This module is about how craft and tourism can work together to develop crafts for the tourism industry and opportunities for craft makers.
Over the past few years Craft Labrador has been helping craft makers in Southern Labrador to develop craft products that could be sold at local tourism sites. The need for authentic crafts for historic sites was identified by the tourism sector. Craft Labrador brought craft makers together to explore the historic sites and to develop new crafts inspired by what we saw there.
Using local skills, and materials that had a connection to the story being told at the historic site, we experimented and came up with new crafts to sell. We discussed pricing and met with the retail gift shop as a group. It was a new process for all of us, including the retail shops, and together we found ways to make new products that created a memory of Labrador for visitors and made money for people who love to make crafts.
If you read on, you’ll find out how we did it.
Thank you to the heritage site staff who helped facilitate the workshops at Point Amour Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site, Red Bay Basque Whaling Station World Heritage Site and Battle Harbour National Historic Site and District.
A cultural craft tells a story – the story of where it came from, who made it, the culture and heritage of the place. A cultural craft has an authentic relationship with the people and the place it comes from. What does that mean? It can mean a craft that has always been made in a traditional way, or something that is inspired by the people or the place. We will talk a lot about historical places in our discussion, but cultural crafts can also interpret present day culture and the natural environment.Authenticity is important to visitors who purchase crafts as a memento of their visit to Labrador. The materials used to make the craft need to have a connection with the place – whether they are traditional materials or materials used to reinterpret something from the culture or the historic site. Quality is important. And the most important factor is that the craft is made by a Labrador craft maker.
One of the most well-known traditional crafts in Labrador are Innu Tea Dolls. They continue to be made in the traditional way and are only made by an Innu craft maker. This is an example of a traditional craft that is the real thing. Other examples of the real thing include grasswork, skin boots, traditional knitting, and items like snowshoes that are part of everyday life in Labrador and are made in a traditional fashion.
Art objects, like paintings and carvings, and one-of-a-kind items like wall hangings or jewellery also fit into this category. They might be modern and not traditional, but they are original and they are part of the culture of the local area.
A reproduction is a copy of an original item. The intent of the craft maker is to use the same materials and techniques and make an exact copy. This is a type of craft that we see at historic sites. They are often difficult and expensive to make.
Reinterpreting an original item means that the craft maker didn’t make an exact copy, but added something of their own style, or design to the item. Sometimes this is done because the traditional materials or techniques aren’t available. Sometimes it is done to update the item for modern use. In our workshops we thought of this as “our interpretation of” the original item.
A craft maker can be inspired by something from nature or something from the past and use their creativity to make something completely new that still refers to the original thing. It might be an item that is made with traditional materials, but in a completely new design, or it might be something that uses an old design in a completely different type of craft. The possibilities are endless, but the story of the craft and its connection to Labrador should still be evident.
Visitors to Labrador want to experience what makes the place and the people unique and different. When they look for a craft item to bring home with them, they are looking for something that evokes a memory of their visit, or something that tells a story about Labrador.
We can find inspiration in traditions, in history in the natural environment and in everyday life.
Related: A Buyer’s Guide to Labrador Crafts
In 2013, The Labrador Craft Marketing Working Group undertook the Labrador Craft Study. Craft producers and businesses from across Labrador participated in the discussions. The study resulted in a craft development strategy that we are now implementing. The document is available on our Documents page.
The first item in the strategy is to develop a Labrador-wide communications network for the craft sector. We have set up a mailing list, Craft News, to communicate with the craft community throughout Labrador, as well as this website. You can also find Craft Labrador on Facebook and X.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Information from gift shop staff told us:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
Whether you are an individual craft person or part of a craft group you can use the lessons we learned in your work. You can start by expanding your knowledge of tourism and crafts:
We can learn a lot from other regions of Labrador. In Labrador West, the Indigenous Service Centre hosted a craft workshop where participants shared expenses. You can learn about their process here.
If your local craft group would like to try what we’ve done, but it looks too complicated, you could try one craft idea at a time, and work within one community – so you don’t have to include travel.
If some members of your group want to learn to sell crafts, and try this process, you could:
We can learn from other cultural craft projects such as the Traditional Skills Network. See our interview with Serena Etheridge.