The jury is still out on whether the maker movement could bring about a new American industrial revolution. But anecdotal evidence suggests it’s well on its way to reinventing retail.
Consider the craft maker whose merchandise got so much exposure through a recent Etsy-Nordstrom partnership that she and her husband both quit their day jobs to handle production and sales. Or take the math professor who sent his “rocket cup” design to Shapeways to produce a 3D ceramic tool for teaching students about paraboloids. After cup sales went gangbusters on Shapeways, a Fred & Friends wholesale order put it onto Urban Outfitter’s shelves.
The Etsy seller is just one of more than one million shopkeepers using the e-commerce website to sell handicrafts and vintage goods to 30 million registered users in 200 countries, according to CEO Chad Dickerson. Detroit alone is home to 1,200 Etsy sellers. In New York City, they now outnumber yellow cabs. And worldwide, local Etsy sellers have joined forces in more than 7,000 self-organized groups, Dickerson claims.
Shapeways, meanwhile, enables some 11,000 virtual shop owners to manufacture and sell their own designs by digitally delivering them to the company’s New York City 3D-printing factory and offering them in the Shapeways online marketplace, says co-founder Marleen Vogelaar. The platform enables members “to be entrepreneurs and have a life …producing beautiful, meaningful products” as well as to custom-craft unique, personal items such as wedding rings, she says.
Dickerson and Vogelaar joined Detroit Creative Corridor Center director Matt Clayson and Ford’s open innovation guru Venkatesh Prasad for a “maker movement” discussion moderated by McKinsey & Company principal Lou Rassey at the Techonomy Detroit conference last week.
“I find it a fascinating time we’re at right now, where tools for innovation have been so rapidly democratized once again,” said Ford’s Prasad. “Somebody can walk into a space, think of something, get on the network, get on the Internet, and get all the tools that you need to be able to shape your idea … to deliver what you have from an idea to a pretty good working prototype.”
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