Cassidy, Tracy Diane (2015) The value of design in craft for a more sustainable future. Making futures, 4. ISSN 2042-1664

Key concepts of sustainability in the contemporary consumer society include cradle-to-cradle, slow-fashion, locally-made, re-use, recycle and re-make (or upcycle). Each of these concepts focuses on the design and manufacture of products that are essentially made to comply to a theoretical sustainable framework, thus enabling people to live in harmony with our planet. In an ideal world we would consume and waste less however, to be truly sustainable we also require a healthy economy and so there is dichotomy to be resolved in our consumption behaviours and economic needs; Craft practices have been identified as fitting the bill rather aptly allowing us, in theory, to consume goods at less expense to the environment. Currently we are experiencing a period of, let’s call it Crafts Nouveau, unlike the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where craft was employed by designer-entrepreneurs, and unlike the Art Nouveau Movement which again harnessed the skills of designers and artists, today amateur craft-workers are joining the trained artisans in bringing hand-crafted items to the marketplace in their droves. Online platforms such as eBay and Etsy are helping such keen, but untrained producers of craft articles to set up micro businesses to sell their wares adding considerably to the amount of stuff available to consumers. As Luckman (2013: 260) states with regard to Etsy, there is ‘no gatekeeping around formal training’ and that this ‘inclusiveness’ potentially fixes a price of less value to all craft items, including the work of those with comparatively higher skill sets and expertise. The Craft Council (2014) reported 11,620 craft businesses operating in the UK employing around 43,250 people, of which, almost 17% are unregistered microbusinesses; while it is not to say that all of these unregistered businesses are run by amateur crafters, but the concept of devaluing skilled craft labour may still be appreciated within this.
This paper explores the value of design in craft from a theoretical perspective, drawing on a broad range of texts beyond those confined to craft to bring about a more holistic understanding within the context of sustainable production, with the addition of observations and insights from personal experience. The personal insights originate from the researcher’s accounts and observations of the journey from crafter to trained designer to master class practitioner in order to better understand the role of design in craft in the applied sense. The researcher continues to practice secondary to academia for the purpose of pleasure, experimentation and for further learning and research purposes. Research approaches are used to develop this inquiry to evaluate the role of design in the wider concept of craft as a sustainable means, both economically and socially. While the larger body of research considers a range of crafts, the emphasis in this paper is on those related to textiles given the researcher’s experience and the relationship with fashion, trends and marketing, which must not be discounted as a driver of the current craft revival. As the research study is still in its infancy the purpose of this paper is to attempt to begin to consolidate a range of perspectives gained from theory and observational research in order to invite a critical debate around the value of design in craft and the new craft movement in the context of sustainable futures.

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