The industry as seen by top designers.
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)