There were many heartfelt comments responding to the previous posts about the brand of craft. Some questioned the brand of craft. The over whelming evidence however, is that craft must adapt to the dynamics of the evolving market place. How is the question?
Holding on to values that makers care about while navigating the realities of the current economy seemed daunting to me also. Then I saw John Gerzema on a TED Talk that inspired some new insights and helped me focus on actions that the craft community can support.
The consumer has moved "from mindless consumption to mindful consumption." "By restricting their demand, consumers can actually align their values with their spending, and drive capitalism and business to not just be about more, but be about better."
Gerzema states that we are "going to go through four value-shifts that we see driving new consumer behaviors...."
The consumer value shifts that Gerzema describes will impact or has already impacted the craft marketplace. By understanding these value shifts, the craft community could better align itself with and take advantage of the emerging trends of consumer behavior.
"The first cultural value shift" is "..déclassé consumption." Déclassé consumption is the whole idea that spending money frivolously makes you look a little bit anti-fashion." Similarly, craft should not participate in the 'buy cheap and throw away' mentality. Craft could be about quality instead of quantity.
"The second of the four values is this movement toward ethics and fair play." "And, as a result, businesses must provide not only value, but values. Increasingly, consumers are looking at the culture of the company, looking for their conduct in the marketplace.... Complete transparency." Similarly, craft has traditionally been about multiple values. The value of handmade or artist made. The value of skill. The personal connection with the maker in the booth or at an exhibition. No factory model, no exploiting labor in third world countries.
"The third of the four laws of post-crisis consumerism is about durable living." Consumers increasingly want to obtain the full "value out of every purchase." "The principle is...that it's about being sustainable.." Likewise, craft could highlight sustainability and a conservative use of materials. Craft can be about traditional skills and heritage. It could be about "Made in the USA." Buying quality instead of quantity.
"So, the fourth sort of post-crisis consumerism that we see is this movement about return to the fold." It's a growing awareness of our place in the world. "It's now about connecting to your communities, connecting to your social networks."
Within this concept, "the artisanal movement is huge. Everything about locally derived products and services, supporting your local neighborhoods, whether it's cheeses, wines and other products." Ironically, many of these new products market their products using the word craft, crafted and crafting to develop an identity for their premium product. Craft fits perfectly into buy local, "support your local neighborhood or local producer." Craft is about the value of buying from the individual that lives in your neighborhood or has a studio down the street.
Craft and the "post-crisis consumer" can be closely aligned along a long list of values:
- QUALITY INSTEAD OF QUANTITY
- SUSTAINABLE and GREEN FABRICATION (without green washing.)
- TRANSPARENCY meet the makers, visiting the studio.
- IDENTITY OF THE MAKER as an individual (not a factory)
- BUY LOCAL
- ALIGN WITH THE artisanal movement
- MADE IN THE USA - no imports.
- CRAFT MADE WITH FAIR WAGES
- CRAFT AS AN EXPERIENCE
So what can artists and makers specifically do?
Specific actions can transform the craft market.
Insist that every show implement rules against imported items. If the show has no such policy, Don't even apply. Actively practice how the values of craft can be used to promote craft in the marketplace.
Make quality instead of quantity
Decline to compete on price alone. A downward price spiral is not a productive strategy. Craft needs to sell the values that makers add such as quality, buy local, or sustainable fabrication practices.
Differentiate your art or craft from third world imports and manufactured goods.
Participate in the experiential economy. Demonstrate with samples, or show your fabrication process.
Create understanding and appreciation for realistic wages.
Appeal to the consumer with service such as custom or commission work.
BELOW Ted talk from John Gerzema:
The post-crisis consumer