As city living takes its toll on the mental wellbeing of young urbanites, and more people seek escape from their smartphones, a new wave of craft making experiences offers these consumers the ideal means of moderation.
Much of this resurgence of making and crafting comes as a result of a Millennial generation grappling with their often overwhelming relationship with personal technology. A 2016 Bank of America survey found that four in 10 Millennials admit to having a closer relationship with their smartphones than with the most important people in their lives. Similarly, a poll conducted in 2016 by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that researches the effects of tech on society, discovered that as many as half of teenagers now believe they are addicted to their smartphones.
Tallie Maughan, founder and creative director of Turning Earth, an open-access ceramics space in East London, believes the crafting process offers significant physical and mental benefits to these digitally fatigued young people. ‘Activities that are done with your body or carried out by hand, provide a much-needed counterbalance to the constantly updating world of digital media,’ she explains. ‘They exercise different regions of the brain and are not prone to the dulling effects of repeated simulation.’
The maker movement, she says, is part of ‘a wider slow living movement which is a reaction to the pressures of contemporary life.’ This, she suggests, could herald the emergence of a new form of materialism that involves ‘a more sustainable, more deeply considered relationship between the consumer and their environment.’
New urban artisans
Maughan’s ceramics studio is one of a number of new spaces in cultural centres around the world that are dedicated to bringing ceramicists and other makers together. Many are adopting a similar approach to co-working spaces or private member’s clubs, by offering dedicated studio space and access to all the necessary equipment as a monthly subscription. BKLYN CLAY, a new ceramics space that will open in 2018 in Prospect Heights, New York, bills itself as ‘a modern context for an ancient art form’ and will offer a monthly rate for 24-hour access to studio equipment such as clay, wheels, slab rollers, and even a ceramic 3D printer. The Ceramic Kingdom in Berlin, which combines workshops and ceramics space in a bid to ‘embrace the ancient form of clay in today’s society’, opts for a drop-in pay-as-you-go model, where enthusiasts are charged €10 per session.
Maker markets rising
Many new crafts enthusiasts are coming together to buy, sell, and celebrate craft items at a growing number of urban fairs that form important community focal points. In London, the Peckham Independent Ceramics Market sees young makers regularly sell their wares to creative peers in the neighbourhood’s Copeland Gallery. Crafty Fox, also based in London, is a growing network of local markets that offer a variety of crafts, from jewellery to kitchenware. Etsy, the global online crafts marketplace, has recently shifted its focus on to local neighbourhoods with Etsy Made Local events, where makers from the network sell goods in person. According to Etsy, since these events launched in 2015, Etsy Made Local events have grown 300%, implying that physical community remains a key part of craft selling.
Opportunities that enable makers to sell their products are key, especially as many are from a Millennial generation known for an entrepreneurial spirit and for turning their hobbies into hustles. Journalist Katie Treggiden studied this movement in her recent book Urban Potters: Makers in the City, a tribute to the new makers in cities from Tokyo to Sydney. The makers chosen for the book were selected based around criteria of ‘humility, patience, grit, and determination’, demonstrating how, for many ceramicists, the practice requires the ability to engage in a contemplative making process, but also the entrepreneurial drive to sell them afterwards.
Making over merchandising
Beyond ceramics, many small-scale retail brands are offering workshops and classes to customers who have a growing urge not only to purchase artisanal goods, but also to gain first-hand understanding of how they are made.
At Botany, a homeware and workshop space in London’s Clapton district, classes can be taken in a variety of traditional techniques, such as clay pinching, weaving, natural skincare production and botanical drawing. Barn the Spoon, a UK-based woodworker, sells his own hand-crafted spoons and enables budding whittlers to take part in day workshops, run by Barn himself, at an urban farm location in London’s East End. At The London Loom, guests can take part in workshops to learn how to weave specific items from wool, such as scarves or pompom jewellery, or embroidered pieces; for those simply looking to relax and unwind, a freestyle session lets individuals work on a floor loom in whichever yarn they wish for up to five hours.
Earl of East, a premium candle brand originally launched in 2015 by Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin, hosts workshops that enable people to make their own soy varieties. Dafkos explains that a hunger for acquiring knowledge, and a curiosity over exactly what goes into a product, is seeing businesses such as his respond with opportunities to let customers get hands-on themselves. ‘There is something mindful about working through a process that has a clearly defined beginning, middle and an end,’ explains Dafkos. ‘We are also living in a time when people are seeking to upskill. They are seeking more, and seeking to obtain experiences from brands. In this way, the product has become the take-away rather than the brand experience, as was previously the case.’
Block Shop, a textile studio based in Los Angeles, pushes the making experience even further; customers can take part in textile workshops at a desert-based retreat deep within Joshua Tree National Park. Equally immersive, but with the added purpose of building community and equipping people emotionally for life, is Sisterhood Camp, an ongoing event series in the UK focused on inspirational experiences for women that combine local food, new skills, and networking. Events carry enriching seasonal themes, such as Spring Self-care, which focuses on replenishing natural foods and skincare. Other prolonged events see guests escape overseas to a retreat that engrosses them in yoga, meditation, and life coaching.
These maker-inspired experiences take place within a context of continuous learning. Four of five Americans, for instance, now pursue knowledge as they wish ‘to learn something that would help them make their life more interesting and full’, according to the Pew Research Center. These multi-faceted maker experiences play directly into this and aim to add to people’s growing repertoire of skills.
DIY at home
A growing number of individuals are taking inspiration from maker practices and reinventing them for a domestic setting. These at-home activities engage consumers with craft processes in a way that fits conveniently into busy lifestyles.
Cult Vinegar specialises in live vinegar, which contains aceto-bacteria microbes that have digestive benefits. As well as selling its own pre-made vinegars, it offers products that enable people to create their own vinegars at home. The Cult Vinegar Vase kit, for example, includes a how-to booklet, a bottle of vinegar culture, and a contemporary handmade ceramic vinegar vessel. At Little Duck – The Picklery in Hackney, London, an offshoot of restaurants Rawduck and Ducksoup, diners can not only eat dishes from a pickling-inspired menu but also purchase pickling ingredients to take home.
Ultimately, these opportunities to get hands-on with process and preparation are part of a wider shift, as consumers seek deeper meaning from their purchases and understanding of how they are made. This curiosity is being combined with opportunities to escape, focus and switch off from screens and busy schedules, creating a demand for experiences that are both enriching and contemplative.
To sum up
Urban consumers are seeking opportunities to switch off and escape from the stresses of their busy lives
Craft and making offer significant mindful ‘flow’ benefits, as individuals focus on a specific task for a prolonged period of time
Many makers are entrepreneurial, seeking opportunities not only to create but also to sell items under their personal brands
Consumers require greater understanding of the process behind products and wish to be part of this process
- Making is part of a growing number of multifaceted experiences that offer personal enrichment and enlightenment
Words → Max Reyner