Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What is the appeal of handmade?

Photo Courtesy of J>Ro

One thing I hated about doing certain shows, was the fact that the show organizers often had no idea of what quality handmade really meant. I would show up with my handmade jewelry, constructed from my own handmade lampwork beads, and be next to a person selling non-imaginative jewelry, strung with cheap glass bead imports from the local craft shop.

To make things even better, these fellow "handmade" jewelry designers would often come over to my table, cooing how pretty my things were, only to drop them like a hot potato when they saw the price. And believe me, my work was underpriced, if anything. They would often follow up with comments, like, "I could never charge that much for a bracelet/necklace/earrings!"

And they shouldn't. This might offend some readers, but if you are buying a string of $3.99 beads from the local craft store, stringing them on some beading wire with a few mass-produced spacers--that really isn't in the handmade spirit, in my book.

Part of the appeal of handmade is the idea of having a one-of-a-kind product, or at least one that is created with a vision by the artist. I'm really not slamming people who use store-bought supplies (as long as they do not compromise the structural integrity of your piece--but that's another blog post!), nor I am slamming people who try to create on a budget. I've seen gorgeous pieces made from components bought at a Michael's or Jo-Anns, but they were gorgeous because they contained the artist's voice and vision. Thought and heart was put into the pieces.

There is so much more to a piece being handmade than the simple idea that is was created using one's hands. People want something that they feel they could not have created themselves. Anyone can make a pair of earrings, just like anyone can do a color-by-number, or make a bar of soap. People want to feel like they are buying an idea from the artist's mind that they can now enjoy and cherish. They want something that someone else has put some thought into, and felt compelled to create through passion for a craft.

I do realize that this is my opinion, and some out there will think handmade means something totally different. But what do you think? What is the appeal of buying handmade for your customers, or yourself?


  1. After 30+ years of making ad selling my creations, whatever they be, all handmade, all ooak, I heartily agree with you re fair organizers. I have had so many frustrating experiences with those who don't make anything; I think that is the issue..fairs that allowed super cheap imports to come in and compete with local handmade..needless to say, a disaster for all..
    I've been put next to someone selling hats from Nepal by organizers who thought that it would be "cute" to have all the hat people in a row...*sigh* And, the same with jewelry..it's interesting, when I'm in a market with several jewelers who are all local handmade crafts people, we all do well..it's trying to compete with cheap reseller prices that creates the problems - and that is online or off.
    I was a chef for many years, and the well-run restaurants were always owned or managed by former restaurant workers, be they waitstaff or ex-cooks..somehow, the horrible places to work (or eat!) were run by people who knew nothing about food.
    I'm convinced that the same thing is true of fairs and markets..and quite often customers will themselves complain about resellers, so slowly but surely, consumers who attend and shop at these events are becoming educated, and demanding local handmade..

  2. Thanks for this! I've had exactly the same experience at craft fairs - watching helplessly as the cheap imported jewelry went like hot cakes while my lovingly handmade creations remained unsold. You're right - the quality of genuine handmade is incomparable, the prices are usually realistic, and you're buying an heirloom that will last *steps off soapbox* Erika Price Jewelry