Stories from the villages of the world on market days

‘Marketing’. Possibly the least sexy word in the world, or so I’ve always thought. But ‘market’ on the other hand:

hustle, bustle, banter, barter; great smells, bright colours, good food; local people, local produce, universal concerns; growers, makers, merchants and buskers, sharing stories, jokes, grudges, favours, rain.

I don’t sell in physical markets much any more, after little financial success in them with my old dressmaking business, but I natter animatedly online with both customers and weavers afar as we bounce design ideas off each other, and glean snippets about each others’ loves, families and work. The communicative ones feel like new friends and colleagues.

I’m getting clever on Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade where I sell my wares. Growing out of the child-in-the-sweetshop who makes ‘treasuries’ of pretty things she likes, I’m starting to be strategic, network (uurgh) in a focussed way. I make a treasury of handmade shawl pins to show to my customers, and invite the jewellers to also display my weavings to show off both our complementary wares. I make a collection of other people’s beautiful scarves to remind my ‘followers’ that they need one with this new cold, and as I do it I admire their photography, am inspired, and learn. I make a ‘Rugged’ collection of landscape photography, ceramic and metalwork to show the backdrop of the creativity of so many of us. I make a steampunky ‘Castlewear treasury, to give shape and context in both mine and my potential customers’ eyes to my posher range of weavings. How can I improve them? What might you wear with them, and where, and how might you feel, and what do your dreams look like?

Gudrun Sjoeden is an enchantress at this: a leaf through a catalogue of hers is like a trip with an artist to Mongolia, Moscow or Madagascar. Never mind the artefact: it’s the story that counts.

I strike up a virtual conversation with a kiltpin maker, Alastair, of Callum Kilts Jewellery. I admire his and his father’s unaffected Scottish and Pictish designs – so often twee, but here, not. Their modest online shop reminds me that whilst the first thing to attract me to Scotland is a glamourised and romanticised view of their folk traditions, the thing that keeps me compelled is the humble and austere reality of them. A brief late-night chat about austerity with Julie Fowlis (‘only’ the fiftieth most influential woman of Scotland) has stayed with me all year as I’ve enjoyed the bleak Lewisian levels and barren scree; the clutters of kit-built bungalows that flank abandoned crofts; and old folk singing old songs in ugly pubs and community rooms in the Western Isles and the Westcountry.

Yes.

Here in Brittany in an ugly community hall in a run-down village, some lively local women and three bands, including Soïg Serberil, ‘the best folk guitarist in France’, and Nostrad, a fantastic traditional dance band from Brest, got me up on my feet learning some hypnotic Breton steps late last Saturday night.

Our good friends, a gardener and a folk musician/storyteller, make a weekly pilgrimage to the market. Sometimes they help the fishmonger arrange his coquilles de Saint Jacques. They know his story, and that of the wholefood shop man, and those of many others, I’m sure. Though they don’t eat meat, they know whose farm to send me to for free range, healthier creatures. They do their errands early, and, all done, meet every week at 1030 in the same bar for coffee with whoever else is also that civilised.

Meantime, in the best cafe in the best woods in Finisterre (‘basse Bretagne’, where they still speak Breton), the work of local artists, craftspeople, producers, foragers and musicians is showcased in weekly events and ongoing displays amid an eclectic collection of erudite left-wing literature – a little hub of resistance.

Back online, I have another conversation with a Canadian jeweller, Amy Newsom, who, after a very good season, offers to send me three lovely silver and copper shawl pins she’s made in exchange for photos of them with my weavings that she can use on her upcoming website. I am taken aback and delighted by the generous spirit that makes so much business sense for us both. Maybe I will weave some little samples to offer to jewellers to display their pins on, until I can afford to make larger pieces of cloth or even give away whole shawls.

The kiltpin maker says he may open a shop and would happily stock my wares too. We natter and laugh about minority politics, and another Scotsman’s words return to me as I recall Dick Gaughan in concert addressing the referendum issue. ‘England stands to lose a very grudging tenant and gain a very good friend’. I know what that feels like.

And so ‘marketing’, when one puts one’s cards on the table and grins, can be collegiate, and even friendmaking (the specifics of England/Scotland economic relations are beyond my sphere of knowledge, so back to my little story for now). I am no window-shopper – or even much of a shopper. Etsy ‘treasuries’ could be a marketing gimmick, a cynical hard-sell, but they call the treasurers ‘curators’. As someone who scribbled all over her history exercise books at school and fainted with boredom in airless museums, I am starting to understand the intrigue of history and anthropology and the excitement of archivists and collectors. I am gestating more authentic trasuries: ‘A History of the World in 12 Objects: real Scottish Islands’, or deepest Brittany, or highest Dartmoor, and looking forward to my next encounter with my insightful archeologist and museum curator friend, Nicola.

Who knows what doors will open. Funny, the many faces of Capitalism.

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