1 Nov 2018
TV Trinkets Take on the Quintessentially Quirky at the Autumn Fair
The Autumn Fair – the UK's second largest annual trade event – once again played host to a gallimaufry of gifts, a transcendental selection of the very finest toys and games and a veritable hotchpotch of handyish household items…
TV show-inspired products were among the most popular at the recent Autumn Fair, one of the UK's biggest home and gift trade events, with insect-themed candies and boxes of magic tricks drawing visitors' attention. As ever, quirky novelties were everywhere to be seen, with high-end hot water bottles, pin-board globes and high-performance yoyos among the most memorable.
As is par for the course, attendees had to negotiate their way around a huge array of stands, all spread across the five halls of Birmingham's NEC, the UK's largest exhibition centre. If that wasn't enough of a challenge, there was also an extensive programme of workshops and briefings to be had.
One of the most unmissable of these came courtesy of Gemma Riberti, Senior Editor for WGSN, a New York-based trend forecasting consultancy. Looking at what lies ahead in the gift and homewares sector, she cited the concept of "kinship" as being particularly potent, seeing it as extending into global connectivity and shared cultures.
Highlighting one recent example, she singled out the partnering of US and Scandinavian teams to exploit the concept of Hygge [cosiness]. This resulted in the creation of a range of candles and other household items, all designed with a certain air of conviviality in mind.
Turning her attention to Christmas, Riberti said: "In addition to the traditional mix of reds and greens, the more common themes will fall into several categories – soft pastels with sheen finishes, natural patterns with twigs and delicate narratives, and metallic finishes with deep reds and pinks. At the more adult end of the market, moonlight and indigo will predominate."
Over on the Brands of China showcase, it looked as if Christmas had actually come early – at least for the show organisers – with a record number of 250 mainland businesses participating in the annual Ministry of Commerce-led delegation to the UK's second(ish) city. A staple of the Autumn Fair for 16 years now, this dedicated space for all-things-China was officially declared open by the usual gaggle of mainland mandarins and British business big-wigs.
As if making the 16,000km round trip didn't show willing enough, many of the merchandise-minded members of the mainland contingent also played an active part in the event's seminar programme. This year, in a bit of a change of tact – and as an apt reflection of the Chinese government's intent to build up its domestic market – there was, for the first time, almost as much of an emphasis on selling into China as there was on pushing the very best that Beijing had to offer.
With such an impressive turnout from one of the leading away teams, it was only proper that the home team responded with an equally compelling display, which it did it in fine style. Point here was taken by Newgate, a business that surely baffled any passing literal-minded mainland translator by being relatively old and having nothing at all to do with hinged barriers.
In fact, the 25-year old Shropshire-based company specialises in the production of somewhat iconic British clocks. Originally manufacturing in the UK, the business has surrendered to the inevitable and largely sources from Asia, while having also diversified away from wall clocks and into watches of a distinctly avantgarde nature, which currently change hands for about US$200.
Another British brand ably bagging buyers' attention was the YuYu Long Hot Water Bottle. This has seen the conventional hot water bottle radically reinvented by inventor Richard Yu and reimagined in an intriguing long, thin format, allowing it to be wrapped around the body in a bid to help ease achy bits wherever they may be.
Keen to emphasise the overall quality of the product, Yu said: "We use only the finest rubber from Sri Lanka and then wrap it in one of a variety of fabrics, including – for our fast selling-out Harrod's exclusive range –100% cashmere wool."
At present, Leicester-based YuYu Designs, the company behind the brand, sells versions ranging from $40-250 depending on how luxuriously you want your limbs lagged. Distribution is currently via UK and French luxury stores, as well as through certain online channels.
Staying with items that need to be judiciously warmed, several shelves of collectors' teapots were on offer from Carters of Suffolk. According to company Founder, Brett Hawksbee, quintessentially British, quirky teapots are now a staple of many of the world's most prestigious stores.
Keen to highlight the stockabililty of his own company's range, he said: "They make excellent gifts and can be classed as rare, given that every design is only produced in runs of between 100 and 2,000 units."
Among the standouts on offer from the company was its Jane Austen Books teapot and its somewhat tongue-in-cheek BREXIT brewing aid. All in all, prices ranged from just $40 for its one-cup teapots and peaked at $120 for its limited-edition Rick Wakeman Piano Teapot, mind you each one of those came signed by the great progster himself.
If rock-star endorsed crockery isn't novelty enough for you then, thankfully, several stands seemed to be devoted to being utterly outré, not least that leased by London-based SUCK UK, purveyors of the finest cork globes you are ever likely to aspire to own. Each one allows the lucky owner – or, possibly, a slightly less lucky recipient – to literally pinpoint any worldwide wandering that comes to mind, while prices range from a very affordable $45 to a slightly less-affordable $100.
Meanwhile over on Norfolk based Tobar's super-sized stand it was fairly hard to miss a normally notoriously-elusive unicorn or two, all of which were available in a fairly comprehensive range of sizes and colours. Several of these were even themed around a number of distinctly un-unicorn like activities, including a pooing-backpack-buddy and a somewhat overweight nightlight incarnation.
Unicorns aside, the other major feature on the Tobar booth was a prominent display of Celebrity Bush Grubs. Taking inspiration from the popular reality show, I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, the range features a selection of insect larva-shaped confectionary, all of which are said to go down a treat at children's parties.
Not to be outdone, Devon-based Wilton Bradley had something even more likely to appeal to partying seven-year-olds – remote-controlled traffic pile-ups. Clearly positive about this new range, Marketing Co-ordinator, Julian Marsh: "This new line – Monster Smash-Ups – features battling, remote controlled monster trucks, complete with eject and rebuild features. It's also a brand that is going to be supported by an international TV campaign."
As well as its interest in hi-tech highway high-jinks, Wilton Bradley also has a penchant for more traditional toys – and what could be more traditional than a yoyo, a plaything first mastered by the Ancient Greeks nearly 2,500 years ago? In order to offer an updated version of this old favourite, the company had teamed up with Hans Van Dan Elzen – one of the world's few bona fide yoyo superstars – and now carries the whole of his proprietary Yoyo Factory range.
Operating out of the southwest US state Arizona, over the last 14 years the YoYo Factory has become the supplier of choice for many of the world's professional yoyo players. In a sector renowned for its ups and downs and where everything comes with strings attached, you can't really get a finer recommendation than that.
The 2018 Autumn Fair took place from 2-5 September at Birmingham's NEC. The event featured more than 1,400 exhibitors and attracted some 26,000 attendees.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham