Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is "Indie"

When I have time I love to follow the discussion in the Yarnthropology discussion group on Ravelry. Though it is often inspired by current issues (ehem, dramas)in the fiber world, discussions generally succeed at being more intellectual and impartial than simply rubber necking. The discussion at the top of the list right now regards the meaning of the term "Indie" when applied to dyers and designers. Kelly and I identify ourselves as being indie dyers and see ourselves as part of the indie community so this is an idea that has kept rolling around in my mind since I first came across the discussion. So, without further ado, here is what I think about it.

Indie is a term that is used in different markets/communities to mean different things.You can make certain comparisons between, for example, indie musicians and indie yarn dyers but there are also a lot of differences in the way the term is used in the different communities. So for the purposes of today's discussion we are only talking about indies in the fiber arts (indie yarn dyers and pattern designers as well as people who make and sell knitting accessories such as stitch markers or knitting bags).

Within the fiber arts, the term means different things to different people. This makes it hard to define on a broad scale but an attempt can still be made to distill the important attributes that most definitions hold in common. Some of these include:

  • business structure - working independently of a major label/brand/corporation. question- what about independent contracting? When a designer has a pattern picked up by Interweave Knits are they no longer indie? What about if a dyer has her yarn used in a Fiber Trends pattern?
  • size- indies are generally considered to be small, that's a given. But in our industry even the BIG companies (Cascade, Crystal Palace, etc) are really small compared to most corporations in the non-fiber arts world. So the question is, how small does one have to be to be considered Indie. Is size a reference the the amount of annual sales, the number of hands in the pot (one owner/no employees vs. partner owners vs. owner + employees, etc) or some harder to define idea of the size of the brand in the consumer's eye?
  • money- does the financial success of the artist make a difference? is someone more or less indie if their work provides "fun money" to supplement their regular income, pays for their share of a family income or supports an entire family? Similarly, does it matter if the fiber business is a full time job, a part time job supplementing a paid day job or a part time job supplementing a non-paid day job as a parent/spouse.
  • availability- does something have to be scarce or hard to acquire to be indie? Do indies only sell retail, direct to customer or can they sell wholesale to LYS and online yarn shops as well? Does having an etsy/artfire shop vs. a dedicated website make a difference? For designers, how does selling through Ravelry fit in?

Now I have to go write a lawyer-speak letter to a candy brand upset about our use of Chocolate Kiss as a colorway. More about that later. I'll follow up with more thoughts about the indie concept soon!

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