houses and birds print by judy kaufmann
in the last few months, i’ve been given a few opportunities to ponder the “language” of handmade. when i say language, i don’t just mean the random labels we put on things but the intrinsic meaning behind those labels. the differences between indie & traditional, crafter & artist, craftsman & crafter, handmade & independently produced… and also the phrases that we use to bring new people into the handmade movement: passion, quality, value, innovation, materials, technique…
do these phrases speak to people outside of the creative community, outside of the handmade movement?
and as people who cherish handmade things, art, design, and creativity, we share a burden to communicate our passion to the rest of society. finding the right language is an integral part of the process.
my guess is no. really, it’s better than a guess. we live in a culture that doesn’t necessarily put a lot of value on quality, innovation, and materials. we put a lot of value on how abundant something makes us feel or how it positions us among our peers. now, here you must forget that owning/wearing/displaying handmade in your community is a status symbol and think like an outsider. because most people are outsiders to our community. handmade gets lost. creativity gets lost. how can the language of handmade begin to speak to a society that values quantity over quality?
we must begin to speak a different language: a language that resonates with this society.
perhaps the best way to communicate the passion behind this handmade movement is to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of this generation.
Instead of having an economy dictate the behavior of communities, to empower communities to influence the behavior of economies. I’ve spoken at many universities, and there’s this huge entrepreneurial spirit in students in school now. In my mind, Etsy’s ecosystem is about empowering and supporting these very small businesses. That goes well beyond just a marketplace.
i agree with rob, it seems that few are satisfied being just another employee: maker or otherwise. we have a deep desire to move, shake, and make things happen for ourselves. to have control over our lives, our livelihood, and the world around us. i think bowing to the will of massive corporations (whether you’re employed by them or not) is an easy way to lose control. when you buy what a commercial tells you to buy, you’re giving up control of your purchasing decision.
embracing the handmade movement is a sure way to take control of our desire to consume. and at the same time, it is a great way to feel a part of something larger than yourself. it fulfills the desire to be different and to fit in at the same time. entrepreneurs embody this duality: their business is based on standing apart from the crowd – and yet they are connected, intrinsically, to the ancient path of movers & shakers who make dreams reality.
entrepreneurs have no desire to be a cog in a wheel. they have that desire to be different and yet, fit into a community.
so, as a creative community, how can we change our language to speak to this entrepreneurial generation? first start thinking like an entrepreneur. embrace these characteristics of entrepreneurial personality:
- entrepreneurs invest in themselves. entrepreneurs want to do what’s best for them. they want to embrace the best of the best and surround themselves with things that build them up from the inside out. handmade can do this. handmade objects, by their very nature are built from the inside out – full of spirit.
- entrepreneurs are accessible. entrepreneurs put themselves out there so that others invest in their dream – if we present the handmade movement in the same light, the entrepreneurs will reciprocate. what retailer is more accessible than a maker who sells their own goods? help outsiders tap into the community and take part in the accessibility.
- entrepreneurs follow up constantly. and so should we. it took my husband a whole year to give buying handmade a try. and he’s an art lover. but i never stopped hinting, pushing, and making handmade my go-to for important purchases. now he’s hooked and gets ticked off when we can’t give handmade gifts.
- finally, entrepreneurs ask for the sale. it can be so easy to forget that you’re advocating for a new way of doing business (whether your a seller or a buyer) when you talk about the handmade movement. it’s not just cool stuff or a diy attitude. it’s a new business model even a new economic model (see rob’s statement above!) and at some point, you just need to ask people to giving buying handmade a shot! what harm is there in that?
evangelizing handmade, just like advocating for any cause, requires a constant evaluation of the language we use to talk about it. it takes an evaluation of the audience you’re speaking to and the buttons you can push to get them to listen. if we’re to speak to people outside the creative community about the virtues of handmade, we need to speak their language not ours.
there’s still room in my new ecourse, between the lines, on telling your story and the story of your business! to find out more and register, please click here!