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?