Handmade: the what and the why


There has been some turmoil lately about the notion of handmade and its definition. It has been in the air for a while now but the crafty blogosphere really got talking a few weeks ago when Etsy changed their policies and definition of “handmade”. Etsy sellers will be allowed to hire help, to use shipment services and even outsource production to manufacturers. To some it looks like a big welcome to resellers for whom the whole home-made-own-design ethic is not even a factor. This created lots of reactions in the industry. This post by Abby Glassenberg about Etsy changes really sums it up very well, and this ones about the future of handmade by Jessika Hepburn is a great hymn to handmade. Then I came across this heart breaking post by Michelle Made This where a designer-maker-seller is wondering what is the point of this all if people can buy seemingly similar products for far less money in high street shops.

All this finally got me to sort the ideas that have been running wild in my mind for a while. I have been in business for two years. And for two years I have been wondering: “why do I call my stuff handmade when I actually use a machine to sew it?”. It sounds simplistic but I think it really is at the heart of the problem. Handmade is a label behind which gather an array of values and approaches of the craft:

  • We are in charge of the process from start to finish. We design, we test, we make, we fail, we remake, we package, we ship, we market, we talk to customers, we stand for endless hours at markets and fairs. Our hand has taken part into each step of the process even if all of them where not made by hand.
  • We know what is in it. We can guaranty quality of materials we used. We can take time to source and select only the best supplies to match our own ethical system.
  • We are real people, customers often know our name and face. We are accessible, people can ask us questions, we even answer!

Now to answer to Michelle’s question: yes, handmade matters. For all the reasons listed above I believe we, as a community, have a big role to play to make the world a more eco and people friendly place. But as heroic as we are we still need to make a living. I think there is room for our craft. We need to focus on what makes us unique:

  • We can afford to think small, to work for niche markets too small for the big players to even look at. They need to sell a lot to be able to survive. We don’t. There are probably plenty of niches to discover out there.
  • We can offer personalised products and services. Big scale manufacturers can’t afford to fit each product to final customer. We can. Let’s find more way to do it.
  • We can move fast. Craft business owners are always on the lookout for new trends, tools, techniques, materials. We talk, we exchange, we share. We learn all the time.

Of course it is not fair. What makes our real “uniqueness” is our design and it is very vulnerable to theft. We can’t overflow the market with our products and television screens with our ads. We can’t sell at low prices when we pay for supplies the same price as big brands finished items retail price. But we are a community of talented people with kick ass strong will. I think at this point we have to look for different ways of making business. To match our different way of seeing the world.

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