Brisbane’s creative community of independent designers and artisans have a long, largely undocumented history of collaboration and a DIY ethos.

Brisbane has always seemed a place of struggle for many individuals wanting to pursue a self-sustaining creative practice–with recognition and support hard to come by outside of this community. But with the rapid pace of change to our social structures, is the time right for less-established designers and artisans to successfully go it alone and create unique products or provide niche customised services?

There are a number of positive indicators, amidst what seem to be quite unstable economic times, that can lead to this assumption. Demand for handcrafted products has surged in recent years. Increasingly, consumers are seeking out unique, ‘authentic’ products and services, both on and offline. The international e-commerce site Etsy had revenue in excess of $530 million in 2011. Locally, the Finders Keepers Markets, which showcase the work of emerging designers and artists from Australia & New Zealand, attract over 5000 people attend to each event.

Designers now have access to many channels to show and sell their wares outside of mainstream commerce. From designer markets to meet the maker events, dedicated websites, social media platforms, blogs and specialist retail stores–the opportunities for exposure are significant. Consumers are wanting high quality, unique, innovative products and services, and view hand-crafted products as the ‘real thing’.

This shift to seeking the ‘authentic’ is also driven by a need for connection between maker and buyer. Consumers want to know the story behind the product, it’s heritage or provenance–when you know the inner workings of something, you tend to pay that much more attention to it. Objects become more appreciated and valued when the buyer knows the story of its production, the maker’s skill in crafting and the origins of its materials. Values are once again important: the values that the maker puts into the creation of an object as well as the values that the consumer takes out.

The demand for the handcrafted is also spurred on by innovative reimagining and rediscovery of traditional production methods. Traditional letterpress printing, the lo-fi photocopied fanzine and screenprinted textiles are some of the methods that are currently enjoying a renaissance among a generation keen to participate and appreciate design in an offline, tactile medium. The revival of old traditions and techniques is growing in international appreciation, and also reflects principles of the emerging ‘slow design’ movement.

In addition to increased consumer demand for the handcrafted, popularity is also on the rise for products and services that have the ability to be customised. While the ability to ‘customise’ has long been available from major brands such as Mini cars, Levi jeans and Nike shoes, independent designers and artisans now have the capability to produce small, limited runs of customised products that are better quality, can be produced quickly and are more affordable than ever before. The digitisation of manufacturing, particularly 3D-printing technology, will soon transform the way goods are made too—allowing locally based batch production on demand, in any quantity, and with customisation.

Of course, the downside to designers becoming makers and producers is taking it ‘to market’—they never know who will listen, what they will make of it, and whether it will be financially viable. The upside is that they are able to quickly adapt and respond, create meaningful connections with customers, have the freedom of self-expression, and time for creative exploration. The collaborative spirit of Brisbane’s creative community and support organisations that promote the professional design sector are also contributing to the changing attitude of consumers to invest in handmade, locally designed and produced, independent products.

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