An inspirational speech by Cath Kidston at the Gift of the Year awards’ ceremony at Spring Fair was one of the highlights on a night of celebration. The iconic designer charmed a large and appreciative audience when she presented the prizes to the winners across 20 categories. Cath said that she couldn’t turn down a request to become an ambassador for The Giftware Association’s awards “because everything that is involved is at the heart of what I’ve done all my adult life”.
She had toured the show on Sunday afternoon, looking for stickers on the stands of companies that had been nominated for prizes, and recalled: “I started my own business in 1993 and I employed one person – who was my cousin – in one shop and the only way I could grow the business was to come and do trade fairs.”
Cath’s first stand was inexpensive and “in a tiny corner”. She had had “really good and really bad experiences” of trade fairs. “On one occasion I wallpapered my stand the night before the show opened and when I arrived the next morning there were just bubbles everywhere!.” Another time she was outflanked by “a really good saleswoman” who gave all her customers chewy toffees.
Cath, who has visited trade shows all over the world, commented: “What I love about this Birmingham fair is the incredible mix of the really established, big professional manufacturers and brands, and the small start-up companies and the ones that are growing which really are the future - and the future big brands.” She added: “And British design is still, I think, the most influential. If you go into a small boutique in Tokyo, they absolutely ‘get’ and understand the detail, integrity and the vision of what you guys all supply.” For her, “the whole focus of retail is on product – great product is what makes a great business: obviously you have to dress it up and make it look nice and get the right price. And you have all the operational and all the backroom stuff that is very important. But at the end of the day, top of the pyramid is product.”
Cath told her audience: “Tonight we are celebrating the best product that is going to the market for this season – and that product will stand out and it will have kudos and will get incredible exposure from being not just at the fair but as you go around selling it. “It’s going to be in shop windows and it’s won an award. It’s an incredible thing to have that affirmation. Us designers are very insecure, but always try to do our best and make things better. But actually there is a moment when somebody says, ‘You’ve done great, and you’ve won a prize,’ and it feels really good!” She said she was “incredibly proud” to present the awards and “incredibly proud of British retail and its eclectic, original mix”, and added: “I think we should all take a moment to celebrate and feel really grand. “And I’d like to thank The Giftware Association for the energy and effort they put in: it’s really hard when you have such a huge, eclectic mix and such an enormous industry – how to help and how to drive things, and they do the most fabulous job in so many ways to help us retailers.”
Earlier, Louise Young, retail division director of i2i Events, said: “It’s perfect that the awards are presented here at Spring Fair so that we can highlight newness to buyers and also create sell-through for those products that have been shortlisted and that have won. They have been judged by retailers to be the best. “As long-standing sponsors and co-organisers of Gift of the Year we are absolutely dedicated to celebrating the innovation and creativity of the giftware market. Congratulations to everyone here, for your designs and your sheer hard work to bring those products to market. You truly do make the world a brighter place.”
GA chairman Michael Papé said: “The Giftware Association sits at the heart of a vibrant and colourful patchwork of businesses, showcasing many wonderful products. We firmly believe that giving a gift is one of the most considerate things we can do, and as an association we are focused on supporting you to enable consumers to find that perfect gift for friends and loved ones.” The 2016 competition had attracted “a staggering number of fantastic products across the whole industry”, presenting the judges with an “incredibly difficult” task. “So, for all of you – finalists or not – you should be very, very proud.” He thanked all the companies that had entered; the judges “for giving up so much of their valuable time”, and the Gift of the Year sponsors, “particularly Louise and her team at i2i for hosting tonight”. This was echoed by GA chief executive Sarah Ward, who commented that the judges thought that this year’s competition featured “a great many new and innovative gifts”. And thanking Cath Kidston, she turned to her and added: “I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s great to draw inspiration from everything that she said this evening. We are so proud to have you as our new ambassador.”