Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pet-Peeves of a Hand-Crafted Seller

Everyone has them.  That one thing (or more) that just makes you want to pop out a set of cat-claws and shred someone's face, or, as a friend of mine who's more dog-oriented would say, "...[I] want to pee in [their] shoes." (Thanks, Ash.)

For those of us in the hand-crafting business, selling the fruits of our hard work, there are a lot of things so many people take for granted - which is why they say such things as "Why would I buy from you if I can get it cheaper at the mall?" or "This is way too expensive for (item)." or "I can just make this myself, right? How do I do it?" or "You're charging WHAT for this junk?"

Have a little insight to my typical weekday - a quick behind the scenes for this crafter.
First off, I'm a night-owl.  Most of my inspiration comes to me after dark.  Which is bad, because that's usually when I settle to play World of Warcraft.  Second off, I'm "Unemployed".  There are no jobs here, and I live with my mother who has had Degenerative Disc Disease since she was 40-something and now has heart conditions, so I do spend time taking care of her - even though for someone with both of those and who is over 60, she's a ridiculously strong and active woman, even though she's built like a twig. When her energy runs out for the day, I take over.
I usually get up anywhere between 9-11AM, sometimes a little later, depending on what I was doing the night before.  I go to bed anywhere between midnight and 5AM, depending on how light my day has been and if I wake up just after I've gone to bed with an idea (in which case I'll get up and make it, then fall back into bed).

Upon waking, I grab some coffee or breakfast, depending on whether I'm actually hungry, and then the DAY starts.  I have a To-Do list, like most people.  I pick 5 things that GET DONE no matter what.  Things like "Kitty-Litter Boxes", "Kitchen", "Dining Room", "New Creation That I Made Last Night And Don't Like The Way It Came Out", "Photography", "Vacuum (insert room here)" and such are on the list typically no more than every other day.  The rest of the time, little things get done as I pass through rooms, as I live by the rule "If you enter a room, leave it cleaner than it was."  This could mean as little as straightening cushions, picking up a dish and carrying it to the kitchen, dusting something, etc.  As I move through the house either checking on Mom, or in the act of just heading into the bathroom, to get a drink, or whatever, little things add up FAST - which most people wouldn't believe.  Whatever Room was on yesterday's list typically stays clean, or at least reasonably so for the next time it's on the list.
I stop housework/To-Do list at 5-6PM, other than The Rule, and settle to do more jewelry work.
Around 7-8PM, I settle for "ME" time... which is hanging out with the boyfriend, and/or playing WoW.
About half the time, I'm crafting during this time anyway, which is how I wind up staying up so late.
All in all, I spend about 5 hours of my day on housework, and about 5-8 on my jewelry - this includes blogging, keeping up with the forums, Facebook, deviantART, checking stats, other paperwork including price calculations and filing incoming and outgoing invoices, editing and polishing photos, photography, designing and creating, supply organization and inventory, creating and printing business cards, creating and printing Craft-Table (for flea-markets and shows) signage and price/color lists, stock-item inventory, creating shopping lists, and posting.  The filing/invoice paperwork of course, is dependant on my sales, which are very low right now.  The rest of the time I'm cooking or taking care of Mom and our 3 cats, or playing World of Warcraft, or some other video game to relax.

This kind of schedule is something many buyers take for granted.  I don't get paid for my day.  If I average out my sales for all of last year, I think I would get paid about ... 5-10 CENTS per hour actually worked on my jewelry over all.  I get paid properly PER ITEM sold.  My payment for caring for Mom and the housework is room/board, and if I am doing a custom item, Mom will front me what I'm missing for special order items until said custom item's payment arrives.  All of my proceeds go back into supplies and the household - for me? Not really.  I tend to not spend money on myself - most of any money I make all-around, including gift money at holidays goes right back into my jewelry/advertising so I can expand what I do in the hopes of more sales.

So.. is that item REALLY expensive all of a sudden?  My hands worked for 2-4 hours EACH on the new Earwraps I've done.  The techniques used in them are not all easy, getting that wire to do what I want it to do and be sturdy enough that they're not going to fall apart the first time they're worn is a trial and error, and takes TIME, MATERIALS and PATIENCE.  (Remember my rant on Quality in my last blog post? Here you are.)

A lot of the things I post up, from random finds from Zibbet, are made much the same way.  Remember that cake topper? How long do you think that took? How many tries did it take for each component to be perfect?
Remember that art bowl?  How many shattered in creation before that one was made?
Remember that vase/vessel?  How many were fired before one came out that wasn't shattered or cracked?
Those earrings?  How long did it take to perfect the techniques to create that pair?
The mirror? That table two posts back?  How long did those take, and how many trials and prototypes were made before the finished product?
What about the things I have featured in this post? They weren't done on assembly lines to a programmed precision - each thing is unique and has more than likely been the products of MANY a trial and error.

Most crafters make 3-4 of an item before they are satisfied with one enough to sell it.  Hours of time, lots of materials, creating, destroying, recreating for the quality piece buyers find "too expensive" because it's not Department Store or Big Box Store cheap.

Our time as crafters is taken for granted - which angers me.  I could spend 8 hours in an office and get paid up to $25 an hour.
I can spend 8 hours creating jewelry and get paid $1 an hour after it's all said and done - if all the items I create in that 8 hours are sold.  - To be clear, these 8 hours are spent cumulatively on items that make it past Quality Control and are listed.  For me, that would be 2 Earwraps, and 1 of their counterpart Earcuffs.  If I wanted that same $25 per hour for that 8 hours, I would be selling those items for something closer to $120 EACH, including all shipping, provided all three items are shipped to the same person - figure in materials/material shipping/gas and car wear to get materials, posting fees, shipping fees (including purchase of the bubble-mailer or box), gas and car wear to get to and from the post office, and of course handling/packaging (which includes plastic baggies to protect the item, the flocked velvet pouch I send my items in if no gift boxing is requested, bubble wrap and foam padding to keep their shape and to keep them safe - and/or gift packaging/gift wrap, which I offer at no extra charge).  And that would just be for the silver-plated ones!  Since I personally think that's a little steep, I obviously don't gouge.  I do try to pay myself for my time, but reasonably, even though I personally think my skill and time are WORTH $25 per hour or more because it IS a hands-on skill that I taught myself to do, and I feel I do it well.

Am I different than any other hand-crafter?  Likely not.  We SEVERELY undercharge a good 75% of the time.  Do buyers realise that? No, not usually. 
They take it for granted and tell us we overcharge.

My personal biggest pet-peeve is being taken for granted.  In everything I do.  I've been taken for granted a large part of my life.  I've done things for people in the past and been burned severely.  I've given up parts of myself to do good for someone else to be tossed aside when they got everything they wanted out of me and I was no longer "useful".  I've given time, money, and often trust, to have it thrown back in my face - I'm not here to be walked on, and I resent letting anyone walk on me when I offered something of myself to them.

NO crafter should be walked on, taken for granted that they should be charging little to nothing for things they WORKED for to offer to other people.

One thing I ask people is "Do you feel your time is worth the money you get working at your job?"
I always get an answer of "Yes." or "I probably should be paid more for what I put up with."

So why is it, then, that the time I spent working on this jewelry, or the time other crafters spend on their crafts, isn't worth the same amount of time?  Why is an athlete playing a sport more important than a Hollywood actor or a Broadway performer dancing or singing or playing music more important than typing, answering the phone, transferring calls, writing invoices, writing memos/letters/reports/whatever, working to deadlines any more important than the retail worker who is on their feet for often more than 9 hours on their shift because they work overtime so often, dealing with bitchy customers, dealing with stupid customers, dealing with customers who make impossible demands, dealing with managers who make impossible demands because they have had impossible demands placed on them, more important than the private butcher or baker or small restaurant employees or small ice cream parlor or candy shop, or more important than the factory or manufacturing worker who works to make things that will find themselves on shelves to be sold ... and why is their time more important than those of us who hand-craft to make ends meet after our daily jobs or as a full-time thing, or as the only thing that's going to bring us income?

Our time spent working on our hand-crafts is just as important as you sitting in that office, or you working that retail job.  It's just as important as that cook in the restaurant or the baker or butcher or the person running the candy shop that gets up at 3AM to make fresh things for you to buy when they open. The difference is, someone else isn't handing us a paycheck.
We have to do that for ourselves as the owner, CEO and sole employee all in one, and so often, the money goes back into the craft or towards something else.  FEW are lucky enough to make enough of a profit on the side or as a full time job to have money for savings or to splurge on something for ourselves.

Just because we are hand-crafters, don't take our time for granted.  Don't take US for granted.  We work just as hard, sometimes harder, for our respective crafts, and we present to you our work for sale.  Just because we're not a huge corporation doesn't mean we're not quality, we're not worth the money, and we're just lazy nobodies who don't have or won't get a real job.
We have a real job.  It's about time we were recognized for it, don't you think? 

Not everyone can make jewelry. 

Water Element Earwrap by Me

I know people who can't knit....

...or crochet.

...or throw pottery.

...or sculpt.

...or spin.

...or sew.

...or work with leather.

...or woodwork.

...or make candles.

...or make soap/lotions.

Each of these hand-crafters spend time, money, and give of their own designing minds to each of their products.

Yet we are taken for granted because of huge corporations who do half the work for twice the profit, and too often the work is done by machines - automated machines - and those products never feel the loving touch of human hands.

Everything I show on this blog IS crafted by human hands.  Such beautiful things, useful things, taken for granted as muuch as their creators are.

It's time that stopped.  Stop taking us for granted just because the corporations and big stores can give you a cheap imitation of what human hands can do.


Glenda said...


Your blog speaks volumes for artisans, artists, craftspeople and jewelers. I agree 100%. I've had someone on facebook balk at spending $205 for a handmade lambskin, fully pig-skin lined, one of a kind tote. She went out of her way to blast me for this original handbag that took 2 days to make. It was cruel and uncalled for.

I leaned on my Zen and held my temper through the back and forth posts that everyone could see. She finally admitted she hadn't bought a handbag in 10 years and didn't know what they cost. I invited her to my etsy shop and offered her a 20% discount. She never showed up.

My schedule pretty much mirrors yours (minus the Mom). I work all day, make dinner for husband, and go back to work for a couple of hours before I fall asleep in front of the TV. My craft is my life's blood and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have a feeling you feel the same way. One can't NOT be an artist if it's ingrained.

Thank you with deep appreciation for featuring my handbag in your blog. I shall return!


climbingbear said...

Thanks Glenda -

You speak eloquently for all of us..

I have been full time for over 40 years.. folks expect that since I don't "work", I am available for all the extra stuff.. whether it is chatting or volunteering or whatever.. and I am glad that I am flexible..

When I used to do just art shows, my family and acquaintances would always be there after the show to "hear how I did...".. If I did not do well, they expressed some concern, but were quite sure that their choices were better - if I had a great show (and paid some bills) I could tell there was a hint of "why is your work so valuable.." not jealousy, but maybe that I was getting more than my due..

I hear a customer ask, "How long did it take to make this?" and I know they want to figure an "hourly wage" and start comparing.. If I am a little testy, I will say "40 years.." or "It took much longer than it should have"..

We grow as designers as we grow in our knowledge of the materials we use and their limits. I work every day on various projects - some for sale and some not for sale.

We are who we are. Craftsmen and women formed guilds in the middle ages and came up from serfdom.. Skilled craftsmen and women who were slaves in the United States, commanded more respect and more freedom.

Everything we use is either made or grown by someone, somewhere in the world.. yet, people have become separated from the process..

People like you and me and others who make a living selling the honest work of their hands are bringing clear vision and products back into the consciousness of not just citizens of our country but all over the world.

I complained yesterday to my husband and partner in craft and art that my days are too full.. I work day and night - and as we age have new issues to deal with - 40 years ago it was my children, now it is my husband's health..

We are however, fortunate that we are able. Your mom is fortunate to have you. We are fortunate that you have this great blog.

thanks for the inclusion..

Martha Baerreis
Designs by Baerreis

Kalla said...

Thank you, Glenda and Martha both.

It does anger me that so many people balk at paying for quality, but they're perfectly fine spending money on PERCIEVED quality junk, just because it has a Brand Name on it or comes from a Brand Store.

I actually intend my next post to be partially about this ignorance, and to once again ask buyers "Is your time important to you?" and "Do you feel you are paid well for the time spent at your job?"

It's one of the things that does open eyes.

The other thing that people just don't get is that yes, I bought my silver plated wire at Michael's or AC Moore. ... But so can anyone. But can anyone shape it, wrap it, craft it the same way I can?

THIS is why I feature random people every time I post - each person I choose has many things in their shop that call out to my own senses as fine examples of their chosen medium. I could go get wood, but ... carpenter's daughter, woodwooker's daughter or not, I'm pretty good at making mockeries of skill - unless I'm working with a lathe, I have more instinct there than other areas. Yarn? I.. can kinda knit - if it's on a circular needle and I'm making Harry Potter-style scarves (from the first movie, large stripes). Crochet? ... Moving on. Pottery? ..uh... leather I ... can do a few things with certain kinds.. the list goes on.

I'm an artist by nature. I always have been. My mediums have always been random and plentiful. Over the years I've honed down to where instinct and purity of enjoyment lay.

I could get any materials I want from any of the many suppliers... But I would wind up with quite a mess. I can never do all of it - but I will pay for quality when I have the money to splurge. I love that little box. I love that bag. I would snap up that soap in a heartbeat, and those candles. I would wear that outfit, knit with that yarn, gift that little bookworm to a teacher I know and love, eat from that plateware set while snuggled under that blanket wearing that corset.

All of it is quality work that I could never do, and have been alive long enough to know this. I just wish others would open their eyes.

handmadefuzzy said...

great blog and while reading I can feel you passion. And I do agree with you 100%. People tend to not see what goes into an item you/ we make.
Thanks for shouting it out. I am not as creative with words as you are. I will link you to my FB (handmadefuzzy) page today.
Fruitful creating to you today.