Saturday, 19 January 2008
Support Welsh Products - Avoid Imitations!
Welsh craft tradition under threat
Jan 19 2008 by Rhodri Clark, Western Mail
WALES is missing out on millions of pounds a year in income because of a glut of “authentic” Welsh souvenirs manufactured in Asia, a trade body claimed yesterday.
The Wales Craft Council says many tourists may think they are buying a genuine piece of Welsh workmanship when they are actually paying for a mass-produced trinket made thousands of miles away.
It says even lovespoons – the epitome of the Welsh craft tradition – are now being imported, with many being brought to Wales from Indonesia.
From tomorrow to Wednesday, craftworkers will exhibit in Llandudno at the Wales Spring Fair, where hundreds of buyers will choose some of this summer’s stock for UK gift shops. But many Welsh shopkeepers will ignore the event because they can get cheaper souvenirs from foreign countries where labour costs are low. Philomena Hearn, chairman of the Wales Craft Council, said she knew of one shop in Denbighshire which appeared to sell Welsh gifts but stocked nothing that was made in Wales. “Even the lovespoons come from Borneo,” she said.
“The general public assume lovespoons are made in Wales. I don’t know whether they care or not.
“Souvenir shopping isn’t why you go on holiday. You don’t spend a lot of time browsing for that gift to take back.
“You think you’ve found the perfect gift and it’s only when you give it to your friend or relative that you, or they, realise it’s made in Thailand or China.”
She said the Wales Spring Fair attracted buyers from Lancashire, but few from Llandudno itself. “This is a trade fair for selling Welsh things on their doorstep, and they can’t be bothered to come.”
Les Williams, whose Pageant Wood Products firm makes up to 7,000 lovespoons a year in the Conwy Valley, said lovespoon imports had begun about four years ago.
“We use local suppliers as much as possible and buy our timber as locally as we can. The wax we apply to the spoons is produced in South Wales.
“The imports coming into the country are ruining local crafts.
“The customers don’t know they’re imported. Importers can bring a product in and partly finish it off in Wales and say it’s Welsh. It could be just putting the labels on. They’re not employing craftworkers.
“These imported lovespoons are probably made on a computerised machine where you get a piece of timber, press a button and out pops a lovespoon. They’re all identical.
“The wood they use is a hardwood that isn’t native to Wales.
“Our lovespoons are made with hand-held tools. They’re all individual.”
His company employs four people in the market town of Llanrwst. “That’s important employment in such a small town.”
He said the imports succeeded because shopkeepers chose to stock them.
“We’ve got a lovespoon we sell at £2.50. If they can buy an imported one that’s roughly the same size and design for £1, they’re going to buy the one that costs £1.
“When I started in 1978 there was an awful lot of home- grown producers. Around 20 years ago Welsh dolls in the national costume were very popular. I know a lady in Betws-y-Coed who used to make them. She had to stop about 15 years ago, when the importers started getting them from places like Thailand.”
Mrs Hearn, whose craft is hand-painting silk and glass, said people were more aware of “food miles” and the benefits of buying local food, but were less discerning when it came to buying souvenirs which could have travelled thousands of miles.
Wales Craft Council members use a daffodil logo to symbolise a Welsh-made gift, but even that has been abused.
“We went to see somebody who was producing things with sewing machines. We thought their sewing machines were very dusty. It turned out the products were made in Poland and Lithuania.
“If anybody finds our logo on a product that’s not made in Wales, let us know.”
Footnote : I carved a lovespoon for my cariad Lowri Evans in 1959. It was made from sycamore. She was from the manse in Tyddewi. If anyone knows her present whereabouts perhaps you might let me know! Alan in Dyfed