The Informal Creative Economy: a new class of cultural disruptors

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The Informal Creative Economy: a new class of cultural disruptors

Image Credit: Simon Wheatley

The creative and cultural expression that defines society most often originates outside the creative industry. It is formed between community, place and culture; the informal creative economy.

This creative economy consists of cultural insiders. They maintain unique entrepreneurial skills and attributes, fostering hyper-localised, highly nuanced creative outputs that then fuel mainstream creative trends. The DIY nature of subcultural movements instils an enterprise culture that enables unmatched and completely original creative change.

These communities, which often exist within inner city environments, encourage a rich and diverse level of cultural competence and out-of-the-box thinking that permits them to creatively interact with the world around them more easily than others. This is partly why new creative ideas and innovations originate within these spaces and communities.

It could be the spatial and social deprivation of inner city environments that fuels imagination and raw creative exploration and expression. Early 2000s grime pirate radio stations are an example of a hyper-resourceful creative outlook and enterprise that facilitated unorthodox creative pursuits, spawning a new genre and a generation of fresh British talent that contributed to a major shift in the British music scene away from indie-driven band culture, spotlighting Black music and solo artistry and its place within the pop charts. The ingenious exploitation of finite resources builds artistry unfound elsewhere.

The richest and most interesting creative ideas commonly exist within the ‘underground’ economy. The near-invisible creative entrepreneurs, spawning new cultural expressions, cultivate the pop trends that start in the informal creative sector. Streetwear and skate expression came from the streets, driven by creative trailblazers operating from the margins, injecting creative equity into co-opted products. It's young, cultural change-makers that have a high propensity to implement creative change that produces new visionary creative symbolism. It's these individuals that are the informal creative class shaping creative culture.

The most innovative creative flair happens not specifically in one subculture but between hybrid cultures, the intercultural flow of iterative creative expression. Mash-up creative culture is the most interesting mix of self-expression. Young informal creators are the most prolific at building hybrid creative styles. A strong example is the style identity that mixes Y2K aesthetics with creative punk identity spawning a compounded new creative expression. 

The rawest form of creativity has always come from a lack of resources, as young hustle-minded creators hash together rudimentary mediums to create a new reality. Spray cans and NYC subways gave birth to street art, which is one of the most influential influences of contemporary art. Hip-hop and street style also have had a pronounced influence on fashion and music.

It’s important that brands – rather than inauthentically mimicking subculture creative expression – work with and within the abundance of creative talent that represents the creative origin they are looking to re-create. Often these communities are marginalised and heavily appropriated. Their work is done for love and culture rather than for profit. Brands can leverage natural creative influence and invest, collaborate and partner with the source of creative cool. Whilst technical shifts have opened up the creator economy and provided social, creative tools (TikTok, twitch, YouTube) and opportunities for young creators to transcend their social and spatial reality, financial earnings from informal creative content remain limited.

Brands must harness the power of an emerging informal creative cohort, who are carving new paths and transcending traditional creative norms with more passion than the established creative elite.