Artisan crafts are making a revolutionary global comeback that goes beyond the coolness of bearded hipsters in Brooklyn. In the new economy more and more people demand authentic, locally produced, sustainable items that represent real value. Ireland has a unique history of craftsmanship, which could form a great basis for Dublin's contemporary identity.
A 2008 report by the Institute for the Future found that “artisans, historically defined as skilled craftsmen who fashioned goods by hand, will re-emerge as an influential force in the coming decade”. That’s exactly what’s happening at the moment. The last years have seen a strong increase of new types of small-scale crafts-oriented businesses, varying from independent traditional beer breweries and chocolate factories to hand-made and sustainable furniture, fashion and kitchenware.
This major trend is currently very visible in the ‘hip-and-happening’ urban areas in the world such as Brooklyn and East London, where specialty stores and small manufacturing units are popping up like mushrooms, serving the needs of new design- and lifestyle-oriented urban classes that are concerned with novel localized economic models. These conscious urbanites are willing to pay more for products that are local, honest, authentic, tasteful, made with care, and, obviously, good-looking. The artisan economy isn’t just a bunch of hip and trendy logos — it’s a ‘glocal’ phenomenon that’s part of a new economic reality. Big brands and mass-production aren’t sexy. Local, sustainable, artisan enterprises are.
During our two-week Blogger in Residency in Dublin our aim was to explore the city and dig up those stories, ideas and concepts that characterize creativity and design culture in the 21st-century Irish capital. What defines the modern identity of Dublin, and is there such a thing as ‘Dublin Design’? One of the things that immediately grabbed our attention was the great heritage of Irish craftsmanship that’s still very much visible on the streets of Dublin and in its creative community. Artisan crafts are the connecting factor that shapes design culture in Ireland and sets it apart from most other countries. The fact that Ireland hardly experienced an industrial revolution, as well as its relatively isolated geographical location in Western Europe, has resulted in a stronger historical dependence on small-scale local production.
In the 60s the world-famous Kilkenny Design Workshops (KDW) boosted the Irish design culture. Set up in response to the 1961 Scandinavian Report on Irish Design, which “advocated the reform of design education alongside the necessity of enhancing the importance of design in craft‐based industries”, this influential and revolutionary state-owned (!) design agency brought together the greatest international designers to work with local craftsmen in Ireland. The Kilkenny Design Workshops have been extremely influential in developing an Irish design culture. Since 1971 the country’s tradition of craftsmanship has been championed by the Crafts Council of Ireland.
New platforms such as Makers & Brothers seem to realize what it takes to bring Irish craftsmanship to the next level. Founded by and run by Mark and Jonathan Legge, this Dublin-based enterprise isn’t just a nice web store that features a great selection of contemporary Irish design — it’s an innovation network for Irish craftsmen that gives new context to the Irish artisan economy and design climate. The great heritage of craftsmanship in Ireland, combined with the emerging modern artisan economy in cities around the globe, offer Dublin and Ireland in general the perfect tools to shape their contemporary identity.