Making. DIYing. Handcrafting. It’s a comfort to know that in 2023, there’s at least one field artificial intelligence can’t touch.
Whatever you dub the movement, crafting has shaped our culture and, increasingly, our economy. Growing demand for handcrafted or artisanal goods is too often viewed as a by-product of hipster taste or, as sociologist Richard Ocejo dubs them in his book Masters of Craft: “cultural omnivores.” While these young consumers have supported an upswell of artisans, experts suggest there is a lot more to the movement than mere trendiness: The Economist reports that Harvard economist Larry Katz once reckoned that the future of “good” middle-class jobs would rise from an artisan or skilled craft renaissance.
Learn how and why to launch what Ocejo calls a “new-old” job.
The rise of makers and crafters may seem like a departure from the traditional nine-to-five career with benefits, but as the Economist points out, the notion of the “company man” (or woman) is really just a post-war construct: self-sufficient artisans are the labor market’s historical norm. So, why have they returned? The following are just a few of the drivers experts contribute to the shift.
For all its devastation, World War II kicked the American economy into gear. Good workers were in demand, and employers were willing to entice the best of them with health insurance, pensions, and similar perks. The recession changed everything. As designer Michelle Smith told The News & Observer, fears surrounding unemployment and stagnant wages have prompted Millennials to become their own bosses, putting their faith in themselves. This tendency has also helped drive a second movement closely linked with the maker or craft movement: the homesteading movement, which promotes gardening, canning, homebuilding, and other means of self-reliance.
Employers have also played a role in the shift from company careers to the so-called “gig economy.” According to Financial Times, the prophesized automated takeover of the American workforce and the career equivalent of a seller’s market have compelled many companies to reconsider what they want from an employee. Now, instead of a Jack-of-all-trades, many employers prefer to hire a cache of specialists, under contract, who are exceptionally good at what they do. This means even highly educated workers may not get the insurance, retirement, and other safety nets their parents had. As one artisan told The News & Observer, some young workers believe that if they are going to take such career risks, they may as well do something they love.
The artisan movement may be more than an offshoot of the hipster movement, but the culture certainly helps. Skilled crafts are often considered more ‘real’ or authentic than the tech and finance careers that spurred our knowledge-based economy. According to Ocejo, that is precisely what cultural omnivores want. He says these young consumers depart from predecessors who prioritized brand and prestige.
Instead, cultural omnivores have democratized taste, meaning they may be even more inclined to buy a quirky, handmade wooden bicycle instead of a high-end commercial model with all the metaphorical bells and whistles. It also helps explain why, according to New York Times, new independent bookstores are experiencing a revival, despite the e-reader revolution and an early pandemic slump.
The backbone of the traditional artisan-based economy was the apprenticeship: students sometimes studied under experienced craftsmen and craftswomen for years before working independently. The modern job market no longer supports such a system; rising student debt means many workers need to get out and earn a solid living as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, they have a new tutor: the internet. Now one can learn how to do virtually anything from home and using multiple sources. The web also makes it easy for new artisans to network and sell their goods. This, coupled with the rash of new makerspaces and coworking spaces, which make space, tools, and resources more affordable, have made craft-based careers manageable. Just look at Anne Of All Trades. She offers online education on everything from homesteading to woodworking, animal, husbandry, and cheese making.
It is undeniable that the pandemic fundamentally changed the way people think about work. Not only do workers want more flexibility, but the tolerance for toxic workplaces and bad management is also at an all-time low. Workers are more prepared than ever to break out on their own and try something new. Grant McCracken explores these ideas in his new book Return of the Artisan: How America Went from Industrial to Handmade. As people moved out of cities to more rural areas, and traded offices for remote work, the artisanal movement flourished.
McCraken notes, “Thanks to Covid-19, millions of Americans went from being consumers of artisanal goods to being producers. People in the mainstream are baking bread, keeping bees, growing vegetables, and even raising chickens. Gardens are flourishing, workshops are growing, and sewing machines are whirring. Thousands have left the cities for the countryside, and if their companies don’t require it, they might never return.”
Artisan jobs are traditionally skilled crafts done by hand, though hand-drawn graphics and digital arts have blurred the boundaries. Nonetheless, the concept embodies a seemingly endless breadth of occupations. Canada’s Department of Employment and Social Development lists dozens of unique artisanal careers, for instance, from Aboriginal art-carver to wreath-maker. The first rule of finding the right craft is to figure out what you love and where your talents lie. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of deciding what to make. Here are a few of the most popular handmade items available websites like Etsy, categorized by craft.
|Popular Goods to Craft and Sell|
|Glass and ceramics|
Knowing what to make and actually doing it is the first step toward making it as an artisan, but does you little good if you cannot make a sale. For many crafters, that means hitting the web. Here are just a few popular online marketplaces that specialize in independently-produced goods:
Artisans seeking a more personalized exchange than the internet affords need not worry: according to The News & Observer, the popularity of handmade items has prompted many brick-and-mortar stores, flea markets, and farmers markets to sell and promote artisanal crafts.