I just read a post by Whitney Smith, along with the comments on said post. I was going to comment as well, but as tends to happen, my comment got a bit lengthy. So in an effort to keep the comments on Whitney's blog more concise I decided to do my own post on the subject.
Yes, the craft industry is in a time of transition. But what really worries me is exactly where it is transitioning to. A lot of people say that there is currently a push towards more quality, hand made items. And to an extent that is true...at least within our circles. People naturally have a tendency to surround themselves with other like-minded individuals. Thus a lot of the people we interact with do have a desire to buy local, hand made, sustainable, quality, etc. Unfortunately we do not interact with the majority of society.
Now mind you, the following is not backed by any kind of hard evidence, just my casual observations. But it seems to me that the people buying quality handmade goods (like ours) are mostly older (30+), affluent (upper middle class) individuals. These people do not make up a large percent of the buying public. A much larger percentage of the buying public (the majority of society) is spending their money on crap. Mass produced, cheaply made, use once and destroy crap. This in iteself is not worrisome. This is, in fact, natural; it is to be expected.
What is worrisome is the transition. Like I said before, there appears to be a move towards more quality goods because those are the people we associate with. Perhaps there is a broader movement, but from where I'm sitting, I haven't seen it. What I have seen is a proliferation of cheaply made products. An increasing number of people are buying crap because that is what they can afford. And because more people are buying it, manufacturers are making more of it, and making it cheaper to increase their profits. Because it is cheaper now people buy even more crap, and the circle continues. And what is worse, fewer and fewer people can afford to purchase quality, hand made products, meaning more and more people are buying the crap.
Is this just a low point in the craft industry? Will the pendulum eventually swing back in our direction? I certainly hope so. But based on the recent economic trends and my experience with younger generations (whom we will be relying on to sustain the craft industry) I don't expect it to happen any time soon.
The economy is in the toilet. And despite what any experts say to the contrary, I have a feeling it is going to be there for quite some time, especially for a market like ours that relies mostly on an affluent clientele. And from what I have seen working in a public high school, the next few generations have little to no interest in quality made products. They have been raised in a throw-away society. They do not expect things to last so they do not make an effort to look for things that last. They are perfectly content to spend money on a product, only to spend more money later when the first one breaks (or they are just tired of it and throw it away).
An economy in the crapper; fewer people purchasing quality goods; the increase in production of disposable products; future generations with no interest in quality...all this adds up to a pretty bleak outlook for the craft industry in the near and possibly distant future. While I do think things will improve, I am not sure they will ever get back to the bustling economy some folks are used to...at least not in my life time.
Does this mean that there is no hope? Obviously not. It is simply a challenge. It is a rough patch that will have to be muddled through. Now, we might have to muddle for a while, but eventually things will turn around. And it is an opportunity to help educate the public about why buying quality, handmade goods is better than buying mass produced crap.
What this down turn also allows for is a reexamination of the industry, pricing, business practices, etc. Is selling through high end galleries that tack on 30 - 40 percent commission the best way to get your work out there? Maybe, maybe not. Is it really necessary to charge $40 for a mug, $50 for a bowl and $70 for a vase? Maybe, maybe not (I would lean to the "not" on this one, but that is a different subject). What do you need to do to continue supporting yourself doing what you love? It will obviously be different for everyone; but it is something we should continue working at and something we can support each other in.
That was a rather abrupt ending, but I ran out of things to say so I'm done. Tschus.