All's Fair 15th birthday
Monday, 3 February 2020 | Joanna
I was having a bit of a spring clean of the office and found this photo taken at one of our first outdoor market stalls in Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens. It dates from 2006. A year earlier, in February 2005, I had brought back two suitcases of stock - mostly scarves, wall hangings, wooden animals, black pottery, embroidered purses and seed jewellery - from a visit to Mexico. I would spend the next year trying to work out the best place to sell them. The business - called Aztec Arts for the first ten years - was conceived as an extra income stream for me and my friend Kath who lived in Mexico, and a way for us to support artisans in Mexico. Quickly we realised it was going to be harder than we ever imagined. In the first year our turnover was just over £1,000. I'd had some success selling on eBay but the fees were cripplingly high when the item didn't sell. We had a website built, but pay-per-click advertising nearly bankrupted us in the first 3 months. The first shipment of black pottery arrived in November and half of it was cracked and so damaged it was unsaleable. I remember the excitement of the first few markets when we would do a little dance if we sold a vase at £25, a major - and rare - achievement. It would be three years before we saw a profit. In 2007 Kath took the decision to leave the business and I started buying exclusively from UK based fair trade wholesalers. Joining BAFTS UK Fair Trade Network was a turning point. I realised there were lots of much bigger, more professional fair trade importers doing fantastic things to help artisans around the world, and their goods were popular and affordable. From then on I have bought almost exclusively from supplier members of BAFTS.
2008 was the big year for me. By now both Kath and my ex-partner Steve had left the business and I was a sole trader. I made a sale online most days, but working full time as an Office Manager - and without a car - I was being pulled in two directions. In July 2008 I reached a crossroads. I had the chance of a stall for 5 weeks on the Manchester Christmas market, which would mean giving up full time employment, buying a car and taking a huge leap of faith. I spent the weekend chatting to my Mum and she helped me make the decision. She offered me her old car and manpower to help me do the market if that was my choice. It was.
I would trade in Manchester for the next eight years, not just on the Christmas market but the twice monthly fair trade market and other craft markets around the city. I became known as "colourful bowls lady" with the signature recycled aluminium collection, which is still a staple of All's Fair's stock. A fellow trader suggested my goods would be well received at agricultural shows, and by 2013 I had a programme of events where I knew I could do well. Life was good. Then my new partner, Dave, was offered a very good job in Yorkshire and once again I had a decision to make.
I moved to Yorkshire in 2014 and had to start over. This gave me the opportunity to rebrand as All's Fair, to better reflect the origin of the products I sell now, but the move meant there was only one of my regular stalls where I could realistically continue to trade. Manchester was too far, York and Hull and Sheffield were within an hour but I knew nothing about these places. I booked a lot of disappointing events, making very little money (on one memorable occasion the stall fee was £15 and my takings were £13) before taking the decision in summer 2015 to open a Christmas pop-up shop in Selby.
The Abbot's Staith is a fantastic piece of medieval architecture and my 9 months trading in there led to me meeting lots of interesting people and learning a lot more about the history of my local town. But Selby's high street isn't an ideal environment for a fair trade shop, and health issues led me to close the shop in August 2016.
The last four years have seen All's Fair trade at city centre markets in Hull, Harrogate and Sheffield, food festivals in Malton, Selby and Holmfirth and at the Living North exhibitions in both York and Newcastle. The last 12 months alone have seen a burgeoning relationship with York's Spurriergate Centre.
Fifteen years on, the journey continues.
I wonder what the next 15 years have in store.....
15 years of All's Fair in numbers
Total spent buying goods to sell - £198,194.70
From 27 UK suppliers, 5 suppliers in Mexico and 1 in Thailand
Products from artisans and farmers working in 17 Countries
Argentina, China, Colombia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Palestine, Peru, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam
Events in 44 towns and cities around the North and Midlands - food festivals, craft markets, fair trade events, Christmas markets and more
Ashton-under-Lyme, Bakewell, Barnsley, Beverley, Bolton, Buxton, Congleton, Doncaster, Driffield, Edale, Glossop, Goole, Harrogate, Hayfield, Helmsley, Holmfirth, Hornsea, Huddersfield, Hull, Knaresborough, Knutsford, Leeds, Lichfield, Macclesfield, Malton, Manchester, Market Weighton, Mottram, Mansfield, New Mills, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Pontefract, Ramsbottom, Selby, Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent, Stockport, Thirsk, Uppermill, Wakefield, Wilmslow, Wigan, York