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Crafting a Future: Part Two

In this second part of the series on small-scale manufacturing in the south, we wonder whether craft can really stay craft, even as it grows. Read Part One in the series here.

Can Craft Stay Craft?

Scott Swain, assistant professor of marketing at Clemson University, says he will be interested to see how the maker movement—a growing trend in which entrepreneurs, inventors, designers, crafters and creators are making a living making things for customers—plays out in the future. How does the definition of “craft” or “small scale” change as producers experience greater success and face the prospect of ascending to luxury status or expanding to large scales? In other words, can craft remain craft forever?

But Etsy isn’t worried that mediating the sale of more manufactured products will dilute its craft-centric niche. Etsy spokeswoman Nikki Summer says it will remain a place where consumers can “shop with meaning, looking for unique things, and be thoughtful of what they’re buying and from whom.”

“We did a lot of research as we were designing this marketplace and we learned a ton,” says Summer. “We’ve seen an increased number of inquiries from interested clients who are smaller designers. The future looks very bright for this.”

Building a Future and Recalling a Heritage

Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, agrees that the future is “quite promising.”

“Internet marketing and sourcing have dramatically changed the traditional supply chain and opened doors for a number of individuals and small businesses,” says Ebert. “As toeholds have been established, sales have driven production requirements beyond garage-based capability, thus creating jobs and significant growth in contract manufacturing.”

Technology changes and the availability of entrepreneurially-minded traditional management have enabled the blending of what had been considered outmoded equipment, traditional plant personnel and new, electronically based marketing and shipping to provide efficient, rapid turnaround of small scale, highly custom orders, Ebert explains.

“This shift is actually a factor in the early stages of a revival in textiles, as well as furniture and other sectors that had largely shifted off-shore,” says Ebert. “We are confident these trends will greatly contribute to North Carolina retaining and rebuilding its manufacturing heritage.”

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