The Evolution of the Maker Community

In the late 18th century and early 19th century Europe, most of the working population engaged in subsistence farming or were craftsmen who made handcrafted goods. These goods were either decorative or functional and were most times a combination of both. To become a craftsman required a great deal of skill and experience which was acquired by being an apprentice for a master craftsman. The master craftsman held the highest office and was allowed to establish his own workshop and to take on apprentices. The apprenticeship period usually lasted a period of seven years and in exchange, the apprentice was provided with food, lodging, and training.  Once the training was completed, the apprentices could go on to become master craftsmen themselves or journeymen, paid employees of master craftsmen.

The Industrial Revolution transformed how goods were made, especially the materials and processes used. Machines took the place of skilled artisans and cheaper material alternatives were used as they were easier to manufacture. The critical eye and skill of the craftsman was sacrificed for speed and convenience. Custom-made products became scarce to non-existent during this time period. 

In Africa, handmade items have been produced for centuries, usually to meet the practical needs of everyday life. These handmade crafts were also a representation of cultural styles and an exhibition of the makers’ skills. The industrialisation of Africa focused on the development of the export sector for raw materials which left other industrial sectors underdeveloped and handicraft products replaced by cheap imports. The handicraft industry became largely inactive during that period, from the 1920s to the late forties. This story is very similar to what happened to the craft industry in other continents across the world.  

Over the years, numerous efforts were directed towards reviving this industry and one of the most popular ways is through Makerspaces. Makerspaces started off as Hackerspaces which were mainly focused on STEM-related fields back in the 1960s. The concept of Makerspaces has now been applied to various industries and fields. The establishment of Makerspaces has assisted in achieving the goal of reducing waste and excess production which is one of the negative outcomes related to mass production. According to makerspaces.com;

A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools.  These spaces are open to kids, adults, and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, cnc machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines.”

In the past, a handmade business owner would need a huge amount of capital to invest in the latest technology for production. Makerspaces make the latest equipment and technology accessible at an affordable cost to the maker. This makes it easier for new makers to enter the market with an affordable, quality product that can be easily iterated upon feedback from the customer. The growth of the handmade industry and the increasing number of Makerspaces has several benefits to individuals, communities, the economy, and the environment including:

  1. Decrease in Mass Production = Revival of small city economic activity

Over the last few decades, mass production has been on the decrease whilst small handmade businesses are on the rise. Handmade businesses are becoming the new manufacturing industry. Through this, small cities are finding new life. The development of Makerspaces in these cities will make it affordable to enter the industry as the pooling of resources makes launching a handmade business attainable. A collaborative space also encourages innovation and the creation of inspiring products that appeal to the end-user. 

2. Handmade + Makerspace = Creativity and prototyping

Makerspaces give creative businesses the room to focus on the creative part of their business more. The administration and maintenance of resources are the responsibility of the Makerspace administration. With this and access to a community as well as additional resources, new products can easily be prototyped rapidly until the right combination of inputs is finalised. Due to the collaborative nature of the space, feedback is instant and input from fellow creatives can help speed up the process of developing the final product.

3. Creation of environmentally friendly products 

Unlike traditional mass production companies whose main focus is on producing items at the lowest cost in order to achieve high-profit margins, upcoming small businesses take into consideration how they can make their entire production process eco-friendly and do not always focus on the profit aspect alone. Makerspaces have also begun to adopt strategies that ensure that their operations are eco-friendly and help solve some of the environmental challenges that we are facing today. 

The manufacturing/handicraft industry has evolved over the decades. It’s quite ironic how the world is reverting to factory settings which were better for the environment as well as for an individual’s health. This return to creating items that represent cultures and communities all over the world and making a positive contribution to the environment is inspiring. The positive community that Makerspaces have amassed is wondrous. 

Be sure to check out the Makerspace communities in your area!  

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