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Nostalgia and Heritage Brands Pre-eminent in the UK Gift Sector

With barely a digital device to be had, low-tech seemed almost the order of the day at one of the UK's largest gift expos, with licensed products, 1970s' nostalgia and dinosaurs seemingly the keys to success in this highly competitive sector.

Photo: The Autumn Fair: One of the UK’s premier showcases for the gift industry.
The Autumn Fair: One of the UK's premier showcases for the gift industry.
Photo: The Autumn Fair: One of the UK’s premier showcases for the gift industry.
The Autumn Fair: One of the UK's premier showcases for the gift industry.

The Autumn Fair lays claim to being one of the UK's leading gift and home-trade shows, attracting many of the industry's most important buyers, including representatives of the major multiple retailers, independents, online retailers and department stores. Beyond its role as a seasonal shop window, the event also attracts more than its fair share of presentations from many of the leading figures in the retail sector.

One such session was led by Jo Malone, Founder of Jo Loves, the London-based luxury fragrance brand. With an address targetted more at brand owners than buyers, Malone detailed the 'rags to riches' growth of her fragrance brand, founded after she left school with no real qualifications.

She launched her first business, Jo Malone London, in 1995, with the company specialising in the provisions of fragrant bath oils. Four years later, she sold the company to Estée Lauder, the US cosmetics giant, for an undisclosed sum. In 2011, she launched Jo Loves, offering a premium range of fragrant products online and via a single London-based retail outlet.

Aside from Malone's relatively new business, another fresh contender in the cosmetics sector was also garnering considerable attention – Patterson's Dr Pawpaw range of balms. According to Pauline Patterson, the London-based company's Co-founder, papaya – the key ingredient in the Pawpaw range – has long been used by Australian cosmetics companies, but this is the first such product to be introduced to the UK market.

This has seen the fruit extract used extensively in the company's range of lips, skin and hair balms, along with olive oil and aloe vera, both of which are said to be high in antioxidants and vitamins B and C. Promoted on the back of its moisturising and skin-healing qualities, a 25ml tube sells in the UK for £6.99 (US$8.59).

Moving on from the cosmetics sector, gifts with a notably nostalgic bent were well represented at the event. Indeed, one company – the Somerset-based West 11 Group – had chosen the fair as the launch vehicle for its new range of decidedly retro games, all featuring children's TV shows from the 1960s and '70s, including Thunderbirds, The Magic Roundabout and Captain Scarlet.

According to Becky Oram, the company's Managing Director, demand was brisk, with its stock selling out fast. Explaining the appeal of the range, she said: "There is a very big sentimental baby-boomer market out there, one that is waiting to be tapped into."

Taking a more contemporary approach to nostalgia, however, was Half Moon Bay, a Bath-based wholesaler of licensed and themed giftware. The company's Nostalgic Kitchen range was particularly eye-catching and, according to Sarah Plant, one of the company's Account Directors, had a timeless appeal.

As well as kitchen consumer brands, the family-owned company markets a wide range of licensed gifts, including a number of currently popular properties from the world of television and cinema, most notably Doctor Who, Superman, Harry Potter and The Muppets. At present, the company only distributes in Europe.

Photo: Edwin Jagger: Bristling with Britishness.
Edwin Jagger: Bristling with Britishness.
Photo: Edwin Jagger: Bristling with Britishness.
Edwin Jagger: Bristling with Britishness.
Photo: Cross-stitch globetrotting from SUCK UK.
Cross-stitch globetrotting from SUCK UK.
Photo: Cross-stitch globetrotting from SUCK UK.
Cross-stitch globetrotting from SUCK UK.

Over on the Heo UK stand, Tom Pelly, the Managing Director of the Cambridge-based business, confessed himself more than satisfied with the interest shown in his company's range of licensed pop culture products: He said: "Movies and television are the prime drivers of pop culture. In line with this, we offer a wide range of licensed products, including mugs and limited-edition high-end replicas. We are expecting this sector to continue to grow, with entertainment never having been more important in many people's lives."

Heo was launched 20 years ago in Germany when two collectors decided to turn their hobby into a business. Today, the firm distributes in the US, Europe and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Moving more into the household market and Hong Kong's TAO was looking to build on its already strong reputation in the smart-lighting sector. Having already found success with its Jedi lighting range, TAO has high hopes that its successor brand, WiZ, will take smart lighting to the next level.

WiZ links lighting control to smart devices via Wi-Fi, allowing users to control illumination remotely, changing the tone to suit the mood, time of day or any other preference, with a range of pre-sets all backed up to the cloud. According to Kate Baker, the company's Marketing Manager, the system is now available in all major stores.

Taking a more purely domestic and cosmetic approach to lighting was Luxa Flame Lighting, with its range of flame-effect LED fireplace features. Michael Nicholas, Chief Executive of the London-based company, said: "We currently distribute throughout Europe and USA and are looking for agents in the Far East."

One company with its Asian connections already firmly in place was SUCK UK, a London-based novelty-gift company that sources the majority of its production from China. Its latest gift idea offers a new take on a highly traditional craft – a cross-stitch world map. This allows handicraft-minded travellers to plot, stitch and trace their journeys around the world in a variety of colours, ultimately creating their own personal world travel map.

Among the more novel of the company's novelty gifts was a cast-iron T-trex bottle opener. With dinosaur-themed products still hugely popular in the gift market – apparently – this heavy little horror is being promoted as providing an interesting conversation piece.

Spurning the appeal of Mesozoic merchandise, illustrator James Tyrrell launched his own London-based business – Tyrrell Katz – some 20 years ago. Solely featuring characters he has created himself, Tyrell offers a range of children's accessories that are quintessentially British in design and execution. The company's wide product range uses a distinctive repeat pattern of mini-characters, with all of the items available for worldwide ordering directly from its website.

Another quintessentially British-styled range came courtesy of Edwin Jagger's wet-shave products. Through a combination of Sheffield steel-crafted razors, Gillette's finest blades and pure badger bristle brushes, the company has sought to create a timeless tribute to historical gentlemen's shaving equipment.

Despite its time-honoured qualities, the brand has only been around some 30 years. Acknowledging his conscious appropriation of heritage appeal, Neil Jagger, the Founder of the Sheffield-based company, said: "I wanted to create a Made in Britain product that would stand out in the international markets." As a sign of its success, the range is now stocked throughout Europe, the US and Asia.

Photo: More than 1,400 giftware exhibitors signed up for the Autumn Fair.
More than 1,400 giftware exhibitors signed up for the Autumn Fair.
Photo: More than 1,400 giftware exhibitors signed up for the Autumn Fair.
More than 1,400 giftware exhibitors signed up for the Autumn Fair.

The Autumn Fair 2016 was held at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre from 4-6 September. The event attracted 28,000 visitors and more than 1,400 exhibitors.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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