The Return of Craftsmanship

January 07, 2018

Picture an Italian artisan shop and the image that will most likely fill your head is one with a few old men working with traditional tools. While this image is stereotypical, it comes from a truth: most Italian craftsmen are on the older side. However, today there are more and more young Italian artisans learning from these master craftsman. While a 40% youth unemployment rate might be one reason that youngsters are turning to this type of work, it’s also because the concept of the artisan is changing. No longer is working with one's hands seen as an unworthy career, but one that holds the future of a country.

The Post-Industrial era has been marked by a trend to move away from jobs that require manual tasks. It happened in the United States first, then spread throughout the world. With the rise of capitalism, machines took over and the physical production of goods didn’t need skilled labor. Therefore the educated kept away from these unskilled positions and eventually offshored them all together. Then, standardized and mass-produced goods became a global trend. This diminishing demand for artisan goods combined with people shying away from jobs done by hands meant that less youth were turning towards traditional craft professions.

Instead, they were turning to jobs such as lawyers, computer programmers, architects, designers, and consultants—jobs that demanded finding solutions to complex issues. However, if you really think about a craftsman, it requires this same type of creative problem-solving. To be successful, one has to master his or her craft by knowing all the idiosyncrasies, perfecting skills, and understanding user needs, which requires a lot of brain power. It’s just that the craftsman are dealing with material creations and not abstract ones.

The stigma of working with one’s hands is one of the past. After years of mass-produced goods, consumers want authentic handcrafted goods. The challenge is now figuring out how to scale artisan production, and M.Gemi is one company that cracked this code.

Maria Gangemi together with the former founder and CEO of Rue La LA, Ben Fischman, figured out a business model to make Italian craftsmanship globally accessible. Originally from Sicily, Gangemi experienced first hand the value of artisan shoes and wanted to share it with the world. The company partners directly with Italian shoe manufacturers and offers these shoes to global shoppers on their website, as well as their brick-and-mortar shops in New York City and Boston. By integrating its direct-to-consumer platform, its data team, and its partnerships with craftsman, M.Gemi shoes are, “Made the old way, sold the new way.” They are taking this artisan tradition into the future.

Now, as young Italians decide to become craftsmen, they shouldn't just be thinking about repeating their country’s traditions. They should master their craft and explore ways to create new value in the world with it. This means that the artisan education needs to become broader. The apprentices need to be introduced to the new manufacturing technologies like 3-D printing, IoT, Big Data, Cloud Computing, and all the other innovative things happening. With mastery of their craft and understanding of technology’s capabilities, Italian craftsmen can create powerful changes in Italy and beyond.