What’s it really like to run a handmade business? Five things makers want you to know

Three years ago this week, as I was preparing for Toronto’s One of a Kind Show, I wrote my most popular article ever: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Craftspeople (but were afraid to ask). I received dozens of emails from artisans I didn’t know, telling me that they felt I had expressed what they wanted to say to their customers. So even though I can only share my own perspective, I hope that this article will also represent my fellow makers. We’re a diverse group, but we share a lot. And this time of year is an intense time for us. As we dive into the winter craft show season, meeting the public and sharing our work, here are a few more things that we’d like you to know:

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Yasmine Louis hard at work in her silkscreen printing studio in Toronto (shared with permission of the artist)

1. We put a lot of thought and work into designing and making our products. This may seem obvious, but when you ask us “How long does it take you to make one bowl/ dress/ guitar/ bracelet?” the answer (if we answered the way we would like to) might be something like this: “Well, I studied/experimented for six years, then invested in setting up a studio and paying for raw materials, and for each new product I spend months developing and testing new designs, eventually settling on a prototype that I will spend countless hours making, often in batches rather than one at a time. I am constantly developing new products while I continue to produce my bestsellers. How long did it take me to make this bowl/ dress/ guitar/ bracelet? Ten years.”

We know, of course, that many people are curious about our processes, and most of us are happy to tell you about how we work and where our ideas come from. We’re very glad that you’re interested. But if you are trying to judge the value of an object by the amount of time it takes to make a single one, then you are missing the point of buying handmade.

2. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it. When you factor in the costs of materials and the time and effort it takes for us to develop and make our products, it’s no wonder they cost more than many factory-made products. But direct comparison doesn’t make sense – poor quality inputs, exploited workers and overseas shipping cost us in different ways. Most of us need to spend our money carefully, but if you can afford to have even a few handmade products in your home, I think you’ll agree they’re well worth it. When you factor in the value of high quality materials and workmanship and thoughtful design, these products are likely to last you for many years and bring you more joy, giving you great value for your money.

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Josee Huard (Northern Smittens) makes beautiful warm mittens, pillows and blankets from upcycled felted wool and cashmere sweaters, diverting them from becoming landfill. (shared with permission of the artist)

3. Sometimes it hurts. I and many of my maker friends are hard at work right now finishing up production for our big winter craft shows. It’s not a hobby; making 500 handbags is a lot harder than making one! And all of this repetitive work can take a physical toll. It’s an amazing feeling to use your own hands to bring your designs to life, but it can also hurt. Backs, arms, hands and wrists, our most valuable tools, suffer when we work too hard. But during the holiday season when we need to maximize our sales, it’s hard to slow down. Our products are created from a mingling of thought, creativity, and physical labour, and we want you to know that we put a lot of effort into making them special.

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Weaver Heather Dewey (Wovenwares) hand carding the fleece of local sheep on Vancouver Island (shared with permission of the artist)

4. We love our customers. Yes, I wrote about this in Part One, but you really need to know it: when you buy our work, visit us at shows, follow our progress online, and share your enthusiasm with your friends, you are helping the handmade economy to thrive. That means the world to us (as well as our suppliers, contractors, retail stores and sales staff). You are not only helping makers support their families, you are also helping to support a way of life that is holistic, environmentally conscious, and connected. Knowing who made your clothes is a pretty special feeling, but knowing who’s wearing and enjoying your creations is pretty special too.

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My studio-mate Catherine Winter (Sailorgirl Jewelry) uses a torch to create fantastic flameworked glass beads for her jewelry, one at a time. (shared with permission of the artist)

5. Makers are trying to make the world a better place, just like you. We want to live in a world where workers aren’t exploited, a good life is affordable, and everyone has a chance to thrive. We know we’re lucky to be able to make a living in this way, despite the challenges.  And we are trying our best to put beautiful, useful things into the hands of others. This week as we processed the results of the US election, I think many of us took solace in our work, helping us to heal ourselves and connect with our fellow makers, and with the world around us. This work has meaning for us, and we hope it does for you too.

Sincerely,
Devorah Miller
Red Thread Design
Red Thread Design will be at the One of a Kind Show in booth B-26

The One of a Kind Show and Sale takes place from November 24-December 4, 2016 in Toronto. More information is available on the show website

You can see Yasmine Louis’s work at www.yasminelouis.com or visit her at the One of a Kind Show in booth S-4

Josee Huard’s mittens, pillows and blankets are available online at www.northernsmittens.ca or at the One of a Kind Show in booth K-54

Heather Dewey does not exhibit at One of a Kind, but you can find her beautiful work online at www.wovenwares.xyz

Catherine Winter will be at the show in booth S-47. You can also find her online at www.sailorgirl.com or at our studio! (email me for details about how to visit us)

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. I think this article was very well written. It rings with truth. I wish you all the best…
    E. Burt, Toronto

  2. Thank you thank you thank you
    The “how long does it take you” paragraph is perfect. I have typed out a list of all the things I do in my work including boring admin stuff and all the things I pay for, plus the years learning. The list is laminated and posted in my booth.

  3. Thank you for giving me an insight to all that you do. I love to design and make stuff but it is for my family and friends, I too take ages over the whole process and they always have an unique item because I only make the one. I have been told that I should make more and sell them but that would take away the pleasure ie. 500 of the same thing, well done all you hard working people I wish that I could be there but you are too far away in another country, all the best with your winter shows, lots of appreciative love, L. R. Abraham. xxx

    • devorah@redthreaddesign.ca November 16, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      Thank you Lili Rose. I think all of us started out making stuff for family and friends, and that itself is a wonderful venture. Running a handmade business is a bit different as you know…. and one of the risks is that when you do something every day, you may eventually enjoy it less. That’s one of the challenges I didn’t mention in the article — keeping the joy alive when you are doing not only the wonderful, creative stuff but also the less fun repetitive work. Keep making things the way you like to!

  4. Hi Devorah,
    I hope all is great in your world.
    A wonderful read & very true for all of us who create our own uniqueness & offer it up for sale.
    I’ll stop buy at the OOAK, and if you’re busy, I hope you have an awesome show.
    Cheers, sweet pea.

  5. Hi
    Great article! I would like to add something for those of us that are non-crafters but would like to help out. If you purchase something ask for a couple of business cards people always ask where did you get that I love to be able to pass on the information to his many people as I can. To all my friends in the craft community just remember don’t forget to breath

    Kate

  6. Thank you for the clarity & passion with which you express what so many of us artists experience. I especially appreciate the “how long it takes to make” process because so often shoppers flippantly say “I can make that!” No, they can’t!!

  7. Great article. A few things – art work, Artisans are preferred words to craft – in my opinion. For some reason when there is a “Craft Show” as opposed to saying an “Artisan Show” – the perceived quality of the show seems diminished. Also – I have to say thank you to my family for supporting my art. If not for their understanding and support – I could not cut and solder, twist wire, design and finish my pieces!

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