Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The "Heritage-Brand Hipster" Movement

Finding a gift guide dedicated to the above on Remodelista was a huge A-HA moment.  It's the first time I had encountered the phrase "heritage-brand," let alone in conjunction with hipster, and it resonated.  Admittedly this must be an itsy-bitsy demographic, and somewhat slippery, especially in that it includes the word hipster.  I don't think anybody self-identifies as a hipster, at least without irony.  In this case, though, I think this is less about being hipster and more about reviving interest in quality products.  I like the way that hipster wasn't used pejoratively in the Remodelista post, more as a stand-in for discerningly current.  These brands, their production techniques and their artisan flair are important.  They are like the heirloom seeds of American manufacturing (forgive me the clumsy simile, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around all this).

This is the time of year that people buy a lot of stuff, myself included.  Pledges to buy handmade for the holidays have been going around for a couple years; see Anna's (of Door Sixteen) and its origin here.  While I've been inspired by them and have recently started shopping handmade, I struggle with handmade being the only limiting factor for where and how you shop.

I wholly support the democratization of the internet marketplace on sites like Etsy.  At the same time, within that movement, there is a definite trend that begs the question that Jenna from Cold Antler Farm identified after a viewing of the film Handmade Nation: that of it being predominantly "urban hipster types, making hand-blown glass, letterpressed posters, designer embroidery, and apartment decorations" in other words "'just making the knick knacks they would usually buy? Why weren't they making things of use?'" Without a doubt, crafters and artisans need (and deserve!) every bit of the support, but there must be another missing piece of the puzzle.  

After all, as our communities are structured now, there's a big blank space between crafts and container gardens wherein lie products that are too specialized or require production that is too intensive for one person (or community) to make and consume alone.  Then there's the issue of money.  I believe that being frugal isn't being a cheapskate, but spending thoughtfully.  That being said, it's almost impossible (and prohibitively expensive) to live in a way that meets all the criteria.  Some compromising (or hypocrisy) is inevitable, but in this case, there are ways to minimize it.   Perhaps this is the niche for the heritage brand, as identified by Remodelista.  As I understand it, heritage brands tick a lot of my important boxes: production within the country, use of local materials, traditional techniques, and quality that will last generations (or multiple hands).  These are brands that have been around for long enough to become iconic.  Then there's the aesthetic appeal, which is undeniable (see also this Wall Street Journal article on the impact of this movement on fashion ). 

I believe in supporting the output of traditional techniques (here I'm thinking of beloved Edwardian Farm), even when they involve machinery or aren't crafted by one person. For the holidays, I think supporting the production of useful, effective, beautiful and durable objects is a worthy cause. The more locally made, and purchased, the better.  Then there's the recording of independent musicians and publishing of independent voices. Those books may not have been anywhere near a letter press, but I still think buying those works is also a noble act.  In other words, there are many ways to give thoughtful presents to yourself and others at this time of the year, and there will be trade-offs.  Handmade is certainly one great option, but, in my opinion, not the only way to go. There are always alternatives to going to a big-box store, and local service-providers and stores provide something special that we have almost lost, but perhaps still have a chance to keep around for generations.  As for myself, heritage brands (and new brands that share the same ethos) are something I find especially interesting and I'm certainly inspired by the guide that sparked this post.

I'm by no means an expert on any of this, just trying to work out where I stand in relation to this newly-discovered demographic and how to be a person who supports good causes through my everyday living. What do you consider to be a heritage brand? (Photo credits: Pendleton Woolen Mills Silver Bark Blanket, Woven Ash Foraging Basket, Makr Goods Rucksack )

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