Tap Seac Art Fair: creating a friendly environment for arts-and-crafts startups

02 2015 | Issue 2

Text/Tai Chou Wai

With craft markets springing up in locations all over the world, there’s a revival of interest in the subjects of artisanal skills and creativity among the consumers. The fact that more and more products are advertised as “handmade” or “original” implies that the arts and crafts industry is going to get increasingly competitive. However, young blood from Asia have benefited from the many incentives provided by Macao, where the handicraft trend is starting to catch on.

What Macao lacks is not talent but room for craftsmen

Take Tap Seac Art Fair, Macao’s largest handicraft market, for example. Last year, it attracted more than 300 cultural and creative organisations from China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia to participate as vendors.

Fion Lei, a full-time craftsman of seven years, considered the art fair an excellent promotional platform for the public to learn about brands from different designers. “The threshold for entering the art fair is relatively low compared to those in neighbouring areas. It gives the less experienced an opportunity to showcase their products. As the platform is free of charge, craftsmen don’t need to worry about the rent.”

Lei believed the huge potential of handicraft-making has prompted more and more people to enter the fray in recent years. However, high rent remains a major challenge faced by local artisans. Rent takes up half of her income, said Lei, who once rented an industrial building unit with two other partners as their workshop but was unfortunately forced to move out after the landlord suddenly increased the rent from MOP3,000 to MOP10,000. “Macao is not without talent, but there is no room for them [to practise their craft].”

Because of this, a free platform like Tap Seac Art Fair not only attracted local artisans but many more from abroad who wished to expand their business. Ziuhey is a participating artisan from Hong Kong, where, like in Macao, exorbitant rent is a fact of life. While only able to sell her handmade products like aromatic oils and ointments through social media websites and random arts-and-crafts markets in the past, she was hopeful that the art fair could provide her clients in Macao the opportunity to feel and try out her products.

Ziuhey added that the application process for vendors is hassle-free: it only requires submitting images of the works and a 200-word introduction. She enthused, “The Macao government offers a lot of support to overseas participants. Apart from free accommodation, there is a shuttle bus service between our accommodation and the venue plus a pre-event marketing strategy workshop. These initiatives have helped encourage many craftsmen to take a chance and give the art fair a try.”

Looks and marketing also matter

However, Ziuhey also pointed out that while a number of artisans have benefited from these initiatives, handicraft-making is still a business that vendors need to figure out how to market their products. “It’s not easy to survive the art fair. From packaging to labelling products to booth design, you have to put in time and effort to catch the consumers’ attention. I heard some vendors say customers today no longer think the crafts are the selling point; now even craftsmen need to have packaging and marketing know-how. Having a passion for your craft alone won’t get you far.”

Also just as keen to explore the Macao market is Duri Lee, a South Korean artisan who has been making handmade soap for about a year. She hoped the art fair would help promote her products and give her a better understanding of the market in China. Her Ginseng handmade soaps, which capitalised on the Chinese fascination for the plant, generated an average income of MOP3,000 a day, not a bad turnout for a handicraft business run on a shoestring.

Lee pointed out, “Many craftsmen don’t have much capital when they first start out. There’s hardly a free platform for them in South Korea where most craft markets collect commissions or charge rental fees. On the other hand, the rent-free Tap Seac Art Fair allows me to invest more in product development and packaging. I will continue to participate next year in the hope of collaborating with local companies to improve my products, and even sell them at more designated locations.”