Can low prices destory our market?

27 January 2007

I do not believe that socks sold retail for $22 (previous entry and comments) in a venue with handmade items leads to anything but unrealistic expectations about the price of things made with care that show the head, heart and hand of the maker. Ditto for anything that wholesales in the same circumstance for $10.
I don’t believe that it is an elistist attitude. It is based on obeservation and experience. Some of the assumptions I make are:
Everyone deserves to made a reasonable living.
Everyone deserves health care.
When a person comes to a craft show and expects to pay $22 for a pair of hand-knit socks they will NOT pay $300 for them no matter how wonderful they are or how much money they have. Perceived value , in the mind of the buyer, comes from experience and exposure. Having seen socks for $22 in the same venue, then seeing socks for $321 the reaction is WHOAHHHH!
Is $300 unresonable for a pair of hand knit socks? Lets say that it takes 5 hours to knit a sock, that includes picking the yarn and colors, making a swatch, knitting the sock, finishing the ends, washing, blocking, labeling and packaging. This means that decsion to make the socks is begun at 9AM, and both are finished at 9PM with 2 hour of breaks for meals etc. I think this is a very fast hand knitter.
Now if we use the simiplest (from Wendy Rosen’s book, pg. 97) estimate we have (see similar conversations here:
one third labor and materials=10hours x $10/hour + $7 for yarn=$107
one third overhead; rent , utilities, business insurance, computer, tools (knitting needles), office supplies, bookkeeping
one third selling costs: jury, booth fees, booth, photogrophy, printed materials such as postcards and care cards, travel, hotel, meals….
So I estimate that these should socks sell for $321. Thus the maker could earn $20800/year for this labour if she knits 40 hours for 52 weeks. This does not include the time on the road to travel and sell. This is a modest income and may not be enough for health insurance.
I have not seen anyone selling socks at the craft fair where I exhibit, wonder why? In fact I don’t know of any hand-knitters, all the knitwear is machine knit. Then I looked at Etsy, a venue for selling hand made items used by hobbists and novices who typically do not charge overhead or selling costs in their prices and usually only add a bit to the cost of materials. I only found four pairs of hand knit socks (a, b, c, d) and their average price is $32 not $22!
This does not mean that YOU should pay $300 for a pair of hand knit socks, I wouldn’t but I hate socks. But some one who has a fetish for socks and knows that there are somethings that can only be done by hand should know that this is a fair price for hand knit socks. We are selective about our luxury items, we can all afford one or two: some chose Starbucks everyday, I buy $425 manufacture silk scarves and hopefully someone else will want luxury socks.
It is possible that it is wiser for this knitter to send 20 hours knitting a sweater that would then sell at a fair price of around $650 than to try to sell socks. People think that small things should be less, and are more likely to pay an appropriate price for a sweater than for the socks. There are other things that the knitter can do to reduce the price of the socks; hire another knitter and teach her how to make the socks too. This way the overhead and selling costs are spread out over more items reducing the costs of each. But this can lead to another and yet another knitter and to a debate at which point it stops being hand-made and becomes manufactured. CODA studies showed that average craftswoman, working alone in fiber, earns $15 000/year, not a viable income for most of us.
The other choice is to use a knitting machine to speed up the work. The big problem here is that if it can be done by a machine that the deep-pockets manufacturers can do it cheaper and sometimes even better. They may not think that your design is worth doing but if they do they can do it cheaper or overseas with cheaper labor.Maybe she should just design socks for a small (maybe herself) or larger manufacturer. We know of some that have made this choice. Where should they sell?
The question now is not how to make something by hand, but how to make something by hand that can only be made by hand. The item should be unique and show the head, heart and hand of the maker. It must be visually stunning to grab the attention of the buyer. If industry can make it, they can do it cheaper. Even if you make, by hand, something that industry can make, it only has the precieved value of the industrial product.
As you can see we have ventured into compromise territory. Each maker makes different choices to keep the prices in check. There are many debates here: how many employees, what machinery to use. This is where juries and standards come in. The buying public, including you and I when we are buying, want it all: low prices and the uniqueness of hand-made. Experience tells them that they can almost get it -made in China or Thailand, by people working for lower wages. If we want to sell them our work, we must present them with a high quality made piece, visually intriguing and educate them to see the head, heart and hand of the maker. A few will see the difference. We must also educate them to pay a fair price so that we can live a decent life.

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3 Responses to “Can low prices destory our market?”

  1. Genealogist Says:

    And important to remember that not everyone is a potential buyer .. there are those who simply do not value (much anyway) the unique from the heart creation .. (not that I’m a bitter artist, just a realist with experience)

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  2. Karren Says:

    Yes, I agree. I read somewhere that only 1% of the population was interested in fiberarts -some like quilts others knitting– then we keep whittling away until you find the hundred or so that like your creation and willing to spend their money now.

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  3. Wendy Says:

    You make some very valid points. Personally, I’ll pay the extra money so that I’m not supporting slave wages in this or any other country. I’m not sure the outlook for artisans is so depressing anymore, there are so many people sick and tired of the mass produced and while they may not care about the love they are definitely breaking free of the heartlessness.

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