INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

For the seventh year running independent craft fair Handmade in Britain is set to take over the Chelsea Old Town Hall in Central London (8-10 November 2013) as it brings 100 individual designers into the public eye. Central St Martins College of Art and Design graduate and master weaver Piyush Suri talks to Sarah Roberts about the direction and ethos of the event and what's new for this year.

How did Handmade in Britain begin and what was the original idea behind it?

Following my graduation from St. Martins in 2003, as a designer-maker I looked for various platforms from which to launch my own label. It was difficult to find a good show. There was Chelsea Craft Fair but the application process was convoluted and trade shows were too expensive. I saw a niche for a British designer-maker show. When Chelsea craft fair moved on from the Old Town Hall I grabbed the chance to start a show specifically geared towards British craft and design. I come from India, a country very proud of its textile and handicraft traditions. I thought the idea would export well into Britain, this idea of taking pride in British made craft products, and so, in 2006, the idea for Handmade in Britain was born.

You mention your background is in textile design.

Yes, but initially I studied Mechanical Engineering in India. I specialised in total quality management in the textiles industry, which sparked my interest. I went on to study textile design at university and graduated as a weaver. Soon I was travelling to France and Germany for international shows and at some point I ended up in London. I fell in love with the city and applied to St. Martins. I was accepted and began my Masters degree in 2001.

Do you see a strong influence in terms of craftsmanship between India and the UK?

Definitely. I meet more and more makers and textile designers who travel to India to learn the craft of wood block printing and weaving and then bring those skills back to Britain.

Which area of India is most prevalent for those skills?

Different areas of India offer different specialities. For printing, most people travel to Delhi or Rajasthan. For weaving, Mumbai and the outskirts of Delhi are more typical. A lot of people I meet in Britain associate the art of textile printing most strongly with India.

How do you think the quality of craftsmanship differs between the two countries?

I would say that the Indian textiles industry is more skills-based rather than focussed on creativity. Britain is more concept-based. When I graduated from university in India in the 1990s, quality was always based on skill. As a student you had to learn the skill and adapt to the industry.

At St. Martins things were so different. Students discovered what they were good at and followed that. A lot of people who studied in Britain are now returning to India to teach design, taking this conceptualism to the industry. In Britain, creativity and concept were already established, but a return to handmade products is on the rise.

Handmade in Britain has a New Graduate Showcase as part of the show. Do you work with specific universities?

We are now working with various different universities to encourage young designers. This year we will offer commercial support to designer-makers in terms of how to run a business. In our showcase area five new designers will be helped with workshops and support for the duration of the fair.

You work with designers across a wide range of disciplines. Do all the designers hand-make their work?

We feel that a maker should know the process of how their products are being made and get involved to some extent. Everything has to be handmade in the UK.

Is the success of Handmade in Britain a result of public disillusionment with mass produced products?

Yes. People nowadays want to spend their money on quality rather than quantity and to know the story behind what they buy.

How do you see the future of British craftsmanship developing?

As a British designer I have done shows in places like New York where people always specifically come to see British design. Next year we are running a new trade show called CRAFT in association with Clarion Events who also run Top Drawer and HOME. CRAFT will specifically showcase handmade products from the UK and Europe. Some people who aren't in the industry tend to associate "craft" with the knitting of little cushion covers, toys and doilies and that is the picture I am trying to change. Craft can be commercial.

Finally, Piyush can you let us in on some of your favourite British designers from Handmade in Britain?

Yes, I go for very minimal design and ceramics are my weakness. A new designer that I spotted at Spitalfields and invited to exhibit at the show is OFFKUT. They combine wood and metal to create industrial looking lamps, they even use handmade filament bulbs!

Handmade in Britain 2013 will run from 8-10 November 2013 at Chelsea Old Town Hall, London.

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Sarah Roberts, Features Editor