The power of craft

Ten years ago, Goldfinger opened its doors for the first time, with the founding belief that design can be a force for good.

As we celebrate our landmark anniversary, we are taking this opportunity to pause and reflect. Over the next ten months we will be sharing ten important lessons we've learned since our inception, as designers, makers, and educators.

To commence the series, we reflect on a practice at the root of our business: craft.

With more than a decade immersed in this sector, we've seen first-hand the incredible impact that craft can have on our communities. In our work with the Goldfinger Academy - through workshops, work placements and traineeships - we’ve witnessed how craft can impact our mental health; relieving stress and anxiety, empowering creativity, and connecting us to one another.

But over the years, we have discovered an even greater impact: the true power of craft to influence the future of the planet. Rooting us in our natural environment, transforming our way of thinking, providing an alternative to mass-production, and transitioning us to a more circular economy - the impacts are vast. To illuminate this further, we sat down with a fellow advocate for how craft can be a key to a more sustainable future. Katie Treggiden is a journalist, author and podcaster specialising in craft, design and sustainability, who has dedicated years of her career to this very topic, posing the question: Can craft save the world?

Goldfinger: During your masters at Oxford studying the History of Design, you set yourself the task of exploring the question, Can Craft Save the World? What inspired you to do this, and what made you feel like this was an important question to answer?

Katie: I have always written about what I call "design for good" – purpose-led craft and design. I undertook the Masters in order to define what I meant by "good" or "purpose", and decided to explore the role that craft might play in bringing about a just transition to a circular economy. We are now three years into what has been termed the "decisive decade" for the environmental crisis, so it felt urgent.

The question is deliberately provocative. To anyone outside of the craft world, it sounds preposterous – and yet for those of us who live and breathe it, I think we believe that craft can save the world. Not single-handedly of course, but we believe that it’s got an important contribution to make, so I wanted to explore and articulate this.

Goldfinger: Through our experiences creating handcrafted furniture for homes and businesses, we’ve seen the power of the handcrafted object to transform ways of thinking. Our clients often speak about gaining an increased connection to the process of making through commissioning handcrafted furniture, giving them a greater emotional investment in the objects in their lives. Others have rejoiced about how having handmade wooden objects in their living and working spaces has increased their connection to nature. And, time and time again, we’ve seen young people learning about the value of handmade objects by engaging with craft practices. What other lessons do you think we can learn from the handcrafted object?

Katie: Handcrafted objects are inherently circular. Many makers work with a single natural material, giving them a deep understanding of, and respect for, that material and the eco-systems it comes from. This makes the first and the third tenets of the circular economy – to 'design out waste' and 'regenerate natural systems' – an instinctive choice. And handcrafted objects tend to be more 'readable' – and therefore repairable – than their mass-produced counterparts, making it easier to 'keep materials and objects in use' – the second tenet of the circular economy. We have a lot to learn from people who make with their hands – it's about time hand knowledge is respected as much as head knowledge. 

Bespoke furniture: The Briar dining table, handmade with sustainably-sourced walnut.

The Briar Dining Table, which features a handcrafted five-way mitre joint. 

“Craftspeople have a material literacy that enables them to see broken objects (or systems) as pieces from which to make something whole, something better. If we can learn from this perspective, we might be able to look some of the challenges we are facing in the eye. I believe that’s the only way we’ll really move forward.”

Goldfinger: Absolutely. When we look at ways to create a fairer future that benefits both people and planet, sometimes craft gets left out of the conversation. What makes craftsmanship and the traditions of ‘hand knowledge’ so important in 2023?

Katie: I think we have spent too long labouring under the illusion that tech will save us. For sure technology has a role to play in addressing the climate crisis, but we can also look back at what worked before we got ourselves into this mess. It could be argued that making is one of the ways humans survived the last ice age – and I have no doubt it has a crucial role to play in how we survive the climate crisis. 

Goldfinger furniture makers craft bespoke, sustainable furniture and homeware.

Handcrafting in Goldfinger's Trellick Tower workshop.

Goldfinger: In your upcoming book, Broken: Mending and Repair in a Throwaway World, you tell the stories of 28 makers, fixers, hackers, remakers, artists and curators, including Goldfinger, using repair techniques in their work. In the book, you argue that to remake the world, we first have to hold the stare with that which is broken. How can craft help us to do that? 

Katie: Every single one of the 28 people profiled in the book answers that question in a different way. Celia Pym's darned paper bags ask ‘what is worth mending and why?’ Ekta Kaul’s embroidered maps use mending techniques to explore grief, loss and identity. And Fernando Laposse is using craft to repair entire ecosystems. Craftspeople have a material literacy that enables them to see broken objects (or systems) as pieces from which to make something whole, something better. If we can learn from this perspective, we might be able to look some of the challenges we are facing in the eye. I believe that’s the only way we’ll really move forward. 

Goldfinger: We completely agree. There is so much that can be learned by changing our perspective, and at Goldfinger, we always try to honour the maker's perspective in everything we do. Something we grapple with is the fact that handcrafted goods are expensive to produce. Do you think we can bring about real change through craft if most handcrafted items aren’t accessible for the majority? How can we make these items more accessible? 

Katie: The issue is not that handcrafted objects are expensive. Their prices are – for the most part – a fair reflection of the materials, skills and labour that have gone into making them. The issue is that most mass-produced goods are too cheap – and that’s not just about economies of scale; all too often it’s because people and natural resources have been exploited in their production. And this is combined with an increasingly inequitable division of wealth that has people living on or below the poverty line. Making handcrafted objects cheaper isn’t going to solve any of these complex and systemic issues. But perhaps craftspeople can contribute to the conversations that might make them more accessible over time, creating meaningful, responsibly-produced goods that can be passed between people and generations. 

Goldfinger: You're absolutely right! We believe that community is at the heart of true craftsmanship, and as a social enterprise, this is something we think about a lot. What role do you think craft can play in creating more sustainable communities?

Katie: I think you can probably answer this better than I can! Goldfinger is a wonderful example of how craft can bring people together. As Marie says in my book, ‘We wanted to be located in an area where people need the engagement and employment opportunities we can offer, but also close enough to an affluent population, so they can come and buy from us.’ But it’s also about literally having a space where both groups of people can meet. As Daniele adds: ‘We bring people together simply by bringing them together – it’s as simple as that.’

Craft and sustainability writer Katie Treggiden's new book, Broken, explores circular design.

Katie Treggiden; 'Broken: Mending and repair in a throwaway world' (2023, Ludion).

Katie’s upcoming book, ‘Broken: Mending and repair in a throwaway world’, will be published on 20th April 2023. Pre-order your copy now.



Author: Goldfinger