Challenges, problems, and triumphs
-- from a manufacturer's perspective.
Understanding Indie Crafters (by an Indie
What they want, what they buy, and how to reach
by Diane Gilleland (February 16, 2009)
(Note: Diane produces CraftyPod (www.craftypod.com),
a blog and bi-weekly podcast about crafting and the indie craft
culture. She also writes about craft for print and online
publications including CRAFT magazine, CraftStylish, Sew
Simple, and Hello Craft.)
As a member of the indie craft community, I was excited to see
indie crafters featured at CHA in January. Indie crafters have been
emerging as a culture for the past several years, and it's great to
see the craft supply industry begin to notice us.
The coverage at CHA, however, contained some inaccuracies –
most specifically, in the Trend Report distributed at the show. I'd
like the craft supply industry to have a more accurate picture of my
community, so I'm very grateful to CLN for giving me this
opportunity to share my own impressions.
Who are we?
The very term "indie crafter" is shorthand to describe
an incredibly diverse community. I know indie crafters who are in
high school, and indie crafters in their 60s. We're mostly women,
but there is a small and growing percentage of crafty men among us.
We participate in every craft category you can think of: we knit and
crochet, we make cards and collage, we sew, bead, embroider, dye,
paint, and anything else we can get our hands on.
This wide demography may seem to make us nearly impossible to
reach with marketing messages. Actually, we aren't so hard to reach,
but reaching us requires different methods than the craft supply
industry has been using. Let's get to that a little later, though.
What do we make?
Not only do we participate in many craft categories, we're very
exploratory as well. If you follow even a few of our craft blogs,
you'll see that most of us routinely practice more than one craft,
and many of us combine multiple craft techniques into a single
In fact, this creative approach is one of the ways we earn the
nickname "indie" (short for "independent"). We
aren't interested in replicating someone else's design perfectly –
in fact, we aren't interested in replicating anything at all. We'd
rather create our own unique projects, influenced by the people,
places and things we personally love. We likely place higher value
on originality than any other segment of the current craft market.
(If you want to see a great representative sampling of this creative
mindset in action, visit CRAFT magazine's blog regularly: www.craftzine.com/blog.)
If I had to identify a few categories that are more popular with
my community than others, I'd say that sewing, knitting/crochet, and
paper crafts (card-making and paper model-making, but not
scrapbooking) are prominent. If you want a good view of our overall
aesthetic, take a look at Japanese craft books – there's a vast
directory of them at www.craftlog.org/craftingjapanese.
Many of us appreciate the simplicity, sophistication, and
anime-influenced cuteness of these designs.
What do we buy?
Because we're so interested in making original things, our buying
habits tend much more toward tools and consumable supplies than they
do kits and pre-made components. We'll purchase embroidery floss to
stitch embellishments onto a favorite jacket, but we'll pass on the
sequined iron-on patch.
Our penchant for originality also leads us to haunt thrift stores
and eBay for vintage materials — fabrics, buttons, and trims that
can't be found anywhere else. And while these secondhand supplies
don't support the craft industry directly, it's important to
remember that every reclaimed clothing project requires needles,
thread, and washable fabric markers. Every recycled paper project
requires glue and sealer. We may not buy everything from
craft-industry sources, but we certainly are buying.
And on that note – there's nothing indie crafters dislike more
than seeing their imagery co-opted by industry. Trust me, if you see
lots of skulls and sparrows in our projects, it's a mistake to pour
development money into a line of skull and sparrow-emblazoned
products targeted at indie crafters. Just give us quality tools that
make our crafting easier and better, and we'll take care of the
We are interested in what the industry is calling
"green" products, but our definition of "green"
is very specific. For example, we're interested in recycled papers
made with post-consumer fiber. We want biodegradable, non-toxic
glues and sealers. We want recycled or sustainably-produced yarns.
We aren't interested, however, in products that merely represent
"green," like recycling-symbol stickers or earth-shaped
Where do we buy it?
I think there's a perception among manufacturers and large
retailers that indie crafters are somehow against the craft supply
industry, that we don't like corporations in general, and therefore
aren't likely to buy their products. In truth, there probably is a
faction of my community that operates this way, but I would say that
they're far from the majority. And even the most anti-corporate of
us needs a new pair of scissors or a packet of needles occasionally.
I do think that many indie crafters value local,
independently-owned craft retailers, but not every community has
them, so we also shop at big-box craft retailers. We also buy
supplies online when we can't find them locally. This diversity in
our buying habits may seem frustrating from a marketing standpoint,
but it's really a matter of focus. When we decide that we want a
particular craft product, we're willing to explore more places to
find it. All industry needs to do is show us the product – and
I'll talk about how to do this in a moment.
Why are we important?
The one thing all indie crafters can be said to have in common is
that we are tightly networked online. We use the Internet to
communicate with each other, sell handmade things to each other, and
more importantly, to share with each other. It happens on our blogs,
in our online stores, and on social networking websites like Twitter
and Facebook. And it's very powerful.
Let me give you an example. I'm a big fan of Clover's Yo-Yo
Makers. I have a blog, and I write about this product regularly.
My blog gets read, on average, by 1,000 people each day. Many of
those readers also have blogs, so if they try the Yo-Yo Maker on
my recommendation, they can in turn pass their recommendation on to
their readers. And so on. Through blogs, indie crafters are able to
transmit our opinions of products with dizzying speed and
How can you reach us?
Since we're so active online, you might think that the best way
to reach us is through your website. But that's not really the
I asked a number of large craft companies at CHA how they were
reaching out to the indie craft community, and most of them gave the
same answer: "We have a website that we use to push product
information out to the consumer."
Indie crafters are not purely consumers. Because of our blogs,
online stores, and the way we share our work online, we are also
producers. And the best way to turn a producer into a loyal customer
is to invite them to participate meaningfully in your brand. In
other words, don't sell to us. Engage with us.
In traditional marketing, a craft company will conduct research
to identify a group (or market) of crafters, and then broadcast a
single message designed to reach everyone in that group. But
broadcasting methods don't effectively reach an online-savvy group
like indie crafters. The best way to reach us is not to address the
group, but rather to engage with individuals. Each crafter you speak
to will in turn speaks to others, who speak to others, and so on.
If a craft company would invite me to comment on its newest
product, for example, I'd gladly offer my two cents. If a craft
company noticed that I had blogged about one of their products
recently and personally thanked me, I would be elated – and tell
my friends. And contacts like that are as simple as sending an
email. Because indie crafters are so enthusiastically online, we're
very easy and inexpensive to reach.
Another important way to reach indie crafters is to give them
some recognition when they use your products. When you find an indie
crafter who's used one of your products in a project posted on his
or her blog, why not offer to feature that crafter on your website?
Not only is that crafter likely to sing your praises through her
online channels, you'll also be sharing some very creative uses for
your products with your own online audience.
(Those crafters aren't hard to find, by the way. A Google search
for the name of one of your products will likely reveal a number of
these blog posts, in which a crafter has mentioned your product by
name. A crafter who blogs about your product by name is likely a
very good evangelist.)
It would also behoove craft supply companies to participate
meaningfully with large craft-oriented websites, where so many indie
crafters spend a portion of each day. The ones with the most reach
at the moment are (again) the CRAFT magazine blog (www.craftzine.com/blog),
and Etsy (www.etsy.com).
The indie craft community loves these hubs on the web, and we also
love any craft company that helps to support them. It should be said
that indie crafters are fairly immune to traditional display
advertising, so your company may need to engage in some
brainstorming with these websites to find creative ways for you to
have a presence.
The Internet has changed crafting forever, creating an
environment of spontaneous sharing. While this culture is harder to
pin down than the craft markets your company may be used to
addressing, in some ways, reaching the indies requires far less
effort than reaching mainstream markets. We're open to brand
loyalty, as long as we can be participants in the process. And
because we look outside the traditional, mainstream sources of
inspiration, we, in turn. inject constantly fresh ideas into the
The key is, however, that we don't need you to research,
repackage, and sell us back to ourselves. We just need you to listen
to what we're already saying and doing in public forums, and then
engage us in conversation. The indies and the industry have a lot of
value to offer each other.
(Note: Diane may be reached at email@example.com.
To read previous "Vinny" columns, click on the titles in
the right-hand column. To comment on Diane's article, email your
thoughts to CLN at firstname.lastname@example.org.)