My Own Little Soapbox

So I went to Babies R Us yesterday, and couldn’t help but notice all of the cute little outfits and various baby items.  To be honest, as someone who creates custom baby items, it was somewhat discouraging.  How is the single artist to compete with the mass-production of the chain stores?  I’m the first to admit, there’s some really cute stuff out there.  But have you ever thought about where it comes from, or how many other people have bought the same thing?  Do you care? 

True, reading the labels from most of the clothing in our closets, they were manufactured outside the US, in countries where the cost of living is considerably less than here.  I’m not saying I have a major problem with this.  As a necessity, a lot of the shirts I use in my own small line come from places like Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, not to mention my supplies too.   I would love to use an American manufacturer, but the fact of the matter is, being such a small operation, I need to cut my own costs as much as possible, and there’s a lot of expense and work involved finding domestic options (still looking, though!).  But I do think that people have lost touch with the work that actually goes into making a garment (or a toy, piece of furniture, etc.) because of the immense import business and global trading.  I have had people… family members even… scoff at my prices for a handmade item, insinuating that it’s not worth it.  I’ve even had someone tell me that the problem they have with artists is that they over-value their own work.  “No,”  I replied, “You’re just used to paying Chinese wages.”  Just like the mom-and-pop stores of yesteryear, the artists and crafters of this world and country are forced to compete with big business on a daily basis, and sadly, many are forced to give up their dream because it’s just too difficult to keep up.

I guess I feel some responsibility, not for myself, but for all of the artists/crafters out there, to champion the cause for buying handmade.  Especially now, as fall and holiday shopping season is right around the corner,  websites like Etsy, I Shop Indie, and  Poppytalk Handmade have made it infinitely easier to find unique items for yourself and everyone on your gift list.  Here are a few of my own personal reasons for buying handmade, in no particular order: 

  1. It’s socially responsible   Did you know that many moms are able to stay at home because of the revenue generated from their handmade wares?  Let’s face it, happy mommies = happy babies, and happy babies = a happy future generation.  Believe me, I’m not saying that moms who work outside the home or their children aren’t happy, but I personally was not.  It meant more than anything to find a way to stay at home with the little ones during these early years.  While most crafters I know aren’t breaking the bank from their talents (rarely do they end up making more than $10 an hour part-time;  most often MUCH less), it still allows the opportunity to feed a creative need.  I am exceedingly grateful to have the chance to do so.  Even if the artist is not a parent, you’re still supporting someone’s unique skill & talent, and sending a message of value for their gift and their own personal American Dream (or wherever they’re from!).   
  2. It’s environmentally responsible  While there is still waste involved in handmade items, the degree is much less than mass-production, and with the popularity “going green” many artists are focusing on finding creative ways to use or reuse what they already have, or what others are willing to put in a landfill.  It’s truly inspiring to see how some people are reinventing their own personal production process for the sake of the environment.
  3. It’s fun    Let’s face it, shopping is fun, and shopping on Etsy is like going treasure hunting.  There is more on that site than you could possibly imagine, and there is definitely something for everyone, no matter if their tastes run from the traditional/classic to the completely wack-a-doo.  And who doesn’t like the convenience of shopping at 1 o’clock in the morning if the mood strikes?
  4. It’s inexpensive   Ok, maybe not everything is inexpensive, but people do have to eat.  That being said, there are definitely some MAJOR steals to be had!  Even as an Etsy seller, I am often amazed at the seemingly low pricing on some items– are they undervaluing their work?  Is the item something that’s been in their shop forever & they just want to get rid of it?  Do they live in a part of the world/country where the cost of living is that much cheaper?  Am I missing something????  Whatever the reason, there are some beautiful items available that don’t have to put a crater in your wallet.   And with the cost of gas prices these days, it’s often cheaper to pay online shipping than to go to the store yourself to purchase something. 
  5. You’ll walk away with something high quality, unique, & possibly one of a kind   Have you ever recieved a handmade gift?  Whether the giver made it themselves or bought it from an artisan, you have to feel that much more special for having received it.  For me, it’s proof that the person giving it really considered me as an individual, not as an afterthought while they were waiting in line at Walmart.  On the same note, you can usually count on quality when it comes to a handmade item.  Most things have been carefully crafted on a singular basis, and had special attention paid to every detail.  Does anyone still own an item that was made for them as a child?  You value it so much more, and it’s usually made to last: something you can pass down to other siblings, children, or grandchildren.  And plus- isn’t it so refreshing to confidently KNOW you’re the only one who has that particular handbag, necklace, or baby gift?      

 This is by no means a complete list, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.  But as the fall/winter shopping season begins, why not check out some local craft events, websites, and even home shows?  It’s incredibly satisfying on so many levels.  *If* I can figure out how to put together a mosaic of some of my favorite items on Etsy, I’ll post that this weekend… In the meantime, have a look around, & if nothing else, have fun!


8 Responses

  1. You just reminded me that I wanted to buy some handmade sweaters for this winter. It is one of the items that aren’t inexpensive, but most are one of a kind or limited edition.

    If you know someone who is into photography, sells beautiful handcrafted lens cozies, neck straps, and wrislets. It is a one woman shop that I found through flickr.

    Have a great weekend.

  2. Hey Lauren:

    Personally, I try as much as I can to support local business and the artists. I think you are right and have always preferred the artistic ability of others, maybe because I dont have any. I would much rather pay a premium for a personally made item that no doubt will last much longer and have some meaning than pay less for something that is expendable.

    Hope you are doing well with the muffin in the oven and all.


  3. A lot of major labels and these big businesses started out as homemade and handcrafted artisans. Good quality and excellent designs will win people’s hard-earned dollars. Good luck at the craft show. Looking at your creative stuff, you should do really well. If I had kids, I’d buy your stuff.

  4. I purchase as many things as I can from local artisans. And I try to make as many things as I can for my friends and family (I knit, crochet, do felt, and make soap!). Even so, I find the handmade vs store bought very frustrating. There are members of my family that seem to value store bought over hand crafted items. I can’t count how many times, I’ve presented them with lovingly crafted items from my own hand (and I have to admit, my work isn’t shabby), to have them act as if they’d have preferred to have something out of the Walmart bargain bin. Luckily, there are others in my family that actually appreciate my hard effort and know that the thought behind the work was for them only.

  5. WORD, girlfriend! WORD!!!!

  6. I haven’t poked around on Etsy very much–only your shop–but I totally agree with your post and you have inspired me to poke around for some christmas gifts!

  7. I so agree with everything you’ve said. One of my favourite items was knitted by a friend’s mum. It’s the most darling cardigan with little embroidered roses – so sweet. I love my girls to wear original and one off pieces.

    Ruby is getting closer to being one year old and soon will be able to wear the outfit you made – can’t wait!

  8. I really did not appreciate how much work goes into clothing items until I started sewing and I am still in total wonder about how things can cost so little…I now find myself in kids clothing stores looking on the insides of garments and am not suprised by the poorly sewn seems etc. I bought an item from Pumpkin Patch wich had a fraying seem but because it was not holed in any way they would not replace it – it is evident they do not know about quality finishes…
    Now when buying clothes for the kids I think about if I can make it before I buy it – I often leave the store empty handed.
    My kids will soon be running around starkers LOL…..

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