The recent h+h Cologne event showcased a diverse array of crafting supplies, with European buyers showing cautious yet loyal purchasing habits

Three weeks ago, the creative world convened at h+h Cologne. About 12,000 trade visitors from 78 countries swarmed the three-story Koelnmesse hall to see the 300 vendors from 40 countries selling everything from high-quality scissors and iron-on patches to fine apparel fabrics and literally every type of yarn. 

Considering that h+h puts on two huge craft trade shows in Europe and the United States, I was curious about the differences. 

Darrin Stern, VP of h+h owner Koelnmesse, says one big difference is that fabric sales in Europe are more focused on apparel, while Americans are more crazy about quilting. There are also more small-batch manufacturers present in the North American show, such as indie dyers, where the European vendors tend to be large-scale. 

The visitor profile is the same for both shows — proprietors of retail stores looking to buy for their particular audiences — but European buyers tend to be more cautious. Buyers in the EU are slow to warm up to new vendors, Stern says, but once they find products they like, they stick with it long-term. That was apparent to me, as one fabric vendor had a sign up guaranteeing that current fabric colors would be available through 2027. 

A new market study from German creative industry organization Initiative Handarbeit and GfK found that German crafters spent just over €1 billion on craft materials in 2023. That’s a bit of a drop from the peak of the pandemic crafting craze of 2020, when it was nearly €1.4 billion, but overall more people are crafting today. According to the study, 85% of all women in Germany participate in crafts at least occasionally, up from 76% in 2021.

The big yarn players all had impressive fashion displays to represent current apparel trends, like this showcase of WoolAddicts by Langyarns.
Crafting trends shift as home decor projects surge by 10% from 2021 to 2024, surpassing adult clothing creations.

Initiative Handarbeit and GfK found that the biggest growth within the crafting space is in home decor: 39% of crafters said they worked on home decor projects in 2021, and that number jumped to 49% in 2024. The share of crafters making clothing for adults, by comparison, dropped from 37% in 2021 to 31% in 2024.

Anastasios Voulgaris, Creative Director at Burda Style, shared some macro trends influencing the projects and patterns they’re creating in 2024. “Neo-normal” is a new take on retro style that’s comforting and familiar. This is playing out with modern takes on power blazers from the 1980s and trench coats from the 1960s. “Easytopia” is a reaction to doom-and-gloom outlooks, with a playful, positive vibe. Voulgaris sees a romantic, feminine minimalism in this trend, with flowing fabrics that move well and new interpretations of jeans.

There is angst surrounding AI, but Voulgaris believes “AI will be a companion for human creativity, not replace it.”

I saw quite a few fun examples of combining craft techniques, like this knitting-embroidery mashup from DMC.
Marin y Carbonell was in Cologne representing fabrics from Spain. (Koelnmesse Bilddatenbank)
Vendors showed off their latest designs in a fashion show. (Koelnmesse Bilddatenbank)

Craft retail in Europe is much more decentralized than in the U.S. — there are no big box craft retailers that are present in every city. So the local yarn store and fabric store owners in Europe have much more power and ability to adapt to local trends and represent their own tastes.

Johannes Albert, a consultant who has a retail podcast called “Entfalte dein Laden” (German for develop your store), spoke about the importance of leaning into that uniqueness in a talk at h+h Cologne. In a time when retailers are facing big challenges from online sales and recession-stifled spending, individual local stores have the advantage of creativity and freedom, and customers rely on the expertise of those sellers.

Authenticity and personality are much more attractive than perfection and professionalism, he said, and he recommended that Germans embrace the American way of taking big risks and not being afraid of failure. “We can’t keep selling like it’s the 1990s,” he said. “Doing nothing is more expensive than doing the wrong thing.”

One might think that the internet has made trade shows less relevant. But in an industry as tactile as craft, buyers need to see and feel product in person before committing to an order. And trade shows offer discovery that online buying can’t. “Online you can only find what you already know,” Stern says.

FYI: Craft Industry Alliance members get free admission to h+h Americas, which is coming up May 1-3 near Chicago.

Would you like to continue to receive monthly updates on global craft industry news like this? Join Craft Industry Alliance as a corporate member, or upgrade, today to receive next month’s issue!

Grace Dobush

Grace Dobush


Grace Dobush is an American-born freelance journalist based in Berlin. She is the editor of ADP ReThink Quarterly, a global business publication for payroll and finance executives, and has written for publications including Fortune, Handelsblatt, Wired and Quartz. In her crafty history, Grace wrote the Crafty Superstar business guides for part-time crafters, and co-founded the Crafty Supermarket craft show in Cincinnati and the Midwest Craft Con craft business conference in Columbus.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This