• Stevie Hanna & Jed Johnson

Made with Passion – the Creator / Maker Culture Continues to Grow

The individual human drive to make or create something with your own two hands hasn’t changed much over millennia, even if the objects created have. From stunning works of art to comforting family meals, humans derive satisfaction and pride from things made through their own efforts and ingenuity. Today, however, many of us feel disconnected from a global system of production, where our labor increasingly takes the form of service or intellectual tasks. Let’s be honest, a well-crafted PowerPoint report just doesn’t flip the same cerebral switches as carpentry or repairing an engine, and in the digital era both tools and results are far less tangible. Now rendered consumers rather than producers, many of us have lost touch with the creative arts, turning to businesses for every meal or material need. The variety and complexity of the goods we use each day makes us all the more dependent on manufacturers with mass scale, as the products we buy are assembled by robots from parts made in dozens of different countries. Yet the urge to create, and indeed to claim ownership of that creation, is a fundamental component of the human condition. Hipsters and homemakers alike are clamoring for authenticity and customizability. Digital innovation has empowered small businesses to respond to that demand while the mass-producers who have dominated recent decades are left struggling. By creating or purchasing artisanal, handcrafted goods, people have begun to counteract mass-consumption, establishing the creator/maker movement. We’ll take you through the motives and drivers for the creator/maker trend and, in the next blog, how it’s changing GrowthWorks’ native state of Michigan.

There are several reasons why creator/makers have risen to prominence in recent years, one strongly contributing factor being the Millennials’ coming of age. Millennials’ were raised to aspire to individualism and self-fulfillment in every aspect of life, while also being socially networked in ways unlike any generation before. This drives us to create things we can share with others, the more unique and personal the product, the better! Dining at a restaurant may be exciting and “Instagram-worthy,” but cooking a gourmet meal from scratch or knitting an afghan is a much better way to showcase one’s personality and abilities. But that’s not to say that Millennials are beautiful and unique snowflakes! All generations enjoy and benefit from engaging in creative side-projects, with studies showing that those with creative hobbies are happier, more productive, and healthier in general. It’s no surprise, given that physical and mental wellbeing are the new status symbols, that the creator/maker movement gets a boost from those of us seeking mental and emotional betterment.

The rising emphasis on transparency and environmental/social sustainability is also drawing increased attention to the Creator/Maker movement. Mid-twentieth century consumers saw highly processed goods as marvels of modern technology and efficiency, but today more and more Americans are instead opting for fair-trade or U.S.-made goods that convey authenticity and superior quality. It’s hard to beat creator/makers for authenticity when they often own every aspect of the limited production and distribution of their goods. And with the growing move away from disposable goods and fast fashion, durable and high quality goods are seen as a better investment. They are able to leverage the benefits of being “Local” and better tap into the values and emotions of their customers, without wholly sacrificing the advantages of scale thanks to technological developments.

However, the Creator/Maker movement is also about reclaiming a forgotten past, in terms of both an overarching spirit of self-reliance and the specific skills and knowledge required to do things “the right way.” Feelings of vulnerability in a hyper-connected global society are a core driver of this movement. After all, what would happen if some catastrophe cut us off from the world and its wares? Tales of pioneers moving west or watching a few episodes of The Walking Dead can equally spark a desire for self-reliance. While still very attached to our lives of modern comfort and convenience (and admittedly craving more of those qualities), there is a growing concern about what has been lost in exchange.

The domestic arts are particularly garnering renewed attention among Millennials. In the past, there were greater expectations of men and women alike to maintain and manage their household (even if most of those tasks were needlessly gendered). With the decline in availability and popularity of home economics and industrial arts classes and the rise of two working parent families, Millennials have notably poorer abilities in the domestic arts: 70% of Millennials cannot sew a button, 30% cannot hard-boil an egg, and 18% cannot even make toast (disclaimer: all GrowthWorks Millennials swear they are proficient in these tasks). This makes those adept at woodworking, cooking, or sewing the exception rather than the norm, and thus more noteworthy in the eyes of their peers. Life skills often were not considered an integral part of the academic achievement that would supposedly position students for future success. Given how many Millennials have struggled to hit once standard milestones of personal and professional development and success, it’s not surprising that they are eager to explore alternatives.

We’ve talked much about what drives Millennials to become creator/makers, but let’s not forget the majority of non-Millennial Americans who are also involved in the creator/maker movement. As life slows down when children leave the house or retirement draws near, Baby Boomers have more freedom and resources to invest themselves in interests they’ve kept on the back burner. It’s no surprise that Boomers, given their reputation for having strong work ethics, take on “second careers” after retirement or pursue expansive hobbies beyond the traditional golf and bridge traditionally taken up by the 60+ set. The generation that said “never trust anyone over 40” has used creative outlets and production as part of their goal to redefine “old age” as we’ve known it.

One additional factor that can help spur creator/makers into action is economic. The Great Recession led to reduced incomes and higher unemployment, disproportionately affecting those born since the 1980s and prompting many to transform hobbies into a “side-hustle” (a now ubiquitous way of describing informal side projects completed for extra cash) and side-hustles into full-blown business ventures. More than a mere means of supplementing income, side-hustles are also a creative outlet for those who make a comfortable living but crave fulfillment that their workplace doesn’t provide. These extracurriculars allow individuals to gain broad experience and new perspectives, with more freedom to take risks. By immersing themselves in their communities, they can also keep a pulse on the most current trends and developments. While this can be true for any generation, Millennials were particularly raised to live passionately and individualistically, deriving fulfillment from every aspect of their lives, in a new iteration of the American Dream.

We at GrowthWorks expect the Creator/Maker trend to continue to gather steam throughout the next decade as consumers – particularly young consumers – continue to seek ways of self-expression, personal betterment, and presentation through digital channels. Stay tuned for our next blog piece, which will cover how creator/makers and innovators have made their mark in our home state of Michigan, both in the past and today.