THE weather is getting colder, the evenings are getting shorter, and, whether we like it or not, it won’t be long before we’re untangling lights and whipping out the advent calendars.
Those who are already working on their Christmas lists will be happy to hear that they can start their shopping early, however, with the Ballymaloe Craft Fair returning to East Cork this month.
The annual craft and food fair will run across the last two weekends of November, starting this weekend, November 18 to 20, and on November 25 to 27 in the Grainstore at Ballymaloe.
The event will feature more than 150 stalls from local producers. From ceramics and knitwear to mulled wine and cakes, there will be something for everyone at the venue, including sustainable wreaths, warming soups, and eco-conscious outfits.
We spoke to some of the women who will be taking part.
Peach Vintage Clothing is an online consignment store founded by Midleton native Katie Sloane, who will be running a pop-up store at the fair. A number of pre-loved and upcycled items will be on offer, all of which can be purchased guilt-free.
The idea behind Peach Vintage is to limit fashion waste. People give their unwanted items to Katie, rather than throwing them away, and she sells them and returns 40% of the profits to the seller. All of the stock is in excellent condition, and nothing is sold until it’s been freshly laundered and inspected.
“I’m very much part of the circular fashion economy. I don’t ever buy any stock, I’m just continuously reselling items. So, everything is unique and it’s a much more sustainable way to shop,” says Katie.
“I just ask that people only send items that they would buy themselves.”
Katie first created her website, peachvintageclothing.com, four years ago, having been inspired by her own love of second hand shopping. She hadn’t envisioned that it would become her full time job, but the market for vintage clothing has exploded in recent years.
Forbes estimates that the second-hand clothing market will triple in value by 2029.
People are more conscious of waste than ever before, and when Katie first offered to sell her family’s clothing, everyone wanted to jump on board.
“I never in a million years thought that I was going to own my own business. I started by selling my own clothes on Facebook and then I sold my sisters’ clothes and then my cousins’ and it just snowballed.
“Now I have customers all over Ireland and I have regulars who send me boxes every couple of months,” she says.
“When I first started, I took everything. I’d be on the phone at all hours of the night and so many people wanted to send me stuff.
“I eventually had to limit what I put on the website, so I decided to start running Facebook auctions as well. All of the higher-priced items go on the website, and then the lower-priced items go on the auction.”
Katie also runs a stall at the Midleton Farmers’ Market and has noticed more and more people coming up to her over the years, especially younger shoppers.
“I shopped in charity shops all my life but I didn’t tell people because I was embarrassed,” she says. “But now that’s all changed. It’s cool to shop at charity shops now, the stigma is completely gone, which is fantastic.”
However, owning a small business can come with its stresses.
“I do everything myself. So I’m the accountant and the secretary and everything in between. But I’ve never had a problem with a customer. People have been so great and that makes it never feel like a chore. I especially love going to the fairs and markets, so I’m really looking forward to going back to Ballymaloe. It’s always such a lovely atmosphere there.”
Niamh Hegarty is also preparing to make her return to the Ballymaloe Craft Fair, having first brought her food stall, Niamh’s Larder, to the event last year. She originally started selling produce from a small table on her family’s land near Ballybrannigan Beach in 2020 and eventually bought a trailer, where she now sells seasonal vegetarian meals, breakfast foods, and homemade water kefir.
“It’s really nice going to the craft fair because customers who haven’t made it out to the beach can come up and try stuff,” Niamh says.
“I always try to make stuff that’s nourishing, as well as super tasty, so there will be a nice soup and granola and lots of baked goodies as well.”
Like Katie, Niamh never thought that she was going to own her own business. She had just finished her masters degree and was planning on a career in food marketing when the pandemic hit. A lot of people were taking to the beach for picnics and she saw an opportunity to take advantage of the time she had while she was in between jobs.
“So many people were out and about because we couldn’t eat indoors and I felt like there weren’t a lot of options around us. I started making picnic boxes for people in East Cork and so many people bought them to take on picnics and walks. People would also send them to family members and friends to surprise them and it just massively took off,” she says.
Niamh has always been passionate about food. She studied at Ballymaloe Cookery School and also ran the Midleton branch of the online farmers market Neighborfood until this spring.
“I got to know so many producers through that and I started to think about my own business more,” she says. “Everyone started opening food trailers and I thought it would be a cool way to open a more permanent location without the risk of brick and mortar. I’m really fortunate where we live because we have access to the beach so I stuck it down the field and was able to work from there.”
The business grew quickly and months into opening, Niamh’s Larder was featured on RTÉ’s Battle of the Food Trucks series. Her water kefir also won silver at this year’s Blas na hEireann awards.
Her success, she believes, is down to using local ingredients and utilizing the knowledge she gained at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Like Katie, Niamh also had to become a jack of all trades when she set up her business, and inflation is bringing extra challenges.
“Food costs are rising, energy costs are rising, and it will affect every business. But on the bad days, you just have to remember the good days because it is so rewarding,” she says.
“I also think we have to keep promoting our small businesses. A lot of them did well during Covid because people really got behind supporting local but, inevitably, everybody went back to real life and they’re busy and things are expensive. But we’re still here and we’re still working hard.”
Laura Beasley also took advantage of the lockdown to create her business, Paper Daisy, which specializes in dried wreaths. Laura was working in a garden center when Covid hit and when it closed, she started making arrangements at home and posting pictures of them online.
“I started out in 2020 and at first it was just a hobby. Then I started posting on Instagram and it just took off.
“I made six of them to sell at first and they sold out really quickly so I set up a little online shop. Now I do workshops and installations and I did a collection for Brown Thomas and Arnotts for Christmas last year. It was kind of a happy accident,” Laura says.
All of Laura’s wreaths are seasonal but last years if kept indoors: “They’re more sustainable because you don’t have to throw them out. So I’ll have some Christmas ones at the fair, but also ones that people can use all year round,” she says.
“It can be hard to come up with new ideas and it can all get a little on top of me, but it’s also really exciting. It will be very busy coming up to Christmas but I love getting to meet people and it’s such a lovely time.”
The Ballymaloe Craft Fair runs November 18 to 20 and November 25 to 27 in the Grainstore at Ballymaloe. Entrance is €6 on Friday and €8 on Saturday and Sunday. Children under 12 go free. See www.ballymaloegrainstore.com for full details.