The New Industrial Cottage Revolution
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Years ago, one of my sisters asked me for ideas about businesses she could start at home, on a shoestring, while taking care of her kids. She gave me an upfront prohibition, with almost a sneer, "...and don't tell me about doing some craft!" I understood. Making something yourself is hard work. Time consuming. Everyone wants easy and fast. Then there is the status that is involved. For example, an artist -- especially a successful one -- has a pretty good social and economic status. A crafter is thought of a hobbyist who's trying to make some extra money. Low status. Low financial expectations. That's the general misconception. There's another way to look at it that makes better sense.
If you make individual units at home, by hand, it's called a craft. If you make multiple units, systematically, by combining components (whether by hand or machine) -- especially if you use employees -- it's called manufacturing.
But, a skilled craft is always the basis for manufacturing. So, when you to learn a skill and produce your own products, you should become part of revitalizing American industry.
All over the world, crafting and, later, "cottage industry" were the bases for industrialization. We've lost much of our industry to other countries. It won't come back unless we re-create it. We can start now with more "garage workshops" and custom items, hand-made at home that eventually expand to larger production.
Almost anything you see manufactured, you can make at home. Furniture. Clothing. Home and personal accessories. Books. Cards. Posters. Shoes. Garden sheds. Food, if you are able to license your kitchen as a commercial kitchen. (Or build a commercial kitchen extension.) Computers and other electronic gadgets. Musical instruments. You can even build a car in your garage, if you have the skill. (I know a guy who builds custom cars from kits for others who don't have the time or skill but want something unusual.) If you can imagine it, you can probably make it at home. If the law allows.
There are laws and regulations about what you may make at home, and there is good common sense to tell you what's unsafe or too demanding for you. Not to mention that there are homeowner's associations rules and covenants that run with the land that prohibit some actions. But, if you can't have your top choice for your business, you can find plenty that is allowed.
When you start making your own goods, you start a business that you control completely. You start a business that will most likely bring employment to others. Because you will not want to be the sole producer over the long run. You will want to systematize your production methods and, at the least, find other "cottage industrialists" who want to make your product for you. For that matter, you could simply start by designing the product, making the prototype, developing the production method and farming out the work from the beginning. Including the marketing and sales.
Not only will you be providing employment, which helps the local economy immediately, but over the long term, you'll be helping to offset the national balance of trade deficit. By providing goods that are not imported, you keep American money in America. And, if your goods are popular internationally, you can provide exports, bringing money back into America. All because you developed a product in your home.
Of course, you could also just do it for the joy of it, and make some extra money to help support your family. Not everyone has to become a manufacturer. Historically, the cottage-based artisan has always made some sort of living and been proud of his work.