Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most objects that people bought had changed little over the centuries and were handmade by skilled artists and artisans. During the twentieth century, the disposable income of middle class and working class people increased and there was a huge growth in consumerism, as businesses worked to both meet and create demand for a growing range of goods and services. Shopping districts, with stores offering a wide variety of items sourced from around the world appeared in towns and cities, making it more convenient for people to find what they wanted. Vast shopping centres began to appear in locations outside of the major towns and cities, making it possible for people to view and try items that they might have previously only have seen in advertisements. Consumers could window shop in stores selling expensive brands and buy more affordable products in less expensive stores. This variety enabled people to develop a taste for new things, expand their mental horizons and aspire to material success.
The growth of the consumer society allowed more people than ever before in human history to purchase labour saving devices and luxury goods, in addition to the essentials of life. For many this democratisation of consumerism brought tangible and very welcome improvements to their quality of life. However, there were also social and environmental costs, which were too often overlooked, in the drive to build was was believed would be a better future. People often find themselves working long hours doing jobs that can be unfulfilling or dangerous, so that they can earn the money required to pay for essentials, in addition to consumer goods and services they believe they need to maintain their lifestyle. This can leave too little time for personal development or spending time with family and friends, which can damage personal relationships and well being. Feelings of isolation and alienation from other people, lack of motivation to exercise or eat a healthy diet, can result in declining physical and mental health and a worsening quality of life.
The concerns of the Arts and Crafts Movement, regarding quality of life and the importance of deriving a sense of purpose and achievement from the work that you do remains relevant today, as it was over a hundred years ago. Handmade arts and crafts cannot replace the range of mass produced items that are available to consumers. However, they can improve quality of life, both for those who make them and those who appreciate having them in their life, either because of their usefulness or their beauty. Industrialisation meant that most skilled artisans were unable to compete with large scale manufacturers, forcing them to seek alternative employment. Traditional skills were largely dependent for survival on amateur enthusiasts and those few who were able to find a profitable niche. However, there is growing recognition of the therapeutic, social and environmental benefits of making items by hand, using sustainable materials.