The maker backlash to Glassette is a cautionary tale for businesses trying to position themselves as communities

Posted by Sara McCorquodale in Comment

3 weeks ago

On June 27th, artist Sophie Harpley shared she would no longer stock her work on Glassette. The marketplace – which describes itself as an “ever-growing community of homeware brands and creative partners” – had announced makers would be charged £1,200 to £6,000 a year to retail on its website. According to Harpley, this is on top of a 30% commission fee.

Fellow creatives Frances Costelloe and Polly, founder of Polly Wolly Doodles, posted similar announcements. Higher profile artists such as John Booth commented in support, noting people who don’t make art shouldn’t start businesses like Glassette. They will never understand the challenges facing artists, crafters and makers. For reference, Glassette was founded by broadcaster Laura Jackson and buyer Daniel Crow.

All of this shines a bigger light on how tricky it is to fully monetise a business that has been marketed as a community. How this positioning muddles perceptions of what businesses exist to do. At the end of the day, Glassette has raised investment and now has to deliver profit and a return for shareholders.

However, when businesses are described as communities – and many have been since social media became a springboard for entrepreneurialism – it suggests that everyone involved is in it together. Experiencing similar difficulties and working towards shared goals. In Glassette’s case, that’s making it easier to buy small batch homeware and art. Marketing numerous creatives’ work under one brand to drive a larger audience to all. Fighting the good fight to ensure consumers are not stuck with the same IKEA everything.

Glassette is in a hard position because it needs to drive growth while maintaining the idea that it is a community. Yet the moment it announced membership fees, without consulting its makers and brands first, any illusion of everyone being in it together was well and truly destroyed. Glassette is a business and it wants creatives to be customers, not partners.

This is a cautionary tale for any company positioning itself as a community. While this makes for powerful marketing, it also makes for complicated dynamics. I had coffee with the communications lead of a “community” business last year and he told me everything they do originates in feedback. From concepts for big campaigns to price increases to ideas  for Instagram posts, the language this brand speaks is entirely determined by its community. It’s the only way to maintain the idea that the business belongs to them – that it isn’t really a business at all.

For Glassette, the veil has been lifted and some of its artists don’t like it. For many it will seem like Glassette is only really a money-making opportunity for Glassette. Their outgoings won’t justify staying. Others – those with a marketing budget – will hedge their bets and perhaps discover it’s better to be part of the marketplace than the alternative.

Either way, this has been bad PR for the business. Using the language of social media can feel progressive and this is why community must surely be the most overused word of our time. However, the realities of business are inescapable and sometimes it’s better to just say it like it is.

By Sara McCorquodale, CEO and founder of CORQ.