I love handmade, I buy handmade, I make handmade and I sell handmade. Yet often when I am asked why handmade is so special, why each piece costs more than a similar item in the high street shops or why I bother making in the first place, in the face of such hostility I am often stumped as to what to answer. So I decided to do my research, get myself prepared for the next negative comment and be ready to stand up for what I believe in.
So what really is so special about handmade?
Well firstly it is a mistake to compare handmade with the large corporations – there really there is no comparison. We don’t sell it in the same way. We don’t buy it in the same way or even receive it in the same way. How do you compare a jar of mass produced Jam with a homemade preserve using locally grown fruit presented in a beautiful recycled jar with a cheerful label? It’s impossible!
I would argue that handmade is more sustainable than mass production. Mass production means bulk buying and this forces the lowering of prices down the line, mainly in the production of raw materials. Lower production costs ensure that the large scale companies can make more profit whilst selling, at what first appears to be, a low price – a bargain price.
Dig a bit deeper and what this really means, is that many people worldwide are forced into jobs with little pay and this has a knock on effect those countries, in so far as they cannot develop, cannot sustain their environments and any adverse condition, such as a drought, has a far more adverse impact upon them than if they were wealthier.
The wealthier nations then have to subsidise these poorer countries with loans, rescue aid, charitable giving etc. That money comes from you. It’s a false economy; it’s a profit on a page but not profit in reality because if you had paid the real price in the first place there would be no need to pay up in another way. So when you look at that £1 mug from your local supermarket, it’s not a bargain, it will cost you more in hidden charges than what you initially paid for it.
Mass produced items are perceived as or actually are, ‘throw away’. A horrible culture of, if it’s broken, don’t fix it – just chuck it out, is now so prevalent, that we throw away things that are perfectly fine. We want an upgrade, the latest version, the next best thing…we want to be noticed! However what we are failing to notice is our rubbish piles growing higher and higher!
Here is where handmade excels – there is no need for an upgrade as it is perfect already. There is no need to keep up with the Jones as a handmade object is unique. Even if it is one of a series, each one will be slightly different from the next. It’s the minute imperfections that make it so desirable. Why I hear you ask!
Well, if you own a handmade, unique piece of work then only you in the whole world own it. That’s over 7 billion people who will never get to have it because you have it and if you keep it until 2050 then it will be nearer 10 million people who don’t have it! How’s that for having the edge on everyone else! Each handmade piece of work is as unique as each person in the world.
Mass production is now turning to small crafters for help. They want to try and replicate the handmade feel to an object, but it is a fake, it is not the real deal! However they also recognise that people do not want to live in bland, off the shelf environments. Rather than give you the real handmade object, they sell you a machine produced copy. The difference can be likened to that between a diamond and a cubic zirconium! Both are good, but I know which one I would cherish a whole lot more.
Buying handmade supports local craft industries and people, wherever you buy it. The price you pay for it is exactly what you see, there are no hidden costs. The revenue stays within the country and people are not out of work but working in their business either as individuals or groups. Taxes are paid, money is generated and the overall impact on our economy is huge. In the UK, the creative industries account for about 7% of the GDP and each artwork (and I include the handmade mug in this!) contributes to this. Furthermore government investment in the arts sees an amazing return of £2 for every invested £1. Does it make sense to cut this investment? I think not.
Buying handmade ensures that traditional making skills are kept alive and creates a demand for education in these skills. At the moment the powers that be are so busy replacing skills based training in the crafts with less labour intensive or material rich courses, more often than not, offering courses conducted on a computer and easily stored on a pen drive. The outcome of this is potentially lost skills, the demise of handcrafts and a real loss of our cultural identity. Students can be herded through the system quickly, without a huge investment and now can be charged a small fortune for it!
But what happens if the machines can no longer be run, say for example, when our petrol supplies run out. How will we as a nation reinstate these lost skills? The economy is so fragile because we have already lost so many of our skilled industries and we are now playing catch up again. Would it not be better to maintain and increase a skilled artisan base, rather than scramble around at some future date to rediscover it?
Handmade is a celebration of our contemporary lives , a living culture and not part of a mass imposed, one size fits all, consumer culture where everything looks the same and is easily boxed up. Each handmade item is about people and not machines. It is about the time and effort that goes into each piece of work, it is about the skill of each maker, the technical ingenuity of the maker, and the magic of an individual’s imagination!
Think, when you get your Xmas presents!