Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ignorance. Perception. Reality.

I left a comment on my last post about buyer ignorance, and perception of quality.

I have discovered the "scheduled posting feature" also, so I'm writing this early so my thoughts don't fly out the window, as often happens when I'm riled - and this whole thing is something I'm constantly riled about, now more than ever.

I touched, a few posts ago, on how so many things proclaim in huge letters, "GENUINE!"  I also mentioned that if it has to scream it in your face, it probably ISN'T.

That's a part of what I'm talking about for today.  Perception. Ignrorance.

How many of you shop at IKEA for furniture?  I know I have, and I'm not ashamed of saying so. It was in my budget to do so.  I've also shopped at Wal-Mart, Target and other large brand stores.

The desk I'm typing from right now I purchased in 2004 from Staples, and it's served me well through now, and will probably serve a few more years, provided I don't try to take it apart again - the screws and the drilled holes for them are becoming stripped, and because the backs have been lost in moves, the whole thing is a little wobblier every time I take it apart and put it back together.  The black laminate surface of the desk is coming apart, moisture peeling away the smooth black surface to reveal the particleboard beneath.

I spent around $250 for this desk.  Is it quality? ... eh, it functions... but it's not as attractive as the day I purchased it.  It wasn't as attractive by the second year of use.  But ... it functions.

One of the things my father offered to do when I moved here was to take this desk apart - and build it out of solid white pine, the way both the bookshelves and knicknack shelves, night stand, and gun rack to display my colorguard equipment from my high school days he built for me are.  Do I still have them all?  Sadly, no. I lost the gun rack and one of the knicknack shelves in a move.  Do the pieces I still have still function? Oh yes!  Are they attractive? You bet they are... just as beautiful, if a little distressed - which makes them even more attractive - as the day he presented them to me some 18 years ago. 

The desk however, was never built, since I only had the company of my father for a scant 10 months before he became a shell of his former, lively self, and two months later, he was gone.

The moment I realized he was indeed gone, and never returning, those "insignificant" bits of furniture became precious and priceless to me.  They were made by his hands, his skill, and his love for his hobby and his love for me.

I will go through much more furniture before I, too, am gone... but I will never, EVER let go of the things he made for me.
... This desk?  I can't wait until I can watch it burn in the bonfire we have to clear the tree limb and brush pile we build each year.  I don't care about it, though it has served me well for 5 years, and will probably serve me longer - until I get sick of its wobbliness and go build one out of the white pine still waiting in the shop for hands to craft once again.

How many of us have things like that in our lives?  How many of us have furniture that was built of cheap particleboard and varnished or laminated to look "real"? ... Is this desk really worth $250? ... No, not really.  In fact, if I went and purchased the particleboard and laminate and build this desk myself.. It would cost about $75, and mmmm... maybe 20 hours of work.  ... so why did I pay $250 for it, when human hands didn't build it? A machine built and shaped the parts the same way it did millions of others absolutely identical to it, and I merely assembled it.  If anything, /I/ should have been paid to assemble it. It was MY time, MY hands and MY tools that built it.

Kinda puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

This desk, made of white pine, solid, light, stained, varnished and timeless would cost me a bit more in the way of materials, quite a bit more, but it would last a lifetime barring physical and intentional destruction (or natural disaster/Act of God, if you'd like a legal term). 
Would it be worth $250? .. no.  If I were to build the desk, I would want $400-600 for it, if I sold it.


Quality materials.
Hand-crafted QUALITY - it would not wobble; it would be built CORRECTLY, and not held together by The Whole, balanced precariously, or depenant on other parts to be fully and completely assembled.
Time - days of time; time to build. Time to stain. Time to varnish. Time to let it set and cure.  Time spent to be sure each little detail was carefully inspected before moving on to the next step.

Just because something is a name brand does not automatically make it "better".

If I had the choice of buying something hand-crafted and "brand name", I would often prefer hand-crafted.
Look carefully at many of the name-brands you know.
What are their products MADE OF?
WHERE are they made?
What are the ingredients of that product? ... wait... what do you mean you don't know exactly what that's made of?
Didn't that product you JUST purchased suddenly get recalled for having Active lead in its paint or plastic?  How did that get in there? WHY is it there?  Because it was ... cheaper.. and a .. filler?  Filler?  Filler.

I'm up front. I use LEAD CRYSTAL in my jewelry. ... but if you want lead poisoning from my product, go get a marble (NOT WOOD) mortar and pestle, take apart about 20 of my products, then crush the beads into a fine powder - no no, not like sand, I mean REALLY fine, like confectioner's sugar.  Now put that in an 8-oz glass of water.  Then stir it so it's suspended. Then drink it.  Now you might get lead poisoning, if you used enough beads.  Now you understand why I tell people that you shouldn't give my jewelry to anyone under 12.  (Other than the CSPIA saying that if it contains any kind of lead anywhere it can't be a child's product, despite the fact that I've gifted my nieces with my jewelry since they were 11 and 13, respectively... Both of them still have that jewelry, too.. they didn't automatically eat it.)

With hand-made products, you usually KNOW what it is, because hand-crafters are a lot more open about what they do, which I also touched on in my last few entries.

If I use Sterling Silver, I say it is. If it's Silver Plated, I say it is. If it's Silver-Toned, I say it is.  I'm not going to pretend silver craft wire is Sterling Silver and try to gougue my prices.
Yet .... it seems to me that big stores don't have those kind of scruples.
I have a ring that's "14k gold" ... well it might have seemed that way until the gold paint wore off.
Beautiful wood furniture... until the laminate wears off and you can see the ugly ply-wood or particleboard that it's REALLY made of.
Priceless porceline... until you drop a piece and it's a layer of poly-clay or pottery over a wire mesh, painted and glazed to look like it was.

Cheap ingredients to make a mockery of the real thing, given a Brand Name.

Brand Name might have been the real thing many years ago - I know that when I grew up, Fisher Price made toys from wood... Anyone here have some of the "Little People"?  I inherited my first set when I was .. maybe 2.  All solid wood, carved and painted and then clear-varnished to protect the paint underneath from teething gnawers, or stain-colored so there WAS no paint.  I still have them, and their painted or papered particle-board houses, all built to last a lifetime.  Even when platic started to become norm, back then the items were so much more sturdy - like the ferris wheel I have that plays "In the Good Ol' Summertime".  The musicbox/ferris wheel gear housing and base are wood, the wheel itself is plastic - looks like it was hand molded and cared for, since there are no "points" or "injection sites" still left on it - and no seams.  The whole thing still plays and runs like new, and I must have dropped it down the stairs a hundred times.

Now? Fisher Price is still up there, but how many recalls has it suffered because of cheap materials and manufacturing in other countries?
Give me wooden ones that people make now - give me wooden building blocks instead of plastic, or Lincoln logs instead of Le.... wait no, scratch that. Lego is epic, and I'd like them to stick around, so long as they're made of somthing I know the ingredients to, and that I KNOW are made with quality, like they were when they FIRST came out.

What about Mattel?  I used to chew on Barbie's feet (I never much liked her, really, unless I was making my own clothes for her or combing her hair).  If I did that now, I'd be very sick.  How many recalls have THEY suffered because of cheap materials and manufacturing in other countries?  Give me rag dolls like my grandmother used to make for my sisters and me... they held up through .. so far 30+ years of love and neglect, moves and abuse, still looking like mostly new - well, once they're washed, hair combed and such.

Don't get me wrong - some of the things we import are the best products we could have - but they were IMPORTED.  They were crafted FOR the people BY the people in that country, not paid to manufacture our items as cheaply as possible without caring how they're made so they could be sold at the same prices as the quality it once was.

When comparing a brand name to something hand-made, you'll very often find that hand-made products are much higher in quality, because they were MADE to be.  Hand crafters don't usually buy cheap materials and proclaim they're something they're not.

I don't often use store-bought charms or findings in my work, unless I know the history of the company or item.  I've written to several of them and asked flat out, and bluntly, "I make jewelry and sell it. What is this item made of, so I know what to tell my customers they're made of?"  If a company couldn't answer that simple question, I didn't purchase that company's item, since I can't very well tell people "this chandelier finding is made of metal - if you have allergies, don't bother with it because I don't know what it is, and neither does the company that made it."
If I know something is nickel, I say it, but I try very hard to stick to copper, steel or pewter, silver plated or not, and I state what it is, if I can. Many of my items are silver plated, to be worn on occasion - these items are silver-plated copper, or steel, or brass, all of which are common plated metals.  How many commercial jewelry makers out there do the same?  A lot - but a lot don't care what's underneath, and don't care if their customers have allergies.  I do.  Most other hand-crafted jewelry makers do too.

Notice how many knitters and croceters state their yarn is wool, or acrylic or blend, or whatever, or offer the brand name of the yarn they use, or those who use hand-made yarn will say who made it or what it's made of if they made it themselves.  Notice how many wood-workers state the paints they use or pottery artists say they MADE their glazes instead of purchasing them.

Customers are either informed up front, or get straight answers when they ask.
Can you say that of Big Corporations or Brand Names?

Brand Names are PERCEIVED quality.  Not always REAL quality. I could name off several Brand Names that I refuse to purchase - jewelry, electronics, computers and their accessories, appliances, furniture... the list goes on - this usually is because I have purchased their products and found the "quality" I expected to be cheaply manufactured junk that had to be replaced often or quickly, or something I had to repair many times to get to function again, and I'm no small hand at electronics repair, and I'm no stranger to soldering iron or gun, no stranger to replacing screws or nails, or "making-do".  I also do this with some quality items that have been suddenly discontinued because they were pushed out of business by other companies making things cheaper and "more available".  That doesn't mean "better quality", it just means "more available."

Some people would go out of their way for Lane furniture for example.  This is one Brand Name that has kept "quality" - but look at the PRICES.
My mother recently purchased Thomasville furniture - another example of Brand Name quality... but again, look at the prices!
Tiffany Jewelry? Same thing.

These places still have people - actual humans - making things to order - and not with a push-button machine that does all the work for them - out of quality materials.

Martha Baerreis mentioned in her comment on my last post that people have become separated from the process of making and growing things that we all use.  A truer statement could not have been made, and it's a shame.  While progress is good, and machines were made to AID people in their crafts, they should never have taken over the crafts to be sold at similar prices as work done entirely by human hands with a few simple tools.  I never begrudge those who craft the use of these tools, but at least there is a human hand there to guide them.

I went to have something engraved at the mall one Christmas at a little kiosk stand proclaiming "Items Engraved while you wait."  Instead of pulling out hand-engraving tools to engrave initials into my item, the person working there put it into a little hidden machine and typed in the 3 little letters I wanted engraved into a computer, then pushed a button, and the machine did all the work.
I wished instantly that I didn't purchase that item, and asked right then if I could abort my purchase.  I got a rather interesting tongue-lashing, and I walked away, without paying, without that item.  It was an insult, since said engraving tools were on display in a leather envelope right next to the person working there, and engraving the item was an extra $30 ($10 per letter).  ... $30 so I could watch a machine do it? ... No, I don't think so.  I don't think that machine did $30 worth of work, or required $30 of electricity.  Had it been done by hand, I would have been MORE than happy to pay that $30.
Another lesson in perspective there, isn't it?

Glenda, who also commented on my last post, said she had someone complain of the price of a hand-made lambskin/pig-skin One-of-a-Kind tote that took her 2 days to create, for $205.
What's the going price on Gucci these days? Mmm.. after a quick search, and the first "tote" that comes up on my screen from the Gucci site (Friday, October 14, 2011 at 9:32PM) ... $1395.  ... Seriously?  Is it made of human-leather imported from Mars and hand-crafted by 1-week old infants who are crafting geniuses?  The best details it can offer are "white leather" and "light gold hardware" and "natural cotton lining" ... what kind of leather? Is it real gold? What's the name of the single employee that made it? How much time did it take?
We'll never know.

Every crafter I feature has a name, a story of how they were inspired to make what they make, whether it be how they got into their craft or how they made that one item, or both.  Real humans with real names and feelings.  Feelings that are tossed aside and crushed when they hear buyers complain about their prices, or that they can get it cheaper from a Big Store - when Big Stores won't have 90% of what a hand-crafter can do, unless, like some stores I won't mention (like the Chinese Resellers on Etsy, or other actual Brand Name Stores that have lawsuits in the past), steal designs and copy them to make en masse and sell at "discount prices", often lower than the original crafter that put their hard work into that item to begin with, degrading the craft, degrading the item, degrading the CRAFTER.
The only thing I can think when I see this happen is "How DARE you steal from crafters, degrade what we do, mass manufacture SOMEONE ELSE'S item, and cheapen what it took to create it!?"
Sadly, victims of this get tossed aside, and are suddenly accused of copying the item mass produced.
I know some sites, however, who search for this kind of thing, and point it out - and there need to be more people who do this, in my opinion.  Hand-crafter's are downplayed enough as it is, and as I mentioned last post, taken for granted.

It needs to STOP!

And now... that I've ranted a lot of rage, it's time for me to bring you what you probably came here for - my showcase of the items people make, and the links to the people that made them.

I have not said this before, but I will now - don't just click on the item and the shop.  View the PROFILE of the person who created these items.  Find out who they are, and if they mention it, where they live.  Find out what inspired them.  Find out why their item IS what it is, and what went into its creation.  Don't look at the shop name as anything other than the Brand Name that one person hides behind to be remembered more easily.  Think about the person (or persons) BEHIND that name, and keep in mind that MOST of these are One-(Wo)Man-Shows, and not someone with a mass production factory in their basement.

Take me as an example of this - Dream Weaver Jewelry (and more!) is a name I use on the internet stating what I sell - MY name is Geri Hine.  Each and every item in my shop(s), on my page(s), or in my galleries - were made by my hands, and mine alone - even my "generic" bracelets, which I, over the years, have now prouduced a stock of for when I go to live-venues.  My sister (Cathy) and my nieces (Christine and Elizabeth) and on occasion, my mother (Ginny) model my items while I photograph them.  We are human beings.

And so are each an every one of the people I have chosen to showcase below, this time, just pulling random things I think are awesome examples of their trade, whatever trade it is, for whatever price it is.

I was originally going to do a short blurb about each of these, but then I thought that it would be better to let these items, and the shops, and the people behind the shops, speak for themselves!  There's too much to say, and I know I'd never be able to do it justice.

So on this happier note, I'll leave you to ponder until next week.


SandyW said...

I love your blog....just found it compliments of the zibbet forums. Keep up the great job of explaining handcrafted to all who will listen. I am going to list your blog on mine...
Have a great day, and keep on blogging, you are good.

BeachyRustica said...

I've noticed more people lately are interested in buying products made in the USA, and handmade pieces in particular. Hopefully the trend will accelerate. People will get better quality products and the economy would get a boost too.

Thanks so much for featuring my Beach Glass Robe Hook! :)

Kalla said...

Thank you so much for your compliments, SandyW, and thank you again for the link love! I hope as time goes on, more people will listen! There are so many people who make wonderful things that sit in storage because too often, people want to buy cheaper things in Large Stores.

BeachyRustica, you're very welcome! I love your glass work and if/when I remodel, I might just hunt you down for some of those hooks! They bring such a rustic, rough look, while being bright and cheerful; a splash of color to any space they occupy! I do hope the trend grows; as I said, so many people create, and are rolled over by Large Stores and their cheaper products!

All crafters who create with their own hands and put love into each and every item they create deserve better treatment!

Thank you both for your comments!