Handcrafted From The Heart February 03, 2015 14:23
These days, most of us aren't used to holding things in our hands that are handmade, one of a kind, or locally-made. Small businesses in general, like ones in which our grandparents shopped, are fewer and struggle to survive. It has become ingrained in our minds that the places to patronize are the faceless malls or convenient big box store corporate giants, with companion stores and chain restaurants nearby. This is, of course, by design, since these companies have billions of dollars of buying power, cheap labor, warehouses, and clever marketing campaigns to sell to you, the consumer. There is a slow, but growing movement in the last few years to reverse this trend. We have all heard and seen the rallying cries of, "buy local, shop local, eat local" and for many good reasons. These range from helping our friends and neighbors live sustainably and pay the bills, all the way to health issues for us and the planet, human rights abuses by big business, and chemicals and poisons in unsustainable products.
When shopping (or even window shopping) for products that are sold by a local shop or actual craftspeople making a living with their hands and their hearts, one may ask themselves or the artist "How is the cost of this item determined?" "Why is this so expensive, can you give me a discount?" One may also state, "I can buy the same or similar thing cheaper at *insert big box store/website here*." Unfortunately, a frustrated answer to the latter statement by a small business owner or craftsperson such as ourselves may possibly be (and sometimes has been) in the form of another question such as "So why are you here then?" A better, but not always easier, answer would, of course, be "I'm happy to take some time and show you." Of course, many of us know by now that most handcrafted goods are special, unique, and can't possibly be replicated anywhere else.
As a consumer, you must understand what goes into the making of a handcrafted product. In this instance we will use the wooden flute as an example, but you can apply this to any item you wish, e.g. jewelry, food, body care products, etc. To start, the craftsperson needs to purchase a blank of wood. Depending upon the type of wood purchased and the size of the blank (which equates to size/key of flute), the price for this could have an extremely large range. Cedar, maple, and walnut, which can be domestic and fairly easy to obtain, can cost quite a bit less than exotic woods such as ebony or imbuya. A piece of curly or highly figured maple can cost a bit more than plain jane walnut. So here we have a few variables already. Next, comes adornments for the flute, such as stone inlays and alternate woods for blocks (birds, totems, etc.) and end caps. Once again, the prices are variable depending upon what is used, synthetic stone vs. natural stone, etc. Depending upon the maker, all of these items costs have to be at least doubled for the final retail price, sometimes more. Next, we have tools of the trade with which to make this wooden flute. A woodworker's tools can be very expensive, some accumulated over years. Which means much of the price of a sale goes right back into fixing or purchasing new tools, equipment, as well as materials. If an expensive lathe, for example, stops working or dies completely, the woodworker may have to go into some debt in order to obtain another one, simply to carry on the work he/she does.
Last, but certainly not least, the craftsman's valuable time and labor! For the small business brick and mortar store reseller, this equates to employee salary. This unfortunately is hard to calculate for many home-based craftspeople. I have seen many products that I have found to be too inexpensive, and chalked it up to the craftsperson not charging nearly enough (or even anything at all!) for their work involved. This is not acceptable, and undermines others' attempts at putting a genuine value on labor! Of course, there are also those who ridiculously overcharge for their similar items, for no apparent reason. Herein lies one point of this blog, to highlight one of the least understood reasons for the cost of a handmade item. Time, expertise, and years of experience, skills, and knowledge cannot be underestimated. One simply HAS to charge for their time and labor, much like they would if they hired a skilled employee to help them make these products. The craftsperson IS the employee, and is remiss if not taking the hours and days worth of work into account that is involved in a labor-intensive product such as a wooden flute.
Instruments such as the wooden/bamboo flute aren't simply sticks with holes in them. Many of us have heard this comparison and/or the comment "That's easy, I can make that." Sure, you can! But will it play? Are you a woodworker? An artisan? A musician? What do you think it will look/sound like? Some flutes on the market are simply that - "sticks with holes" or souvenirs. Most, however, are so much more than this, to which working musicians and performers can attest. A great flutemaker has not only woodworking skills and genuine talent, which many times cannot be taught but is inherent, but ALSO has an ear for music! I've seen (and owned!) more than my share of pretty wall hanging "flutes" that are out of tune and cannot play a decent note if their wooden lives depended upon it. Folks, these skills can and should be measured in the price tag of a genuinely great looking, and perfectly tuned flute. There are also many great flutemakers out there that make flutes that are tuned to themselves, "grandfather tuning" as some call it. This also takes genuine skill and is a true art form in and of itself, and the flutes are meant to be played in a natural way from the heart, without most Western style instruments. Again, an inherent gift and understanding of sound and music makes all the difference between a decoration or a genuine musical instrument.
As a consumer, asking questions of a craftsperson about a product you are thinking about plunking your hard-earned money down on is definitely important, and usually welcomed by them. Most of us love to talk about ourselves, what we do, and how we do it. When you do, however, be mindful of price comparisons to factory-made goods made in other countries by slave labor, as well as comparisons to their peers. Everyone has their own style, tools, and time invested, and comparing their products to another's can put the artist in defensive mode, and can be insulting. In conclusion, when you purchase any product anywhere, it may be worth taking a moment to understand who made it, where it came from, who is benefitting from the purchase (faceless corporate or the actual artist) and why it has the price tag it does. An artist, craftsperson, or musician deserves to be compensated for not just the materials and time involved in making their art. Blood, sweat, tears, energy, talent, and HEART that is placed into their wares deserves not only compensation, but honor and respect.
Dawn, Tree Of Life Designs