V&A Dundee

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How to stand out in a crowded design market

We can’t wait for our very first Festive Design Market featuring over 50 makers from across Scotland. But just how do you pull together such an event? And what can designers do to stand out?

Later this month our Festive Design Market will take over the museum for two days. It's been curated by pop-up legends Tea Green and will feature an eclectic range of amazing designers, some of whom have never exhibited in Dundee before.

Joanne MacFadyen, creator of Tea Green, gives us the lowdown and suggests what makers can do to give themselves and their work the best chance of standing out.

How did Tea Green start?

In 2014, while based in Vanilla Ink studios as their designer in residence, I came up with the idea for Tea Green. It was a pivotal couple of years for me; as I developed my practice as a designer and looked for outlets to sell through, I felt there just weren’t enough high-quality curated events to exhibit at.

This lack of opportunity drove me to set up my own. I was focused on championing the amazing creative talent across Scotland, whilst also understanding what it’s like to be an independent designer and, importantly, what’s involved in creating an accessible and engaging platform for the public to discover us on.

Pink background with painted mugs in front of it.
A roll of pretty wallpaper with animal characters on it.
Deep orange backdrop with barbed wire looped across it. An orange head and bust sculpture is adorned by a stunning fruity print scarf.
  • Ciara Isabel Ceramics

  • Awesome Alphabet wallpaper by Little Letter Studio

  • MiMi HAMMILL

What do you look for when curating a selection of exhibitors?

The quality and uniqueness of the work is key when curating the events. I am also looking for exhibitors who show a commitment to their creative practice and a level of professionalism.

It's really important for me that Tea Green showcases a vast and diverse selection of makers. It's vital that a wide range of disciplines, styles and tastes are represented and that it’s a welcoming and supportive place for makers at all stages of their businesses.

It can be hard for the public to find independent makers and I am committed to doing what I can to help connect as many as possible through Tea Green.

How do you whittle down the many submissions to the final selection?

It’s always a case of carefully going through each submission individually as they come in. That allows me to highlight those I feel are potential exhibitors for the event. Once the submissions are closed, I look at those who I’ve highlighted as a whole to get a feel for what will sit well together, making sure I’ve got a good balance of creative disciplines to offer an engaging showcase for the public.

Beautiful textile with natural tones.
Beautiful ceramic jugs in black and white.
  • Tori Gray

  • Steph Liddle

What's the hardest thing about putting together a market?

I will never enjoy turning people down. As a maker myself, I’ve been on the other end of that many times and it doesn’t feel good! There is also a huge amount of admin to deal with; as a creative person it’s certainly not a fun part of it. However, keeping on top of that is key to the smooth running of Tea Green and I have learned to love my spreadsheets: it’s all about keeping them very colourful!

What do you think makes for a "good" exhibitor?

Over and above creating amazing work, a ‘good’ exhibitor is someone who is clearly passionate about their work and is engaging with the public at the events. Selling at public events is an art in itself and many makers find it really difficult to sell themselves, so being able to push past that and have the confidence to get out there is the key to success.

What advice do you have for designers who want to sell at events like yours?

Stay true to yourself and always try to let your creative practice drive you. There’s a fine balance between creating commercial works that are your bread and butter, and feeding the creative fire that drives you. Give yourself time to play and experiment; selling work is important but your creative passion needs to be nurtured too so you can keep feeling inspired by your work.

On a practical level, make sure you get the best images of your work as possible. This is the first thing I look at from potential exhibitors. It’s what shows off your work and is worth investing in. Don’t sell your work short with bad images!

Finally, make sure you’re charging proper prices. It's tough when you start out to pitch your prices where they should be, but don't undersell the time, effort and expertise that go into your work. You won't be able to sustain and grow your business, so it's really important.

Speaking to other makers can be a great way to get a feel for where your price point should be. I highlight it to makers if I feel they should be charging more; sometimes it just takes someone else to see the value to give a maker the confidence to charge an appropriate price.

A pile of beautifully illustrated colourful greetings cards featuring animals.
Stunning dark ceramic bowls.
Beautifully designed large wooden forks.
  • Katie O'Mahoney

  • Wayne Galloway Ceramics

  • Louise Forbes

What do you really enjoy about curating markets?

A great community of amazingly talented makers has been built up by working with Tea Green and it is lovely to be part of that. Being an independent business can be really isolating at times and a huge amount of hard work. Knowing exhibitors have connected through Tea Green and have been able to share knowledge and experience with each other is something I’m really proud of. It’s really important for the creative community as a whole.

I really enjoy the events themselves too and seeing the empty tables spring to life when exhibitors get set up is such a wonderful moment for me.

Watching the public get excited by all the amazing work on show is great. We live in such a throwaway culture that seeing the public engage with (and purchase!) great quality hand-crafted items that will be cherished and last for years to come is so inspiring. Buy less, buy better, buy independent!

Joanne is an award-winning Scottish jeweller and DJCAD graduate based in Dundee and set up Tea green. All the designers featured in this piece are exhibiting at our Festive Design Market.