In 2018, the rise of craft culture isn’t just well established; it already has the proportions, and the ubiquity, of a mature phenomenon, both in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere in the West. “Craft culture has seeped into cities and spread throughout the country,” writes Lauren Michele Jackson in Eater, “bearing the fruits of bean-to-bar chocolate and traditional butchery and single-barrel whiskey; ancient-grain breads and heritage-breed pigs […]; local honey and local beer and local pickles.”
The Future of Craftsmanship
If the culinary sphere was one of the craft revolution’s first and most visible ports of call, however, the movement is now looking to new territories. “We’re seeing explosive growth in many consumer products categories”, says a senior analyst at Goldman Sachs. “We really think the craft revolution will be a global phenomenon over the next 10 years.”
Underlying much of the interest in products that are handmade, unique, and/or artisan-produced is the desire for authenticity. “Consumers are […] becoming more picky. This boosts demand for more unconventional and signature items, and for products with higher quality, better prices, exclusivity and authentic and engaging stories.” Or, as Euromonitor International’s 2018 Global Consumer Trends report puts it, “The lingering impact of the global financial crisis has encouraged prime, working-age older Millennials and Gen X-ers to re-evaluate their spending habits. Simultaneously, the rise of the sharing economy […] is eroding their desire to own goods. The shift in focus from possessions to experiences is changing purchasing patterns, and driving buyers to connect with the product creation process.”
If consumers—particularly younger consumers—are going to make a purchase, they want it to come with a compelling origin story and a unique heritage. This preference transcends sheer taste. Craft products, in lieu of “the engineered, the mass-produced, and the originless”, also say something about their consumers: they become a proxy of personality, a physical token of an individual’s moral awareness.
But if craft culture has traditionally existed on a smaller scale, how can big retailers compete in a world gone artisanal? In a word: personalisation.
“Over 70 percent of retailers are trying to personalize the store experience,” remarks Brendan Witcher, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Adweek. “That’s never been higher. The reason is because so many customers respond to it. We see nearly three out of four consumers responding to personalized offers, recommendations or experiences.”
Retailers’ increasing investment is certainly well placed. “According to Deloitte research, one in three consumers surveyed were interested in personalised products, with 71 per cent of those prepared to pay a premium for such embellishments.” Today, it is the fashion and beauty industries that are most aggressively, and successfully, courting this new retail model.
Footwear giants like Nike (with its NIKEiD Direct Studio, which allows consumers to design their own pair of trainers in real-time) and Adidas (which has partnered with Carbon to create 3-D printed shoes that are scalable and potentially customisable ) are leading the charge, while brands like Gucci and Fendi are providing shoppers with customisation options on footwear and bags, respectively.
The retail colossuses aren’t the only ones pushing the boundaries of craft, however; a fleet of smaller companies are also taking advantage of technological advances in craft production. “London-based manufacturing platform Unmade […] has a different model: customised knitwear created within hours. The team has hacked industrial knitting machines so bespoke designs can be produced at the same cost as making thousands of identical pieces.” Likewise, consumers can turn to Cubitts for completely bespoke glasses frames, to Mon Purse for “customised handbags, partly enabled by new technology such as 3D printing, 3D knitting and laser censors” and Rapha, which is poised to launch Rapha Custom, its line of personalised cycling wear, this year.
It’s clear that advances in 3-D printing technology and the digitalisation of craft will only become more popular in the coming years. In Adweek, a Business Development VP at a 3D software company “predicts that advances in 3-D printing over the next five years will make it possible to produce bespoke tableware, footwear, handbags, sporting goods and other one-of-a-kind items. “That to me is something retailers should be jumping on,” she says. “Physical stores need to move from ‘storage’ to ‘story’ to remain relevant. Offering access to goods customers can’t get anywhere else is how you turn a store into a destination.”’
Still, there is a discomfort in this expanding notion of craft, and not only because the use of increasingly advanced digital technology muddies its definition. Big brands also risk diminishing the concept until it becomes thoroughly meaningless. “From product to product and industry to industry, artisanal quality seems to generate the same set of descriptions—small-batch, local, sustainable, vintage, heritage, farm-to-table, nose-to-tail, crop-to-cup—even though the point of consuming craft products is to enjoy something unique. The signifiers of craft have become so diluted that now even McDonald’s proudly advertises its “signature crafted recipes.”
Then there’s the fact that this neo-revitalisation of craft tends to be problematically homogenous in demographic. Noting its tendency towards whiteness, Jackson writes that, ironically, “for a movement so vocally concerned with where things come from, the proprietors of craft culture often seem strangely uninterested in learning or conveying the stories of the people who first mastered those crafts.”
Ultimately, the future of craftsmanship—with its emphasis on skilled makers, personalisation, and hyper-awareness of origin—looks bright. “This is the real future of manufacturing: an atomised but highly networked society of makers servicing an evolving market where consumers no longer want mass-manufactured goods but products that are bespoke and have that golden element all marketeers now crave – provenance. We are becoming a society of curators where consumers want a relationship with a product and its makers, not simply a transaction.”
Retailers like Ishkar, however, show another possibility. The company works alongside master craftsmen who live in countries at war. In so doing, it doesn’t just support individual makers facing great challenges, but encourages the revival of traditional craft practices that might no longer be supported in their respective local economies. In the developing world, the artisan sector remains the second-largest employer, as noted in the House of Killik talk; finding more ways to connect global makers with willing buyers is certainly an area of great potential.
This Story is designed to throw an everyday lens on some of the issues being discussed and debated by investors across the world; it is not research, so please do not interpret it as a recommendation for your personal investments. If something has piqued your interest and you would like to find out more or discuss what investments might be suitable for you, please contact one of our Investment Managers on 020 7337 0777.
 Goldman Sachs, http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/rise-of-craft.html
 Business of Fashion, https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/top-industry-trends-2018-4-getting-personal
 Euromonitor International, http://go.euromonitor.com/white-paper-economies-consumers-2018-global-consumer-trends-EN.html
 Business of Fashion
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