Folksy, invisible economies, and Artefact Cards

This was a wee inteeview for the Artefact Cards blog I carried out on email with Emily Barnes of Folksy (they’re also on twitter as @folksy).  Usually I keep the Artefact Cards interviews over there, but this turned into an interesting discourse on invisible economies, so it fits right at home on the Smithery blog too…


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JVW: Hello Emily.  Tell us about Folksy, and Frankly.  I tend to think of Folksy as a Tactile Tour of Britain…

EB: I love that image! is a place for UK makers and designers to sell their work. We believe in people and their talent to make things and our aim is to foster a vibrant economy of talented makers, built on craft skill. Like we used to have. We have around 10,000 active sellers at the moment and over 130,000 unique handmade items for sale. was set up just over a year ago to share our passion for making, leaving the Folksy blog for tips and advice for sellers only. However (exclusive!), next week Frankly and the Folksy blog are moving in together, having thoroughly enjoyed being neighbours for the past 14 months it’s now time to take our relationship to the next level. The Folksy Blog has given Frankly a key and we’ve been busy amalgamating our possessions.

The new Folksy blog will showcase the best in Folksy talent through the ever popular Meet the Maker strand, publish commissioned articles on selling online from industry experts like Yeshen Venema and Patricia van den Akker and be the perfect place for us and our community to pop in for a brew and share great craft inspiration together. We’re rather excited about it to be honest.

JVW: I think that’s interesting and smart; the story of making Folksy and making the things sold there in the same place.  It becomes the ‘town hall meeting’ for all things Folksy, perhaps?  Sometimes it’s about infrastructure, sometimes it’s about personal projects.  It feels like there really is a great community around Folksy, how does that come through online and offline?

EB: It’s something we’re wanting to focus on more this year. How do we create a real sense of Folksy being a ‘club’? At the moment the forums are a hive of activity, Facebook is an obvious source of conversation, shared ideas and inspiration, we have a huge following on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram and the blog is used frequently be readers who want to comment on posts or ask questions to featured makers.

The offline world of making generally fosters a great sense of community. There are local craft fairs in every town hall across the country and there is no better way to integrate yourself into that community than selling with them. Even as a buyer, craft fairs are the perfect place to get involved in your local making community; to meet makers, have a good old nosey at their products and hopefully come away having met a couple of like-minded potential friends.  Most towns also have craft groups that meet regularly to knit, stitch, paint, crochet, draw, build or bake. It’s a thriving community out there in the offline world, you just need to ‘want’ to be a part of it and be prepared to search it out.

This year at Folksy we want to take this sense of ‘community’ one step further. We want our community to feel supported, to come to Folksy to learn and share and be inspired, not just to buy. To be able to speak more freely to one another, to openly show which makers or products they like on the site. For the experience to feel more personal. Initially the new Folksy tumblr will do that but eventually we plan to add features to the site that really make people feel part of a supportive, nurturing, inspiring ‘making’ world. Lastly we’d love to run a summer school this year. We love online but offline can be so rich and the thought of that really floats our boat!

JVW: Part of the thing I like about the Artefact Cards is the notion of ‘hand-crafted ideas’, perhaps because a lot of my work is knowledge work and can be intangible at times.  Do you find some Folksy makers are balancing out an urge unfulfilled from a less tactile career?

EB: I spend a lot of my time speaking to makers and lots of them tell the same story that was told 100 years ago when domestic crafts became popular amongst housewives and young women. ‘Making’ allows them to fulfil a creative urge not met in their daily lives. Few of our community are interested in making a full time business from their making, choosing rather to use their kitchen tables and front room sofa’s to design and make in the evenings when the chores are done. It’s largely an invisible world and one we’re here to nurture and support.

JVW: From an economic perspective, I think that’s symptomatic of various things that have been cropping up in the last ten years.  The internet allows commercial activity on a small, precise scale for people, as they can connect to others who would never have seen their their work before.  Folksy lets the world walk past a someone’s handcrafted clock stall in Whitstable. 

So as more and more people do things like this, it becomes a more significant factor in the economy, and arguably those ‘invisible worlds’ are probably subtly changing a lot of the traditional economic measures and assumptions.  It feels important, in short, because I get the sense that the Folksy makers aren’t ‘internet entrepreneurs’, they’re people who make lovely brilliant things and can sell them easily on Folksy?

EB: That’s exactly why Rob and James initially wanted to create Folksy. They could see, and were impressed by what people were doing with their hands. And they could also see how difficult it was for those makers to be seen, to be accessible and to feel supported. Joining Folksy is no more difficult that filling out a form with your name, address and paypal details.

Of course the great thing about Folksy is that it also allows to create your own shop as a professional business if you want. We get makers who have ‘had a go’ at making a few things and just fancy listing them as an experiment and then we get makers who have spent a year doing market research and developing their brand and product collections before launching on Folksy as a fully functioning business. It makes for a broad range of practices, abilities and skills and that is one of the beauties of Folksy.

JVW: So, I saw a picture of you plotting something out the other day… what have you been using Artefact Cards for?

EB: The Folksy team like to get together every January and plan for the year ahead. I cover social media, marketing, PR and content so talking to the team about what I feel has worked, what hasn’t and my plans for the next year can leave me wandering aimlessly between branding, mail shots, Mollie Makes and Facebook insights. The Artefact cards just helped me order my thoughts in preparation for that meeting. They also serve as a good visual cue during the meeting and I think it’s useful to get them all out on the table and let the rest of the team ‘see’ what I’m thinking too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that way of working, lately; it’s like letting other people walk around in your ideas with their fingers.  When you put the cards down on a table, even though they are full of your words and drawings, they become common currency, everyone can play.  Which makes the cards different from notebooks or devices, which you feel weird about reading or using.

JVW: How did it go?

EB: Ask me again next week – the meeting was cancelled due to the snow. What I will say is that it did a great job of allowing me to jot down and organise my thoughts without having to cross things out, rip out pages or start again. The thoughts are there now to be moved around and played with as we see fit. They can be added to, taken away, moved into different categories or duplicated if need be and there is no end to the page! That’s a brilliant thing.

Thanks Emily
Artefact Cards