The future's in their hands

People are giving up their day jobs and turning their crafty creations into money, writes Anneli Knight.

People are giving up their day jobs and turning their crafty creations into money, writes Anneli Knight.

Tess Curran is deputy editor of independent sustainable fashion magazine Peppermint, which celebrates the resurgence of craft culture and features crafty creators in its pages.

"Do-it-yourself is cool again," Curran says.

The reason, she says, is a kickback against consumer culture, where people would rather replace than mend or repair.

"In the mid 2000s - in part to do with the global financial crisis and an increasing awareness of environmental issues - people started asking more questions, and the idea about a consumer being blind and purchasing mass-produced products changed," she says.

Soon, people with craft skills felt empowered, she says. Next, bloggers displayed and discussed their handmade works online, and eventually the trend was commercialised as the internet connected creators with buyers.

"From a buyers' point of view, there's a desire for something really unique, and that's where handmade does well," Curran says. "People want to be wearing something that no one else has, or gifting something to someone that has real meaning or a story behind it."

Anna Blandford has built a successful handcraft business, Able & Game, which she and her partner now work on full-time, creating handmade illustrated cards with irreverent and quirky designs. She sells her cards online through website Etsy, wholesale across Australia and at local craft markets in her home town, Melbourne.

As well as creating handmade goods, Blandford buys products made by others. She says she likes knowing the personal story of the creator. "When you go to shopping centres, you buy a lot of stuff where there's no connection at all, so when you're presented with that connection you think, 'This is so nice'."

Blandford says whenever someone comments on the clothes or jewellery she's bought online, she passes on the story about the person who made the item and where they're from.

As a seller, Blandford says she built up her business gradually over three years, before leaving her job as a multimedia teacher to work on her business full-time. She recommends a gradual approach to starting a business. "Having less time can be good; you have to work smarter, and you've still got that income coming in," she says.

Different streams of income - from markets, wholesale and online - have also helped Blandford create her full-time business.

Among the biggest online marketplaces for handcrafted goods is Etsy, which was launched in the US in 2005. Australia quickly became one of its top-five countries for sales. Etsy now has five full-time employees here.

Etsy's Australian community manager, Angela D'Alton, says the market for handcrafted goods is massive: Etsy has a global base of about 800,000 sellers, and the website gets 41 million unique visits a month.

D'Alton says the types of people who sell their handcrafted wares online varies dramatically. The recent trend has been towards a higher degree of professionalism.

"There's anything from a nan crocheting cute little doilies, through to someone just finishing their technical design degree who wants to employ Etsy as their e-commerce presence," she says. "People can put in as little or as much as they want."

D'Alton says people have always yearned for a connection to the people they trade with. The web, she says, has ultimately broadened the boundaries of the traditional town market.

"Once upon a time, everyone bought things and traded within their own villages; you would have known the guy who made your shoes or the man who made your suits," she says. "That changed during the industrial revolution to mass production, shopping centres, retail chains, it just slowly moved away from that personal interaction."

It is the personal stories shared online that are bringing us back in touch, she says. "The internet is a solution to that scenario; you get to know the people who make the things you're going to wear."

Tips for making a handcraft business work

Don't give up your day job: it can take a while to build your handcraft business, so it's useful to balance it with regular income when you're starting out.

Share your personal story: online buyers love to know a bit about you, so spend time writing the page about yourself and the things that inspire your work.

Good photographs are essential: in an online business they are all your buyers have to make decisions, so it's important to give your products their best chance.

The descriptions of your products can also improve your sales: make your descriptions appeal to the senses and make sure the descriptions answer practical questions people might have.

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