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Creative Leisure News
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The industry as seen by top designers.

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How and Why Craft Designs Are Changing

Because younger consumers want less structure (among other things).

by Michelle Temares, Ellie Joos, and Mike Hartnett (March 21, 2005)

(Note: The 3/21/05 issue of Creative Leisure News includes a report, "What Happened to the Smiling Bunny?" It highlights a changing trend in craft design away from what we call the cute, "Smiling Bunny Syndrome" to more free-form, less structured projects that enable crafters to follow their instincts rather than copying patterns and following rules and step-by-step instructions. We wrote the basic newsletter article, then sent it to designers to comment.)

More from Michelle Temares.

I think that a big part of this trend is an "anti-pattern" approach. The first sign I saw of this was about 10 years ago when the "paint your own pottery" stores starting opening. They seem to attract a younger demographic as well.

The young, hip crafting segment is all about individuality. It's very different approach than the industry has typically taken (e.g. here's the end product and here's the pattern and instructions to make an exact reproduction). Carbon copy make-it/take-its are the antithesis of how this group crafts.

Boomers and older grew up with strict fashion, style, and behavior rules (e.g., no white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, shoes and purse should match, furniture woods must all be the same in a given room, etc.). Gen Xers and Echo Boomers haven't just ignored the rules, they have developed their own new paradigm that focuses on, and values, creativity and individual expression.

If as an industry we want to reach these folks, we will have to have a paradigm shift as well in how we approach marketing, advertising, merchandising, packaging, etc. These folks don't represent the top of an inning, they are a whole new ball game and the rules of this game are dynamic and require new strategies in order to win.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The industry hasn't even recognized this group exists, never mind figured out how to market to them. We talk about getting younger customers in passing, but it's more of a wish statement than a well thought out goal and strategic plan.

In order to win this group, which is eager to be won, it will require everyone retailers, manufacturers, designers, etc. to work together in a cohesive manner developing and executing some significant changes in marketing and merchandising approaches. That's a tall order. Understanding the demographic and their needs, desires and values is the first and critical step.

From Ellie Joos.

Change or I'd rather call it an evolution is in the air. As you said, Mike, we can not forget those crafters just coming to the party, however we are definitely seeing a "thinking outside of the box" expansion in this industry. It's happening in the apparel industry and home decor with so many creative colors and products available, so it makes sense that it should filter into other industries.

Maybe it began with the younger generation's aversion to coloring books. I can remember my son's preschool doing away with coloring books in favor of blank paper to encourage expressive coloring and painting. It was not important to stay within the lines anymore.

We now have books called Stitch N Bitch and TV shows on Style Network called Craft Corner Deathmatch. The DIY network is recognizing this evolution with their newer, hipper shows such as Knitty Gritty. I just read that HGTV is looking to change their image, which has been described as stodgy, to appealing to a younger, savvy viewer, including the male viewer.

For a few years now, the quilts seen at Quilt Market are also getting quite expressive; you don't see as many traditional quilts, rather very creative examples with unusual fabrics, fibers, embellishments, and other techniques like those seen in Quilting Arts magazine. (The company's new magazine, Cloth, Paper, Scissors is stunning.)

So I guess what is needed is balance, which makes me think of the girl scout motto ( I think that's where it comes from): "Make new friends, but keep the old, some are silver and the others are gold."

I know companies cannot be expected to be all things to all people, however I do think it is possible to grow with your customer while keeping products fresh for those just discovering the craft and wanting their hand held until they feel secure enough to expand.

I remember from my days at Offray we had an 80/20 ratio; 80% of the sales came from your basic satins, and the other 20 came from the gorgeous fashion items. In order to remain a leader in the industry, the company placed great importance on always having new items to meet the needs of those looking for that 20%.

Random Thoughts from Mike Hartnett.

1. The evidence points to the younger generation preferring free-form, individualistic projects rather than those with patterns and step-by-step instructions. That's fine, except for the consumers with no artistic or creative sense. Or consumers who think they have no talent.

These people want the security of a pattern and specific instructions. They don't want to do their own thing because they assume the result would be terrible.

2. Look at the wealth of home decorating shows on television, particularly the HGTV network. You don't see "cute." (You don't hear the word, "craft" either.)

3. To see a more modern look in cross stitch, visit www.greatbearcanada.com. Not only are the designs not cute, the consumer is encouraged to choose her own colors, so the finished project is unique.

4. Scrapbooking remains the "cutest" category in the industry, which makes sense. Mothers are often creating pages of, for, and with kids.

5. In the heyday of the Int. Needlework Retailers Guild show in Charlotte, I would walk up and down two aisles, then start a third and stop, thinking I'd already walked down that aisle. I made that mistake because the projects in the third aisle looked just like the projects in the first and second aisles.

6. I've seen the latest show book for the Society of Decorative Painters convention in Tampa in May. It's filled with glossy photos of the projects that will be taught by at the convention. I'm sorry to report, but the book looks exactly like the show book from 10-15 years ago. If there's been any change in design, I can't see it.

7. A "hard-cover" book editor told CLN that majority of the best selling books are new, "cutting edge" designs, not the traditional stuff.

8. Years ago I wrote a column suggesting the industry was missing some potential sales by concentrating so much on cute designs. I was bombarded with responses from frustrated designers who wanted to do more, but were forced by manufacturers to keep things cute. I got the feeling there is a wealth of untapped talent out there.

It's unconfirmed, but it looks like there will be a place at the CHA summer show (Chicago, July) where the industry can see designers' work on display. Then you'll see what I mean about untapped talent.

(Note: To read previous Designing Perspectives columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To contribute your thoughts to the discussion, email Mike at mike@clnonline.com.)



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