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Can the UK revive its craftsmanship economy?

By tomorrow morning we’ll know the result of the UK’s general election. Since the snap election was called, we’ve heard pledges from all parties on how they would support the UK’s creative industries. The Conservatives ‘pledged new technical design qualifications, a Cultural Development Fund for local communities and a focus on digital skills’, Labour has ‘a separate manifesto dedicated to arts, culture and the creative industries’ and the Lib Dems want to retain ‘arts funding from the National Lottery, protecting arts and creative subjects in schools and providing small businesses with tax relief and money to help them start up’.

Whatever the outcome, the UK government needs to harness the potential and fully nurture the UK’s booming maker market, which is emerging from the stereotype of the knitting grandmother and the bearded, woodworking hipster.

The Crafts Council UK reported in July 2016 that the United Kingdom’s crafts industry is worth 3.4 billion pounds. US based Etsy and the UK’s Folksy has had a large influence on bringing homemade to the mainstream, reporting a 33% revenue growth and a 4% increase in visitors respectively. In September 2016, retail behemoth Amazon launched Handmade at Amazon to tap into the market.

Italy has seen a revival of its craftsmanship economy, despite the recent economic downturn. Hiring in the artisanal sector has increased by 2.3% in 2016. This was, in part, a response to the “Made in Italy” campaign that succeeded in giving a fresh face to the image of the modern artisan. Stefano Micelli, Professor at the Ca’ Foscari University in Vince, told The Guardian that, “…I would stress that it’s not about being nostalgic and going back to the past, it’s about the future, technology, and being innovative.”

The demand to own and make handcrafted items seems to be springing — not from passing trends or nostalgia — but a reaction to the modern digital lifestyle. Annie Warburton, Crafts Council Creative Director, said in a 2015 interview with the Guardian that, “At one level our lives are increasingly virtual. The return to making and working with our hands is in part a reaction to that. There’s also an increased awareness of provenance. People are aware of the ethics of where things come from and how they are produced. Then there is the sense of wellbeing that comes with making things yourself.” Warburton is not the only person to postulate that there is a symbiotic relationship between technology and homemade products. Renowned artist and chancellor of the University of the Arts London, Grayson Perry explainedhow career makers everywhere rely on digital interfaces: “I would not describe any of these individuals as overly nostalgic or anachronistic in the digital age… My shoemaker very much depends on her website as a shop window. Her footwear is for a niche market and she needs to be found by far-flung international clientele.”

Growth in the maker movement is as much about knowledge-sharing as it is about selling goods. Retailers such as Hobbycraft have attributed their 60% soar in sewing supply sales to the easy accessibly of tutorials on sites such as YouTube. “How we learn to do things is different now,” says CHA-UK executive director Craig De Souza told the Guardian. “If you don’t know how to sew and knit you can just watch a video on YouTube.” Producing instructional content has become an important aspect of building a maker’s following and personal branding. The Small Business Centre of British Columbia reported that posting videos is one of the most effective ways of building trust with prospective clientele.

The trouble is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to be heard in the teeming mass of YouTube content. The search term DIY yields 56,100,000 results. The online video provider’s purely UGC model has drowned quality videos in a flood of subpar tutorials. In this wash of content (300 hours of video uploaded per minute), it is incredibly difficult to make a profit from tutorial videos.

It has never been a better time for makers in the digital age with the potential to now share images of — and sell — products globally. Yodomo believes that selling professional tutorials and craft courses, through a marketplace for creative skills-sharing, could become an important additional revenue stream for many artisans and makers.

Over the coming months we’ll be looking to see whether the UK political party creative industries pledges are upheld, and let’s hope that whoever is in power continues to nurture this revival of the UK’s craftsmanship economy.