In 2015, two fans of the maker movement conceived MakerTour, a journey through France and Europe. Following their lead, MakerTour Asia was launched two years later and has just ended. We look back on their journeys.
In early 2015, Etienne Moreau and Mathieu Geiler had the idea to explore and share the diversity of collaborative labs worldwide. With their newly formed organization MakerTour and support from French labs, they created a methodology for documentation, a website and financed their project. The result was a prototype for a six-month expedition to visit some 50 European labs: MakerTour, which they chronicled along the way (in French) for Makery.
Ever since their meeting in Shanghai around the same time, Marie Levrault and Lucas Graffan were exploring digital fabrication labs, while dreaming of Asia. After visiting the Amman makerspace in Jordan and Fablabil in Israel, they discovered the MakerTour project, wrote to Etienne and Mathieu and met them in Paris. In summer 2016, they flew off to FAB12, the international fablab conference in Shenzhen, and got to work on MakerTour 2.0. In March 2017, MakerTour Asia was officially launched: Marie and Lucas set off for eight months visiting 50 collaborative labs from Iran to Japan.
Now that the Asian tour has concluded, MakerTour continues its adventures in 2018… around Latin America with a new team of labtrotters. From one tour to another, Makery asked Etienne Moreau (MakerTour Europe) and Lucas Graffan (MakerTour Asia) to reflect on their experiences.
What are your thoughts on your tour of the labs?
Lucas: It was unbelievable! Ever since FAB12 in Shenzhen in 2016, we’ve had the chance to witness firsthand the bubbling movement in Asia, regardless of the country and its culture. From Iran to Vietnam, most of the labs are fighting for better education, agriculture is the main preoccupation in India, humanitarian issues prevail in Nepal, while entrepreneurship and industrialization reign from Singapore to Japan.
It’s a rare opportunity to meet so many people who want to push boundaries. Everyone welcomed us, told us about the problems and opportunities of their community and their country, as well as their vision for the future. It’s energizing and motivates us to do more.
Etienne: Two years later, we’re still reeling hot from our European tour. It had nothing to do with daily life! And we have been growing up with the movement ever since. When we set off on our trip, the world of labs needed to learn how to get to know each other, to understand the diversity of practices. Today, the emphasis is elsewhere—on structuring the network, collaborations and opening up beyond the movement. FAB14 and the first distributed FAB Summit in France this summer will come just in time!
What were the most epic, complicated, funny or discouraging moments of your tour?
Etienne: I’ll let Lucas speak, as we already told the best anecdotes of the European tour right here on Makery!
Lucas: Eight months of MakerTouring in Asia is not all wine and roses… our stomachs paid the price, and I’ll spare you the logistic nightmares! Our most memorable moment was our three days at Vigyan Ashram. Imagine a rural fablab in the middle of India, living in sync with the community, rising at 5 a.m., prayers and meditation in the evening, punctuated by our documentation work in 45°C with no air-conditioning. There were so many projects too—we discovered a tractor made from reclaimed materials that cost only $500 to make!
Our most “embarrassing” moment was in Japan. We discovered that we had lost our business cards when we arrived in Kyoto, the day before one of our talks in a corporate workshop. In Japan, exchanging business cards with each person you meet is a sacred professional ritual… Telling this story helped us avoid fatal lack of respect!
Was the relationship with the labs and makers similar in Asia and in Europe? How have you stayed in touch?
Etienne: After meeting (almost) everyone at the Fablab Festival in 2015, we had a lot of support to launch MakerTour. We only paid for one hotel night in six months and were invited over for dinner in people’s homes many times. We keep strong ties and bonds of friendship with some of them!
Lucas: For us, there were really two phases. From Iran to Singapore, we lived with the labs like in the European tour, professional and personal merged together. Afterwards, from Taiwan to Japan, MakerTour visits became “professional”. But all the labs were very attentive and available, it’s just a different culture. Fingers crossed to see as many of them as possible at FAB14 !
Do you feel that there is currently a different culture around making and collaborative labs between France, Europe and Asia?
Lucas: In India, Project Defy creates $500 makerspaces in disaster areas. Women learned to use the Internet, wrote tutorials on how to make DIY saris and together started a sari manufacturing business. Everything starts with education and accessibility. Now imagine yourself at SZOIL in the heart of China’s Silicon Valley of hardware in Shenzhen, where tech startups are created for industrialization. The context, the issues, the approach are unique every time, but the maker values and spirit are the same. This is exactly why we can learn so much from each other!
Etienne: Of course, the culture is different, and that’s a good thing! Gildas Guiella from Ouagalab (Burkina Faso) explains it well: “In Europe, fablabs want to transform their society, while we are trying to improve living conditions within a 1km radius of the lab.” The struggles are different, but the collaborative lab as a tool and the love of DIWO (doing-it-with-others) are all the more shared!
After Asia and Europe, what does MakerTour have in store for 2018?
Lucas: Léna Kernoa and Vianney Graffan, the two newbies of MakerTour, will set off on an eight-month tour of Latin American labs in June, which we have been preparing since FAB13 in Santiago, Chile last summer!
And just like the labs, MakerTour will also reinvent itself in 2018. We’ll launch a new website with new lab documentations, where people can update their information, as well as add projects, field resources and opportunities for everyone. Everything will be announced early this year, with best wishes to all ?
Read about all the labs explored during MakerTour Europe and Asia here