It is a ritual that many have gone through after being made redundant, returning home after the deed has been done and staring at the kitchen table, wondering: “What do I do now?” Increasingly, it seems, Britons are finding the answer is staring them in the face.
The eureka moment doesn’t have to be caused by losing a job, it may be an attempt to generate some extra cash, to supplement an existing income. And it doesn’t have to be the kitchen. It could be the shed, the basement, the office, anywhere that people indulge in their hobbies — hobbies that are inspiring a new army of entrepreneurs.
Nila Holden, for example, set up her personalised biscuit business from her kitchen table after being made redundant from her public sector job. The mother-of-two has gone on to make biscuits for a member of the Japanese royal family and has secured a contract to supply Fortnum & Mason.
“Everyone loves to see their name on things, but not everyone gets this opportunity, especially if you have an unusual or exotic name,” she said. “I can solve this problem for my customers. I hand-stamped some beautiful Japanese names on to the cookies.”
According to The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and Etsy, an American arts and crafts website, there are 600,000 more “micro” businesses in the UK than there were in 2008, when the financial crisis hit. The explosion in such ventures has driven the likes of Etsy to expand further in Britain, tapping into the desire of part-time entrepreneurs to sell their goods.
The company was founded in Brooklyn, New York, in 2005 and enables people to buy and sell handmade crafts online. Since then it has gained more than 40 million members and last year sold about $1.4 billion-worth of products.
It needn’t always involve tiny sales volumes. In the United States, Etsy’s wholesale website allows retailers ranging from big national chains, such as Nordstrom, to museum shops and boutiques to sell goods made by Etsy vendors and designers. Those artists and designers pay a $100 one-time joining fee to become a member and then pay Etsy a 3.5 per cent transaction fee for any wholesale orders they secure.
For some designers, selling on Etsy can help to provide their big break. Reuben Reuel, a clothes designer who sells African-themed pieces on his Demestiks New York shop on Etsy, enjoyed a surge after his goods were worn by Beyoncé.
Etsy is preparing to launch an international version of its wholesale site in Britain next year and is understood to be in talks with department store groups, such as John Lewis and Debenhams, about creating a partnership similar to its one with Nordstrom.
Its drive is intended to capitalise on the broader trend of Britons working for themselves. The UK has one of the highest rates of self-employment in the European Union, with one in seven of the workforce doing so — a 30 per cent increase since the turn of the century. People running hobby-like ventures for a few hours a week form a significant part of the surge in self-employment. A recent poll by Aviva, the insurer, found that 44 per cent of part-time business owners were running a concern to supplement existing income from a full-time job.
Some ventures develop further. For James Ward, an illustrator, selling his designs for T-shirts on Etsy helped him to launch a full-time business, with a shop off London’s Brick Lane, and this year he created a design for Lacoste, the sportswear company. He has found that combining work and a hobby is not always a soft option, there is stress, so what keeps him going? “There is also the stress of not wanting to go back to working a ‘proper job’, where I am not drawing.”