This summer thousands of revelers sought out the ultimate festival experience. Though it wasn’t guitar shredding or whiplash they were hoping for. For this growing community, the rockstar headliners are brewers, chefs and potters. How exactly have these artisans become headline acts? Amie Knights talks to the Craft Revolution, furniture maker Heather Scott and design journalist Katie Treggiden, to get the backstage scoop.
Over the August bank holiday Make More festival came to London’s Victoria Park, to give punters the chance to get hands-on with everything from iron forging and butchery to bread making. Coupled with the success of TV shows like The Great British Bake Off and YouTube celebs DIYing their socks off, this sold out craft concert is just one more cue that ‘maker culture’ is no one-hit wonder. In fact, the Craft Council recently reported that the craft industry contributes £3.4 billion to the UK economy – a figure that shocked even the researchers. Clearly making means business. And marketers need to start taking note.
Lou Rainbow, Craft Learning Programme Manager at Craft Revolution has experienced firsthand the increasing number of people showing interest in making. She believes this is because they are tired of screen-based interactions. “We’re working with local makers who are wanting to make things that have heart in them, and that have a purpose,” she says. “I think people are just waking up to thinking ‘I wish I could actually do something’. They just want to explore working with their hands again.”
Events like the Make More festival, which provide practical craft workshops, have snowballed in recent years. In 2015 London Craft Week held 60 events, a number that pales in comparison to the 230 events programmed this year. And yes, every one was filled. Furniture designer and maker Heather Scott isn’t surprised. “People love these workshops because they get a moment to make something, and be reminded of these human skills that are so intuitive, but are becoming alien. We’ve been steadily losing touch with our own natural abilities,” she says. “Making allows you to experience what it is to be human in this slightly disengaged world.”
Design journalist and author (Urban Potters and the just released Weaving: Contemporary Makers on the Loom), Katie Treggiden agrees. “The revival of craft is being driven by multiple factors, but a reaction against our increasingly digital and sanitized lives is certainly one of them – in the same way that the Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against the industrial revolution. Both makers and consumers crave the tactility of the handmade.” This trend has become so prevalent that even online retail colossus Amazon has launched a dedicated category for artisans to sell their wares. Amazon Homemade now boasts an offering of over 1 million products.
Young people are curating their own online identities daily, Snapchatting and Instagramming every minutia of their lives. This digitally instigated sense of self has created a generation of people seeking to express themselves. And while digital technologies provide instantaneous and unending opportunities for this, the contemporary craft movement allows people to authentically make their mark in the real world.
Scott believes the ability to express your own ideas in a physical form is a vital part of craft’s revival. “People feel more of a need to find their own form of expression in this mass of social media where everything is a bit uniform. It’s like we’re all trying to express some individuality somehow,” she says. “Two people throwing a pot, for example, with have a completely different result because of the nature of having a unique human hand in the process.”
This sense of individuality can be found in consuming these goods too. “You can go into a shop and get a mug. But there’ll be thousands of that same mug in thousands of homes in the same city. So being able to have something that gives you a sense of one off-ness is increasingly important to people, I think,” continues Scott. “Also, things that are handmade are quite often more expensive. So they’re a much more considered choice. Because of this they become part of this physical depiction of your life. They are mementos of a time, and an expression of who you are.”
So is making really a counterfoil to staring at a screen? Are we simply rejecting bits in favors of atoms? Well, as with most things, it’s not quite so cut and dry. The rising numbers of people engaging in the craft movement demonstrates we’re trying to get away from our over-reliance on all things digital, but in order for these global craft trends to thrive and in fact, become more than just trends but viable businesses, digital platforms are becoming instrumental.
Look at online craft retailer Etsy. With over 54 million members and being valued at a staggering $5 billion, its role in turning hobbyists into thriving small businesses is undeniably pivotal. “Things like Etsy enable craftspeople and makers to reach huge international audiences, which 20-30 years ago you’d only have access to as a corporate business,” says Treggiden. Beyond sales reach, the opportunity to access knowledge via sites like YouTube has also made both making and business building much more feasible. “The internet makes skills like accounting and marketing much more accessible. There’s so much available, whereas once upon a time you’d be scrabbling around in the dark to learn.”
Then there’s social media. Instagram is brimming with artisanal makers. It’s even created celebrity craftspeople, like potter Jono Smart, who has a whopping 90,000 followers. It’s here that makers can let consumers in on their story and processes – the stuff that’s increasingly informing purchasing choices. “That idea of things being authentic and people wanting a part of that really supports makers. Instagram Stories is incredibly popular. People want to know where their things have come from. They want to be part of a story,” says Scott.
Whether it’s your lunch or a ceramic mug, knowing the provenance of the products you choose to consume can be seen as a reaction to distrust in big corporations. It’s about a demand for transparency, which brands now need to step up to (read All the Young Prudes to read more about this).
At a time when anything you can imagine can be found at the drop of a hat (or the swipe of a screen), our appreciation for the crafted object, rich in stories and human associations, shows no signs of slowing. So how exactly do marketers connect with this new wave of craft-infatuated consumers?
We’ve already seen the lingo being bandied around. ‘Artisan grilled chicken sandwich’ from McDonalds, anyone? Having previously worked in the marketing world, Treggiden warns marketers away from this kind of appropriation. “I think it’s really important to be authentic about the way you engage with the movement as a brand. ‘Craft’ has become a marketing buzzword and it’s started to lose its meaning. Unless someone has a genuinely handcrafted product, I would advise them to stay away from it – craft appeals because of its authenticity and transparency.”
Latching on to buzzwords only takes you further away from the real reasons behind the movement – the desire for connection, transparency and an a renewed appreciation for slower consumption. "Brands need to create space for consumers," Charlie Edelman, director of Story Studio at ESI Media has said. “This does not mean simply talking to them less, however. If you create meaningful content, which takes time to consume, people will spend time with it – as long as it is of worth and not shallow.” It may be a good time to explore analog marketing, but this doesn’t mean culling your digital marketing strategy. Craft enthusiasts are liking, pinning and purchasing online as much as the next digital obsessive. But this content will fall on deaf ears if it’s not authentic to your brand, and precisely crafted to the whims of you audience.
The challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to find a genuine way to emulate the euphoria Rainbow has seen in consumers connecting with craft. “We’re embarking on a marketing project with the Red Cross at the moment, where women come and share their skills with each other,” she says. “At the end of the sessions these women walk out like they’re leaving a club on ecstasy.”
Now that’s pretty rock ‘n’ roll.