The craft revolution is everywhere: Craft beers, specialty coffee, handmade soaps and artisanal ice cream. While some may think this is foolish snobbery, others revel in the esthetics of craft experiences.
The craft revolution is often seen as a reaction against excessive industrialization or as a way to keep traditions and culture alive in the face of a homogenized, corporatized world. Instead of privileging the pursuit of profit, craft businesses and professionals are part of the rise of creative professions. They are driven by esthetic engagement, creative expression and an aspiration for quality.
Between 1991 and 1998, the number of specialty coffee shops in the United States grew to about 10,000 from 1,650. By 2015, there were 31,490 specialty shops. Specialty coffee is now more than half of the $48 billion retail value of the US market. This rise in demand and popularity of a craft-oriented approach to a consumer good has shifted a large part of the market towards craft values and beliefs.
Businesses conduct their activities based on key values and beliefs. Craft firms undertake theirs striving for esthetic engagement, creative expression and an aspiration to quality. In contrast, commercial firms such as McDonald’s McCafé and Tim Horton’s privilege the maximization of profits.
Some have argued that craft offers more authentic products, perhaps because craft work creates a kind of one-to-one relationship between the producer and consumer that is different from the standardized mass market production that dominates so much of our economy. But while craftspeople’s creative expression might be found in their products and presentation, commercial firms have become skilled at mimicking the artistry of craft professionals, making it difficult to identify which is which.
Authenticity is an ambiguous concept—what one might find authentic might be seen as elitist by others. Perhaps the success of craft might lie in its capacity to tap into our nostalgic ideals of work and our increasing desires for connection with the origins of products and the stories and people behind them.