through shaded lenses: is there a lack of vision in the new art & crafts movement?

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“I love making stuff.”

“I have a passion for craft.”

“I need to express myself.”

These are worthwhile pursuits. And I say, “Get to it!”

These statements are killer reasons to explore your artistic side. To get creative. To see what your own two hands can do.

But they are not good reasons to start a business.

Your passion for craft, art, design, and creativity is pure motivation. It’s fuel for your soul. But it doesn’t mean that opening an Etsy store will change your life.

The new arts & crafts movement is built on a huge vision. Led by Etsy, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Sublime Stitching, and other companies ahead of their time, a world is being built based on quality over quantity, craftsmanship over automation, and originality over sameness. This world is beautiful, a little strange, and always new.

[My vision for Etsy is,] instead of having an economy dictate the behavior of communities, to empower communities to influence the behavior of economies. In my mind, Etsy’s ecosystem is about empowering and supporting these very small businesses. That goes well beyond just a marketplace.
— Rob Kalin, Etsy CEO via the Wall Street Journal

The vision of this world is the “why” behind movement. It’s why it’s caught on so fast. It’s why people care so passionately about it. It’s why people are willing to spend money on things we might not have even considered buying 10, 5, or 2 years ago.

And it’s all about you.

The movement and the businesses leading it are focused on a bigger purpose. It’s not only about their passion and certainly not only about their profit. The purpose of this movement is to build a whole new economy, way of doing business, method of consumption, and manner of operating in the world.

While it may sound idealistic, I’m concerned about the number of designers, makers, and artists that seem focused so completely on what they want for themselves in their business: a creative outlet, a way to stay home with the kids, a side business, a way to get rid of some of those extra craft supplies. These are wonderful results to be striving for, goodness knows I’ve worked towards all but the last, but they don’t inspire action.

I don’t think these fledgling business owners are self-centered. They just haven’t been pushed to have a dream for anyone but themselves.

Products with a clear sense of WHY give people a way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe. Remember, people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.
— Simon Sinek, Start With Why

My argument here isn’t actually a marketing one. I don’t write this post as a business coach. I write it as a consumer.

The lack of vision shows up in telling ways: blindly following trends, putting faith in outside parties, not accepting challenges, copying others designs, or settling for last year’s tactics.

I’m not interested in why you’re doing this for you when I stand in front of your craft show booth or when I’m perusing your blog. I’m interested in what you want for me. I don’t need you to cater to me, I just want to know what I’m buying into. If I buy from you, I want to become a part of your vision.

I need to at least feel your purpose. I want to melt into your vision and become something bigger than myself.

Is that a lot to ask of a tiny business? A fledgling product? It sure is. But there is an overabundance of stuff that demands it. I demand it.

There is always room in the market for one more business, product, or passionate person with a clear sense of WHY.

Meaning. Vision. Purpose. Intention. Aspiration.

Sell me on those and you’re well on your way to making me want your stuff.

21 thoughts on “through shaded lenses: is there a lack of vision in the new art & crafts movement?

  1. Tara,
    I think brings up an excellent point. There is a definite intersection that needs to be met that satisfies the consumer and the designer.

    In the beginning it wasn’t always clear (for me at least) why i was making things. I just knew i loved really cute and kitsch meets practical. But then as i started getting feedback from my customers, i found that it made me exceedingly happy and gave me a sense of accomplishment to make other people feel happy when they put on one of my sleeping masks..

    Maybe others have a better sense of the WHY straight out of the gate, but i took a little longer to figure it out. It’s been a learning experience and i think it will take some makers longer to figure out that they need to know the “WHY”. Once they do, it all kind of just clicks doesn’t it?

  2. You’ve done it again Tara! Yesterday you wrote about what stories we tell, and now this ties it up so nicely. I am once again confident I am on the right path.

    I have always been inspired by the bigger picture in what I do, but only recently am I able to articulate this somewhat.

    I envision a world where we may work individually but always with the good of all in mind. I want to create quality products that may not be essential to survival, but that do inspire living well.

    I am going to work on my why today!!!

  3. I find it refreshing that a community is emerging, biggering and biggering that care about the WHY. How amazing that I can say “I feel like these items have lived an entire life before I met them full of adventure and mystery…my goal is to give them purpose again. It’s like taking an elderly lady, giving her a new heart…keeping her old soul and sending her to star on Broadway as opposed to putting her in a nursing home.” Which is what Happy Upcycling, more “in progress” project is based on.

    And the right person appreciates that.

    The trends however are hard to run from. The original idea hardly exists anymore. We have all been exposed to something in life meaning everything has some underlying influence…unless we are blind folded every time someone’s craft passes us by. I feel as artist, crafters we find ourselves fighting the “difference” in the time we could spend embracing our gifts. I realize that it’s important but there has to be a balance.

  4. This was really helpful. Thank you.

    (Longer response: I jumped back into etsy earlier this year, wanting to sell my photos. The best response, the most heartfelt I have FELT, too, has been the section of my shop with tsunami relief prints. No one’s bought anything yet, so I know I still need to “try something new” but my gut was to move more towards that photo-philanthropy and your post fuels that fire, too… Still searching for the “what to try” next, but I am going to get there!)

  5. Tara-

    This is a wonderful post that sums up the reason why so many new businesses fail: lack of insight.

    If an artists’ dream doesn’t intersect with their target’s desire then all bets are always off. Unfortunately, that’s just a basic marketing principle.
    I say this as a thoughtful marketer, and as an artist who walked a mile as an indiepreneur.

    When I first started copywriting, a colleague gave me some of the best advice I ever received. She told me to think of copywriting as the job that it was and to separate my “writing” from my “copywriting.” Writing was for pleasure. Copywriting was for profit.

    Separating the “art” from the “business” is not an easy task for anyone who considers themselves a creative, but it is necessary. I think people who are lucky enough to be creative for a living need to be adept at working both sides of their brain from 9-5. And therein lies the challenge.

    I think you do a wonderful job of making that challenge, less challenging.

  6. I’ve found selling at craft shows that my items make people smile, they give them a sense of wonder, and say how did you do that? It’s hard to get that across in pictures on the internet. That’s why I am trying to sell my items. They make people happy which in turn makes me happy. That’s why I have a blog post, usually once a week, for a featured artist, to try to help other artists out because that makes me happy. In the world we live in I think the ability to make another person happy, to make them smile, to renew their sense of wonder is priceless.

  7. It’s good to think about things this way — I’ve always had a vision for my customers, but I need to _remember_ it and keep it in mind in everything I do, or it isn’t worth much, is it?

    I want people to _look_ at the ingredients in their shampoo, their soap, in everything they put on their body. I want them to find out what all those polysyllabic names mean. I want them to know what each ingredient does when you rub it into your skin. And I want them to care enough to seek out good, safe, healthy, natural things to use — nothing artificial or chemical-laden or (like too much that’s out there) just plain awful for them.

    Heck, I cheer when someone turns to handmade soap, even if they buy it from someone else or start making it themselves (okay, I cheer _more_ if they buy mine). But I want people to _think_ about what they smear on themselves, to realize why it’s important, and to care enough to buy things that are good for them.

  8. THank you so much for this article! its good to look at things from the “other side of the booth” as it were, and know what customers and shoppers are looking for. we will certainly start to incorporate this idea in to our vison in the micro business community!
    great quote from Rob Kalin! thanks so much for sharing!

  9. This is a great article.
    Personally I found that having worked in a shop for more than a decade I had a good understanding of customer service and how to provide it, but less of an idea of how to sell MY product rather than that which I had sold before.
    It was only really when I started to explain how my production values translate into my work, and that my interest in sustainability was more than just lip service that people started to become more interested in what I was making.
    I found that the ‘thing’ I offer them is more than just jewellery, it is a chance to reduce waste and do a bit of their bit towards helping the world be a better place.
    This article is great because, for me, it has triggered me to think more about the ‘why’ of what I am doing, and whether I can, should, push it further, both in my working principles and in my conversations&workshops with customers.

  10. My sense of why has always been at the forefront of my creating.When I envisage my special customers this is what I see…

    you are standing in front of my painting or holding a piece of my art and you are feeling a special something rising inside you. its connecting with your heart. it might be that you are feeling loved, a special memory returns, or you might feel inspired to make some changes in your life. Maybe you just feel so damn good about yourself you want to keep looking at the piece…

    That’s my why, but do I communicate this through my biz? or is it just present? I’m not sure…

  11. I closed my handmade business down last year for a variety of very good reasons, but somewhere deep deep down there was also a dissatisfaction with the why behind Trove. It was about me, undoubtedly, as well as creating a lifestyle that appealed to me. My involvement in and passion for the handmade movement was secondary – it was something I discovered later and used to further my business.

    The launch of my blog has allowed me to focus more on creating awareness of the things I now value really highly (simpler, greener, more creative and mindful living). I find I’m now bringing others into my way of thinking, whereas previously I was simply presenting something for sale and not actively seeking to help or inspire my customers. It’s been a really interesting shift.

  12. Very, very thought provoking. . . I have always made, all my life. Making is a multi-generational family ethic that I have been steeped in. So I have not thought at all about the “why” to communicate to my customers. I do know, though, that handmade touches hearts. That is why so many people minister to one another with handmade – handmade preemie hats, handmade baby quilts and afghans, handmade teddy bears carried in police cars to give to distressed children, handmade chemo caps.

    So, back to my “why.” Just writing this comment to post has begun the introspective process, which is my first step to developing that “mission statement” that will communicate the heart of the ministry of handmade. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but it’s a start!

  13. I spent a year floundering around the why as I was trying to launch a business with my artwork. In the end I decided to go into a service based business because I felt so much more passion and clarity around my why when I discovered something bigger than just making stuff. I agree with Tracey above. I felt profoundly liberated by saying to myself that I was going to reserve my artwork as a pleasure just for me. It is very difficult to work in a creative field and maintain that boundary but it can be done.

  14. Two years ago when I decided to start my home-based boutique business, a dear friend recommended I write a ‘rough draft’ biz plan in which I crafted a mission statement that continues to support the answer to the ‘why’ question. I shall be forever grateful to my friend for that recommendation!

  15. This made me realise that I have that really clear in my head but I’m not sure I’ve made it *really clear* to the world at large… Something to add to my rapidly expanding To Do list!

  16. Hi,

    I just recently started to explore your site. I like how this article prompts me to think a little further outside of my current box. Thank you.

    Best wishes,

  17. A very interesting and thought provoking point Tara, and I’m surprised at myself for not having thought about this before. My main thought has been how to help myself into a career that I love, but I’ve a definite lack of focus on how to help my future customers! It seems so selfish now that I see it, and you know I always find it frustrating when I see other business owners act in this way.

    In the last hour as I’ve been reading other posts and thinking about what you’ve said here, I’ve been digging into what it is that I want to give other people/help other people with – and you know, I already know what it is! I’ve just never really thought about it and solidified it in my mind before – how could I not ever have felt it was important to think about!

    Anyway, this seems to be turning into a comment that’s very much about myself rather than what you wrote, but I just wanted to express to you how this post has has an effect on me. Thank you so much :)

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