Food. Clothes. Art. Musical Equipment. Consumer Design and Products. Can a mere citizen enter the fray of cutting edge design and production?
As a hobbyist designer with a passion for, say, high end audio, the options for actually producing a quality, well executed product may seem lucrative and completely not worth while. “It’s just a hobby” some say, or, “The cost of manufacturing tools or a bid at the factory floor in China are way bigger than my love for sound”, or, “nobody would ever purchase my design, there are so many other companies who have done this longer than me”. These answers are all valid, but may not be the complete picture when it comes to local, boutique production.
Can a passionate enthusiast use makerspace technology and peer support to bring small batches/limited runs of high quality products to a localized, niche market?
Could a food connoisseur use networking services to construct a timely supply chain for seasonal meals at local restaurants or cafes?
Would a local tailor be able to source materials and equipment to realise the material science and design they have always dreamed of for a coat in small batches?
Using cutting-edge makerspaces and the subsequent networking opportunities, I believe producing small batches of high quality goods and utilizing a local business/niche marketing approach or distribution system could increase the innovation and quality of any given local economy.
The idea of “group buys” is elementary in DIY audio circles. Folks going in on a board design for fabrication will often drum up some enthusiasm on the internet or elsewhere, in a move to offset the high entry price of board manufacture. I have noticed some folks take it a step further, and will not only complete the project they intended to, but perfect the project into a product and do a run of a few pieces to a few dozen and beyond. This model is actually a great asset to the developing maker; offsetting the cost (or even making a few coins in profit!) of larger projects inherently makes bigger and better projects feasible.
The folks building audio equipment in their basement, garage, or bedroom are, in essence, artists exploring art through avenues otherwise devoid of artisan qualities. It is easy to reproduce sound commercially- Apple supplies those iBud-earPod-headBeats with every phone they sell. Yet, the people in DIY audio are taking on audio components exactly how a great potter would craft a new bowl or coffee cup; functional sculpture, art in one of its oldest forms.
Below is a picture of one of the quasi-famous Jazzman ESL panels. A true labor of love and work of art, Charlie has pioneered the processes required to build a ultra-top-end electrostatic loudspeaker, in the confines of the home, job, and hobby budget. Now, Jazzman's speakers are built almost exclusively by hand, using careful measurement techniques to ensure tight tolerances instead of using machines that could do this automatically- making these panels really one of a kind and certainly not an option for even the most ambitious cottage industry entrepreneurs.
I bring these panels up simply to show what home-brew audio (or any labor-of-love-hobby) is about: craftsmanship, dedication, and a desire to learn. falling right in with home-brew beer, local pottery, cooking, painting, tailoring, and more, one can see from this artisanal point of view the value in these kinds of work.
Unlike some of these art forms found exclusively in art shows and galleries, only recently has there been an opportunity for individuals to reverse the commercialization of otherwise beautiful hobbies.
Commercialization and hobbies: can we have both?
You bet. As individuals get better at their craft and further down the hobbyist rabbit hole, (I personally) wonder where to draw the line as a hobby. Don't! We develop makerspaces to propel creation into hyperdrive; the next and last step in completing the artist's high-end project circle is selling the last project so the new batch can be justified. Because rapid fabrication and makerspaces are "a thing" now, people need to understand what comes next with all those creative and production juices flowing. I think many makers may not approach their custom brazed bikes, amazing wooden trinkets, or tube guitar amps from the view a painter would monetize paintings- but they (we) should. Art stores, art shows, audio meetups, DIY ecommerce sites, Etsy, craft conventions... These are real venues we should be adding to our vocabulary as makers. It is the last step to a full circle justification, and for me (in my hobby bird photography work for sure) it simply feels amazing to be at that stage of chatting it up with locals about where I took the picture of the merganser. It takes way more effort than I or my fellow artists will let on, (learning high-end home printing, commerce, getting a materials supplier, website, etc) and marketing/selling is not NEARLY as glamorous as hacking away at our craft.
But, at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do. Showing others through commerce the true value of maker craft not only educates and enriches, but increases the value in our local economies and local-maker-wizardry.