kits in addition to complex seed bead projects.

Turquoise & coral: Lots of turquoise and coral in all shapes, sizes and grades.

Shell: Large shell pendants (plain and carved) and unusual sizes and shapes of mother of pearl.

Wooden beads: Chunky wooden beads, plus pre-strung wooden bead bracelets and bangles abounded at the show.

Chain: Chain is hot! People are using it for charm bracelets, chandelier earrings and opera-length necklaces.

Bead accessories: Lots of groovy, retro-looking novelties like mouse pads that say "Bead Queen" and coffee mugs & t-shirts that say "beadfreak."

Collage jewelry: More found-object jewelry this year, from game piece bracelets to necklaces made from a collection of vintage doodads.

(Note: Katie teaches a lesson each week on the weekly PBS series, Beads, Baubles & Jewels. (Visit www.beadsbaublesandjewels.com.) She is also the author of Simple & Stylish Bead Accents and is a contributing editor and columnist for the new beading magazine, Simply Beads. (Visit www.simplybeadsmagazine.com.) Her new website is www.katiehacker.com and her email is katie@katiehacker.com. To read the previous Scene & Heard column about beads, click on the title in the right-hand column. To comment, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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