The last twenty years have ushered in a wave of entrepreneurship focused on the creative industries. Advances in technology and the Internet have affected almost every aspect of today’s culture. Before the internet, social media, and the ubiquitousness of the smartphone, creative entrepreneurs brought attention to their products through word of mouth and traditional forms of advertising, such as print and television. Creative entrepreneurs are cutting out these traditional “middle men” to access their consumers directly through technology such as Instagram, facebook, and online handmade sites such as etsy.com.
Creative entrepreneurs differ from a more traditional entrepreneur in the sense that they invest in their own intellectual capital or that of others, rather than a business concept or idea. Creative entrepreneurs are visual artists, crafters, and creators of handmade goods, which covers anything from artisanal cheese and hand-dyed yarn to jewelry and leather bags. There is a growing population of creative entrepreneurs who also call themselves “makers.” In essence, makers are artisans who craft things by hand, usually with high-quality materials and a skilled level of workmanship. Two hundred years ago, every town had a baker, a clock-maker, a seamstress, and other workers who made items by hand to sell to their local market. Today, this revival of handmade items is referred to as the Artisanal Movement. This movement, and the handmade products produced and sold within, fall under the umbrella of what is internationally considered the creative industries. This broad term is still being defined, and is often disputed as to what “creative” endeavors should be included in the definition.
In 1998, the British Council released a report aimed at measuring the value of the creative industries, because “there was evidence that the skills and work styles of the creative sector were beginning to impact on other areas of the economy, especially in the use of digital technologies” (Newbigin, 2014). What made this report stand out was when the 2001 follow-up “revealed that this arbitrarily defined creative sector was generating jobs at twice the underlying rate of the UK economy as a whole” (Newbigin, 2014). Today, almost every government in the world is researching the economic impact of the creative industries in their country. The study by the British Council concludes that small businesses “at the cutting edge of creativity, may not only be of growing economic significance, but in some sense, are a harbinger of a whole new economic order “ (Newbigin, 2014).
At first, one might think of movies, theater, or pop music as the main areas for growth in the creative industries. But, in fact, the growth of the creative economy is rooted in a return to the creative entrepreneur as artisan. This is a direct result of consumer demands and relatively low job security in the last couple of decades. Consumers have turned their interest away from corporate giants and are focusing their purchases on the small business. Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken has defined this growing sector of consumers and their preferences in his blog “The artisanal movement, and ten things that define it.”
In essence, this new breed of consumer desires products that are handmade, local, and made in small batches, all natural or simplified, and stripped of corporate branding. However, the product is personalized by the maker, who is believed to be more transparent and authentic than the corporate counterpoint. In fact, the consumer’s belief in these principles creates a feeling of connoisseurship to the product (McCracken, 2006).
Consumers of the artisanal movement want a personal story from the products they buy. They want to know where it comes from, who made it, how and why it was made, and to feel that their purchase financially supports the person behind the story they are buying.
A visit to your local farmers market will reveal both the creative entrepreneur and the artisanal consumer in their habitat. Here you will find farmers selling local beef, jewelry makers and crafters, artisan cheeses, small batch baked goods, and even a local string band panning their latest self-made album. These artisans and makers are all creative entrepreneurs, and their “micro-businesses” have websites, social media presence, branding, and even marketing tactics. Loyal customers “follow” their favorite vendors on social media and make a point to attend the farmers market to support local, handmade goods. Every Saturday they arrive to buy eggs from a neighbor’s farm, a handmade gift for their friend’s birthday, or fresh cut flowers for their dinner party.
As the artisanal movement becomes more prevalent, it seems everyone is making and selling crafted goods. Handmade market places such as etsy.com have exploded, enabling artists, craftsmen, and even stay at home moms to own and operate a small business. And yet, some of the well-known challenges of small business can utterly overwhelm a micro-business, which is too small to be equipped with ceos, marketing professionals, or financial consultants. In particular, these micro businesses have trouble with the demands of growth, internet marketing, copycats, and competition. So, how does a small batch, local, handmade creative entrepreneur compete in a global, corporate world? The answer to this question is still unraveling.
The artisanal movement is a return to connection through consumerism, and creative entrepreneurs have captured the attention of a new kind of consumer. This surprising evolution in demand has placed corporations in a challenging position. In Grant McCracken’s (2017) blog about the cultural expansion of the artisanal movement, he explains, “that [the] object on the shelf of Wal-mart doesn’t have a story. It was made by a stranger in a factory in Chengdu, shipped across an ocean, and banged around in the distribution system until it just happened to roll to a stop here on a shelf. It doesn’t mean very much because capitalism was so busy giving it value, it forgot to give it meaning.”
Creative entrepreneurs are in a powerful position to essentially change the marketplace. Corporations are not blind to this power. Because micro-businesses lack substantial resources, they are creating innovative ways to reach their consumers through social media and new marketing ideas. More and more, corporations are becoming interested in fostering these small businesses to gain insight about the changing market, and to examine the creativity and innovation the micro-businesses are utilizing to attract a growing consumer population. Large businesses are scrutinizing how creative entrepreneurs are using technology (such as social media) and community (such as farmers markets) to access consumers who are looking for meaning in their purchasing habits. Perhaps an alliance between the corporation’s resources, and the creative entrepreneur’s innovation will be the answer to how micro-businesses can compete in a global market. As the artisanal movement expands, the challenge for creative entrepreneurs will be how to create opportunities to grow and compete in this internet-savvy, world market without losing their beloved artisanal qualities.
McCracken, Grant (2017). The Artisanal Economies, Entry # 1: The Sofi interview. Retrieved from http://cultureby.com/2017/04/the-artisanal-economies-entry-1-the-sofi-interview.html
McCracken, Grant (2006). The artisanal movement, and 10 things that define it. Retrieved from http://cultureby.com/2006/11/the_artisanal_m.html
Newbigin, John (2014). What is the Creative Economy? British Council. Retrieved from https://creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org/guide/what-creative-economy/