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A quick investigation into the question of buying Island fine crafts

by Emily Jewell

Northern Watters display window is decorated for the season with Island-made itemsOver the mid-November weekend, Islanders crowded into the Confederation Centre of the Arts to attend the PEI Crafts Council’s 46th Annual Christmas Craft Fair for the chance to examine the wares of close to fifty vendors, the vast majority of which were Island-based. Those hoping to do some Christmas shopping weren’t disappointed. Craftmakers had an abundance of wooden crafts, pottery, ornaments, decorative plates, teddy bears, and a wide variety of jewellery on display and ready for purchase. Candy Gallant, who is associated with the Council, estimated that by the Fair’s end, thousands of Islanders would have attended the Fair. Clearly, there is no shortage of demand for Island crafts this Christmas season.

Although many of the vendors at craft fairs have studios that potential customers are welcome to visit and purchase from, there are relatively few places for customers to shop for crafts made by a variety of Island artisans on a year-round basis. However, options are available. Northern Watters Knitware, for example, specializes in sweaters but also carries crafts made by over one hundred other Island artisans.

I went to Northern Watters Knitware to talk to Wanda Watters, the President of the company, and Bill Watters, the Vice President. The husband and wife team, both originally from Nova Scotia, are obviously passionate about supporting Island crafts as part of their business. “We’re trying to promote to Island people that we have other Island crafts,” explains Wanda. “And it’s working quite well where people are coming in and buying the crafts for Christmas.”

Bill and Wanda see buying and selling Island crafts as being beneficial to both retailers and consumers. Selling Island crafts is a way for them to support the local economy and local artisans. “I know how hard it is to struggle as an artisan, especially for some people who are just working out of their home and they don’t have a store,” Wanda notes, “They can’t afford a store because they’re not making enough product to have a store to sell their product. I just want to help them.” The couple tries to garner exposure for Island artisans by encouraging them to label their products. “I tell artisans ‘Put your name on it.’ A lot of stores don’t want that, but for us it’s a selling point,” notes Bill.

Wanda acknowledges that local products may be more expensive but adds that customers are “buying quality. We stand behind our products. If something goes wrong, I’m sure the artisans would help to fix their product, the same as us with our sweaters.”

Island crafts are a hit with more than just Islanders. According to Bill, “People who come from all over the world want PEI products because they’re in PEI. They don’t want offshore products. That’s why we’ve been somewhat successful because of what we have within this store, it’s either PEI or Canadian-made products.” These products definitely travel. When asked how far away some of the customers interested in Island products live, Bill answers without hesitation: “Anywhere. You name it.” Bill and Wanda recall customers from Israel, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Spain and China, all of whom have bought Island crafts at the Watters’ award-winning shop.

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