There is a lot of serious issues we are faced with every day when it comes to the news and what is happening, perhaps, in our own families. One of the things I try to do with this blog is to keep things light – I am talking about (and hopefully trying to sell) stuffed animals, it isn’t on the same level with finding the cure for cancer, and I hope my tone usually reflects that.
However, this is going to be one of those rare occasions when I have something a little weightier to say. That alone is a terrifying concept for me, because I do not like confrontation and try to avoid it like the plague; but, this is something that I have not been able to shake, and it needs to be said.
For introverts like me, online shopping has been one of the greatest developments in my lifetime. I don’t have to fight crowds, or be annoyed when someone cuts me off in line, or want to claw someone’s eyes out when they are rude to a customer – or to an employee. And Amazon has made that online shopping experience even better. As a Prime member, most things I order can be delivered to my house within two days (except for the shipment of bath gel that was lost in the mail after two weeks, but we don’t need to talk about that).
The point is, from my phone, my tablet, my laptop, my work computer – I can find whatever I want from Amazon just a few clicks away and boom! it is delivered to my house with near instant gratification (and minimal human interaction).
One of the niches that Amazon did not have covered, however, was the handmade, artisan-level goods that are becoming ever popular. Etsy (of which I have a store and sell on, for disclosure), helped to bridge that gap 13 years ago by offering handmade, small-batch type products that were easier to find. This was an incredible boost to crafters and people like me who wanted to sell their wares, but weren’t sure how to make themselves visible to potential customers.
Etsy’s success has led to more artisans not only using the platform for their goods, but branching off and building their brands through their own Web sites. This has led to a growing trend of being able to buy unique, hand-crafted items that are made with heart and passion.
Unfortunately, the wider visibility/availability of these artisan products isn’t always accompanied by an understanding of the process. And this is nothing that I have experienced through Lil’ Luvvies so far itself, but it is what I have seen of other businesswomen that I admire, or even just as an impartial observer, but that I am more tuned into now that I am trying to sell my own wares.
Many people – and I do include myself in this to an extent – have become so spoiled by the era of Amazon Prime that when we order something, we expect to have it within two days. When that item isn’t immediately on our doorstep, we start to get anxious and refresh our email feeds 9 million times a day looking for the tracking information – and yes, I am totally speaking from my own experience.
But, handmade is not mass produced. Handmade is not coming from an assembly line. Handmade is usually an overwrought artist in their designated work area (mine is my living room) trying to balance a primary job, a family, friends, and their art. Handmade is not stamped out and duplicated so that every variant of it is exactly the same; there will be inconsistencies – maybe a color was discontinued and a similar, but still different, hue had to be substituted.
Why am I mentioning all this? You might be thinking this is all very obvious, and it should be. But last week an acquaintance of mine and a businesswoman that I admire greatly experienced backlash on Twitter from a disgruntled customer. The customer used the social media format to almost publicly shame the businesswoman because an order had not been received. The customer did not go through the businesswoman’s Web site to inquire about the status, choosing the public Twitter route.
Firstly, let me just say handmade or mass produced regardless if someone has a concern, the customer does have rights. I am not saying that because something is handmade this automatically gives the crafter a pass that they don’t have to maintain standards and customer service. However, unless you have been seriously screwed over by the business or the owner and have exhausted all other avenues (including escalating the issue on Etsy or through PayPal), there is no call for outing or belittling a small business owner on their social media sites. You are potentially making the person look bad, and damaging a business that already is precarious because of the competition from mass retailers. Also, contacting the business owner through their site, or through Etsy, or through PayPal is always the best way to start – even if it takes two or three tries. Social media is not the first place to go.
The other thing that has weighed on my heart is when I hear people say “that is so overpriced,” or “to be honest I wouldn’t pay more than X for that.” This has happened to me, so I speak from more experience with this.
Yes, handmade is more expensive than store bought. That is just a fact, and it probably always will be true. What many people might not know is the crafter who made that item that you are balking at the price may not even be breaking even at the price they charge – or they might just cover their supply costs, but not the labor that went into the creation, to say nothing of the love, passion, and care that went into the item.
This lil’ cutie is one of my latest, so it is the freshest in my mind. I sell this on my site for $27 – and do not charge shipping in the United States.
The photo above was the first one I had ever finished, and there are some growing pains with the pattern. But, to be very gauche….let’s talk money for a moment.
This elephant huggie used three different colors of yarn – because it was a blanket, I used a worsted weight, which is slightly thicker than my normal amigurumi. Each skein of yarn cost me approximately $3.50 ($3.50 X 3 = $10.50). The elephant also has safety eyes for her head ($1.00 per pair), and is stuffed with Polyfil stuffing (I won’t try to calculate the dollar amount for this – due to the size, let’s say it is de minimus). This was an order, so it included shipping, which cost $6.50. If we stop here, it cost $18 to make her. But, that doesn’t take into consideration any labor costs. It took me two and a half days – and many times of ripping out and redoing pieces, so roughly 12 hours to make her; at a selling price of $27 that means I got “paid” about $0.75 per hour (as a comparison the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour).
But, I – like many other artisan crafters and designers – usually aren’t going this to get rich or to make a ton of money. We do it because we love to do it. I do it because it does help reduce my anxiety. And, I do it because I want other people to feel loved – even if the love comes from hugging a stuffed animal, and because there is nothing better than seeing a smile on someone’s face and knowing that my Luvvie is the reason for that smile.
Based on my example above, you can look at it two ways: (1) to be competitive in a market and fight against retail, the price of a handmade piece is far below what it should be for a fair wage (12 hours work at $7.25 minimum wage = $87.00); or (2) you shouldn’t get labor costs anyhow because you are the person making the item, so you made a $9 profit. I guess both are correct, depending upon how you look at the situation.
However, this brings me back to the main topic: That artisan who probably already is underselling their product (and doing it from love more than from money), probably works a “real” full-time job outside of the home for at least 40 hours a week. They may have a family that they try to spend time with – or from whom they lose time while working on an order. Perhaps the artisan is trying to make their crafting a full-time vocation – that includes traveling to trade shows, craft fairs, conventions, etc., which means less time to fulfill orders, or can lead to some disorganization -especially if you don’t have a business partner to assist you.
Again does this mean that the business owner gets a pass because they are a small business and overworked and underpaid? No, it is not a get out of jail free card. But, it is something to take into consideration. Obviously the customer was drawn to a piece because it was unique and had an essence that was not available from a mass produced piece; so waiting 2-3 weeks for an item instead of 2 days? Worth it. Having slight color or size variations because a color was discontinued or the tension was different? Your item is even more unique. Supporting an artist and encouraging them through that sale to continue pursuing their passions and dreams? Will always be one thousand percent worth it. Yes, that means we don’t get the instant gratification we do from ordering through Amazon Prime, but we support a community and embrace the unique and that is pretty damn special indeed.
Hugs and cuddles,