Indie Businesses and the Revival of Craft Experiences

A new crop of small, hand-crafted, and proudly analog brands are carving out niches for themselves by keeping an emphasis on the human.

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Indie Businesses and the Revival of Craft Experiences Panel at the BRITE '16 Conference with: Ben Blackwell, Chief Archivist, Third Man Records; John Kimmich, Head Brewer & Co-Founder, The Alchemist; Bridget Russo, Chief Marketing Officer, Shinola; and Mike O'Toole, President, PJA Advertising and Host of The Unconventionals podcast.

The digital world dominates our everyday lives, and we increasingly organize our lives around the software, platforms, and devices of the largest technology brands. At the same time, there is a renewed craving for the human connection, brought to us by brands that are small, hand-crafted, and proudly analog. Watch this panel from the BRITE ’16 Conference and hear from leaders of three brands (Shinola, The Alchemist, and Third Man Records) pushing a smaller and personal brand experience that drives fierce loyalty.

The panelists included Ben Blackwell, Chief Archivist at Third Man Records; John Kimmich, Head Brewer and C0-Founder of The Alchemist; Bridget Russo, Chief Marketing Officer at Shinola; and is moderated by Mike O’Toole, President of PJA Advertising and Host of The Unconventionals.

The panel discusses the revival of craft as a counter-cultural manifestation. John Kimmich explained it as a cultural rejection of the watering down of society: “I was raised in the midst of when it had already happened, when the giant corporations had taken over and streamlined everything and dumbed down everything to the point they think everybody is going to like it. But everybody’s eyes were open up at some point to reject that and say there is so much more than that. It is not just delivering alcohol to your blood stream, and it’s not just flipping through a zillion digital songs. People need that connection to quality and realness and I think that’s what drives a lot of it.”

Bridget Russo added that “If everything goes in one direction and everything is digital and people are feeling in some ways more disconnected than they were before –connected in one way but disconnected in a more human way, it’s sort of natural for people to crave and want that human experience.” She went further to say that “retail isn’t dead just the experience is different.”

Looking at the success of Etsy, Russo continued, is a good indicator of where things are going “[On Etsy] you have mostly women making things on their kitchen table or in their basement then growing to a million dollar business and seeking out manufacturing outside of their home. That’s a huge indicator of people wanting to get into this, wanting to get into the business of making things again. People want to be connected to knowing how to make things, especially in this country, we were known for making things and not only making things but making great long-lasting products and that is coming back.”

In essence, the craft trend is led by consumers who have an appreciation for quality, a wish to learn where their products are coming from and the stories behind the products and the people who make them. As Russo points out, consumers are longing to hear the stories from the supply chain.

Another characteristic of the trend is relying on field experts as curators, who have the knowledge that can help consumers find their next favorite product, or in the case of Third Man Records, their next favorite album. At Third Man Records, they decide which records to press based on what they think is interesting. This curatorial approach has allowed them to move away from expected choices and press an album of say spoken audio of Carl Sagan with filters, melodies, and other tracks that they found in YouTube. “We couldn’t keep it in print.” Said Blackwell, the album has sold over 10,000 copies. The video has more than 10 million views.

Ultimately, as Mike O’Toole points out, the frightful piece of digital’s presence in our lives is that we depend on the devices and services, they’ve changed our lives “we’re all addicted to our devices, but we also worry about it and so I think we increasingly crave the small and the handcrafted and we root for categories that people used to write off as dying that are really coming back in a major way.”

WATCH the Indie Business panel at BRITE ’16 video above to learn more about how the craft trend is changing the way we make and buy.

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