As you may or may not know, I own and run a boutique that features 95% handmade items by day, and by night (and any other spare moment I can grab) I’m hand making things myself. It is not uncommon for folks to make comments in my store about the price or method of production about many of the things we carry. (Sadly, it’s an almost daily occurrence.)

“I could make that.” “It’s too expensive.” “You could buy that at Wal-Mart so much cheaper.”

I recently took my own jewelry and some of my knit goods to a local craft show and was surprised at the increased instances of these comments. Audibly, within ear shot, to my face….unabashedly commenting on what they thought was an extravagant purchase and price.

This bugs me. This bugs me on many levels. A lot. This signals an increased ignorance about how things are made, and a market and society flooded with mass produced goods. While I would love to turn each of these interactions into a ‘teachable moment’ and wax poetically about the history of craft and the impact on a local economy by supporting handmade over big box mechanized production, I would immediately be carted off to the loony bin as insane….so instead I stew. And I don’t think that’s healthy either.

When one purchases a handmade item or supports a local artist, they are not just paying for the materials – which is something that many people I interact with have a hard time getting beyond (“It cost $12 for that yarn – and they want how much for it??”) One is also investing in a maker’s time, talent, and tools. This maker is trying make a living with the things they produce. Indulge me in a little math that may help put it all in perspective…we will use one of my Harry Potter scarves as an example:

  • Cost of materials = $5 each (I’m good with the coupons and we aren’t counting the cost of knitting needles or a pattern, advertising, internet listing or even my personalized ‘made by me’ tag)
  • Physical hands on time per scarf to make (and I’m a fast knitter) = 10 – 12 hours. So let’s compromise with 11 hours
  • Maximum price that can be charged as tried in the market = $48

If we subtract the cost of the materials from the sale price ($48-$5), we get $43. Now let’s divide that by the time it takes to make (43/11) and we get 3.91. That becomes the wage per hour that is earned with the sale of that scarf. And the answer is $3.91. Per hour. Many makers don’t get paid a living wage for their time (if we were in the “real world” or a union we would have been on strike ages ago), but do it instead for the love of the craft.

Of course not all hand made things take that long to make, but again, some take longer. And even if one were not out to make their millions selling handmade goods, your time is precious too. Artists and makers who set up at craft fairs or sell elsewhere who “just want to make my materials investment back” are actually doing a huge disservice to their fellow craft makers. One wouldn’t punch in at the 9-5 job and hope to just cover the cost of the paper they printed on, right?

At the last craft show a customer was trying to talk herself into one of my “$15” necklaces. When a friend corrected her that the tag actually said “$51” she dropped the piece like perhaps it had burned her. When I explained that what she was holding was hand-cut sterling silver with genuine pearls on a full sterling chain, the explanation was lost. It definitely didn’t help that one of my booth neighbors was selling mass produced component earrings for $15 per pair. It’s impossible for handmade to compete with the price point of those huge machines. And sadly, more and more consumers are forgetting how to spot (and appreciate) the difference.

I think it’s long past time we took back handmade and encouraged each other to support makers and their talents. Whether one supports by physically purchasing, or explaining to their friends and children what goes into a handmade piece, we need cheerleaders. When your child stands at my craft fair table and whines that the $32 necklace in her hand is way too expensive, take that moment to explain what they are holding…who artists are….the time and talent that goes into a special piece. Don’t let the moment go. Explain that what she has is unique. When your friend is in my store (or any store!) and says “My grandma could knit that for you for free” remind them that grandma’s time is precious too.

We have lost the respect, as a society, for what artists and crafts people do. I want to bring that back. Will you help me?



Filed under crafty lady

2 responses to “handmade.heartbreak

  1. Marlis

    I’m sorry that people have that attitude, but worse still, to say it within earshot. It’s rude, ignorant and narrow minded. I came across the same thing years ago, when I used to make cards, and mine weren’t made with the ready cut bits and bobs that go on, but carefully chosen materials, which made every card unique.
    I love coming into your store, when my work schedule allows, and treasure the wedding forks you stamped for me last year. I’ve worn the ‘tooth’ bracelet many times to work, and whenever a customer asked about it, I would tell them where Bella Boutique 🙂

  2. Sarah R

    I am so in love with this post! What hurts so bad is that this problem applies to so many kinds of artisans who are stuck in this mind blowing fight against a deep seated and persistent disconnect too many people have with a product, it’s price, its value, and what it took to make it.

    Your comment about the 9-5 office worker expecting to cover the cost of the paper they printed on hits close to home. I often lament the “Nephew” phenomenon…. “Oh well, thats a lot of money. I’ll just ask my friend’s 16 year old nephew to build a website for me because he’s good with computers.” In that case, I’m sure he can shit you some unicorns napping on a bed of technicolor tootsie rolls as well. Enjoy your $100 website. Don’t call me when it breaks. I’ve also had “Will you work in exchange for a stake in my start-up?” #fuckno “We want you to do a free proof of concept first.” #deskflip “12 weeks sounds like a long time… I think if you cut it down to 6 weeks that would be better because it would be half the cost.” #nohopeforhumanity

    Why so many people fail to recognize the value of hardwork is beyond me. It takes designers and makers and artisans years to master their crafts and that time is worth something too! Consumers need to learn that lesson, but so do the designers and makers and artisans who don’t believe that their work is worth something. Its not just the materials or even the time spent dreaming, designing, and making…. it’s the time responding to emails, scanning receipts, filing taxes, approving ad comps, organizing and supervising shop or office repairs, and keeping up to date on skills / trends / business regulations. People who don’t recognize the value of their work or have confidence in their product directly impact the perceived cost threshold consumers think is reasonable. and that’s not cool. That 16 year old newphew damn well better be charging a fair market rate for his work!

    Although presented to web workers, designers of all kinds need to watch Mike Monteiro’s epic presentation on this very subject called “Fuck You. Pay Me.” http://vimeo.com/22053820. His book “Design is a Job” is also worthwhile http://abookapart.com/products/design-is-a-job. Interestingly, his new book is “You’re My Favorite Client” endeavors to teach people / companies how to be good clients because clearly so few actually KNOW. Likewise, I think handmade artisans need to keep working hard to educate consumers. There will always be a disgruntled band of idiots who just don’t “get it”, but finding some way to show customers what goes into a product would probably go a long way towards combating simple ignorance.

    Keep up the good fight.

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