Maker Culture

The trend in consumer buying culture for awareness of story and provenance is growing hand in hand with maker culture.  

Locally I know of two handmade shoe companies, a couple of leatherworkers and numerous local crafts people.  Recently someone has set up as a knife maker.  My investigations into working with wool have also unearthed a lot of hobbyists.  People washing their own fleeces, spinning yarns, weaving, knitting, or creating crafted items with felt.

Fast Company’s “4 reasons why the future of capitalism is homegrown small scale and independent” promotes a maker movement, naming it “Indie Capitalism”.  Focussing on the established maker culture of Brooklyn and Manhattan it describes Indie Capitalism as a maker system of economics based on creating new value, not trading on old value.(1)

To me this echoes the discussion about provenance.  People are seeking deeper levels of value in the products they buy today.  But more than this Indie Capitalism sounds fun.  It is resilient and sounds rebellious.  People are making things for themselves, their friends, their communities, rewriting the rules, creating new economies and new ways of living.

“Having great tools and making great things begin to replace consumption as an end in itself.”(2)

Within Indie Capitalism brands are built as a function of doing, of being real.  The authenticity is eminent in the quality and utility of the goods.

On a small scale this is a sustainable economy.  A hand to mouth existence, where only what is needed/ordered gets made.  It sounds positive.  But I’m not used to operating in a culture of small.  I always come back to questions of size and growth.  I want to attempt to understand this smale scale, to move my practice towards this.

The questions that keep surfacing are:

If you are successful, you can employ more people? Great for the community.  But how about the responsibility to maintain a demand for your offering, to keep your employees in work. Does this fly in the face of being a maker?  At what size does this become industrialisation?

“There seems to be only one cause behind all forms of social misery:  bigness…

Whenever something is wrong, something is too big.”(3)

At the end of April I attended the Do Lectures, held in a beautiful but wet campsite in West Wales.  One of the speakers was Joel Bukiewicz, owner of Cut Brooklyn. (4)  Joel is one ofBrooklyn’s maker culture.

He shared his own expeiences on the question of growth.  At one point Joel’s order book had expanded to 2 years worth of orders.  This is a long wait for anything, let alone a knife.

Joel was faced with expanding, hiring more staff, buying more kit, moving to a larger workshop.  But moving from an artisan level of production to small scale industry wasn’t something Joel wanted.  More importantly he felt his work didn’t fulfil his creative desire anymore.

So Joel closed his order book.  He still makes 6 knives per week and has an apprentice to help out.  But he makes what he wants, rather than knives to order.  People come to his shop to see what he has made and make their choice.  The customer benefits from the opportunity to establish a personal connection with the maker.  This brand building through a relationship, the telling of a story is important for the maker community today.  Joel also runs workshops to share his craft.  He feels much more creative with this way of working and is still giving something to the community.

To realise this Joel had to take a look at what he considered success to be. And for him it wasn’t running a factory.  It was making things he wanted by hand.  Maybe to continue to be sustainable we all need to examine what we class as success more often?

Considering the “Keeping it in the community: Designers make jobs” article, I really like the idea of contributing to a community through my design.  Therefore an aim of mine would be to employ at least 1 person and have a micro factory.  But above all I want my work to be fun.  Making, playing, prototyping, finding news ways of working with local resource is where I’m at.

Maybe I fall in-between working like Joel and having a small scale factory.

But either way I remain inspired by Joel’s work and the discussion of craftsmanship we shared over a pint of Reverend James and a camp fire.

1, 2  Bruce Nussbaum

3 Leopld Kohr (The Breakdown of Nations).



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