Although a trade expo like Autumn Fair has the whole range of gifts and homeware, whether you want a pair of earrings or a fireplace, as you walk around you tend to notice certain styles and fashions start to dominate. The more shows you attend, the easier it becomes to notice which are the new trends and which are the old reliable products. As a designer, it's important to be able to tell the difference because you can come up with something that's en vogue but will date quickly. Alternatively, a more timeless style might not be so eye catching but could provide you with more opportunities for sales in the long term.
Here are my 4 favourite trends I've picked out from this year's Autumn Fair. As before, company websites are linked to if possible and all copyrights are acknowledged and respected.
Huge Flower Canvases
Flowers are always one of the most popular subjects when it comes to affordable art. This year, though, dainty daisies are out and extreme close ups are in. Whether you choose a painting or photograph, the latest canvases are well over 20 inches square, exploding in colour and zoomed in so far you can count every grain of pollen.
Autumn and Spring Fairs always do a lot to promote ethical trade, using a special logo to indicate the most eco-friendly companies on show. In the past I've seen such great products as ornaments made from drinks cans and shopping bags made from juice cartons or newspapers. This year, though, the trend is for using wood that's recycled, reclaimed or those odd bits that can't be used for anything else.
Loftcat have import rights to this attractive driftwood mirror:
Driftwood Mirror by Loftcat
Driftwood is also used by Box Brownie Trading for a range of bespoke hand-made ornaments, including this 56 cm heart. It'll knock you back £125 but that's comparable to buying a good limited edition print and for that money you'll get something that's completely unique to you.
Driftwood Heart by Box Brownie Trading
They also make driftwood trees, 2 ft for £50, 3 ft for £75, which you could smother in tinsel, baubles and fairy lights for a more environmentally sound alternative to real or plastic Christmas trees. At those prices they would be a big investment which should last for many years and save a fortune in the long run.
Some of the most dramatic uses of wood came from Makasihome, with their range of furniture, mirrors, lamps and accessories made from tree roots. They are not only unique but full or character, with each piece being shaped around and inspired by the natural growth of the roots. A wonderful change from mass-produced furniture that would suit both indoor and outdoor use.
Root Chair by Makasihome
70's Childhood Nostalgia
Everyone loves to be reminded of the good old days, and this year they're aiming straight for the hearts (or should that be wallets?) of 40-somethings like me. Call me a sucker but I'm sold on it already!
It was rare to find a kid who wasn't into The Beano or The Dandy (Beano for me all the way) and Wild and Wolf have a new range of products reproducing strips from the golden age of both those comics. They're available on mugs, key rings, journals, playing cards, water bottles, flasks and even first aid tins.
Beano Tea Mug from Wild and Wolf
The same company also produce the Ladybird Archive Collection, which has won a Gift Association Gift Of The Year 2009 Award. The selection of products is mostly similar to the Beano and Dandy range, but based on those classic Ladybird books which taught all kids my age how to read. I especially like these activity kits which contain all the stuff you need to create the craft projects in the book (I had most of those books but I don't think I actually made anything from them!)
Ladybird "Things To Make" activity tin by Wild and Wolf
Pulpshop also use the iconic Peter and Jane Ladybird illustrations (by the late, Walsall-based, artist Harry Wingfield, incidentally - I'll never miss a chance to big-up a local) on homeware including aprons, mugs, cake tins, coasters, memo boards, tea towels and trays.
Children's Tea Party - Ladybird Classic boxed mug, £5.95 from Pulpshop
Although they don't actually use the Crayola brand name, this range of crayon mugs from Gift Republic looks a dead ringer for every kid's favourite colouring tools. There's 12 different colours to choose from, priced £5.99, each with an evocative name and a tag explaining why they're so called. To illustrate, I've picked 3 to match my blog!
Custard Yellow, Flamingo Pink and Black Cab mugs by Gift Republic
Bastardised Union Jacks
If you're in the UK, you very likely saw an example of this over the summer, as EDF Energy used a Union Jack made of differently-patterned green materials to promote its Team Green Britain campaign.
This fashion continues with a number of products I noticed at the show that take creative liberties with our flag. That would be illegal in some countries, you know!
Before you scroll down, have a think about the sort of products you might expect to fly the flag. We've seen it on T-shirts, Mini Coopers, Noel Gallagher's guitar, Geri Halliwell's dress, but I bet you'll never guess what the last product on my list's going to be...
The Union Jack is a design that's cropping up a lot on soft furnishings. This gingham cushion, jollied up with buttons and bows, is available for £15.95 from Dot Com Gift Shop on behalf of Rex International Ltd. A similar design is available on bunting, pennants, aprons and hot water bottle covers (mmm, it'll be winter far too soon!)
Vintage Union Jack cushion by Rex International
It's also, unsurprisingly, a popular image for adorning travel accessories. Flowers and polka dots form this pretty little passport holder from RJB Stone. You can also get a matching luggage tag, back pack and purse to fly the flag on your holidays. Bunting and a cushion complete this charming range of products.
Union Jack passport holder from RJB Stone
More travel accessories from Think Pink, taking the design to extremes but definitely getting away with it. Make an impact with a luggage tag, cosmetics bag, washbag and this weekend holdall:
Union Jack Weekender Holdall by Think Pink, £39.99
So now we come to that final product. The most unlikely use I have ever seen our national flag put to. Yet... I want one. I would do unspeakably pleasurable things to Santa Claus to have this in my house.
Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourself for...
The Union Jack...
Yes, no more pesky door open/closed conundrums with these little miracles, which combine flags with cute animals. What's not to love? The most bizarre thing is there's more than one company that makes them! The first two are by Cake:
Union Jack Dog doorstops by Cake
Duckling doorstops by Cake
The third is by Lucy Tom, who also makes Union Jack dogs:
Union Jack Chicken Doorstop, £25.00, by Lucy Tom
In my next blog, you'll find out why it could be good news for me that these Union Jacks are in fashion, as I finally get down to showing you some work in progress.