The Price of Handmade.
When you say the word “handmade“, many of us think back to the days in our childhood, when our parents frantically stitched a halloween costume for us out of a table cloth and pulled out their expired make-up from the previous decade. Or we think of those precious Christmas decorations made out of white pom-poms and pipe cleaners, somewhat resembling Frosty the snowman dueling Rudolph. Do you remember the picture frames made out of homemade play-dough? Oh my, I can still remember the smell.
Now, what do you think of when someone says it was “made by hand“? First thing that pops into MY mind is the gorgeous quilt my grandmother spent months cutting out, patching together, and stitching delicate floral patterns with a tiny little needle and almost invisible thread. Or the exquisite Easter dress that I only got to wear once, covered in bright flowers that my grandfather embroidered when he was spending time in a sanatorium recovering from TB. Or the delicate hand painted porcelain dolls that my Aunt made me, but I could never play with. All of these things I still have, and treasure above anything else in my house. Even the memories bring tears to my eyes.
Heck I even think of the original Model T, which a neighbor down the road still owns and DRIVES weekly. Completely made by hand, restored by hand, and maintained by hand.
When did these two terms, handmade and made by hand, become such vastly separate labels? When did we start to associate handmade with garage sales, back of the closet/junk-drawer items, or cheap?
There have always been independent artists; designing, making, and selling their craft. Each and every one of them loves what they do and takes pride in each item that leaves their hands. My Great Grandmother raised and sold angora rabbits, tanned their fur, spun, knit, and even wove it. She did this during WWII GERMANY, while raising 5 kids under Russian occupation. Her craft put food on the table and beer in my Great Grandfathers belly. My Grandmother sold little girls dresses, knit sweaters, and real fur teddy bears to make a little extra “spending cash”. All the while she raised 4 kids, learned a new language, was a sanatorium “widow” for years, went back to school (bypassing an 8th grade Nazi education) to become a RN-technical nurse. My other Grandmother made hand painted porcelain dinnerware, while raising 2 boys, as a widow. My Aunt makes dolls; lots and lots of dolls. While she raised 3 kids, was a Vietnam wife and put herself through nursing school. Homemade crafting is the life blood of my family, we have always done what we loved and made money off of it to help support our families. My family is not unique in this I know.
When I hear “Handmade”, I think of unique, well made, and priceless.
So why is it in today’s society Made by Hand items rank less than Dollar store stock? Why is it that so many people ask: why should I buy this from you when I can go to the “insert big box store name here” and get it for less? How has it become standard that handmade items are the trappings of the economically challenged? dime store commodities? craft fair fodder?
I ask you, when was the last time you bought a shirt from Walmart that lasted more than 3 washes, let alone a whole season? If you bought a TV in the last 5 years, is it still working as it did on day 1? How about your car, have you reached 150K miles? on the same clutch? How about that $60 bathing suit, does it still… have stretch? We live in a throw away society, manufacturers make items the cheapest-they-can-to-make-it-to-get-it-off-the-shelves. As consumers, we strive to spend the least amount of money, which has forced the materials used to be of poor quality, the techniques used for assembly the barest minimum, and we don’t care who makes it (children, slave labor, or overworked FOREIGN factory employees).
In our endeavors for that “blue light special”, we as consumers, have been the driving force in the throw away condition of our society. In response to this the mass marketing has caused us to become conditioned by the stores around us, advertising, media, and (…well…) downright laziness on our part. Capitalism has its perks, and also its down falls. Capitalism is run by the all mighty dollar.
Unfortunately this is also starting to transition into the world of independent artists. It is starting to become standard practice to make something that just works, just stay’s together, the materials are just good enough to get by. Because guess what, NOBODY CARES HOW LONG IT WILL LAST. They don’t give a rats-ass that the tent you make for their wedding will still be there for their grandchildren to use. They could care less that when their 5 year old is 20, they will still wear those dress up wings as a Rave accessory. Nobody gives a shit that the skirt they bought for this weekends party will be a standard wardrobe staple for decades. They just DON’T CARE. They know they can “pop” into Target and get a new bejeweled t-shirt for tonights movie, and then use it for a dust rag tomorrow. Who cares?- it was only $15.
Minimum wage is $8 (ish) an hour.
Average yearly wage for a family of 4 is $21,000.
Gas costs $3.50/gal
Milk costs $4/ gal
Movies for 4 cost $70 for 2 hours.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ monthly health insurance $400~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Just imagine, if people re-evaluated their stand on handmade items, the changes that can happen? Can you imagine a WARDROBE full of items that fit you, are comfortable, make you feel like a million dollars, and you only needed to add 1-2 items a year to “spruce things up”. Do you comprehend how much money you can save, just by spending a little more money in the beginning? Or is this to much forethought for today’s society? Do we all have to look like the Kardashians…. or have accessories like Posh Spice?
How about buying (or reinvesting in) toys that are made with sturdy pieces, will not fade, tear, or flake. What about ones that don’t need new batteries every day, or do not have screens to be stared at or shattered? Toys that make your child play with them, to figure out what they can do… Can you see your first child playing with it? How about your fifth child? Your neighbors child? How about your grandchildren?
Can you see yourself working in your garage, using the same tools that your grandfather used? That one day your granddaughter will pick up? How about working on a car- THAT DOES NOT NEED A COMPUTER TO RUN? Do you remember the days when the main pulley belt on your VW bug broke and you fixed it with your girlfriends bobby-pin… I do, but it was my hairpin that got me home.
We, society as a whole, need to STOP, take a breath, and realize that it is our drive for the cheapest bang for our buck is what is truly causing problems. Everything from the litter on the side of the road to the lack of jobs in the USA. I know you think this is a broad statement, and want to call me out on it. But sit back and think about it, really think about it:
~~~You want to go fishing, first off you have to have a boat (where is it made…? not the USA). How is it fueled (gas won by war, not bought in the USA, not manufactured in the USA). Okay, now your pole and tackle (where was it made? Probably not the USA… if you are lucky India), how about your bait? (squid and shrimp from china? flies from india? how about worms- from Mexico?). How about your clothing (made in India? China? Mexico?) How about your sunscreen… hat… sunglasses… fish finder… Beer? How can we forget the Beer, that had to be made in america? (That was probably made by an american company with a manufacturer in Vietnam). What about that styrofoam cooler… that had to be made in… wait, China. Now the ice, the ice was made in America- you watched it come out of an ice machine down by the gas station, okay the ice was made in america by a machine manufactured in Russia. ~~~
That was just to go fishing, with american ice.
Now comes the crux of it all, You may be asking how can I afford to buy everything handmade (specifically from locals… hopefully in your own country)? You can’t. Hello, you can’t. But you can choose to buy them when ever possible. You can choose to make the conscious decision that instead of 5 new pairs of jeans this year, you will buy one full outfit MADE TO FIT YOU, IN THE COLORS AND PATTERNS YOU LIKE. Step by step you can make the decisions that will not only impact you, your household, your wallet, but also help your neighbors.
You also need to be a proactive consumer, if the item is not made well and of poor quality don’t accept it. Work with it until it’s right. BUT you also need to be reasonable. If you pay $10 for a skirt, you will get $1.50 in material, $1.50 in notions/supplies, and 3/4 hour of work. That’s it. The least amount the government will allow an employer to pay an employee is $8 an hour, so why in the hell should an artist/craftsman get paid less?
AH-HA! We have another issue of made by hand- Worth. This is not the worth the artisan believes it is, or the worth of the materials to make it. This is the GENERAL WORTH. To make this simple, how much do you make an hour? even if you are salaried… you can figure this out. So why would you expect ANYONE else to accept less? Especially if they are doing something for you that you can not do?
Most artisans have 6+ years secondary education. 10-15 years of hands on experience. In the real world this equates to MANAGEMENT LEVEL EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE. When is the last time you saw a manager making $8 an hour. GET REAL, AND RESPECT THE ARTISAN. Guess what? When you do respect the artisan, you will get more than you ever bargained for.
Now that you have a grasp on worth, guess what? We have to add in materials and supplies. And I can tell you, this is a BIG difference. There is no way I get the same amount of cost discount that Hanes her way gets. They are a HUGE company… they pay pennies on the dollar for their supplies. Guess what the local artisan pays for their supplies? yep, the same amount you do. IF they are lucky they can get a 10-20% discount, like I said… IF.
Now add another fly into the ointment, how about supplies made in america? HAHHAHHAAAH. What electronics are made in the USA? Do you know of any textile manufacturer in the USA? How about paint? If you want it made in America by American supplies you need to add the worth and cost of just the supplies into the equation. Mind boggling isn’t it? The rabbit hole has just begun to open my friends.
Not only do you need to respect the WORTH of a handmade product, but also the basic costs. So that handmade skirt from hand-dyed fabric you are eyeing… that took 12 hours of WORK… once upon a time you probably balked at the $80 price tag, NOW what you really need to do is tell the seller they are underselling them-selves and then order 2. (Because, after all this is a capitalistic society… and if they undersell them selves why not jump at the bargain?)