Indie Capitalism

By February 07, 2012

What do indie music and an emerging form of capitalism have in common?

“You won’t learn about it in business school, hear about it from Wall Street, or see it in Palo Alto,” writes noted commentator on economics, social issues, and design Bruce Nussbaum, but “indie” capitalism may be a solution to the economic woes facing the U.S. today.  In his article for Fast Co.Design, “4 Reasons Why The Future Of Capitalism Is Homegrown, Small Scale, And Independent,” he explores some of the key features of what he identifies as a new iteration of capitalism (which might sound familiar to CustomMade makers and customers):

Indie capitalism is local and sustainable, creating goods and jobs and saving energy “as a result of a way of life, not in an effort to reach a distinct and difficult goal.” Disaffection with “crony capitalism,” from both the Left and Right of the U.S. political spectrum, might make indie capitalism a unifying force, something that “that we can all believe in again.”

Indie capitalism is social, as in personal, not just “Internet social.” Consumers, producers, and investors meet, but their roles don’t remain so distinct.  Indie capitalism is “socially focused, not technology focused, more designer/artist-centric than engineering-centric.”

Like the Maker Movement, indie capitalism is based on creating new value, on “making something,” not trading something.

Rather than selling a lot of a “brand,” indie capitalism strives to make “things of higher quality and utility” and not necessarily in large quantities.

Read Nussbaum’s entire article here.

Food for thought.

How new is indie capitalism? Custom artisanal production shares many of these features and has existed, well, long enough not to be “new.”  The “newness” may lie in a growing awareness of a different way of doing business among consumers and producers previously unfamiliar with custom approaches.  On the CustomMade blog, we’ve previously commented on both mass producers increasingly delving into customization and the growth of custom artisanal enterprises.

Are these two sides of the same capitalist coin or are they different things?

Nussbaum notes that, in indie capitalism, “the community surrounding the creation of a service or product” upends “the entire notion of brand.”  This observation is a good way to conceptualize a key difference between the custom experience and the mass customization experience.  In what author and business coach Joe Pine has termed the new "experience economy," both custom artisans and mass producers who offer customization services provide experiences for which customers are willing to pay a premium.  However, while mass customization may offer participation in a brand, Nussbaum’s indie capitalist offers “authenticity is the ‘brand’ in many cases.”

“Authenticity” is a loaded word, but perhaps it can be understood as the reciprocal pride that makers and customers share that creates a community.  In the custom experience, an original product is created.  An idea that originated with the customer is made into a real object by the artisan.  This is an original.  This is custom.  The consumer can point (or “like” or “friend” for those into the social media) to the real person who made it.  This is the artisan.  The artisan can also tell you for whom it was made and why.  You can find these backstories throughout the CustomMade galleries.