Handmade’s Tale

Crafting is the couture of today's hipster set.

Gone are the days when arts and crafts were considered a frumpy affair. Tired of feeling like fast-fashion clones, a surge of nimble-fingered youngsters is spearheading a revival of indie handmade fashion. And a mushrooming network of crafter community e-commerce sites is following suit, including Etsy.com and Notonthehighstreet.com.

“The crafter scene has exploded,” says 23-year-old Emma Ferguson, who launched her eponymous brand in December. Embroidered purses, sweatshirts, brooches and buttons are some of the handmade wares she sells in a shared market stall in Brick Lane, London, as well as through her Web site and online stores such as Bettyjoy.co.uk, Bonbiforest.com and the soon-to-be-launched site Idontlikemondays.us.

Like many of her peers, Ferguson’s designs fuse contemporary graphics with old-school crafting techniques, using authentic patterns from the Sixties and Seventies. “It’s the next step on from vintage,” she says, adding that she makes around $1,000 a month in her market stall, and about the same with her Web site. The latter tool, she believes, will eventually take over, with more and more shoppers seeking handmade goods online. “I advertise through networking on MySpace,” says Ferguson, adding that the Internet also has given her exposure. She was recently approached to design an album cover for DJ Wrongtom, for example, and soon will be designing a range of merchandising bags for the record store Pure Groove in London.

Another crafter being scouted by stores is 24-year-old Buddug Humphreys, who also sells her wares through a market stall and a Web site. “People are fed up with mass market things,” says Humphreys, who specializes in quirky enamel jewelry. She delivered her first jewelry order, an enamel and metal birdcage ring made from recycled materials, to the Brooklyn Collective store in May, followed by a recent delivery to Kokon to Zai, the cutting-edge London-based fashion store.

“I think that the fact that my pieces are eco-friendly is also part of the appeal,” she says, adding that, on average, it takes around half an hour to make one item. Prices range from around $30 for an enamel brooch to around $80 for a silver one.

More and more young people, according to industry specialists, are making a living from their art. “One artist, Ashley G, has sold about 4,000 of her paintings so far, and has even been commissioned to do the illustrations for a book,” says Matt Stichcomb, vice president of communication of Etsy.com, an online market that specializes in handmade goods.

Since its launch in 2005, the site has grown to showcase 70,000 artists, with about two million hits so far this year. “The visitor growth rate has been insane—around 2,000 people per day,” says Stichcomb. Having sold approximately $14 million worth of goods in its first two years, the site generated just about $1 million in revenue last year.

Spanning a variety of categories, including jewelry, accessories, artwork and clothing, it costs members 20 cents to post an item, with 3.5 percent commission taken for each sale. The average price for an item on the site is approximately $17. Features include interviews with members, themed product profiling and a rotational system that posts designers on the home page for three hours.

Stichcomb attributes the site’s success to “lucky timing,” during an era when, more than ever, people want to know where their goods come from. “There’s a move away from mass-made product, from objects made in sweatshops or without any care for the environment,” he says, adding that visitors to the site are made up mainly of “socially progressive” shoppers in their late 20s.

And, while many of the site’s designers fall into the same demographic, a number of seniors, according to Stichcomb, also are getting in on the action. “There’s a resurgence of traditional crafts,” he says. “And the young and old are both learning from each other.” The phenomenon, Stichcomb stresses, is as much about human exchange as it is about earning a buck.

Likewise, at the firm’s 6,000-square-foot headquarters in Brooklyn, a number of workshops have been set up to teach crafting activities, as well as to instruct members on the various aspects of mounting a business. “Though it’s a global site, the idea is also to encourage people to shop locally with the aid of a ‘geo-locator’ search tool,” says Stichcomb, adding that local jobs have been created to help overburdened artists outsource their work. “The idea was to create an affordable way for artists to make a living for themselves.”