Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rob Walker/Handmade 2.0

Rob Walker is the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are (2008). He is also contributing writer and columnist for the New York Times. His column titled "Consumed" is a smart discussion about consumer culture and the marketing of goods. In addition, Rob keeps a similar, but more dense blog called Murketing.

Throughout the presentation Rob listed various consumer tensions that I found also to be the tensions of designers both big and small.
This the tension list I could pull together from rough notes and my fallible memory, you'll get the gist.
1) Attracted to novelty except when the want the something familiar.
2) Being an individual except when they want to be a part of something.
3) Wanting progress and a connection to the past and craft.
4) Wanting cheap quality.
I would add:
5) Wanting to make nice and/or crafted things and be accessible to all.
6) Amongst peers, compete vs. cooperate/share.
7) Making a living and pursuing your craft.

Rob gave another list, what the consumer craves:
1) authenticity
2) ethics (spending your dollar is political)
3) quality
4) story

Larger corporations are generally equipped to make something novelty, familiar and cheap. What absent, is the story. I would also argue that craftsmanship is absent in mass produced goods. A personal purchasing encounter or relationship with a craftsman is where the consumer can find the greatest quality, authenticity and story.

So in theory this is what consumers want, but is it? Enter recession, enter the "new frugality" which attaches virtue to cheapness. We both agree that getting what is cheap is not always getting your money's worth not to mention the potential social and environmental costs.

In addition, I question whether consumers even know what quality is any more? Its hard to find in the big box retailers that make up our suburban landscape. I know within fashion it has been my experience that consumer's no longer recognize the difference between synthetic and natural fabrics, the different types of finishing on garments and or what a garment that fits looks like.

Rob pointed out that we don't know how to make/do anything anymore other than shop. If we are removed from the process of creating it makes it a lot harder to value goods and value quality goods.

There was a bit of animosity at the conference towards DIY craft. Rob believes that multiple versions of craft are just fine. There is room for everyone, creates various discussion at various levels and that the DIY crafts might act as a gateway drug for other "finer" craft. Ha, I love it. I have to agree. I don't think its hurting anyone or really a threat to master craft work.

1 comment:

mommymae said...

i love to shop, but man, i get a big kick out of handmaking a gift for someone. when i shop, it's for me. when i make, it's for you. the last time i bought a gift for someone was last christmas. we bought each of the kids 1 small thing on the santa list. otherwise, i made it all. this year, i'm making 4 quilts (lordy, help me.) we're trying to be better consumers and only buying what we need & getting good quality stuff so that we don't clog landfills. we get better & better each day. i've been reading & hope to comment more when i get the chance. i hope you're well.