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Amid Brexit Uncertainties, UK Appetite for Gifts Remains Undiminished

While anything Union Jack-motifed may be a little hard to export to most parts of the EU right now, Brexiting Britain seems to have lost none of its innate love for sustainable penguin knapsacks or eco-friendly Fair-Trade placemats

Photo: Off-colour: Patriotic UK pottery is no longer one of the EU’s favoured imports.
Off-colour: Patriotic UK pottery is no longer one of the EU's favoured imports.
Photo: Off-colour: Patriotic UK pottery is no longer one of the EU’s favoured imports.
Off-colour: Patriotic UK pottery is no longer one of the EU's favoured imports.

Although the wider UK economy may find itself adrift in uncertain times, particular aspects of the country's home and gift sector are demonstrating a remarkable resilience. Notably, of the more than 850 exhibitors participating in this year's Harrogate-hosted Home & Gift Buyers' Festival, those offering distinctly eco-friendly products appeared to be doing unusually brisk business.

One such in-demand exhibitor was Tyrrell Katz, a London-based supplier of recyclable cups, bags, towels and much more, all featuring the distinctive designs of Founder James Tyrell, which currently range across cars, princesses, dinosaurs, penguins and unicorns. Outlining the reasons for the company's continuing viability, Sales Manager Natalia Cipi said: "For us, the kids' market is still strong, partly because we deal in practical products – necessities, in fact. As we use durable, long-lasting materials, such as melamine, they're also eminently reusable.

"James founded the company about 25 years ago after graduating from design school and some of his creations – such as Dinosaurs and Ballet – have been part of the mix since day one. While, along the way, we've added in things like unicorns in order to keep up with the latest trends, mostly we've stuck with classic kids' themes. For us, it's largely about identifying new products and incorporating them into our existing range of designs. Having said that, we do try to release at least one new design a year. Most recently, we've introduced Ocean, a design that is perfect for the summer. Meanwhile, for Christmas, we'll be focusing on our range of pillows, blankets and wall stickers."

At present, Tyrrell Katz exports throughout Europe and has found particular success in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Further afield, it has also made inroads into Japan, Singapore and Lebanon. According to Cipi, by and large its products are bought for children, although it is not unknown for adults to buy them on their own behalf. Expanding on this, she said: "In the UK, you get the odd range, such as Penguins, that attracts more of an adult fanbase. Mostly, though, three-six years old is our core age range and it tends to be parents or grandparents with a penchant for practical gifts who buy them."

Another London-based company to make the 700km round trip to Harrogate was Designed in Colour – designers of industrial products and desirable home ornamentation – which was looking to showcase its 21st-century take on an iconic UK brand from the 1930s. Taking up the story, Sales and Operations Manager Hannah Emmington-Thomas said: "Some 80 years back, a government body – the British Colour Council – used to publish the Dictionary of Colour Standards, which detailed hundreds of different shades, with each one having an individual name. This was in pre-Pantone times when colour matching was all done solely by eye and the books were used as the references for everything – the decorations for the royal coronation, for instance, and to make sure, say, the colours of the Union Flag flying over official buildings in Sydney exactly matched those being used in London and everywhere else in the British Empire.

"After World War II, the practice was discontinued. One of our founders, however, found a copy of an original colour-coding dictionary in an Oxfam charity shop and was immediately in awe of its quality. As a result, we trademarked the name British Colour Standard as a proprietary brand, complete with the original lion logo, and launched a range of products – essentially gifts and homeware for the design-led home – colour-matched to the original books. It's been great to bring back something that's got such a fascinating story behind it."

Designed in Colour itself was launched some three years ago, making its debut with a range of mugs using original colour tones from the 1930's Dictionary, including Battleship Grey, Powder Blue and Peacock Green. More recently, the company has branched out into creating matching paint pots and candles, all of which are being stocked by such leading UK design outlets as Heal's and Liberty's.

Emphasising that, despite their 80-year heritage, such designs are bang up to date in terms of sustainability and eco-responsibility, Emmington-Thomas said: "The whole range has a fair trade / eco element, with everything either recycled or sustainable – the candles, for instance, are handmade by a women's co-operative in Indonesia. We've also got Fair Trade jute placemats, mugs that are made in the UK, and our striped candles, which we introduced last year, have done phenomenally well.

Photo: Alarmasaurus: A timely gift from Tyrell Katz.
Alarmasaurus: A timely gift from Tyrell Katz.
Photo: Alarmasaurus: A timely gift from Tyrell Katz.
Alarmasaurus: A timely gift from Tyrell Katz.
Photo: Cycle of Good’s recycled cycle products.
Cycle of Good's recycled cycle products.
Photo: Cycle of Good’s recycled cycle products.
Cycle of Good's recycled cycle products.

"We're going to try to branch out to America and we've got some international customers within Europe, but the day we launched British Colour Standard was the same day the result of the Brexit referendum was announced. It has made selling to some parts of Europe very difficult, largely because they find the word 'British' very off-putting right now."

Other exhibitors at the show included such established UK home and giftware importers as Hill Interiors, Joe Davies (currently celebrating its centenary), and UP Global Sourcing, which highlighted a range of international products seen as suitable for the sizable garden-centre market, as well as a range of reusable bamboo drinking cups recently featured in the hit British reality TV show Love Island.

One successful – though decidedly not-for-profit – exhibitor was Cycle of Good, an enterprise that collects used coffee sacks and bicycle tyre inner tubes and ships them to Malawi. Having completed the 12,000km voyage, the southeast African nation's tailors and weavers use solar-powered sewing machines to fashion them into wallets, purses, bags and belts, many of which are then shipped back to the UK. All profits from their sale then go to charitable projects in Malawi, including a range of training and childcare initiatives.

Another exhibitor – Leeds-based Posh Chalk Interiors – had on offer a product that represented a somewhat innovative, green approach to home décor. Outlining the company's unusual proposition, Workshop Manager Lyndon Wallace said: "Our latest innovation – WoodUBend – is a completely eco-friendly form of decorative moulding made wholly of wood dust and a special type of resin. As it's being sanded, you can breathe it in completely safely, while the thing that makes it truly unique is that, once it's heated, it can be bent to any shape. You can stretch it, slice it, cut it, drill it – basically do anything you can do with traditional wood, you can do with this. Then, once it's cooled, it returns to its rigid state and then it's got all the properties of actual wood again, meaning you can stain it, varnish it, drill it, sand it… Equally importantly, if you've used a piece and then you want to get rid of it, it's fully biodegradable.

"As a key part of our marketing strategy, every week we run three live video feeds demonstrating the use of the product via our Facebook page. That's really broadened its appeal and it's now where we get most of our lead's from. Overall, it's generated a genuinely worldwide response."

Photo: The 2019 Harrogate Home & Gift Buyers’ Festival: All the latest from England’s green and present land.
The 2019 Harrogate Home & Gift Buyers' Festival: All the latest from England's green and present land.
Photo: The 2019 Harrogate Home & Gift Buyers’ Festival: All the latest from England’s green and present land.
The 2019 Harrogate Home & Gift Buyers' Festival: All the latest from England's green and present land.

The 2019 Harrogate Home & Gift Buyers' Festival took place from 14-17 July at the Harrogate Convention Centre and featured more than 850 exhibitors.

Catherine Jones, Special Correspondent, Harrogate

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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