The new generation of creators is closer to our market than you think.
Regrettably, I am not a DIY guy. I’ll spend entire afternoons at museums, sometimes admiring a single painting for half an hour, yet I managed to fail art throughout elementary school. I can write about complex technical subjects but cannot attempt even the simplest of home improvement projects without risking a visit to a trauma-level ER. Somehow, concepts get hopelessly garbled on their way from my brain to my hands.
My manual ineptitude may explain why I was late to pick up on the DIY trend that began around the time of the Great Recession. I first noticed it at craft shows that proliferated in my hometown of Cincinnati – edgy weekend gatherings for a new generation of creators whose work was far more than a hobby, driven by entrepreneurial dreams and deep commitments to personal causes. I talked to a number of these makers, and their stories had several common threads. Many were well educated but had abandoned dead-end careers. Some learned to print as a way of bringing their ideas to life, leading to additional business opportunities as service providers to other makers in the community. All were well versed in social media and were using websites like Etsy to find buyers far beyond Cincinnati.
The maker movement has since become a global phenomenon with no sign of slowing down. The most visible manifestations come at the popular Maker Faires put on by Make magazine. The organizer’s website reports that 131 of these events were held in 2014; I’m counting more than 300 scheduled this year, on six continents. The two largest, held annually in San Francisco and New York, draw more than 215,000 people between them.
Further evidence that the movement is here to stay can be found in the growing number of public maker studios in communities all over the world. The website oedb.org states that more than 2000 tech labs and “hackerspaces” exist, a figure that doesn’t appear to include similar facilities at libraries and schools.
I went to my first such makerspace last weekend with my son, Sam. (Naturally, he made; I watched.) Like most of these facilities, it was well equipped with photo and video equipment as well as a 3D printer, computer cutter, drilling and routing equipment, and finishing tools for creating a variety of goods.
Interestingly, the machine I thought would have been the star of the space – the 3D printer – was sitting idle that day. A manager told me getting access to it was seldom a problem; in contrast, he said the wide-format inkjet printer in the facility was always booked at least four weeks in advance.
It’s just one data point, perhaps, but the takeaway for me was that craft trumps cool with these makers, who are more connected to specialty printing than most realize. Whether they become competitors to your business, valued employees, knowledgeable buyers, or simply educated consumers, your paths seem certain to intersect. Stop by your local Maker Faire or hackerspace to find out why.
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