DIY Manufacturing new products on your own

Many people are wondering how they want to live in the future and how we can live more sustainably.
Many people are wondering how they want to live in the future and how we can live more sustainably. | Photo (detail): racorn © 123RF

Industrialized countries have long since begun reexamining their throwaway consumer attitudes. Small businesses as well as non-profit organizations are resisting excessive production and consumption trends by doing it themselves.

The smell is sweet but there is a twang that shocks the nose. The liquid fermenting inside the large copper caldron will soon emerge as Germany's favorite and most famous beverage: beer. Hops and malt are bought from a dealer in Gelsenkirchen, and the water comes from the tap. Yet this is no run-of-the-mill brewery. Things are run a bit differently at Dortmund's Bürgerbräu facility.

Brewing in apartments and houses

“We have created a collective of people who all brew at home so we can preserve the variety of flavors that exists in the beer world,” says Karl-Walter Hollmann, one of the two directors of the brewer's organization in Dortmund and a former civil servant. The brewers that make up Bürgerbräu don't just serve up to 1,000 liters of bear each year. They also use in this former brewery to teach other members of the collective to brew beer themselves.

According to a study done by the Hans Böckler Foundation in 2010, from among 1,322 brewing operations in Germany, roughly 45 of them provide three-quarters of the market's demand for beer. Many beer lovers don't want it that way, which has inspired a wave of home-brewing activities across the country. The trend seems liveliest in the border region between Bavaria and the Czech Republic, where it seems every household has its own “Zoigl” (home brew).

The lack of enjoyment, quality and diversity has not only motivated beer lovers into action, however. There is a growing “do-it-yourself” movement within many communities, where small, inspired groups with propitious names like Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs), Hackerspaces or Repair Cafés meet in collaborative workshops and gardens in hopes of fulfilling their common goals of a better society.
From consumer to prosumer

“We are also now seeing that these do-it-yourselfers are becoming increasingly political,” says sociologist Andrea Baier, a specialist at the Munich-based foundation Anstiftung & Ertomis. In conjunction with the overall question of available resources, many people are wondering “how they want to live in the future and how we can live more sustainably.” Baier feels they are taking on more responsibility for their consumption and considering the effects not only on other regions of the world but also on future generations.

The foundation, originally established by an heir to vacuum cleaner manufacturer Vorwerk, has been supporting the “Haus der Eigenarbeit” in Munich for many years. Richard is sewing his own suit here while Elli is crafting a chessboard under the supervision of a trained specialist. “The workshop has only been equipped with professional tools for a short time now. We have an ironing station and even a leather sewing machine. We improvised a lot at the start,” explains Elli Schöner, who manages the sewing department.

The workshops are fully booked today. “About 50 people come every day from the greater Munich area,” says director Elisabeth Redler, who helped build the facility and will be retiring next year.

There are seven workshops at HEi: metal, wood, jewelry, bookbinding, textiles, ceramics and paper. “We had to reorganize a lot here, including procurement for the workshops, supervisors for the various seminars, etc.,” says Rainer Wirth, a specialist in Romance languages who is the workshop director. When you walk in it feels like a business, not a collection of workshops set up for hobbyists.

The DIY culture

According to a 2011 study by the GfK, a consumer advocacy group in Nuremberg, Germans spend about 300 euros a year on purely do-it-yourself projects, and economists are paying increased attention to the industry as well. “We now see that the pieces are in place for the DIY trend to spread into a number of new industries,” says Holger Glockner, a director at Z_punkt, a so-called foresight company based in Cologne.

The sociologist and economist refers to energy, fashion and design as examples of where visible changes have occurred in the do-it-yourself niche. “With the use of new technologies such as 3D printing, there is great potential over the medium and long term to combine the effective use of resources with individualized products,” says Glockner.

The brewers, in the meantime, are already chalking up their first successes. The number of suppliers in the hobby brewing market has increased tenfold in recent years and revenue growth is in the double digits.