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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wake Up Retailers! It is time to recognize the Indie Crafter!

The craft industry is in the midst of a cultural revolution and many retail store owners are not even aware that there has been a shift. I am referring to the Indie Craft explosion, which like all cultural revolutions, will mean big changes for the way that business is done. The Indie Crafter uses traditional craft forms such as knitting, crochet, paper making, jewelry making, sewing, etc. but utilizes them in a non-traditional way to create hipper, edgier products. She combines multiple craft techniques in her work. There is a focus on preserving the environment, pursuing change through political and social activism, and producing products through the use of recycling thrift store finds and vintage items.

The Indie Crafter is closely connected to her compatriots via the internet, where she communicates via blogging and craft forums. The Indie Crafter knows what she wants to create so she is looking to the retail store for the tools and the components, not the design. She may need guidance on a particular stitch, but she does not want to make the --dare I say it--frumpy cardigan displayed in your window. She wants the yarn and the needles, the beads and the baubles, but she already has a plan. No, the Indie Crafter is not interested in copying someone else's design by way of a kit or a class; rather, she wants to do it her own darn self. She is inventive and resourceful. Good for her!

I had a conversation with an artist friend recently wherein I mentioned the term "Indie Artist" and she was unfamiliar with the term, so I described it and her response made me giggle:

Hey! You just described us! That is what we have always done! We scoured thrift stores! We recycled! We made cool stuff--still do! We are old though, so I guess we are WRINDIES!

I have known her a long time and immediately knew what she meant by WRINDIE: we were wrinkled Indies! ARGHH! So be it. Time does march on, but just because we are getting older, it certainly doesn't mean that independent craft stores should morph into hangouts for the infirm and the elderly!

What is the crafty retailer to do?

In the immortal words of American Idol guru Simon Cowell, you must STAY RELEVANT! Diane Gilleland, the force behind Craftypod, recently interviewed Mike Hartnett, the editor of Creative Leisure News, a craft industry trade e-zine. His publication is focused on the business end of the craft supply industry and he has subscribers from twenty different countries. (Mike offers a free trial subscription and if you don't get it, GET IT! )

Mike acknowledged that the Corporate Craft Industry has historically been devoted to middle aged white women, with designs that tend toward the "cute." Further, many manufacturers continue to market the same products, the same way. He noted that there is a need to expand the focus and I would have to agree with him. Forcefully. He noted that the Indie Crafter has much more of a sense of humor than is evidenced by the big box craft store, which tends to avoid the radical while embracing the center. Craft magazines have been a bit quicker to appeal to the Indie audience with publications such as Stuffed and Altered Couture.

This slow move into the Indie Market can be leveraged by the savvy small independent retailer. For example, cross stitching boomed in the 1980s. The customer of that decade has aged, her manual dexterity ain't what it used to be, and her eyesight has turned traitorous. That customer will move into other crafts. The shop owner needs to cultivate a younger shopper to stay viable. Would you be shocked to hear that many young shoppers aren't interested in the cutesy canvases that appeal to many boomers? Check out the line offered by Subversive Cross Stitch, but note that the language might make you blush. Another line that offers old time embroidery transfers with a fresh twist can be found at Sublime Stitching, a site I discovered a month or so ago. Indie Artist/Owner Jenny Hart is a well established fixture on the Indie scene and authors a business column for Indie Start Ups at Craftzine. Many needle art stores have responded to the void in the market place and are carrying Jenny's line.

The internet is your connection to the Indie market. The brick and mortar shop owner would do well to spend some time traversing the web to gain a better understanding as to what is going on in today's craft community. The links I have posted to the right offer a nice sampling of what you will find. You will be inspired, enchanted, delighted, and more! Get involved in the community forums and offer comments where appropriate....after all, you might not have the Indie viewpoint, but your years have provided you with technique and training. Pass it on! You might be surprised by what you learn in the process!

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