Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker

What’s behind the resurgence in craft jobs?

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Handmade soaps. Artisan ginger ale. Bottled perfumes. Small-batch roasted coffee. Custom meats.  Craft breweries.

If you are noticing resurgence in goods and services produced by people using traditional artisan skills, you’re not alone. There is a growing respect and deep interest in the do-it-yourself trades. It’s no longer a surprise to find people actually making a living as a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.

These kinds of trades used to be relegated to craft fairs and farmer’s markets. Now I’m seeing them mainstreamed, part of the regular economy. Walk around many Colorado communities, and you’ll find young, educated employees who have taken on these once blue-collar jobs and turned them into fashionable occupations. And it’s not just the so-called “hipsters” either. Rural populations are seeing something new in the retro jobs of their grandparents.

Some of this is the result of the entrepreneurship spirit that is sweeping America’s millennials. Whether it’s starting a business on Etsy or eBay or opening a food truck, the desire for self-determination is a trend that is helping drive this change in occupations.

A EY/EIG survey on the Millennial Economy helps us understand what’s going on:

  • 62 percent of millennials “have considered starting their own business.”
  • 78 percent of survey respondents who know someone that has launched or worked for a startup consider that person successful.
  • 72 percent feel that startups and entrepreneurship are “essential for promoting innovation and jobs.”

It’s popular, almost revered to “start your own thing” and make a go of it.

Drawn to the simple

Denver Institute for Faith and Work’s Director of Events and Sponsorships Joanna Meyer teaches part-time at a local craft center.

“I see a lot of people coming in who had grandmothers who sewed and they realize that’s something that they would like to learn,” she said. “Knitting, crocheting and making their own yarn is all part of a new do-it-yourself movement.”

The resurgence in old crafts is in part driven by over-commercialization and a revolt against a homogenized retail world.

“People are drawn to the simple,” said Joanna. “With the crafts, you can connect to the source. Plus you make something, customize it and call it ‘yours.’”

“For anyone who has ever learned a new craft, there is a joy in the simple, pure, unadulterated creative process. We embrace the raw materials that God has given us and what we can do with them,” she said.

The craftsman isn’t just the person who is carving a table. It goes all the way to the person who seeks to bring a personal touch to a created object.

Closer connections to the source of our goods

The growing trend toward “Made in America” is neither xenophobic nor extreme nationalism. It’s simply a realization that we all want to have a connection to the people who provide our goods and services.

Chris Kilcullen of Evergreen,CO,  is the Founder of IBuy4Jobs.com, a think-tank dedicated to educated source purchasing.  He believes knowing where our goods and services come from is increasingly important to consumers.

“Our economy is so big that we have lost touch with each other. We are looking for those personal connections again,” he said. “We want to touch the community, the people I live and work with. When you think about your friends who own a restaurant, you want to do everything you can to support them.”

Chris calls it an economy with consequences. “I want to help my friends, my neighbors, my customers because it ripples back through the economy.”

That’s why even the largest grocery chains are devoting more and more space to locally grown products.

That’s why consumers are willing to spend more money to support local businesses.

And there is no better connection to people than the artist/businessperson who is offering a product that they have created.

The personal touch

Jobs that impact people on a personal level are  in vogue again.

That’s the observation that Princeton Professor Dr. Richard Ocejo makes in “Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy.”

“These trades are based in using your hands, with actual tools and materials, to provide a tangible concrete product,” he writes.  “People are seeking technical skills based on a renewed sense of craft and craftsmanship”

And these jobs also give an opportunity to resonate at the human level.

The baristas at the local coffee shop know the names of their regulars – and probably more than a few details of their lives. The tattooed butcher at the new locally-sourced meat shop is flashing his knives and his smile while talking to waiting customers.

When I choose someone to work on my house, I always turn to the family business when I can. This comes from my own upbringing, as my father was a roofer for five decades. He worked alone and I know firsthand the struggles of living in a household subject to the winds of big business vs. the little guy.

I used that selection process when I recently replaced my garage door, the old one battered by hail. The 29 year-old who installed my door was a true professional, wedging the door into perfect fit despite some challenging architectural barriers.

We chatted over his lunch, a peanut butter sandwich packed in a soft, insulated bag.

He told me that he went to college, studying “information technology.”

“My guidance counselor told me the future was in data,” he said. “But I what I really wanted was to work with my hands.”

He couldn’t be happier.

He also loves the people contact.

“I work on 3-4 doors a day,” he said. “And I always make people happy. That’s a good way to go home at night.”

The desire to create

Peter Wanberg, the founder of Denver’s Jubilee Roasting Company didn’t necessary pick coffee. He has degrees in Human Resource Management and Marketing, a business school pedigree that would make him an ideal candidate for the corporate world.

But ultimately, he found his calling in beans, which he believes is an outgrowth of a creative bent.

“I pursued art throughout college and it shaped my thinking, even in business,” he admits.

He always loved coffee, but never really imagined throwing himself into the art of the roast.

Somehow it all came together when he came across an opportunity to use a warehouse space in Aurora for a café. But to make the unused warehouse space pay its way, he began producing larger amounts of the coffee that could be distributed.

Peter’s draw to the craft is motivated by his desire to follow God’s call to “create well and be good neighbors.”

“We are created to further create, build, and to extend God’s creation. Making a product to the best of our ability feels like a natural outpouring,” he said. “And being good to those around us is the other big outflow of being a human inspired by the Spirit of God.”

For Peter, these creative longings help him become a better craftsman.

“If we recognize our inspiration comes from our Creator, we cannot help but draw closer to him through our own projects and aspirations.”

It was in Eden that creativity and working with your hands first got its start.

So maybe, the butcher, baker and candlestick maker might just be on to something.