Scale kills Craft

The challenge with craft is scale. Products, services, art created through intense focus and love, often one at a time. Each piece in one way or another signed by its creator through small differences, flaws, textures. Each one an original, a memory and a collectible, limited in number by the capacity of the creator.

The challenge with scale is craft. Products and services deconstructed to minute elements of process, and reassembled to ensure precise replication, standardisation and efficiency. The original created by an artist, and replicated through technology, each with precisely the same quirks of the original. Each one guaranteed to be the same, making the original invisible.

The commercial challenge comes with the balance between price and relationship. I pay around £250 for a pair of Hiut selvedge denim jeans. That makes them around three times the price of a pair of branded jeans from a High St store.

At a functional level, they last longer, and when they get a bit too worn. I can send them back to Hiut who will repair them for free. I think they last a lot longer in any event, though can’t be sure – I haven’t bought High St branded jeans for over a decade.

At a relationship level the difference is far more marked. My Hiut jeans are signed by the person who made them, at the workshop in Wales where they are made in a village that makes Jeans, and owned by the person who started the business when a corporate moved production so somewhere cheaper. Not so much a rescue, as a reinvention. Deep provenance and connection.

The High St Brand are still good jeans, identified by a product code, not a person and made somewhere I don’t know by somebody I don’t know paid the going rate for their labour wherever they are. No provenance, just industrial marketing.

I think the premium of the jeans I like, over the ones that are cheaper is probably around three pounds a month, or the equivalent of a High Street Latte. The premium I pay covers people doing jobs they love with people they love in a community of craft. I can do without a latte a month for that.

The reality is that scale kills craft.

The thing is, we’re all craftsmen and craftswomen at something. We all want to sign our work, and have the people who buy what we produce feel a relationship with us based on what we have done.

Scale was fine when there was a lot of excess demand for jeans, or anything else. There was an overall positive contribution. Now however, there is a huge inbuilt excess of supply over demand, with the gap being filled by shallow marketing and the drive for growth.

In a world of finite resources, we need to create what matters, where we are, with what we’ve got. The reward is in doing it for it’s own sake, knowing that what we do has leveraged our skills in support of something that has improved someone else’s day.

I think for me that’s the lesson of Covid-19. Money is a very poor way of judging value.

Published by Richard H Merrick

Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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