Todays makers are the sparks that will re-ingnite our industrial furnaces.
They need to be. We are just 5 years away from losing our manufacturing skills base entirely. So says Mark Shayler, author, innovation activist and baton waver for the new maker movement, as he recounts tales of family get togethers gone by. When heros of the engineering swapped tales of milling roof battens for the new Landrover over sausages on sticks and cans of Tennants.
We caught up with Mark to put our March of the Makers series into context. Over the next month we will be sharing the stories from our favourite UK outdoor maker brands. They wont all be brands we sell. Few have reached the stage of Finisterre, with the production capacity to work with outlets like Gather. Some of them have no desire to.
The economy is in tumult. Old models are being turned over like gullible tourists on Oxford Street. Mark pinpoints three other aspects of change, in addition to the precipitous state of our manufacturing skills base.
Firstly: the democratisation of design in this distributed age. Anyone with a smartphone can be a product designer. Anyone can realise a vision, moving rapidly from concept to pre-tailed production run. The only people who don't love kickstarter are the brands that have rested at the top of their laurel trees.
Secondly, our over stuffed homes and lives. Ikea, of all people, nailed it when they concluded we have passed Peak Stuff. Since the 1980's consumption has become our national pastime. Mark calls it blood letting: scratching the consumer itch to fill the void, to kill some time, to give us a boost. Letting a bit of money out and a bit of product in. We all do it. We are conditioned. The economy wants us to. It NEEDS us to.
The final pivot point is the increasing desire to express ourselves using our hands.We spend our lives turning like cogs in big machines: chasing accounts, deals, eyeballs and click-throughs. Yet we yearn for the satisfaction of a finished product. For the physical ache and accomplishment of time invested in some Thing: Sourdough. Spoon carving. Allotments. Any Thing. The apex of the swing away from manufacturing towards the service economy, is driving many back to physical experiences. To making. To a new movement.
The shift has hit the fan: As Mark describes it, the shift is timely. He argues we urgently need to rediscover our manufacturing roots. To make things again, in the way we once changed the world. Because the silicon fashion, the ones and zeros of the new economy, are not anchored. They can. Will. Are being copied. Improved. Exploited. Done better, right around the world. Yes we still need them. Yes the economy has changed. No we don’t all need to slave away in back breaking labour until we shuffle off for a couple of years retirement. But we do need to rebalance our economy. Back towards making. Or we risk losing the ability forever to the 'Off Shore'.
You many have noticed we have stolen the Emperors clothes here. March of the Makers? Rebalancing the economy? Surely this is empty political rhetoric? From the mouths of politicians, yes. This is a change that will only be wrought through the twin axes of people and business. And that is why we are writing this, why we are doing the March of the Makers series: to foment a love for these brands that will help transition from the makers workshop to the manufacturing floor.
Some will cry “Monied middle class bollocks.” Mark's response is a well rehearsed heckler put down. One that reveals Big Retail and Big Finance's conjouring trick that makes stuff 'affordable'. He is a wearer of Hiut Denim (above): purveyors of £130 and upwards jeans that you can return for repairs and are guaranteed to last forever. Sure, you can get a pair of £80 Levi's from reputable catalogue stores for a little over a quid a week. But unpack the total cost: with a 39% interest rate over a couple of years, you're looking at £170's worth of expense by the time they have worn out and you're in hock for the next pair. The truth is that the less wealthy already pay more for the stuff they buy.
We have been conditioned to consume to provide benefit to the top of the tree. We need to shift to a more equitable model. One that rewards those employed in manufacture and protects the natural resources required for production. And this friends, is where we come in. We are a marketplace. We create a market. We are the long-tail retailers for the disruptive crowd-funded brands. And that is why it is our pleasure to bring you the stories that will grace these domains over the coming weeks. They are the future. We are now. Join in.
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