Thursday, December 4, 2008

Commercial vs. handmade...the truth in action

As you may be aware, I have spent the last 3 weeks knitting, crocheting, sewing, taping, sticking, and who knows what else in preparation for the vendor fair I attended yesterday. After all of that, what was the end result? To be honest, I was a little disappointed.

I am very proud of my craft(s) and it's certainly an honor to be able to share that with the outside world and get a concept of what the general public thinks. After all, while I certainly appreciate my husband's opinion (and thankfully he's very good at being honest), it's also nice to know what a complete stranger thinks.

After yesterday, it's been confirmed in my mind that there is something to be said for an appreciation of the art that goes into handmade. I was one of 6 vendors that attended the fair - three of us selling our handmade wares, the other three were offering mass produced items (namely purses, framed posters and holiday cards). This was really a true test of handmade vs. commercial in my mind.

I found that I certainly received a lot of "oh, you're so talented" or "oh, your things are so cute" comments. I received admiration and comments about knitting being a dying craft, but this somehow did not translate into a lot of sales. While I did make a few sales, most people would squeal how adorable one of my items was....then go purchase a purse from the booth next to mine. I may not be the best salesperson alive, but the commercially made bags sold themselves, whereas I found myself constantly explaining my craft, what inspires me, why I love it as much as I do.

The kicker truly came when a nice looking gentleman in an expensive suit and tie came by and was looking at my 5"x7" matted photography prints. He noted how nice the prints were and inquired how much I was selling them for. I told him that they were $20 (which I still consider to be under priced but I had to go with my anticipated audience on this one) and that, as the artist, I would be happy to sign the print if he'd like. He exclaimed "$20?!!" as if I'd just asked him to hand over his soul and scurried off into the distance. At that point, I didn't know whether to cry a little, or laugh. The vendor next to me sold over 20 framed generic reproduction posters (he sold an amazing number of Kobe Bryant posters) with a price ranging from $35-$65 in a little over an hour, while I quietly pondered the value of my art.

It didn't improve when another person came over and asked me how much it costs to make my notecards - I believe the comment was "I mean, this can't cost you more than 50 cents". My husband told me later that the correct response would be a pro-ration of the $2000 camera, the travel costs to the different locations, the time taking the photographs, downloading them, organizing them, picking the perfect shots, uploading them to the printer, costs of the prints themselves, the shipping, the cardstock and the time taken to mount each one by hand. When you think of it like that, the notecard being sold for $4 is a steal. My husband's answer may have been the more direct approach, but I found myself justifying how I shoot my photographs and the time I take to carefully compose each shot because I'm not much of a believer in post-production (hence my business name). The man seemed surprised that I don't just hold down the shutter button and click about then see if I got a good shot later. I eventually gave up trying because I didn't feel like I needed to explain myself to him and remembered to not take it personally - although it's a really hard thing to do.

When I returned home slightly disillusioned by the day, I started looking at the humor of it all. While the masses may not appreciate the skill involved, I can be happy with myself knowing that I can create and do it well. At the very least, I regained the cost of my materials and I am now able to move forward with a supply of holidays gifts for my friends that are already made, and of course a month's worth of Etsy listings for my shop!


jstinson said...

Read your post with great empathy! It is sad. I think we have become a nation of quick fix, immediate gratification, no recognition of quality or appreciation of skill. The reality is that one can't compete with mass production. But I'm not going to stop doing what I love, and hope for a better day! I hope you will do the same!

pompberry said...

It is a sad thing when people prefer industrial to hand made... What makes me wonder is the fact that people don't realise (or don't care) that handmade = unique!
And more often than not the handmade item's quality surpasses that of the industrial one!
But anyhow... I hope you have better luck in next shows! :)

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I share your frustration. To keep my blood pressure down, I think about the poor souls who are so un-enlightened they cannot appreciate true talent, and thankfully do my craft for all the great people who do appreciate it.

ara133photography said...

That is very sad, I hope you're keeping your chin up! :) Thankfully there are lots of people who do appreciate it!

Kreated by Kelly said...

Thank you for sharing your truth. It is nice finding commonality with a stranger *smiles* Needless to say I completely understand. I love how your husband explained the cost of one of your prints....that sounds like me when I am trying to explain to my fellow craftspersons that they are severely underpricing themselves. thanks again! Kelly

HollyLynne said...

well, at least it was a good blog post! and yes, you do have lots of headway made for your holiday gifting and etsy listing. (And I owe you dinner!) i'm sorry it sucked so much, i think the whole handmade thing was just over their heads. which is sad for them.

Homemade Zen said...

Great post and wonderful insights! I have not been selling in craft fairs yet, but I can see how people often underappreciate the value of handmade.

agoodwitchtoo said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. The majority have definitely gotten used to the low price on mass produced commercial goods. Most don't realize the time that just ONE artist puts into an item that is handmade. Nor do they realize that the handmade wares are generally of better quality because of the time and attention placed on that one crafted item.

If they would stop and consider that by buying handmade they are actually doing better for the economy than buying those mass produced items! Directly supporting those in the communities instead of having the funds filter through corporate circles and into the pockets of those that are already financially sound.

Wendy said...

What a wonderful post, and very relatable. I, too, have experienced this disappointment after working an art or craft show all day. I think handmade CAN compete with mass-produced items, it's just that most of the buying public have not discovered how special it is to get (or give) something that is handmade or an original piece of artwork. The important this is to not get discouraged and keep on keepin' on!