This week we finally get around to having a little chat with lovely, lovely Clair, the woman in charge of all the crafty deliciousness that is the Emporia shop and market. Here she tells us just how the two came into being, how she got into crafting in a big way, and just what exactly is going on in her life at the moment.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Clair Heal and I own and run Emporia Fabric & Crafts and also organise the Emporia Craft & Vintage Market, which usually takes place once a month in one of Ashford’s town centre units.
How did you get into crafting?
I have been sewing for as long as I can remember. My Nanny taught me how to sew, embroider and do tapestry when I was small. When I left school I studied Clothing Technology at Rochester after which became a costume designer until my first son was born in 2002. I didn’t start making crafts to sell until my kids were a few years old after making a few felt Christmas decorations.
Who and what inspires you?
My family inspire me to keep going with what I believe in. I’m also massively inspired by the creative people around me and all the talented local crafters and artisans that I’ve met on my way.
Which crafters/artists/designers do you most admire?
I really admire anyone who just goes for it, there are so many creative people in Ashford. I especially admire female entrepreneurs who have family life to juggle with, alongside the setting up and running of a business. In terms of fabric designers, I am loving Beth Studley’s collections for Makower – we stock her first collection Henna and her second collection has just arrived in the shop, which is called Meadow.
When did you decide to make the leap from making for friends and family to creating your own business?
It kind of evolved by itself; I did my first craft fair at my son’s school where I made a few felt Christmas decorations which went down really well. This gave me the buzz to carry on, so I did a few more craft fairs – some good some bad. It was after doing a particularly badly organised/advertised one in December 2012 that I, along with three friends, decided to hold an open house to sell our crafts to the local community. This went so well I decided to organise a craft fair in our local village hall; I advertised as much as I could and on opening the doors there was a queue of people waiting to come in!
Next thing I knew, I was phoning around to get a shop space in Ashford town centre to put on my first craft market, and luckily a lovely lady at Park Mall said yes, so on the 10th & 11th May 2013 Emporia Craft & Vintage market was born. So far there have been seven markets in various empty units around town. Unfortunately, it became increasingly difficult to find somewhere to hold it so I then decided to open a permanent outlet selling both crafts made by local people as well as beautiful fabrics, as I was frustrated at being unable to buy fabric for my crafts locally – buying online is just not the same, as it’s so much nicer to see and feel it.
If you weren’t running a fabric and craft shop, what would you be doing with your time?
Sitting at home watching daytime telly!
How do you manage the day to day running of the shop, alongside looking after your kids? Who helps you run the business?
I wanted to be able to take my littlest to school every day, that’s why the shop isn’t open till 10am. My lovely husband Neil is home a lot and is a massive help, and I’m very lucky to have such lovely friends who help out with childcare when needed.
Speaking of kids, there’s a rumour going around that you might be about to have another one …
Yes, it’s true! Our third Bubba is due at the beginning of July, so from the next week onwards I’ll be taking a break from the shop.
What’s going to happen to the shop while you are away on maternity leave?
Don’t worry, it will be business as usual and all will be left in the capable hands of a few lovely ladies whilst I’m away.
Any news on the Emporia market for the summer? We miss it!
I miss it too, and all the lovely stallholders! At the moment it’s a victim of its own success and I can’t find a shop big enough to fit us all in. I am working on it though and also have plans for something else special – so watch this space!
What are your plans for the rest of the year – when are you coming back? And will the baby be joining you in the shop?
I’m sure I won’t be able to keep away, but I’ll officially be back at the end of September. And yes, the baby will be with me because of course he’ll be a perfectly behaved baby and sit beside my desk!
So there you have it – one more week of Clair and then the shop will be under the care of various crafty ladies (myself included – eek!) for a three month summer special. Now don’t go all stroppy on us, like teenagers with a supply teacher – we promise to have everything running just as normal and there will more info coming soon on classes, special offers and of course, all the usual lovely new fabrics and stock coming into the shop. All that’s left to say for now is: We wish you all the best with the impending arrival – just make sure you spend as much time sleeping and sewing between now and the baby arriving as you possibly can, as there probably won’t be much opportunity once he comes. Good luck!