The millennial marriage of tech & DIY

There are 29 billion reasons you should care about the DIY industry.

No, that’s not Etsy’s page views over the course of a year (close, that would be 18 billion). It’s the estimated market size of the crafting industry. For greater context, more than half of U.S. households claim to engage in at least one crafting activity each year, which spans everything from woodworking and jewelry making to paper crafts and home décor. It’s safe to say that DIY is a creative outlet shared by many people.

So, after sitting at around $14 billion in 2001, what has caused this industry to more than double its market size in a little over a decade? The easy answer is to point to the recent economic challenges, which have motivated people to add handmade items to their lives in greater amounts, up-cycling or personalizing things they may have bought from a store in the past.

But it would be quite rudimentary to attribute its rise to the state of the economy alone. To get a grasp on this industry, we need to examine the consumers behind it. For years, the typical crafter has traditionally been associated with a quilt-making grandmother toiling away at a sewing machine. At my company, we recently conducted a survey of approximately 1,600 DIYers and crafters, and discovered that this perception is severely outdated.


Some key findings:

  • More than half of DIYers are under 35.
  • This under-35 crowd is spending more than $1,000 a year on projects. By comparison, the over-35 crowd spends around half that.

Not quite the AARP demographic anymore, is it? On the contrary, this industry is attracting young consumers who enjoy investing time and money into their creativity. While it seems strange to think of millennials as crafters, it makes much more sense when you consider how it aligns with their DIY ethos.

Two more interesting findings from the survey:

  • 55 percent of respondents agreed that technology plays a key role in their creative output.
  • Nearly half of participants believed that technology is the future of DIY.

The millennial generation has gained notoriety for rewriting the rules of management and adulthood, among other areas, but they may be “modernizing” yet another industry. It’s interesting to note that their do-it-yourself approach is technically not a totally independent endeavor; instead, because technology comes second nature to them, millennials are extending their tech expertise to their DIY pursuits.

This mentality is very much in line with the maker movement, a tech-infused subculture of DIY culture that encompasses crafting, electronics, 3D printing and much more. In this community, one engages in a creative project like DIY fashion by leveraging technology to complete it (e.g., embedding LEDs into a skirt).

While the maker movement may scare the non-tech-savvy away, it shouldn’t. Online marketplaces like Adafruit Industries and SparkFun are thriving by removing the barriers that once prevented people from mastering electronics. The same is true of 3D printing with MakerBot (see disclosure), which is employing simple interfaces to lead the next industrial revolution (and judging by its $403 million acquisition this year, the company is resonating with makers).

Interestingly, these companies are succeeding not only on the strength of their product offerings, but the vibrant communities they have created around their brands. Instead of keeping the secret sauce locked behind closed doors, they reveal the recipe. Through online tutorials and project showcases, they encourage DIYers to experiment on their own and share their triumphs.

SparkFun CEO Nathan Seidle in his 2010 stoplight costume.

SparkFun CEO Nathan Seidle in his 2010 stoplight costume.

Take Halloween and the pursuit of the last-minute costume. Instead of scrambling to the nearest store for something overpriced and cheaply made, you can source ideas from like-minded DIYers and assemble your own high-quality creations, from an electroluminescent TRON hoodie to a human stoplight. It makes the journey from inspiration to design to creation faster and easier than ever before.

Consumers are no longer relying on just their own know-how in their DIY pursuits. The challenge for companies in this industry is to innovate at the breakneck speed being set by millennials. As the convergence between technology and DIY activities deepens to the point of inseparability, there is no doubt that the industry’s next $29 billion will come faster than its first.

Like previous generations with sewing machines, which of all these emerging technologies will become the new staple item for millennials? It is a movement worth keeping an eye on, and I, for one, will be watching.

Ashish Arora is president and chief executive officer of Cricut, a consumer technology company specializing in personal cutting systems for all types of makers, DIYers and crafters.

Disclosure: True Ventures is an investor in Makerbot and the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.