Hipsters have been mocked every which way; from their penchant for skinny jeans to their highbrow coffee tastes (and low-brow incomes), from their love of vintage records to their disdain for corporate chains and mass-marketed products. But as this group of kids has grown to adulthood, they have been taking what they love and starting businesses around them — at first to serve other people with tastes like theirs, and then translating those ideas to a larger market. In fact, the hipster entrepreneurs might be the only ones employing Americans to make things 20-30 years from now.
This video from Portlandia exmplifies how moving forward might look a little like moving backwards in time.
As large corporations continue to move jobs overseas (and manufacturing that is kept in the U.S. is frequently mechanized), it looks like small businesses will continue to be the ones who employ Americans who still create things. Businesses from artisan sausage makers, to small coffee shops (which in turn buy locally- made baked goods), to furniture makers, to made-in-USA fashion creators, to app-designers and technology start-ups, each of these 'hipster' careers has the potential to create jobs, both for the people who start them, and the employees they hire if they succeed.
But can these businesses succeed to the extent that they actually make a difference in the job market? Will enough people want to buy the specialty food and decor so that those companies can grow into impactful businesses? While cheesemakers, leather toolers and bespoke website builders have succeeded, and even flourished in New York City, San Francisco and even Los Angeles, what about smaller cities with fewer wealthy people and a less-sharp focus on the hand-made trend?
As Slate writer Will Oremus points out, "Not every city, after all, has such a concentration of wealth and expensive taste as New York. There are artisan entrepreneurs in former Rust Belt hubs like Detroit and St. Louis, sure, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to build up the critical mass needed to form a Brooklyn-like local ecosystem. And people in Atlanta and Phoenix whose mortgages are underwater are probably going to be sticking to Oscar Mayer sausages for the foreseeable future."
But there is something to be said for trends, even long-term ones, taking time to move from the places where they start to other, smaller cities. Since making great food, home furnishings and accessories is something that's universally appealing, getting Americans to change their tastes from one side of the spectrum (mass-produced and cheap) to the other (hand-made or at least batch-made, and a bit more expensive) might be a tough sell, depending on the economy.
But it's entirely nonpolitical, and inarguably good to buy from local creators and manufacturers, and if human beings love anything, it's a great story about something they have just bought. Can the narrative change from "I just got this great chair for $25! So cheap!" to "I just found this chair made from local hardwoods and made by my friend's cousin in his basement over on Main St.; he'll fix it for free if it gets wobbly!"? Only time will tell. And the truth is that only so much of what we buy and consume can be outsourced; construction and building (along with plumbing and electrical work), running and staffing a restaurant, auto repair, teaching, cake-baking — there are plenty of jobs that just can't get sent abroad or get done by robots.
But if it ends up that America becomes a country of locally made foods and wares produced by small businesses, we'll have to stop making fun of the hipsters.
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