THE number of new entrepreneurs setting up craft businesses in Ireland has rocketed by more than 40pc since the recession, according to the Irish Crafts Council (ICC).
Former architects, bankers, builders and other skilled and qualified people from the hardest hit sectors have been investing their redundancy packages to start making saleable craft items at home or in small studios, CEO Karen Hennessy said at the publication yesterday of the ICC's Strategic Plan for 2013.
According to the ICC, the numbers of "makers" under its remit who produce hand crafted goods for sale (including ceramics, furniture, jewellery, fashion wear and home wares) have increased from 1,962 enterprises in 2009 to 2,750 this year.
"We have healthcare workers who are making ceramics, architects who are making jewellery and furniture and trained teachers who are now wood turners," said Ms Hennessy.
"These are real Irish businesses providing real jobs in towns and in rural areas – sometimes the hardest hit areas. Many of these new businesses will develop into much larger enterprises which will eventually go on to achieve an international following, as we have seen in the past."
The total value of craft to the economy is estimated at €500m in a sector which employs more than 6,000 people and generates exports in excess of €125m.
Ms Hennessy urged the Government to allow the craft sector to take advantage of the preferential 9pc VAT rate which was applied last year to the tourism and hospitality sector.
"Makers, who are providing an increasingly important role to local economies are paying the 23pc rate for what is essentially their skill and labour in an industry which works alongside the tourism sector.
"Such a move would provide a significant boost for the sector and enable existing firms to create even more jobs in a market where rising energy costs and high labour costs are creating difficulties for small enterprises."
The ICC strategy report reveals a plan to open a National Craft Gallery in Dublin similar to that already in place in Kilkenny and outlines a scheme which would involve over 85 craft enterprises in more than a dozen craft "tourist trails."
Specialist craft tours have become increasingly popular. Another new initiative will see the development of "clusters of excellence" based on existing craft centres which will allow multiple users to benefit from pooled infrastructure.
Interest in Showcase – the biggest Irish craft event of the year, which opens at the RDS this Sunday – has increased, with 400pc more enquiries from the UK in particular. Buyers have registered to attend from 17 countries.
Last year the event generated more than €125m in sales in four days. A survey last month by Millward Brown Lansdowne showed that 55pc of people are interested in buying and owning Irish craft – up from 39pc in 2010.