Redefining Luxury

A further reason why maker culture is growing is because the definition of a luxury item seems to be changing.   In his article “Craft the New Luxury” Professor Bruce Montgomery argues that in our mass manufactured world, the exclusivity afforded to luxurious goods, and in some cases services, has been lost.

Maker culture answers this by offering uniqueness and often a relationship with the craftsperson.

Like the relationship between a bespoke tailor and his clients, the more a craftsperson can create and commercialise a relationship with his or her customers, the more that relationship will authenticate his or her products as luxurious. (1)

For meMontgomery’s observations sit alongside the consumer awareness of provenance.  Together they represent changes to consumer culture that are providing real opportunity for designers and makers to conduct work that matters.

In her article for Fast Company, “How Japan Melds 21st-Century Tech With Ancient Handicrafts” Suzanne Labarre makes a great observation:

“The compass of what constitutes a desirable luxury good is shifting away from mass production. Today’s consumers don’t want another bag plastered with the Louis Vuitton logo; they want something unique and handcrafted. Even if it’s just to slap onto their mass-produced iPhone.” (2)

Maybe luxury was overrated?  Maybe in today’s world of mass production all people want is a way to demonstrate individuality?  Alongside the discussion about provenance and locality, I believe we are entering an age where consumers buying power can have a lasting impact effect on our culture and economies.  I feel that designers and makers have an unsung power to steer this reflecting their ideals and positions.

During his talk at the spring 2012 Do Lectures Tim Smit encouraged creativity and creative thinking as an enabler of effective change.

“You’ve got to create stuff.  Beautiful stuff.” (3)

“Beauty will be the most important word of the next 15 years.” (4)

I have no doubt in my mind this was part a reflection on the subjects I have discussed here.  Smit’s words also make reference to Schumacher type thinking.  “Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.”(5)

Smit adds that the success of this cultural change is dependant on our abilities as Designers and Makers to create desirable products and services.  To tell great stories that challenge perceptions and expectations.  According to Thackara eighty percent of the environmental impact of today’s products, services and infrastructures is determined at the design stage.  Design decisions shape the materials and energy required to make them, the ways we operate them, and what happens to them when we no longer need them.  Design therefore has an enormous impact on resource efficiency in our economy, and can make a critical contribution in the transition to sustainability.(6)

These are beliefs shared by Tim Smit, that we should strive to be informed, creative risk creating individuals.  And to use our visions to shape our world for the better.

(1)  BruceMontgomery (Craft the New Luxury)

(2)  Suzanne Labarre

(3,4)  Tim Smit (Do Lectures Spring 2012)

(5)  E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

(6)  John Thackara, Clean Growth: From mindless development, to design mindfulness


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