Chap. 2 : Craft Labrador’s Cultural Craft Development Workshops

This page is part of our Cultural Product Development learning module.

How We Did It

In 2015, Craft Labrador hosted a workshop to develop site specific crafts at Red Bay World Heritage Site with participants from the Southern Labrador region. In 2016 we brought together some of the participants from the Red Bay workshop along with new participants from the Battle Harbour region for a workshop to develop site specific crafts for Battle Harbour National Historic Site. In 2017 we did the same at Point Amour Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site.

Each of these workshops presented local craft producers with a challenge – to draw inspiration from the historic site to develop new crafts to sell to visitors who come to the site. Our goal was to design new crafts together as a group and learn about the selling process together as a group.

The scheduling was different for each workshop, but the process was the same in each place:

  1. Consultation
  2. Recruit Participants
  3. Tour the Historic Site
  4. Brainstorm Ideas
  5. Choose Group Leaders
  6. Order Materials
  7. Product Development Workshop
  8. Business Discussion
  9. Meeting at the Start of the Tourism Season
  10. Follow-up at end of Season
Three Historic Sites: Point Amour Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site; Red Bay Basque Whaling Station World Heritage Site; Battle Harbour National Historic Site and District

A note about scheduling

Our schedule changed with each workshop, partly because the needs were different for each location, and partly because we learned from each workshop as we went along.

Red Bay: 4 day workshop

  • This was our first workshop and we did a lot of pre-planning with our partners during the initial consultation.
  • We identified group leaders, materials and some patterns before the workshop.
  • We had a four day workshop in the spring with the tour and brainstorming session on the first day and the craft design workshops on the two days that followed.
  • During the final day we did our business discussion. We had a discussion about quality standards for our new products, priced them and wrote messages for hang tags for them. Some people continued to work on their crafts during the discussion.
  • We met again a month later at the start of the tourism season to bring our crafts to the gift shop at the site.

Battle Harbour and Point Amour workshops: 1 day tour, 2 day workshop, 1 day discussion

These workshops were held in the fall. For the Battle Harbour workshop we had several considerations to take into account. We had to have the tour on the last day of the tourism season, we had to work on the weekends so that all of our participants could take part, and we wanted a break to work on our crafts before the final day. As a result, we ended up breaking up the four days.

  • One day tour and brainstorming session.
  • Two day craft design workshop – over a weekend.
  • Break: one week break for Battle Harbour workshop and a one month break for the Point Amour workshop.
  • One day follow-up: discussion of the business of crafts, showing the final crafts and finishing up a few things.
  • Meeting in the spring at the start of the tourism season to bring crafts in to the gift shop at the site.

For our Southern Labrador workshops we were bringing together participants from many small communities over a stretch of 200 km or more. We had to consider travel as well as the participants’ schedules.

2.1. Consultation

To develop our workshops, we began by consulting local partners. Depending on the place this might include the historic site staff, the craft shop staff, craft groups, key individuals in the craft sector and key individuals from the tourism sector.

It was important for us to begin with an understanding of the tourism site we were planning to create products for. We also had to learn about the people who visited the site.

Visitor profiles from the site staff gave us information about:

  • The average age and income of visitors
  • Where they come from
  • How they arrive in Labrador
  • Differences between individual travellers and group travellers

Information from gift shop staff told us:

  • What their spending habits are
  • What they are finding in the shops now
  • What they are looking for that they can’t find – where there are gaps in the market
  • Differences in the way individual travellers and group travellers buy crafts.

It is important to know not only who the visitors are who come here, but how many, and how they get here. Visitors on a tour bus can only buy what they can fit in their suitcase, but individual travellers, in their own vehicle, are able to purchase larger items.

Another important thing we learn is what visitors take away from the visit:

  • What they experience while they are here
  • What they are looking for in terms of a memento of the visit.

Local tourism partners already have a lot of information about tourism and crafts. For example, in Red Bay we learned that there were a lot of traditional handmade crafts like knitting and hooked Matts in the gift shop, but Parks Canada had identified a need for crafts that reflected the artefacts that visitors saw when they visited the site. Our group concentrated on site related crafts for the workshop using materials we saw there and referring to the artefacts in what we created.

At Point Amour Lighthouse we learned that even though the site is a maritime history museum, visitors spend a lot of time outdoors at lookouts and on trails. The natural environment is a big part of the experience there, so we included crafts that were about wild plants and seabirds in our workshop.

During the consultation process we learned that bus tour visitors are looking for small items and often collect one small thing from each place they visit. We learned that large items tend to sell in the fall when there were more individual travellers.

The initial consultations with local partners gave us a picture of how the tourism industry and the gift shop work together and helped to identify opportunities for local craft producers to make and sell crafts to each site.

The Museum Gift Shop at Red Bay specialized in traditional local crafts, such as knitting, quilts and hooked mats. The workshop was designed to develop crafts relating to the 16th C Basque artefacts in the museum. Crafts by Southern Labrador Women’s Institute.

2.2. Recruit Participants

Not everyone who makes craft is interested in selling them. Our workshops were planned to design crafts to sell, but some of the participants were more interested in designing than selling. Some people surprised themselves though, and at the end of each workshop we had some producers who had never sold before bringing products to sell at the tourism site.

We found that contacting people individually was the best way to encourage craft makers to participate in the workshops. Our workshops were different from previous craft workshops offered in the region and it took some explaining. Posters and social media posts can be a starting point, but for us, a conversation seemed to work better.

Individuals who participated in the first workshop helped spread the word about later workshops. After the first one we always made an effort to include some of the experienced participants in the next workshop.

Instead of instructors we had group leaders – local individuals who could assist a small group of people to experiment with a specific craft. The group leaders were also participants in other activities during the workshop.

We had around 16 participants in our workshops. We always had a mix of skills, and a mix of experiences. We included a youth activity in each workshop and partnered with the school, the CYN or Youth Ventures to recruit youth participants.

2.3. Tour the Site

Our starting point for the workshop was to become tourists ourselves – put ourselves in the visitor’s shoes. It was important for us to learn what tourists take away from their visit to Labrador and to each specific site. What do they experience while they are here, and what are they looking for in terms of a memento of their visit?

The first and most important part of our workshops has always been to visit the historic site as if we were tourists. We tour the site in detail with the site staff and our participants. We learn about the site the way a tourist would, but at the same time we use our skills as artists and crafts people to look at materials, textures, colours and techniques that we can later use to develop new crafts.

Workshop participants examine artefacts at Red Bay Historic Site.

We take in the stories being told at the site, the artefacts and images associated with the stories, and we think about how to create a memento of the stories in craft.

We also visit the gift shop at the historic site and talk to the staff there. There we learn about what is selling now to visitors and what visitors are asking about.

2.4. Brainstorming Session

Immediately following the tour, we have a brainstorming session. The brainstorming session is a discussion where we share all the ideas from the group and try to get them recorded in notes. The group leader asks a series of questions to help the discussion along and will list the answers on a flipchart. Later the notes from the flipchart will be typed up and emailed to all the participants.

We ask participants to bring some samples of crafts that they make. The group can look at the crafts before or after the tour. This was a good starting point for the group discussion and helped to inspire us when we considered what new crafts we could make.

The skills we bring to the workshop: Samples of work by Eva Luther, Karen Chubbs, C. Colosimo.

We start with questions about what we bring – our skills and traditions. Then we talk about what we saw at the site. We end with questions about what type of new crafts we could make.

Here are some of the questions we use:

  • What skills do we bring?
  • What did we see on our tour?
    • What colours and textures did we see?
    • What are the iconic images we remember from the tour?
    • What shapes did we see?
    • What materials did we find at the site — in exhibits, buildings or in historic photos?
  • What are the themes from the site?
  • What are the stories that we discovered on our tour?
Themes from Point Amour Lighthouse: Nautical Theme inspired the nautical flag apron by Karen Pye.
Themes from Point Amour Lighthouse: Lighthouse People theme inspired the Lightkeeper’s Cap by Karen Pye.

We take each theme or story and talk about how we could develop new crafts for the site. Our participants had a variety of skills and backgrounds – some were skilled at patternmaking, some had extensive experience working in the tourism industry, some were skilled at making traditional crafts. At this point we start identifying specific crafts that we can make in the workshop – taking into account the information we know about who the visitors are and what they are looking for, as well as what we have seen at the site and what skills we each bring to the group.

In each workshop we came up with more ideas for crafts in the brainstorming session than we could make in our craft design workshops. We identified the ones we would develop during the workshop but many of the other the other ideas were developed as well – after the workshop – by participants and other craft makers.

Tote Bags inspired by materials we saw in the museum at Red Bay and developed during the workshop.
We didn’t have the skills or materials in our group to make the ring we saw in the museum, but after the workshop, Parks Canada staff took these ideas to another Labrador craft maker and had them made for the site. Jewellery by Barrett Jewellery Designs.

2.5. Group Leaders

Rather than hiring instructors from outside the region, we hired local group leaders. They provided guidance to each group, but rather than a teacher-student type of interaction, we have more of a neighbour helping neighbour relationship. That relationship develops beyond the group leaders and throughout the workshop – anyone who has a skill that the group or another individual needs, will help out. Those who have traditional skills demonstrate and share them with the others. Individuals who could make patterns shared them with the group.

We identify local individuals to be group leaders – to guide specific activities in our product development workshop. Sometimes they will make patterns and samples beforehand, sometimes they will be guides to a more experimental approach where participants each experiment with materials. Our approach is to “learn from ourselves”. The group together has a wealth of skills and experience.

Often we identify our group leaders during the consultation stage. There are individuals in each community who are a natural fit for this role – craft makers who are highly skilled and willing to share skills and patterns. They are often the traditional knowledge keepers of the community as well.

Eva Luther demonstrates a traditional braiding technique at the Battle Harbour workshop.

2.6. Order Craft Materials

Group leaders helped the workshop facilitator to identify what was needed. Sometimes this had to be done right after step 1 because of the length of time needed to bring materials in. Timing is important in Labrador!

We tried to order more materials than we needed so that participants could experiment in the workshop and take some home to make crafts to sell during the tourism season. Participants brought their own tools unless we needed something specific or new.

2.7. Product Development Workshops

This is where we brought together our skills, the ideas we came up with after the tour, and appropriate craft materials and we designed new crafts. Usually the group leaders made patterns ahead of time, but there was also a lot of experimentation in the workshops. We tried to have extra materials to encourage people to try something new.

  • We had from 4 to 6 different activities at each workshop. The activities were chosen based on the skills we had and appropriate materials. The materials might be appropriate because they were traditional, or historic, or suitable to the crafts we were designing.
  • In Red Bay we had activities for knitting, sewing, slipper making, jewellery and design.
  • In Battle Harbour we had activities for duffel, knitting, landscape quilting and jewellery making.
  • At Point Amour we had activities for working with fish leather, working with polymer clay, working with felt, sewing, painted wood, natural dyeing and silk painting.
  • The activities were a half day or full day and 2 or 3 activities were going on at the same time. Participants were in small groups and had to decide which activities they would do. It was a bit hectic now and then, but it was always a very creative environment. We tried to time the activities so that the group leaders could be participants too.
  • We had two full days of craft making workshop activities. We had demos as well as workshop activities. The demos provided an additional way to learn about something new but didn’t take as much time.
  • The final day is half day of finishing up crafts and a half day for the Business of Crafts discussion.
Many hands make light work. Participants at Craft Labrador Cultural Product Development Workshops

Youth Activity

In every workshop we had an activity for youth. We partnered with the CYN and Youth Ventures to recruit youth participants. In the three workshops combined, we had about 30 participants.

  • In Red Bay we scheduled the slipper making activity from 3-6pm so that students could join us after school.
  • In Battle Harbour we made earrings and the Youth Ventures coordinator brought participants who were interested in starting a business or who already had a Youth Ventures business. We provided jewellery packaging so the students could see how professional their work would look when it was packaged and ready to sell.
  • At the Point Amour workshop we had a paint night with youth from the CYN. Our instructor was one of the group leaders from the design workshop.
Youth workshops

2.8. The Business of Crafts Discussion

This is where we talk about pricing for the specific new products we have made. Often we have taken a break for a week or two before this so that participants can work on their crafts at home. They then bring in finished products for the pricing discussion which takes about half a day. It is important to remember that pricing is a balance between what it costs to make an item and what the customer will pay for it.

For a full discussion of craft pricing, you can go to our Craft Pricing Workshop.

Pricing is a Balancing Act

If we price our crafts too low we lose money. If we price too high we lose customers. It was important to take the time to figure out just how much it cost to make the new crafts we designed to ensure we would be paid properly. By working out the pricing as a group it helped give each of us confidence to set a fair price for our work.

Once we knew the real value of the item, then we had to look at what similar products were selling for, and what the customer would be willing to pay for that type of product, and then evaluate our price.

Pricing: Wholesale, Retail and Consignment

In our discussions we talk about pricing formulas and ways to include something towards overhead costs in the formula. Overhead costs are the extra costs over and above the cost of materials. Overhead might include the cost of your tools, the cost of the space you work in and the cost of running your business.
There are lots of pricing formulas and you need to experiment to find what works for you.

We found a simple and effective formula that was being used by one of our participants and we ended up using that in our two most recent workshops. This formula doubles the cost of materials and adds labour to get a wholesale price: Materials x 2 + Labour = Wholesale.

We used the pricing formula to price products that we made in the workshop. Here is an example:

  • If our materials cost $10 and our labour cost is $12, then
  • Materials x 2 = $20 + Labour $12 = $32 wholesale price
  • If the shop we are selling to has a 50% markup for consignment items,
  • $32 wholesale price + 50% markup of $16 = $48 retail price

Our workshop participants found that this was a simple way to price their work. By doubling the cost of materials we add something to cover overhead, but the wholesale price is kept at a reasonable amount. If you find that doubling the cost of materials isn’t enough to take into account your overhead costs, you could triple it or find a different formula.

Because we were working with a retail gift shop in each of our workshops, we had to determine a wholesale price. This is the price you quote to a retailer who wants to sell your work in their shop. The retail shop adds a mark-up – a percentage to pay for their own profit, labour and overhead costs running the shop.

Some shops are operated by non-profit groups and some are operated by businesses. The markup might be different at each shop.

If you are selling your crafts on consignment, the retailer doesn’t buy them and only pays for the items that are sold. The item remains your property until it’s sold to a customer. The retailer will return the unsold items to you. Make sure you have a receipt or contract for the items you leave with the retailer. Some retailers pay each month for the consignment items that have been sold, and some pay at the end of the tourism season. The shops we worked with were only open during the tourism season.

In Southern Labrador, the markup for consignment items varies, but 50% to 60% is common. Using the pricing formula example, the wholesale price is $32. With a markup of 50%, our craft item will sell for $48 in the retail shop.

If the retailer buys your products from you and owns them, they usually add a 100% markup. This is to cover their overhead, labour and profit. Using the pricing formula example, the wholesale price is $32. With a 100% markup, the retail price is $64.

Most retail store owners and buyers expect to be able to purchase your product at half of the retail price if they are interested in placing a wholesale order.

Alternative to a Pricing Formula: Working Backwards

Some of the items we made in the workshop were difficult to price using the pricing formula. In those cases, we worked backwards. We started with the retail price and worked out if the wholesale price was enough to pay us for our labour and costs.

For example:

  • If a pair of earrings can be sold for $32 retail,
  • And they are sold on consignment with a 60% markup,
  • The craft maker will earn $20 and the shop will earn $12.
  • The wholesale price is $20.
  • We have to ask ourselves: Can the earrings be made for $20? Will we be able to pay for materials, labour and overhead?

If the answer is yes, then this is a good item to make to sell on consignment. If the answer is no, we might want to either change the way we make the item to reduce costs, or decide not to make them for sale.

Hangtags: Telling the Story that Sells the Craft

Part of our business discussion was spent describing each newly designed craft in a way that we could use on a hangtag. For example, on the tag for our duffel polar bear we wrote:

Every year polar bears travel with the spring ice and the seals. They are seen frequently in Battle Harbour and nearby coastal communities.

Handmade in Labrador of 100% wool duffel, a traditional material that has been used for clothing in Labrador for generations.

When visitors buy crafts in Labrador, they aren’t just buying a pair of slippers or earrings; they’re taking home a memory. Every craft has a story. It might be the story of the place, the craft maker, or the generations of makers who continue traditions. If the craft maker isn’t there in person, they can still tell the story to a visitor through a hangtag.

Visitors like to know that the craft they are purchasing is hand made in Labrador by a Labrador producer. Hangtags can also be used to tell the customer the story of the craft – the skills, knowledge and traditions that go into the making of it. Visitors can bring home the story and the handmade craft as a memento of their visit to Labrador.

Hangtags from our Battle Harbour workshop. Necklace by Eva Luther, Duffel Polar Bear by Karen Chubbs.

2.9. Meeting at the Start of the Tourism Season

To finalize the process we met again at the start of the tourism season to bring the products we made to the gift shop. This gave us an opportunity to have a group meeting with the retailer. The group meeting started a relationship with the retailer and took the pressure off of individual producers to introduce themselves and their products. The group meeting also provides an opportunity to have a final discussion about pricing, production techniques and quality standards.

Crafts our participants brought for sale at Battle Harbour General Store at the start of the tourism season.

The Red Bay workshop was held in May. Participants were given leftover materials from the workshop and we got together again a month later, at the beginning of the tourism season, to bring in the products participants had made to sell in the museum shop. The Battle Harbour and Point Amour workshops were held in the fall and participants were given leftover materials from the workshop to make products over the winter. We met again at the start of the season to bring those products to sell at the Battle Harbour General Store and Lighthouse Gift Shop.

2.10. Follow-up at End of Season

After all of our work, we wanted to know how our crafts sold. It is important to learn as much as we can about how visitors reacted to the new crafts. That way we can perfect the products, or concentrate on the products that were most in demand for the following year.

After a season of sales, we made sure to contact the retailer to see how things sold and what we could learn for the next season.

Some of the things that we’ve learned are:

  • When using historic patterns we need to check the sizing and make sure the item fits for modern purchasers.
  • Some products didn’t sell because the price was too high for the type of visitors to that area.
  • Some products sold better if the price was higher, because the visitors didn’t think it was handmade if the price was too low.
  • Some products needed small changes to make it more obvious that there was a connection to the site.
  • Hangtags that tell the story of the craft can really improve sales.
  • Visitors are more likely to buy an item if it is about something they have seen on their trip and if it is unique to the location.
  • Quality and authentic materials are important factors when visitors are considering buying a craft item.
  • Visitors look for crafts that are hand made in Labrador.

Visitor traffic can change over a few years and products can become more or less popular depending on what kind of visitors the site has. For example, if a location has a lot more tour bus traffic than in previous years, small items will sell better and it would be a good idea to have a way to provide more of them if the shop sells out of those items.

We have had several follow-up meetings since the workshop in Red Bay. The new products have sold well and each season new products have been developed, and new producers are making crafts based on ideas from the workshop. Site-specific crafts now make up over half the sales in the Museum Gift Shop.

Display of workshop participant’s crafts at Lighthouse Gifts, Point Amour

The workshops at each of the sites have helped to develop a relationship between the historic site and the local craft community. They provided an opportunity for craft makers to experiment, to work out pricing, and to meet with the retailer. They have also provided the historic sites with unique, locally made, site related cultural craft products.

What lessons did we learn in our workshops?

  • “Learning from ourselves” is a process that works. We can use the skills and knowledge we have in our communities to design attractive new products for the tourism industry.
  • Quality is always important.
  • Allow yourself a trial period to test products. If a product doesn’t sell, learn from that and try to get closer to a product that matches what the retailer and the visitor is looking for.
  • Be aware that tastes and trends change. You may need to alter a successful product after a few seasons.
  • Tourism sales are seasonal. Plan your production and purchases
  • If you make something that sells well, be prepared to make as many as you can sell. The retailer can give you an idea of what that may be. If you have leftovers at the end of the season, you can keep them for the start of the next season.
  • Tell the story. Visitors won’t always know why something takes a long time to make or why certain designs are particular to your community. Find a way to let visitors know about what story the craft tells.
  • Not everyone who participates in the workshop will be interested in selling crafts. The workshop will give participants an understanding of how they might make crafts to sell in the tourism industry. We have found that some participants and group leaders who have never sold crafts to visitors before have tried after the workshop — and have surprised themselves with the success of their sales!
  • There may be opportunities to demonstrate how crafts are made at your local historic site or visitor attraction. Craft demonstrations do help to increase sales of local handmade crafts. Visitors enjoy learning the story of how and why local crafts are made. The story sells the craft — visitors are then more likely to buy a local craft to remember their trip to Labrador.
Christmas at the Lighthouse theme
Christmas crafts for the lighthouse gift shop