Amazon is revving up for the holidays with it’s new gift shop for its not-that-new-but-still-new Handmade sub-brand, positioned to take on P2P (or peer-to-peer) seller Etsy. I completed my first Etsy purchase in 2007 while on maternity leave, a purple handmade stuffed alien/monster named Kram, for my son. A year later, back at work, a co-worker claimed that Etsy would never last the economic downturn and consumers would once again settle for cheap goods coming from overseas, rather than spending more on something that was created on a much smaller scale. As it turned out, that co-worker was wrong. Handmade, handcrafted, artisanal, DIY and crafting took off in ways that were pretty unimaginable. Handmade is big business.
From the makers perspective, in our increasingly digital world, the desire to make handcrafted goods is only getting easier to understand. It’s tactile—digital marketing and the web simply aren’t the same. Saying “I made this” appeals in some kind of instinctual, gut reaction, especially when that thing is tangible. It's not that there isn't pride in the ad campaigns, websites and emails we create, it's just that the feeling when making something we can pick up is somehow amplified.
But what about the buyer? How and why does handmade appeal? Is it the revenge of analog? Anti-consumerism while still consuming? The idea of wearing something one-of-a-kind with a stamp of individuality appeals greatly—and not only to millennials. Upcycled clothing and bags are a good example, creating something unique from generic supplies. There may also be a strong ethnical component—a desire to support local entrepreneurs or just to spend money with smaller companies.
Regardless of its popularity, it’s not easy money for any maker today. First are the skills needed to actually make things (competition is fierce and DIY websites are everywhere) plus makers need a solid understanding of the finance and market sides of running an independent business as well as people skills if they’re going to be selling direct at craft shows and pop-up shops.