There’s been a noticeable increase in crafted products over the last 5 years.
From Artisan Bread, Chocolate and Beer to handcrafted bicycles, bags and belts. Crafts have been celebrated in books, documentaries and Design fairs. Artists like Joana Vasconcelos have adopted crafts such as crochet and lace for their chosen media, and even graffiti has taken a crafted turn with new techniques in stenciling and knit-bombing. With significant developments in progressive crafts such as digicraft, many industrial designers are also turning to craft values instead of the traditional industrial ones.
But why is it that in today’s increasingly technological culture is there also such a strong crafts vibe?
A successful exhibition titled POWER OF MAKING at the V&A in London recently celebrated this craft resurgence and presented some reasons for it. A few of the exhibiting artists, designers and craftspeople like Ji Yong-Ho and Demakersvan have already featured in previous 74FDC posts.
“Making is the most powerful way that we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world. What and how we make defines who we are, and communicates who we want to be”. – Daniel Charny
In the interview below Daniel Charny the guest curator talks a bit more about crafts and the exhibition.
But to counter the current excitement about crafts I also came across this thought provoking quote:-
“In a consumer culture such as ours, labour becomes a fetish. Today, handcraft is inessential to most people’s daily lives” – Thought Blog
So whats really going on? Are we witnessing a return to craft values, or just craft fetishism? Commodification is after all quite a common practice. Is craft just another superficial trend destined to be replaced, or is it something more?
For example is the new Vespa 946: Handmade as the advert below suggests, or merely hand assembled? Is this the beginning of a new approach to the industrial process, or just savvy marketing? Is industry really moving towards a holistic manufacturing philosophy with a positive human and environmental perspective? And are craft values helping develop such humanistic manufacturing of increased care and awareness?
Although I see how it would be possible to turn craft into a fetish, and how companies can spin a crafty tale to appear more fashionably soulful. I personally feel that the resurgence of crafts isn’t just a fad destined to fade. I think it will be quite the opposite, the more technological our society becomes the more desirable, crafted product will become. I expect that today’s seed of a mostly fashionable crafted aesthetic will grow into a meaningful and healthy Craft Values philosophy that branches into all levels of industry.
I think that there are deep reasons for this craft renaissance and they include some of the following:-
In the last few hundred years since the industrial revolution, the growing use of technology has been creating a physical and social environment that is increasingly different from the natural environment that for millions of years has adapted the human race physically and physiologically. Today with so much technology everywhere the change is becoming increasingly visible and is causing different cultural reactions which are directing consumers towards crafts.
1. Crafted product can offer an easier and accessible insight and understanding of product, where it comes from, how it was made and what it was made of. Providing a compelling alternative in a mostly mass produced technological market, where so little is known about product, it’s origins and consequences.
In business and in leisure technology helps us to learn and experience more. For example our work, banking, shopping, media, fashion and travel experiences have all been enhanced by technology, but with increasing technological complexity it’s also becoming harder to understand the products we buy, what they’re made from, how they’re made and where they’re made. Additionally some consequential side effects of technology such as pollution and contamination have made us realize that despite it’s immediate benefits we don’t know much else about the technology which surrounds us.
We live in an industrial technological age with a culture of education, where increasingly educated consumers are becoming more critical and have a greater need to know more about the products they buy. From hamburgers to sneakers we mostly know only of their immediate purpose and that they come from a factory, a characterless box of a building located somewhere very far away. Crafted products on the other hand are arguably more transparent and easier to understand than their industrially manufactured counterparts.
Cydwoq Indies riveted upper design.
“the more you know the more you realize how much you don’t know” – David T. Freeman.
Crafted product allows us to know more.
Birkenstock Montana non stitched construction.
2. Craft Values are a reflection/extension of our increasingly democratic culture. Rooted in the product, craft values are reassuringly fair and balanced with an equal focus on product quality and revenue.
Osborn Huipil made using traditional Guatemalan textile.
Crafted product is also democratizing and inclusive as it allows almost anyone to make product or start a businesses with a relatively small investment.
3. In an increasingly digital life (surrounded with screens from Televisions, Computers, Tablets and Smartphones) are we turning to the tradition of crafts to resist the technological current pulling us towards uncertain cultural changes and future?
Oak Street Bootmakers Natural Captoe Trench Boot with Goodyear Welt.
The visual expression of physical work and tradition in crafts create strong emotional reactions in us as we try too regain a more natural life experience and push away the sense of confinement and sedentary lifestyle that digital technology can bring.
4. Crafted product is timeless and doesn’t follow fashions. In a market saturated with mass produced product and unauthentic cookie cutter design, owning, or eating unique and limited quantity items creates an uplifting sense of discovery and individualism.
úkata Huaraches Martinez “Cien Clavos” use no glue. The upper is hand woven into a nailed sole.
5. In an increasingly polluted world and disposable culture, crafted product allows consumers to actively reduce their environmental impact and eat healthier foods. Because crafted product is typically made using natural and high quality materials.
But ultimately in a technology saturated world, crafts provide us with an alternative, balance and choice. It’s no coincidence that consumers in countries with the most technology also have the greatest appreciation for crafts. As such it can be assumed that the more technological a culture becomes the more it will appreciate crafted product.
Trippen Rectangle from Germany.
Traditional Crafts Today
While most new progressive crafts have for the most part been conceptual explorations, traditional crafts have recently experienced a noticeable commercial success. The USA being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world is arguably also at the forefront of the traditional crafts movement. From East to the West Coast there are scattered artisans who are triumphing in keeping craft values alive with what you could call heirloom product design and craft.
Zak Pashak and Steven Bock of Detroit Bicycle Company, create custom Hand-Crafted Bicycles in Detroit and sell them worldwide.
Will Lisak of ETWAS produces leather bags within a craft production system which is halfway between bespoke and mass production, but offers the benefits of each. Creating timeless designs that last for a long time and not superfluous design just for style sake.
Tanner Goods of Portland Oregon produces Hand-crafted goods made with time-tested tools and heritage techniques. Taking pride in utilizing the most premium leather and canvas sourced domestically in America on their durable and natural utilitarian designs.
Crafts in Footwear
In the technical world of footwear, craft is illusive because it’s longer lead times and highly specialized construction techniques make crafted footwear very expensive. But although bespoke footwear is unaffordable to most people, there are still a few niche US based brands that offer high quality and affordable crafted footwear.
The White’s Boot Company was founded in Virginia prior to the American Civil War in 1861, but moved Northwest in 1902 to supply loggers in the booming lumber trade. Over 100 years later Whites Boots can still pride themselves on creating product using the finest materials, designs, and craftsmanship.
Whites Boots retail in Japan for around ￥100,000 or $1000 and in the USA for over $400. Crafted product is typically priced higher not only because of lower quantities made by much fewer people and machines, but also because there is also more attention to detail and the materials are usually of a higher quality and therefor more expensive. All being said with craft there is a greater emphasis on creating a timeless product which needs to also be durable, so you might spend more money on crafted product, but you’ll get a lifetime of wear out of a pair of Whites Boots.
Founded in 1951 in Hudson, Massachusetts, the family run Arrow Moccasin Company has been crafting footwear for 3 generations.
Using only Swiss Hides that are tanned in England and often 8mm thick. With uncompromising standards and workmanship, Arrow moccasins are completely made by hand and every stitch is guaranteed for the life of the moccasin.
So what do Craft Values mean?
1. For manufacturers it means making the highest quality product, often possible only by making smaller batch production quantities which allow for increased focus on quality and attention to detail. A total connection to the product creation process. Being part of a long tradition and passing on knowledge to future generations.
2. For consumers it means sharing the values and a direct connection with the crafts person who made that product with great care and attention. Using healthier and more environmentally friendly product even if it comes at a higher cost. Living a more natural and balanced life.
I believe that craft values are here to stay and the more technological our world becomes the greater the demand for crafts will be. Although crafts will never replace industrial technology and culture, a crafts philosophy can and should be applied to industrial technology and it’s culture, to promote a better balanced future.
Crafted product with virtue, for a more virtuous culture.
Over 2 thousand years ago Aristotle the Greek Philosopher frequently linked craft (Technē) with virtue. Today in an increasingly technological world with increasing potential and consequences there is also a greater need for moral excellence. As such Craft values are a well suited virtue for a positive and ethical development of future design and technology.
Promoting the use of high quality materials and careful construction, craft values are aspirational and set a higher quality standard with regards to product, just as we should all set ourselves for our lives. Craft values include greater product awareness; making and using quality product which will last and be useful for a long time, simpler product that is easy to use, build and dismantle. Product which can be fixed, or updated, product that is made from the highest quality.
“Understanding how something is made, why it’s made that way, is more vital to modern life than ever. Craft is a language of material, provenance and making. It is learning the value of things. Sure, handmade, well-made things aren’t cheap but their value isn’t solely monetary. It’s political and social – to know how and where something came into being makes us more invested in it, so much so we become more responsible consumers.” – Teleri Lloyd-Jones, Assistant Editor of Crafts Magazine
Via What is the role and value of crafts today? by Teleri Loyd-Jones
Whether making or buying a crafted product, the knowledge that it has been made with care and attention adds an important human dimension to the things we buy and use.
Everyone has a place for something crafted in their lives, whats yours?
With advances in automated manufacturing technologies, its also increasingly likely that manufacturing can return locally. Returning to the old local manufacturing model where factories are brand owned would be more competitive, allowing increased profits and lower prices, in the same way that brand owned retail outlets and franchises do today.