Price and Handmade

28 March 2007

Judy over at Artrepreneur visited this blog and has a different opinion about prices, as do many others.

Is it possible to sell a hand crafted item (for under $25 she means), that reflects the makers “head, hands and heart”? Yes, I believe it is.
One thing I have learned in the last few years, is that it is much easier to make something expensive. Something that has lots of labor and love in it. If I could do nothing but that, it would be utopia. But the last I checked, utopia still doesn’t exist. So, the creative challenge is to make something that is relatively inexpensive, but is still something that is unique and wonderful.

And a commenter Molly adds:

I totally agree that you can put your head, hands and heart into a creation and sell it for less than $25.
I also think that occassionally we create something that hits us (the artist) so personally and profoundly that no price tag would ever do. Of course, that amount of *head, heart and hands* is a certian rare jewel that most of us would be very blessed to find.

Prices are a very emotional issue. One is reluctant to sell an item for more than one would want to pay for it. Artists and makers usually live modestly so can’t imagine spending that kind of money. But that is not the issue, the issue is how much money do you have to make for such an item to be able to have a self-sustaining business? This is a business question, requiring a understanding of overhead, selling costs and development costs. Not an easy question.
It is hard to imagine all the selling costs before one is fully engaged in the process: photoshoot, printing postcard and mailing them, jury and booth fees, booth, transportation, hotel, food on the road, merchant credit card fees…..
That is why Wendy Rosen has a book (see chapter 5)and her Institute, ABI, has workshops on the subject.
Most things that we can make will not make a successful business, one has to sort thru many items to find one that is unique and special and has value for the customer at a price that still allows me to make a reasonable living.

ABI and Haywood Community College are sponsoring an event and one of the Workshop is:
Don’t Sell Yourself Short—Pricing your work profitably
Pricing mistakes—selling your product for too much or too little—is the single greatest cause of business failures. Learn the formula to use in order to earn enough money to maintain an acceptable standard of living while accommodating your artistic inclinations. Price your work for profit!
I post this because it is the most difficult part of selling your work and here is some one offering to teach you how to do this. This is from the Rosen group that are supporters of the craft movement.

More on our Marketplace

5 February 2007

I’m thrilled that there has been much thinking and response about the Future of the Designer Craftsmen movement.
Some random thoughts provoked by all this exchange:
•There are lots of things that sell, even like hot cakes, but many fewer things that you can make money selling. Here is a story, ten part, of what is a typical situation for a craftswoman selling a modestly priced item- hand-dyed fabric to quilters. It sure seems to me that she knows her dyeing stuff, has passion and was relatively (I’ve never seen her work) good. It took her a few years to figure out that she wasn’t getting enough rewards for her time. She wasn’t even paying rent, heat, utilities…
•There are many things you can sell cheap. There is a difference in selling and making money on what you sell. You can sell cupcake pincushions, (aren’t they cute!) but it can be very difficult to make a living just selling such things. This also highlights another dilemma; Betz White made these pincushions to use up accumulated leftover felted ribbing from old sweaters, now how does she get an adequate supply to make more now?
•Very small chance of us getting rich doing this. If you want to be rich need to try another line of work. All we are asking for is a decent living and health care, and that is different for every one of us. Since we are not going to get rich we want job satisfaction. Trying to make, by ourselves, hundreds of thousands of things to sell for a pittance does not lead to much satisfaction.
•Creativity is not limited to your product but must be engaged in the process of making it too. Your creativity can be used to make better tools and improve the process. Being a slow knitter does not make your socks more valuable, doing something that no one else has thought of does.
•Some things are better left to the industrial process. Unless doing it by hand makes it better or different, you will not be able to get a fair price for your work.
•I have a small scarf, 14” x 60”, that I sell for $55. I don’t think that if I had only that size scarf I could sell enough to make a living. I do 8-10 shows a year; typically the shows are open Fri., Sat. and Sun. There are a limited number of hours available to sell and it takes just as long to sell a $55 scarf as a $550 one. And the same mirror, and care tags and packaging. I go round and round about the small scarves; do they increase my net sales or do they decrease it?? If I am busy with someone who takes an hour and a half to buy a small scarf and don’t pay enough attention to another customer who would have bought a bigger pieces… Generally if I sell a lot of small scarves, I have a poor show.
•We have many things we have things happening in the marketplace today: low wages over-seas, copying, and unaware customers. But the one that seems to me like a self –destruct button is people pretending to sell handmade items for prices that you would pay for industrial made goods.

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.

Handmade and prices

23 January 2007

I”ll start with disclosure: I make my shibori here in the USA by hand in my small studio. I sell what I make at Fine Craft Shows. These shows have standards and jurys. This is my source of income.
I feel that there is a real disconnect between handmade and prices. If people walk in the door to a Fine Craft Show expecting to buy things under $50 they will have a bad day and so will the exhibitors.
I have mentioned before that I didn’t think that silk screened T-shirts were handmade but you can see that in the comments others did. We have no consenses on what handmade is. But even without that I bet we have some common ground about handmade.
Handmade is not manufactured the way most of the things in our lives are. Manufacturing has as it s goal to make each item as effeicently as possible, yet relatively well made. The process of manufacturing is well thought out and if a jig or robot makes the process more effecient it is used. The cost of the jig/robot is spread out over thousands. That gets us lots of affordable things. Handmade will take longer for each item and make fewer of them. It can be the fewer part you are after (such as with the silk screened T’s) or the longer part. Longer can mean more thoughtfully, or by a process that is not available to manufactures.
Longer means more labor costs. US (or Japanese or Finnish) labor is expensive because of the standard of living.
So if you want something handmade here at home how much should you expect to pay for it? If someone offered to sell you handmade socks for $22 what would you think:
1) ¡WEEEE!
2) not handmade.
3) not made in the USA
4)all of the above
Handmade is implied by context, there is nothing on the website that says handmade—wise. I found this site from ACRE, they sent me a buyer’s guide and Shiborigirl mentioned them. This is run by the wholesalecrafts.com people. It is for US and Canadian craft artists and I’m interested because they are supposed to be a growing sales venue for crafts. (If you use the figures supplied in the article that is an average wholesale order of $211, hardly the stuff of a solid business.)
Do venues such as this that promote CHEAP crafts help or hurt our market? If you want cheap, manufactured goods are a better value for your money. Fine Crafts should offer you something not available in manufactured goods at a very different price.

When one looks at an individual craftsman one can always invent some reason why their business has declined (not enough new stuff, only party clothes,….) but if one looks at their vendors one can can get a bigger view of the market.
I’ve talked to two silk vendors that service the wearable artists. Both agree that there has been a drastic downturn in the market since 9/11. One said last year sales were down by 20% and that it had been like that since 9/11. Asked how much of that was due to artists, she said that she didn’t know the overall decrease was for all– artists, fabric stores and manufactures. One new trend is the delivery of silk to overseas locations.
The other silk vendor said it all started 9/12 when everyone cancelled their orders. The silk was on the boat (it takes long lead times to get silk from China) and they had three quarters of a million dollars of silk that it took a some years to liquidate. They say that artists that used to buy $25 000-$40 000 each year have gotten out of business an now just buy $1 000 in a year. They now have a additional new, different, business that consumes half of their efforts.
To me this is even more telling than the loss of one of the artists. These vendors sell to all tiers of the crafts market and to people who do many techniques and all over the country.

Publicity for novices

2 August 2006

On Kathleen’s blog, Fashion-incubator, Miracle Wanzo deals with the complaints of a novice maker:

I am having a fashion show of my handwoven accessories next month. I have woven 42 pieces since Jan. 1, 2006 and done about a doz. beaded necklaces. I called people at Vogue, W and InStyle for the correct contact information and sent off my media kits to each. They were good about phone calls until I actually sent the media kits. No one even acknowledged with a form post card….

This maybe another case of not ready to be helped as Kathleen describes in “Why on one will help you”. I think this maker, full of energy and zeal, is not yet ready for prime time and is complaining about the industrial fashion world not taking notice. You need to do your home work first, find the answers to such questions as:
•was this fashion show targeted at a retail or wholesale customer? From the quanitity produced I suspect retail. These magazines are focused on trade shows, that is those ones for wholesale customers. You need to focus on your customers. Do you have a mailing list of potenial customers for the fashion show, did you send them each a postcard with a lovely image of one of your handwoven shawls? (I’ved made an assumption, maybe mistakenly, that the goal of the fashion show is to sell the 42 pieces.)
•have any of these publications featured handwoven accessories in the past year? If the answer is no, then in what publications do customers who want handwoven shawls look for information?
My rate of attaining publicity is directly related to the quality of the IMAGES that I produce of my own work. I produce the images, share them with PR companies, and if they find they intriguing they might use them. None of the magazines or other print media I have had the good fortune to be published in has ever generated images on their own, they always use mine.
I am part of a sub-world that makes and sells handmade accessories and I do not really want an order from a big retailer. I rember an article I read , it was an interview with Carter Smith say in the early 90’s. I was impressed because I had seen some his shawls in some of the fashion magazines. A recognized designer had ordered silk chiffon shibori shawls from him. In the interview, as I remember it, Carter explained how big an order he had gotten from the designer. I think Carter delivered one order then recieved an even bigger reoder. He had to gear up for the massive,fast production. New equipment… Everything else went by the wayside to make and deliver the second order. Then nothing, a new season and the designer was on to some new accessory. Carter had no orders because he had neglected his small galleries that had ordered from him before, to meet this huge demand. He has obviously recovered and was kind to share his experience.
Because I hand make each piece there are no economies of scale. I am NOT interested in making millions of pleated shibori scarves this year and hundreds next year. I’m am interested in galleries/boutiques that can sell my work this year and next. This is a different market than the big industrial fashion market that changes fast, wants new things each season. Maybe it is “slow fashion”. Some thought needs to be made about the role of the handmade in our society and how you can fit into that.