Why High Craft Matters

Friday, March 11, 2016

Today's guest expert is Bryan Johnson of A Bryan Photo.

I still remember my dad giving my mom a diamond tennis bracelet on Christmas morning, 1992. It was beautiful, sparkly and no doubt expensive. Like any long-suffering mom of four would be, my mom was thrilled by this act of gratitude on my father's part. I was still young and this gesture was seared into my memory as the meaning of luxury. Luxury seemed to be about the display of beautiful things and making a statement on status.

It's easy to make similar assumptions today about the rise of the high craft movement. Our culture's obsession with quality well-made things is often greeted with the proverbial eye roll. But there is a distinction between superfluous luxury (no offense, mom) and high craft. High craft is not about being gaudy and showy but instead about connection and enlightenment. It’s not about display but usability. It’s not about comfort but change. Brands that celebrate high craft strive to make the user wiser, more thoughtful and more sensitive. Their products and services reveal beauty and wonderment. They invite the user to be part of something bigger than themselves, to see the world as more colorful and substantial.

One brand that has personally impacted me in this way is Best Made Axe Co. On the surface, Best Made makes very expensive axes which many would call unnecessary. The purchase price for their standard axe is $140. If one wants to splurge, they could spend upwards of $350 for a felling axe with a painted handle. Best Made has created a luxurious product and, like my mom's tennis bracelet, is worthy of display and awe. But Best Made has also created axes as an invitation to the user: get outside and reconnect with your hands, with nature and with your closest friends.

Last Christmas, I accepted Best Made's invitation. My family had given me an iPad and I returned it in order to invest in a Best Made "Hi-Lo" Hudson Bay Axe, sleeping bag and hiking boots. Now it should be noted that I was in no way an outdoorsman, and many affectionately called me an "indoorsman." Despite this fact, I felt encouraged to move outside of my comfort zone and spend more time outside with my family and our best friends. I've been fortunate to make some amazing memories with my sons while sitting around a campfire burning wood that we chopped ourselves (as seen in the included images). I will likely be a low-grade car camper for the rest of my life, but Best Made's mission has inspired me to make my life more colorful and meaningful. Best Made succeeds in understanding the difference between superficial expenditures and enabling "a bold and brave outlook" on life.

This distinction is paramount for any company who hopes to create products and services of meaning. Companies must reach the user at a gut level, invite them to be part of something greater and encourage them to change their lives for the better. Here are a few more companies that have personally have made my world more lovely:
Blue Bottle Coffee
Mast Brothers Chocolate
New England Shirt Co
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Which companies have succeeded in making your life more wonderful and beautiful?

BRYAN JOHNSON and his team run A Bryan Photo out of their studio in Birmingham, Alabama. They believe passionately in documenting, curating and preserving life well. Bryan's images have been featured in USA Today, GQ & Real Simple but he cares much more about how your photographs are featured in your home. You can follow their team on Twitter & Instagram.

Originally published March 2014

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