irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an
occasional guest columnist.
The Decade's Major Influences, Pt. III: The New
Generation of Consumers
They've just begun to shake up the traditional
by Mike Hartnett (August 20, 2007)
(Note: To celebrate Creative Leisure News' 10th
anniversary, I've surveyed readers and chosen the people, companies,
and events of the past decade that have had the greatest influence
on our industry of today. In previous issues I wrote about the
decade's most influential category, scrapbooking, and the most
influential person, Michael Rouleau – click on the headlines in
the right-hand column to read them. In future issues I'll write
about other major influences – Technology ... Media ... Changes In
The Old Order ... Imports ... Investors ... Lower Margins ... Yarn
and Beads ... Wal-Mart.)
Some random thoughts about younger consumers who are changing our
industry in some mysterious, unexpected ways.
1. This generation is willing to try anything and don't feel
bound by "old" traditions and stereotypes. A classic
example is the recent resurgence of knitting. Wasn't that supposed
to be our grandmother's craft? It didn't bother these folks when
they read In Style magazine's article about celebrities
knitting on movie sets between scenes.
A few months later, my niece who teaches at the University of
Kansas called and asked, "Why are all my students suddenly
Then the growth of yarn sales slowed, in part because of the
"Been there, done that" syndrome – another feature of
2. The new generation wants to make one-of-a-kind projects
rather than duplicate a model. This would explain the rise in three
A) Scrapbooking – every one is obviously one of a kind.
B) Beading/jewelrymaking. A bead magazine editor once told me
that, because of the varied and haphazard distribution system in the
category, the projects are presented as ideas, with no expectations
that readers will copy exactly the model.
C) Yarn. Younger consumers like the fact that to knit a
scarf, they can choose the weight and color of the yarn, and the
This interest in one-of-a-kind projects could also help explain
the decline of decorative painting and counted cross stitch where
the quality of a project is judged by how closely it replicates the
3. They are concerned about ecology. The Swap-O-Ramas
that have been described in CLN work this way: you bring a
bag of old clothes to the "Swap" and pay an entry fee. You
dump your old clothes and fill your bag with other people's
castaways. Then you attend the Swap workshops and alter and
embellish your new old clothes to fit your body – and your style.
4. They don't care about our traditional definitions and
rules. They will mix and match designs and blur what we think of as
separate product categories. They might be perfectly happy to
personalize a pair of blue jeans with duct tape from a hardware
store. That may not sound like a "craft" to us, but
"Fine art" painters look down their noses at decorative
painters, who scoff at crafters. None of that is relevant to this
5. They want to be – and look – unique. They not only
want their clothes to be unique, they feel that way about their
bodies, too. How else can you explain the trend for tattoos and,
gulp, body piercings?
Maybe it's not surprising, since so many Baby Boomer parents have
been telling their kids and grandkids since birth that they're
Questions about the future.
1. Whenever the industry goes through a fallow period between
hot trends, I have always been confident that another trend would
come along and, like the tide, sweep hordes of consumers into our
I was confident after reading futurist John Naisbitt who
predicted that the more high-tech our jobs become, the more we would
need our leisure-time activities to be high-touch. That would
explain the growth of crafts, gourmet cooking, gardening, and other
high-touch activities. It certainly speaks to me; after spending all
day in front of a computer, I love to go in the back yard and dig in
the garden. For people my age (61) I think high-touch activities are
our escape from technology.
But is that true for the younger generation? Is technology so
ubiquitous for them that, rather than wanting to escape from it,
they'd feel lost without it?
2. I'm afraid future generations of Americans may
have a lower standard of living. Between the trade deficit, the
budget deficit, job outsourcing, high energy costs, global warming,
and the coming weight of rising Social Security and Medicare costs,
when these kids grow up they may not have as much money as we have.
Traditionally the industry has done well during tough economic
times. Consumers would try to save money by using our products to
make gifts, update their apparel, and decorate their homes. Will
that be true again?
3. Will the pendulum swing again, from one-of-a-kind products
to replicas of a model? After all, the model was probably created by
an artist/designer who has far more artistic talent than the average
4. The trend had been away from general craft magazines to
specialty magazines (e.g. Crafts magazine becomes Paper
Crafts). Will this generation that seems happy to cross over
categories reverse that trend?
Thoughts from an industry veteran.
A note from longtime industry pro Karen Lichwalla: "My
daughters-in-law and their friends are in their late 20's to early
30's – now ONE of our customer bases (Baby-Boomers remain a
second). They are very, very different in tastes than I was at their
age: more hands-on with their kids, simpler in their decorating
styles, and VERY busy with scheduled activities – more so than we
"Some are scrapbooking – when time allows. Some are
knitting – big/quick things. Their tastes seems to run more to
"get it done fairly quickly" as opposed to creating an
heirloom masterpiece. They are also more into functionality – not
crafting just for the love of it. Again, schedules are impacting
them mightily, although I think it helps to have a craft that they
can complete for the old 'ta-da! look what I just
"Now, is this why needlework isn't selling to them? Maybe. I
can't image my daughters-in-law working on something time intensive
like this. Later they probably will; let's face it, everyone gets
tired of 'quick' eventually. Also, they're still
"In the meantime, us Baby-Boomers are working on grandkid
things, and we truly are a sandwich generation between kids,
grandkids, and helping elderly parents. It impacts our time to do heirloom projects too."
(Note: Agree with the thoughts in this article? Disagree?
Send your thoughts – on or off the record – to CLN. Email
To read previous Business-Wise articles, click on the titles in the