In the 2nd part of our series covering the Imprint Culture Lab sponsored by Bread and Butter, and created by InterTrend Communications, this story includes how the Cult of Crafting has grown on a global basis, and how crafts, or making things by hand in the age of fast-fashion and all-time high consumerism has become a backlash subculture among a growing fanbase.
The Cult of Crafts session was by far one of the most interesting sessions at the October 1st conference because it addressed why and how crafts are becoming an increasingly important movement, especially among 18-30-year-olds. Moderated by Eric Nakamura, the publisher and editor of Giant Robot, the panel featured legendary crafter and fine artist Jill Bliss from blissen.com, Jamie Chan, the founder of one of the larger crafting fairs called Bazaar Bizarre, and Matt Stinchcoomb, communications director for the largest online crafting retailer, Etsy.com.
Working in a tactile medium where the crafts are not only the message of artistic expression, but also a source of income, the panelists all described how they got into crafts and why and how the evolution of a new-school form of crafting called %u201Cindie crafts%u201D is evolving. Jill Bliss, who many consider to be the godmother of the crafting movement, uses recycled fabric and paper to create journal cozies, wallets, and other cloth items. She explained that even though she has a Masters of Fine Arts degree and also makes a living as a painter, to her working in the tactile form of material is another form of art. Her crafting gives her the freedom to work for herself, limit driving to or from a place of employment, and participate in a generally kind and fun-loving community of crafters–both fans of crafts who buy her work, but also other artists at online networks and the growing plethora of crafting fairs such as Craft Con, Bazaar Bizarre, and the upcoming Felt Club in Los Angeles in December.
For Jamie Chan, who specializes in creating kits for crafting via hand-dyed yarn, wool, and other supplies, is also one of the founders of a multi-city crafting fair called Bazaar Bizarre. %u201CIndie craft,%u201D she explained, %u201Cis sort of the punk rock of crafting. So at Bazaar Bizarre we have many crafters who make things with an attitude or a message.%u201D In addition, Jamie said that the art of crafts has changed since our grandmother%u2019s version of handmade. %u201CIt used to be about making things perfect. For our generation and our fans, there%u2019s not as much focus on perfection like there was in the 50%u2019s and 60%u2019s but more on the artistic expression, the fact that it%u2019s made by hand, and perhaps odd and different%u2014you can%u2019t get anything like it because it was made by a person rather than manufactured.%u201D
Therein lies one of the crucial differences in crafters today and represents a backlash to the fast-fashion movement and big box retailers dishing out mass-produced products. As Jill explained, each of her pieces has a story. Most crafters express that they are personally attached to what they have made and being a part of the process is the act of art itself. Their products are as authentic as it gets and those who choose to buy crafts have made a decision of wanting that one-of-a-kind find that comes with a personal story.
For example, take a look at the numbers. On average Bazaar Bizarre has grown 20% a year, now up to 300 vendors at the last show. There are now 6 Bazaar Bizarre shows across the nation and the demand continues with producers having to turn away 2 out of 3 vendors who apply.
Matt Stinchcomb backed up the statistics of the growing marketplace of crafting. Etsy.com carries 180,000 artists with 2 million products per day. The company has gone from 2 employees to 65 and a revenue growth in 2006 from $3.8 million to $26 million in 2007, and $100 million in 2008. Where%u2019s the recession here? Clearly there is none. If anything, the demand for crafts from fans is increasing as more people turn to one-of-kind pieces as part of their personal choices within their lifestyle.
But as Matt pointed out, this movement isn%u2019t just in crafts. %u201CThe indie crafting scene is a part of music.%u201D Etsy, for example, may be selling %u201Chandmade%u201D music in the future. %u201COur criteria are that the products are handmade%u2014it%u2019s about making something utilitarian into art.%u201D As Jill also explained (and as captured in the upcoming movie %u201CHandmade Nation%u201D%u2014check out a preview clip on YouTube), a lot of this scene started from the indie music scene. %u201CI used to sell some of my crafts at the merch table along with my boyfriend%u2019s band%u2019s CDs at shows,%u201D explained Jill about how she got into the business of making money from her craftwork. %u201CI think a lot of us come from that culture.%u201D
As the future turns towards micro-economics, micro-payments (i.e. PayPal, E-Bay), and the pride of localism, these things are also feeding the crafting frenzy. Add to that the environmental movement which adds fuel to the fire of DIY in general. For many crafters part of the attraction is the ability to create your own lifestyle, which for many people means to limit or stop driving, and making sure they buy locally and support local industries. It also means being a part of a social club of crafters. %u201CNot everyone is a fulltime crafter,%u201D explained Matt, %u201Cmost do crafts on the side, as part of their entertainment, and socializing is a part of the scene, like hitting up happy hour with other crafters and making something while you%u2019re drinking.%u201D As Eric summed it up, %u201CYou might come home drunk, but it%u2019s pretty cool if the next day you realize you also made a plushy rabbit or a tea cozy.%u201D
Or, as Jill explained, you can join communities such as the “Church of Craft,” or as Jamie said “the Craft Mafia.”
%u201CFor a lot of us in the crafts scene,%u201D explained Matt %u201Cit%u2019s really more about being sustainable than making a large profit. Sure Etsy has been approached by other companies, but we%u2019re into creating a sustainable platform and creating a movement.%u201D For example, Etsy, based in Brooklyn, hosts local workshops with a variety of different themes%u2014from screenprinting to felt making. %u201CWe call them production guilds and we try to do a lot of these for the community.%u201D
Jamie said that at Bazaar Bizarre many people not only show their crafts for sale, but host mini sessions at their tables to show people how to make things too. %u201CThere are a lot of people who don%u2019t realize that they too can be an indie crafter and then once they make something it%u2019s just interesting to see how they react to this new form of artistic expression of themselves.%u201D
Hot items right now in crafting seem to be jewelry, especially silver pieces (but owls are totally out now), art pieces, bags, paper goods, felt pieces, and knitted items. Other growing subcultures include %u201Cfeltadermy%u201D also known as %u201Cvegan taxidermy%u201D whereby the artist creates stuffed animal %u201Cplushies%u201D usually from felt or wool and mount them on plaques.
Photo by Artist Anna Campbell
It should also be noted that along with indie crafts is the growing movement of %u201Ccraftivism%u201D whereby one uses their craft for protesting or declaring a message of meaning. As we wrote about previously regarding the craft protestors Knitta, their form of knitted art is a symbol of street art%u2014only, say, knitted high up on street poles or walls. Anna Campbell, for example, recently completed an entire exhibition called Warm Gun Series where she knitted white and red muzzles to cover a series of old black cannons.
Craftivism or crafting subversion is a part of the growing street art movement in general whereby people are taking back the streets from ads, billboards, and advertising posters with their own version of street art. Craftivism was also a big topic at the conference as all 3 panelists and Eric the moderator talked about how crafts as a word has been dropped by various institutions because it wasn%u2019t considered cool. For example, the Museum of Art and Design in New York used to be called the Arts and Crafts Museum, and various art schools have dropped the %u201Ccrafts%u201D part of their names, ironically just as crafting is booming. Which brings up the question of defining what is an artist or designer? Is a person who makes crafts a designer or artist? Is a fashion designer who%u2019s created limited-edition or bespoke pieces actually, in essence, a crafter since they are working in tactile mediums that are not mass produced?
As we move into heavy buying season for the holidays for crafters, Matt brought up an interesting movement happening within the crafting subculture called the %u201CHandmade Pledge.%u201D So far, Etsy has 27,000 people who have signed the handmade pledge to %u201Conly buy handmade during the holidays.%u201D Now that%u2019s one way to make a difference.
Next up in our series will be the Cult of Transportation and Cult of Collaboration. Stay tuned.
Photo by Knitta