The Connection Economy

Yesterday morning, we woke to the news that our local yarn shop, my place of employment, was closing its doors.  It was certainly a shock to many people, and even though I knew it was coming, to see those words in black and white made it all so finite.

I have been thinking a lot about business, and particularly the world of makers.  I made stuff for a while to sell, and the truth of the matter is that you cannot really ask people to pay the traditional retail model price for what you make.  Well, you can ask, but you probably won't make a sale.  It's about scale of operation, it's about our throw away society, it's about consumerism taking over for community.  It's about things both big and small - values, material costs, expectations.  And while I LOVE to make things that make people happy, I don't want to do it for free.  People need to eat and have warm winter boots and keep a dog.

Yesterday I wrote about endings.  Today I am exploring beginnings.  I've been listening to two wonderful podcasts:  one is hosted by an English knitter who calls herself Hoxton Handmade.  She recently scored an interview with Mr. Brooklyn Tweed himself, Jared Flood, where she deftly led him into a fairly one-sided conversation about his start in the knitting design world and the wondrous entity that he has created out of his passion for knitting.  In the process of the conversation he mentioned what he calls "the connection economy," an economic revolution that has leveled the playing field for new businesses to start up outside of the traditional wholesale/retail model-based system, by allowing a new business to sell directly to customers.  This was how he was able to manufacture and sell his own line of yarn.  I had never really considered naming this new economic reality, but connection economy really describes it perfectly.  How else could a knitwear designer create a new yarn company without the social networking that allowed him to market directly?

The other podcast is by the brilliant Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge called After the Jump.  She interviews lots of people in the business world, particularly folks in her hometown Brooklyn, and every time I listen I feel like I'm capturing some of the energy you get in big cities - that feeling of purpose and creating and doing.  Everywhere.  I love that.  There are 100 episodes altogether.  I've probably listened to fifteen or so, but by far my favorite is this one entitled the Real Cost of Doing Business.  She interviews two retail shop owners, one in NYC the other in Oxford, Mississippi, about the retail world, and one made a comment that speaks directly to what I see next on my path:

"People are all of a sudden realizing there isn't a tactile hand-made quality to things anymore and people don't know how to do it themselves. There's a real curiosity about that now." 

We can buy stuff anywhere at any time, day and night.  But making things?  Now, that is another thing altogether.