What Is the Maker Movement and Why Should You Care?

May 02, 2013 | Updated Jul 02, 2013

My time spent in home economics as a teenager was pretty grim. Not only was it classified as an "elective," but the most challenging thing we created was chocolate chip cookies. Sewing was not a part of the class, nor were any other life skills outside of basic cooking and family anthropological studies. I had a few guy friends take a Wood Shop class; most others opted for an extra physical education elective course instead.

Compared to my mother's generation, it's clear that the domestic and creative arts education in schools has floundered over the past couple of decades. At some schools, Home Ec and Shop classes are no longer even offered, and if they are, they are usually an optional course. Combine that with the fact that most people my age (AKA millennials) probably had two busy, working parents while growing up (and therefore likely did not get a deep education on many of these skills) and you'll realize why we are all now flocking to do-it-yourself (DIY) websites and apps that will teach us the cooking, crafting and making skills that many of us missed out on in our youth and which now are so important as we build homes and start families.

To further prove my case, take a look at something a Brit + Co. reader recently wrote me:

"My mom was named Miss Betty Crocker of Springfield, New Jersey in 1967. Thirty-five years later, I graduated from an all-girls high school that scorned home-ec class as "sexist." Though I could speak Spanish, recite from the Canterbury Tales, and figure out the volume of a cone, I couldn't do laundry, change a tire, or sew on a button. I was educated, but fairly dumb. Since then I've taken it upon myself to learn the DIY skills I'd missed out on."

Which brings up a good point: what exactly does "DIY" mean these days? Traditionally, it's been related to "how-to" content, including things like "how to change a tire," but over the past couple of years, it's been coined much more broadly to describe any activity that uses an element of creative skills to make or design something on your own. Using this definition, DIY can stand for everything from baking a cake, to decorating a bedroom, to creating handmade products like jewelry. Some also use DIY in a more technical context as it relates to making gadgets like robots, printers and other programmable devices hacked together using free software and tools found across the web. Finally, I know people who would even claim that they "made" products such as their custom Nike iD sneakers, even if that meant they personalized the colors and design online and had the production take place elsewhere.

In essence, the very word "making" or the act of being a "maker" or "DIYer" is rapidly changing and is affecting more people than ever before. In this regard, I would argue it's changing for the better.

With so many people able to freely share ideas and spread inspiration across the web, makers are forming communities of their own, and more people around the world are becoming influenced to be makers. Etsy now has over one million artisan sellers who have created handmade products to be sold on the site. (The site also did nearly a billion dollars in revenue last year, clearly indicating there is also extremely high demand for these handmade goods.)

Other startup companies like Quirky and Kickstarter are equipping makers with access to resources that can help turn an idea into a real life product.

Hundreds of thousands of people attend Maker Faire, the world's biggest maker event that now takes place in many global cities each year. And it is put together by Maker Media, a company that has been focused on this space since 2005.

Furtheremore, DIY is one of the most popular categories on Pinterest, the infamous site for collecting visual inspiration. In fact "DIY" has been the #1 search term on my own site, Brit + Co., over the last year, and as such, we've launched an entirely new content network from a hand-selected group of makers so that our users can have access to the best DIY projects from around the web all in one place.

The larger companies are getting involved as well. For the past two years, GE has participated in building "GE Garages," spaces where makers can come and learn modern ways of prototyping and manufacturing new products using devices like laser cutters and 3D printers. Free People, a popular clothing retailer for young women, often hosts craft nights inside the doors of its Anthropologie locations. (PS: From my experience, you won't see a person over the age of 40 there.) Radio Shack now even sells Arduino, a popular open-source electronics platform that lets makers easily create interactive objects.

Craft nights are replacing book clubs. Libraries and museums are being turned into "Makerspaces," physical locations where people can come together to make. The sale of sewing kits in Walmart stores has recently gone up 30 percent. And just last year, someone created Christmas cookies using a 3D printer.

Can we all agree on the fact that a trend is happening here?

Welcome to the Maker Movement, an evolution of millions of people who are taking big risks to start their own small businesses dedicated to creating and selling self-made products. In a world of mass-produced products, modern technology has made it easier than ever for a single individual to create and distribute items that are customizable and unique without having middlemen like manufacturers. This growing shift will continue to affect the economy and will likely have big implications on large retailers. It is a special time in history that will have a transformative impact on our future.

Makers will continue to be found in fields ranging from food to crafts to technology. And together, they will push each other forward to invent and build new and innovative things. Many technologies that will drive this growing population are not even built yet. In effect, the maker movement has only just begun.

For a generation that lacked many creative skills as children, we sure are making up for it today. I can't wait to see where this movement takes us next.