Saturday, June 27, 2015

FoG in Winter July/August 2015. What’s Winter without FoG?

In July/August 2015, the second annual FoG in Winter presents a series of glass-related events on the Bellarine Peninsula

“People who attend FoG in Winter events can learn how to make beautiful objects in glass”, said Festival of Glass Convenor Mercedes Drummond. “We hope they will then be inspired to enter the 2016 Drysdale Glass Art Awards which will be part of the 2016 Festival of Glass” she added.

FoG in Winter is a mid-year reminder that the Festival of Glass will happen in February. It keeps local people, community groups and businesses interested in the Festival and invites them to become involved.

Locations and prices of events are on the Festival of Glass web site:

Making lampwork glass beads
·      Sat. July 25 – Sun. July 26 (2 days)
Point Lonsdale

Glass fusing for beginners
·      Sat. July 25 10.00am – 2.00pm Leopold
·      Sun. July 25 10.00am – 2.00pm Leopold

Glass beadweaving projects
·      Making beaded beads. Sat. July 25
10.00am – 1.00pm Drysdale
·      ‘Fandangle’ pendant. Sat. July 25
2.00 – 5.00pm Drysdale
·      Bead embroidery – finishing off.
Sat. Aug. 17 3.00 – 5.00pm. Drysdale

Jewellery mending – the basics
·      Monday July 27 3.00pm – 5.00pm. Drysdale

Glassworker’s Open Studio
·      Sat. Aug. 1 11.00am – 4.00-pm Drysdale

Photographing glass at home
·      Sat. August 1 11.00am - 4.00pm Drysdale
Wed. August 5 11.00am – 4.00pm Drysdale

More information
(Tutors, prices, projects, locations, etc.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Growing the market for Jablonec glass

In Jablonec’s glass industry, competition for market share is favouring larger, more industrialised firms, which use modern equipment to achieve economies of scale. The smaller firms’ reliance on pre-industrial methods of production makes it hard for them to attract the capital investment they need to compete with the larger firms on their own terms.

Individual survival
In Jablonec’s glass industry, several of the small firms don’t operate in a factory as such. Instead,
Pressing strings of beads, Jablonec
each firm’s operations are dispersed across a number of sites. These may include:
·      part or all of a building, which the firm rents to run the business, store and distribute its products and, perhaps run a shop
·      small workshops in rented premises
·      private homes in which people make the firm’s products on a ‘piecework’ basis (i.e. they are paid for each piece of glasswork that they produce).

When asked, “What one thing would enable you to develop your business?”, the owner of one of Jablonec’s small glass firms answered that he would really welcome capital with which to buy premises in which to gather his operations together in one place. This would bring him several benefits: his premises would be a capital asset, rather than a drain on income through rent; his control over his whole operation would increase; and he could build a narrative through which to market his products – “tell the whole story”, as he put it.

Glass beads get pearlescent coating - Jablonec
A bank would seem an obvious first stop for a company seeking capital to develop. However, that same owner said that the local banks are cautious and conservative lenders. Instead of backing small companies wishing to develop, they restrict their loans to larger, wealthier firms. As ever, the wealthier you are, the easier it is to become wealthier still; and the less you need to borrow money, the keener the banks are to lend you some!

Collaborative development?
Jablonec’s smaller glass firms need alternative business strategies if they are to survive the local banks’ intransigence and match their larger competitors’ economies of scale. For example, the area’s glass firms could collaborate to grow the market overall for Jablonec glass. However, the firms’ present single-minded focus on competing with each other – while necessary for their survival - precludes anything more than minimal collaboration between them.

Hand-making glass beads - Jablonec
There is a vehicle for such collaboration - the local glass industry association, to which many of Jablonec’s glass firms belong. However, the association restricts itself to assisting individual firms to attend trade shows and exhibitions. This reproduces the firms’ individual competition, rather than advancing the interests of the local industry as a whole, or even expressing a view about what those interests are.

New sources of investment
If Jablonec’s smaller glass firms decide to collaborate – within or alongside the local industry association – they could get around the local banks’ reluctance to invest in them by approaching two alternative funding sources: the Czech Ministry of Regional Development and the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund.

The Czech Ministry of Regional Development (
The Ministry is an obvious potential source of funds to develop Jablonec’s glass industry. However, its website (in English) doesn’t describe its day-to-day activities; and while it mentions the spending of money, there’s no indication as to what this money is spent on or the criteria by which it is spent. Perhaps a direct personal approach would elicit more useful, practical information.

European Regional Development Fund  (
The ERDF aims to help reinforce economic and social cohesion by redressing regional imbalances and co-financing the conversion of declining industrial regions. It supports a rage of activities, including research, development and innovation; telecommunication, energy and transport infrastructures; and health, education and social infrastructures. In 2014 – 2020, ERDF support will concentrate on three themes:
·      research and innovation, including support to public research and innovation bodies and investment in technology and applied research in enterprises
·      creating and safeguarding sustainable jobs, through co-investment in small and medium-sized enterprises
·      climate change mitigation.
Clearly, the first two of those themes are relevant directly to the development of the glass industry in Jablonec.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Jablonec glass: from craft to industry

Today, hand-cut, engraved, blown and painted decorative glassware (from tableware and ornaments to chandeliers) from the former Bohemia is among the best known Czech exports and a favourite with tourists. This isn't to say, however, that it's a thriving industry.

Jablonec ("Yab-lon-etz") is a town of approx. 45,000 people in the Nisou Valley (the town's full name is Jablonec nad Nisou) north of Prague, in what used to be the kingdom of Bohemia. Together with neighbouring Moravia and Czech Silesia, Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its fall in 1918, when the three territories were united as Czechoslovakia. Bohemia has long been famous for its glass.

In the 18th century, Bohemia displaced Venice as the centre of Europe's glass industry - especially through its 'trademark' cut-glass and cut-crystal. Over the next century, Venice fought to regain its pre-eminent position, introducing many innovations as it did so.

Bohemian glass suffered a real body blow when the Soviet-dominated Communist Party - which in 1948 instituted a one-party dictatorship of Czechoslovakia - pursued an aggressive policy of 'socialising' the glass industry, i.e. forcing hundreds of home-based glass workers into various forms of 'collective'. 1989's 'Velvet Revolution' replaced the Communist Party with a multi-party parliamentary democracy; and in 1993, Czechoslovakia split (peacefully) into The Czech Republic and Slovakia.

What next for Czech glass?
Semi-industrial glass blowing, Jablonec
In today's Jablonec, the glass industry is split between a large number of small, mostly home-based craft businesses and a smaller number of large industrial manufacturers and retailers. The larger businesses are able to achieve economies of scale which the smaller ones can't match - especially when cheap imports from China are flooding the global market.

On a recent visit to Jablonec, it appeared that unless there is major new investment in the smaller companies, they face significant decline. With them will go centuries-old traditions of glass working that today are maintained by a very small number of - often ageing - craftspeople.   

Friday, June 5, 2015

Jablonec glass - in search of a virtuous circle

Jablonec, in the Czech Republic, has been renowned for its glasswork for centuries. However, on a visit to the town in May 2015, it appeared that competition between the town’s glass businesses, compounded by an influx of cheaper glass products from China, is preventing Jablonec’s glass businesses from growing their market.

A 'factory house' in Jablonec
Jablonec (‘Yab-lon-etz’) began to develop as a centre of glass art in the Middle Ages, when it was part of Bohemia. By the eighteenth century, Bohemia had displaced Venice as the centre of Europe’s glass industry. Today, Jablonec’s glass industry consists of two broad sectors: several small manufacturers and a few large wholesalers. Between them, they make and sell glass sculptures, chandeliers, tableware, beads and buttons.

‘Zero sum’ competition
Competition in Jablonec’s glass industry - both within and between its two sectors - resembles a ‘zero sum’ game. Each business can only increase its share of the market (e.g. for glass beads and buttons) at the expense of other businesses, until only one business – or a small group – remains in each market.

In that ‘zero sum’ game, Jablonec’s smaller glass businesses find it hard to compete with the larger ones. The larger businesses use modern equipment and processes, achieving economies of scale that enable them to fill orders swiftly. Many of the smaller businesses rely for their income on a pool of glass workers whom they pay at ‘piecework’ rates (i.e. per piece, rather than per hour) to produce glasswork using centuries old techniques and tools - often in centuries old family premises.

Hand-making glass buttons in Jablonec
The smaller businesses’ reliance on old techniques and tools can make it hard for them to compete with the larger ones. This, in turn, limits their ability to replace their old equipment with modern versions; and this makes it harder for them to fill orders swiftly … and so on, in a vicious circle of competition.

Growing the market
An investment of fresh capital could break that vicious circle, but one small glass business owner said that the local banks are reluctant to lend money to smaller businesses; and anyway, the availability of that pool of home workers reduces the urgency of the search for investment.

However, unless something is done soon, the smaller glass businesses will start to go under. Their current glass workers know that their skills and techniques are centuries old, and that there is a good chance that their skills and techniques will die with them. They are an ageing population, working in conditions that often sit uneasily alongside contemporary health and safety concerns; and local young people are reluctant to take on the jobs because of the poor pay and conditions. So unless the smaller local businesses can devise new business models that will attract younger people, the glass industry in Jablonec will contract into a small number of large companies. The ‘zero sum’ game will be played to its end.
From vicious to virtuous circle
One alternative business model would be to grow the market overall, increasing the income of each company within it - “The rising tide lifts all the boats” as US President John Kennedy described it.

Simply growing the market would reproduce the current disparity in wealth between the industry’s large and small companies. However, the disparity would be at a higher level of income, increasing smaller companies’ ability to not just survive but to innovate and diversify their operations. This would strengthen Jablonec’s glass industry as a whole, turning the current vicious circle of competition into a virtuous circle of economic and cultural development that could keep alive the area’s traditions of glass art, craft and industry.