The biggest change this year for German-based Prym has been the shift to ecommerce sales for their sewing and needlework products.

2020 has been a year that none of us could have predicted! Coronavirus not only caused massive disruption to everyone’s lives but it caused changes in many industries including ours. As we move into 2021 it’s clear that the shape of the craft industry has been permanently changed as a result of what has happened this year.

Our British based reporter Fiona Pullen, founder of The Sewing Directory, has spoken to representatives of a cross-section of the European craft industry to discover what changes they have seen in their business this year, and what trends they foresee for 2021.

Ecommerce surge

German based Prym, global supplier of creative sewing and needlework products, had anticipated their main challenges for 2020 to be Brexit and a stagnant market. Covid started to impact them in March when sales slowed down and they had to change their working patterns in order to keep staff safe. However, in April they saw a rapid rise in orders, they believe due to people spending more time at home, crafting for therapeutic reasons, and The Great British Sewing Bee airing in the UK.

The biggest change other than the sheer volume of orders, reaching a five-fold increase at its peak, was the shift to ecommerce. Traditionally their customers tended to prefer shopping locally, but the closure of local shops meant they had to embrace online shopping – and embrace it they did!

Mask making and scrubs sewing caused a huge demand for several of their products including mask kits, elastic, tape, and trimmings, anything that could be used to hold a mask in place. Everything sewing related was flying off the shelves, with their mini iron in particular proving a massive hit.  They saw 500% more orders for the mini iron in January to September 2020 than in the whole of 2019. Crochet hooks, especially the ergonomic ones also experienced a big surge in popularity.

Market wise they saw bricks and mortar retailers without online presences really suffer as the result of the lockdowns being imposed. Online businesses, especially those with easy to navigate sites and a broad product range, really benefited.

When asked what trends they predict for 2021, Nicholas Bralant, Sales Development Manager at Prym, said, “Sustainability is a key trend that we are committed to. We are moving toward nicer environmentally sustainable packaging styles, but also in general looking at things like carbon footprint.’’

They also see sewing baskets as being a good seller, plus navy as a key color for the spring. Their plum-colored sewing tools are growing in popularity with the younger generations its a gender-neutral color tone, so this is another growth area for next year.

Prym’s sewing baskets have been a top seller this year. They predict sustainability as a key trend for 2021 and have commited to it by upgrading their packaging to be plastic-free.

The possibility of domestic manufacturing

Hantex, European distributor for many sewing and craft brands such as Art Gallery Fabrics, By Annie and Cloud 9 Fabrics, initially expected that business would decline as physical stores closed when Covid-19 struck but things didn’t turn out that way.  They found online retailers needed stock very quickly as their demand suddenly surged.

‘’As a distributor we were faced with the challenge of a 100% increase in demand coupled with stock shortages as mills and factories closed and the supply chain came under pressure,’’ said Hantex owner Paul Smith.

The investment they’d made in recent years in systems, including online ordering platforms, really paid off during the restrictions. It meant they were able to provide their stockists with key details such as stock availability and due dates, and it allowed them to order items speedily so they could keep up with customer demand.

One of the biggest impacts they saw on the industry was the problems of mills shutting in places like Korea, China, and India with the domino effect of fabric ranges being out of synchronization with the season.

As for the future they believe this crisis has shown that online commerce encompassing B2B as well as B2C is a necessity rather than an option. Secondly, smaller scale manufacturing is being repatriating, bringing with it the possibility of “faster to market” products and smaller production runs.

‘’We’ve seen a marked increase in UK based smaller scale manufacturing which brings with it the need for locally sourced fabrics and products,’’ says Smith.

Hantex (warehouse pictured, left) had recently made upgrades to their systems and it paid off in being able to provide stock availability and due dates during COVID-19 restrictions. Sewbox (fabrics pictured, right) was not as impacted by restrictions as a small online family business working from home.

At-home businesses thrive

Sewbox, a British online dressmaking fabric store specialising in Liberty fabrics, saw a significant increase in both the volume and value in orders from the start of lockdown. They accredited this to brick-and-mortar shops closing, shows being cancelled, and people having more time to indulge in their hobbies.

As a small online family business working from home, they were not impacted by staff unable to come in or Covid workplace restrictions. Plus, Royal Mail, the British postal service, was able to collect parcels from their home address avoiding the need to travel to the post office. They believe the size of their business worked to their advantage, meaning they were easily able to adapt and continue to trade throughout.

As time progressed the order value started to reduce but there was still a large number of smaller orders. The uncertainty about job stability and concern for the future may have contributed to the spend reduction. A lot of their customers were making face coverings for themselves, friends and for charity. Another trend they spotted that was orders for patterns reduced; perhaps people were using ones they already owned or free downloads instead.

In 2021 they anticipate that although orders have reduced since the initial surge in the spring and summer they will still stay above normal levels as local lockdowns are in place, and the possibility of more waves of the virus or future national lockdowns still remains.

Plus, as Susan Stevenson, the owner of Sewbox, said, ‘’People are prepared to buy a slightly more expensive fabric like Liberty for face coverings as there are no restrictions yet in place on ‘prettiness’ and looking and feeling good.’’

Lockdown learning

Art and craft book publisher Search Press found Covid impacted their lives very suddenly. They went from what was initially a concern about getting books printed in Asia delivered to them on time to facing the impact, both personally and professionally, of a global pandemic. As with many of the other businesses in this feature they saw a massive increase in online sales.

‘’We saw many traditional brick-and-mortar businesses develop online presences, either full blown ecommerce solutions or more basic websites. We’ve always been keen to support the independent sector so we came up with a number of initiatives. Of great success was a popular direct dispatch service. Their customers benefited from free postage and packing and deep discounts, while the retailers gained substantial commission on sales attributable to them,’’ said David Grant, Search Press’ Director of Sales and Marketing.

Key performers during the height of the pandemic were Kawaii titles especially How to Draw Really Cute Stuff, along with introductory books like Watercolour for the Absolute Beginner and Acrylics for the Absolute Beginner. Other popular titles included Needle Felting for Beginners and Macramé for the Modern Home however they did spot an increase across the board in all subjects and skill levels. People seemed to use the time in lockdown to either learn new crafts, or build on existing skills.

Like Prym they are seeing a growth in interest in re-use and sustainability, with re-fashioning, recycling and modern mending becoming the buzzwords for 2021. Their 2021 titles will reflect that trend as well as focusing on personalizing and transforming, with makers experimenting with leftover fabrics and yarns to create individual, useable items.

Search Press (Textiles Transformed book pictured, left) saw a massive increase in sales in addition to issues with printing supply from Asia during the pandemic. Pound Fabrics saw a huge demand for plain poly cottons for use as hospital scrubs (Navy Polycotton pictured, right).

From scrubs to masks

Pound Fabrics, an online discount fabric store, saw a huge demand for plain poly cottons in the first few months after the virus hit, especially navy. People were using them to sew scrubs for hospitals. Polycotton sales stayed high for at least a couple of months with little supply and massive demand but this gradually died down again.

Orders still remained well above normal levels though, with demand switching instead to cottons being used for facemasks, a trend that they expect to see continue well into next year.

In summary it looks like businesses who could sell online were the ones who prospered the most during the pandemic. The lockdowns led new people into the industry, and encouraged those who already crafted to spend more time doing so, and build their skills. 2021 is looking like it will be another busy year for the industry, especially if we can retain those who have a newly discovered love of crafting. Sustainability is set to be a key trend, and the colour navy may be in demand. Face coverings are likely to be around for several more months, so fabrics and products suitable for making masks should continue to be in high demand.

Fiona Pullen

Fiona Pullen


Fiona Pullen is the author of Making & Marketing a Successful Art & Crafts business, and founder of The Sewing Directory.

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