Finland has received a lot of fame and respect in recent years thanks to its educational system, often deemed the best in the world. Both the high quality of teaching and the fact that education is free have become great sources of admiration. This praise has been echoed all the way to America, where I moved to about five years ago. Even though I knew about the benefits of the Finnish educational system before – being a product of it myself – it was only here in the US that I understood how far-reaching the handicraft skills we learn in primary school are, and how the Finnish handicraft traditions are such a strong part of the Finnish culture.
There are no craft classes taught at American primary schools, and craft skills aren’t as much of a tradition here as they are in Europe. Whereas nearly all Finns have held knitting needles in their hands at some point at school, in the US these skills are generally learned from grandmothers, libraries, hobby classes or nowadays the Internet. The youth that have grown up with computers are increasingly searching for more tactile activities. Having grown up in the age of mass production, millennials are more and more interested in the origins of goods and materials. The DIY – Do It Yourself – phenomenon has indeed become just as popular as other wellness trends such as organic food and sports trends.
Whereas nearly all Finns have held knitting needles in their hands at some point at school, in the US these skills are generally learned from grandmothers, libraries, hobby classes or nowadays the Internet. The youth that have grown up with computers are increasingly searching for more tactile activities.
As Paul Öhrnberg recently wrote in the Kauppalehti newspaper, ”This is not a small business trend, but a growing one with a lot of money in it and new business opportunities. According to a study by the Craft and Hobby Association, people spend more than $25 million (22 million euro) a year on various craft hobbies in the USA, so the birth of new companies is not a surprise.”
I personally work with two companies that are involved with the digital craft industry: I’m a project manager at Kollabora, a company that provides an active online community of makers of DIY fashion. In the spring, I also founded a new company called CraftJam, together with Kollabora founder Nora Abousteit. CraftJam offers two-hour craft classes in a fun and relaxed setting, paired with a glass of wine.
It is a known fact that in the US, the average customer age in the craft industry is over 50 years or older. Whereas the traditional manufacturers and retailers are fighting to reach a younger audience, new companies have surfaced to fill this gap. One well-known example is Etsy, a marketplace for handmade products and materials. Ravelry offers knitting patterns, and Craftsy and Creativebug sell video workshops, to mention a few.
Meanwhile the amount of free online DIY instructions and tutorials has grown exponentially in recent years. These user-produced materials have seen a 300-fold growth over the last three years and the videos are watched up to 4 billion times a day. Therefore it’s no wonder that even craft companies offering paid services are struggling to survive; it’s also clear that traditional companies need to focus on innovation and new approaches in order to reach young people.
We started our company CraftJam exactly from this perspective – that people are craving for more opportunities to be creative and to work with their hands in an inspiring and relaxed atmosphere. The information overload of the DIY boom may also have raised the bar high for starting new arts and crafts hobbies. It is in fact a lot easier to collect DIY projects onto your Pinterest board than to actually ever complete one of those projects yourself. This apparent abundance of opportunities may even paralyze enthusiastic handicraft hobbyists; Pinterest fail is a phrase surely familiar to many.
It is in fact a lot easier to collect DIY projects onto your Pinterest board than to actually ever complete one of those projects yourself. This apparent abundance of opportunities may even paralyze enthusiastic handicraft hobbyists; Pinterest fail is a phrase surely familiar to many.
When we founded CraftJam, we combined people’s need to do something practical, away from computers, together with an easy and approachable concept. The materials and supplies are gathered and ready for the creative moment. People spend two hours learning new skills, completing a creative project from start to finish with a knowledgeable teacher on site, and socialize with new people while drinking wine or tasting treats. This is not a new idea, but the concept and brand are clearly interesting for people, as proven by our rising popularity. As we crafty people know, working with your hands is addictive!
As we crafty people know, working with your hands is addictive!
It’s hard to say whether these types of events could work in Finland. In a metropolis like New York, they are popular because the experience-based marketplace has gained traction; in Finland people are already more familiar with the benefits of handicrafts to begin with, and the practical Finnish design is well valued. Some lucky people even get their grandmother’s handmade socks as a present every year. Having grown up with the Finnish handicraft culture, I’m enthusiastic about spreading the word in the United States. It will be interesting to see which arts and crafts companies will be successful in reaching the young audience during this DIY boom.
Päivi used Kauppalehti and KPCB as sources for this article.