Business ideas for 2019: Kintsugi

An art form and philosophy hailing from 15th century Japan, kintsugi is all about making broken beautiful - and it looks set to become the UK’s obsession in 2019...

In previous years, we covered the business potential behind Scandinavian lifestyle buzzwords hygge and lagom. For 2019, we’ve identified another burgeoning lifestyle trend – but this time, it hails from 15th century Japan.

Also known as kintsukuroi, kintsugi – which translates as “golden repair” or “golden joinery” – is the art of repairing broken pottery in a way that gives it renewed beauty.

In practice, kintsugi involves fixing pieces of ceramic back together using lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum, creating shining veins of metal where breakages once were.

The result? Instead of being thrown out, a bowl, dish, teapot or vase that was once in pieces becomes useful and lovely again. In other words, kintsugi makes broken beautiful.

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So, why is this ancient practice striking such a chord in 2019? Well, the art form brings with it a powerful philosophy. Damaged pottery, it says, can be comparable to anything – including damaged people.

Just because a person has been broken down, kintsugi teaches, doesn’t mean they can’t rebuild their life and find happiness in it. Much like cracks in ceramics, a person’s history should be celebrated – it’s proof of their strength, and has contributed to who they are today.

So, besides looking really pretty, kintsugi pottery has become a symbol of human resilience. And as we enter a tumultuous 2019, packed with Brexit confusion, environmental panic and all sorts of modern pressures, both the art form and its nuances are enjoying a fresh surge of popularity in the UK and beyond.


Why kintsugi is a good business idea

It’s fair to say that, in today’s social climate, kintsugi’s potential to resonate with the public is considerable. In a social media driven-world in which people filter out their imperfections and present their lives like highlight reels, the idea that flaws should also be appreciated is a compelling one.

In fact, recent years have seen social media users begin to hit back at notions of perfection. Viral campaign #LoveYourLines, for example, encourages women to show off their stretch marks, while popular Instagram account Behind The Scars showcases the inspiring stories of people with physical disfigurements.

Increasingly, kintsugi is being recognised in the western world as shorthand for accepting our human fragility and overcoming our difficulties, and in 2018, publications such as The Telegraph, NBC News, Sheerluxe and more all shouted about kintsugi, bringing its uplifting message to the masses. Similarly, 2018 saw reams of books on the kintsugi way of life published.

As well as the literary world, kintsugi is also becoming visible across art, fashion and music. In their spring 2017 collection, for example, fashion design duo Viktor & Rolf showcased kintsugi-inspired, fragmented garments lined with gold, while late in the same year UK rock band Nothing But Thieves featured a kintsugi-marked woman on the cover of their album Broken Machine.

In tandem with its philosophical undertones, the art of kintsugi repair itself is growing a large western following, with Instagram alone now boasting over 84,000 images of kintsugi-healed items.

This could be driven, in part, by the fact that kintsugi has excellent grounding in current interior design trends. Furniture and decor with metallic accents have been huge across 2017 and 2018, and the golden seams of kintsugi fit in well here.

Plus, it can be said that in these economically uncertain times, people are becoming more cautious with their money, and more wary of unnecessary waste; moving closer towards a circular economy in which old products are repurposed and reused, rather than a linear one in which products are made, used and then disposed of.

A mode of repair that makes broken things useful, beautiful and unique is likely preferable, among many consumers, to simply throwing old things out and buying replacements.


Kintsugi business ideas

There are two paths you might take with your kintsugi-related business: a venture that deals in the art of kintsugi itself, or one that explores the philosophy behind the trend.

The most obvious suggestion is to sell products that boast the telltale metallic seams of kintsugi. You might decide to source these or, if you’re able to grow proficient enough in the art, make them yourself.

In this, there’s no need to stick to traditional ceramics. Instead, you might choose to embrace 2019’s new wave of kintsugi, which sees the technique’s aesthetic translated onto a variety of products.

You could create kintsugi-inspired jewellery, clothing suffused with metallic markings and threads (check out our guide to starting a clothing line), gold-accented tech accessories, kintsugi-decorated baked goods, or a variety of homeware, stationery, gifts and furniture.

For example, London-based business Kintsugi UK sells necklaces, as well as bowls, pots and plates, that have been repaired by kintsugi.

You could also utilise ecommerce to sell the supplies and materials needed for customers to try kintsugi themselves – much like Japan-based Etsy store KintsugiSupplies.

On the subject of Etsy, the online marketplace could be the ideal launchpad for your small, crafty kintsugi business – visit our guide to starting an Etsy store if this is something you’d like to explore.

Alternatively, you might decide to set up an on-demand kintsugi repair service, fixing customers’ treasured, but broken, possessions with metallic lacquer. Again, there’s no need to stick to pottery – you could repair glassware, textiles, jewellery, tech… even shattered iPhones.

You’ll need to be able to carry out kintsugi to an excellent standard to do this – but as the craze grows, more and more instructional kits and workshops in which you can learn are becoming available.

On that note, you might opt to start a series of kintsugi classes yourself. Kintsugi Oxford is a fantastic example of this kind of business, running repair workshops as well as online classes.

On the other hand, if you’d rather dig down into the more metaphorical side of kintsugi, there are plenty of opportunities here too.

Unless you’re a qualified mental health or life coaching professional, we can’t advise you to run a business that directly works with clients to help them overcome their difficulties – but there’s still a number of creative ways in which a business might help customers to embrace their histories, kintsugi-style.

Draw inspiration from the trend of tattoo artists turning peoples’ physical scars into stand-out works of art. How can your business do something that, similarly, helps people to appreciate their so-called flaws?

This is an idea that can be translated into so many different mediums. For example, makeup and cosmetics that highlight – rather than conceal – physical markings, custom clothes which show off supposed imperfections, portraiture or photography that highlights each subject’s special differences, and more.

If you’re more techie, perhaps an online platform could be your calling – for instance, a space in which users can share their stories and help heal one another.


Insider opinion

Tim Toomey of Kintsugi Oxford says:

“Back in 2011, Googling kintsugi led to almost no results. Now there are more than 20 pages of entries.

“Kintsugi is such an obvious and straightforward repair technique where even a clumsy hand can produce a fair result. I knew it would have an immediate appeal in Britain, where increasingly people love to make good and mend.

“The culture of consumerism has increasingly started to wear thin, and kintsugi allows anyone to have a go at repairing a broken ceramic piece and afterwards return it to daily use.

“There is the added value of then being able to say “look what I made” (with genuine pride) as opposed to “look what I bought” (with hollow pride).”