Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy Handmade

I buy and sell handmade goods - with a passion!  Etsy, Zibbet, Ebay to name a few.  Our fine art prints are available on FAA, Zazzle and Society 6.  We've sold in local markets since 1974, so I feel qualified to share my opinion on the current state of the "handmade" marketplace.  It's not a very happy place these days, and I hope that is due to change!

Recent turmoil on Etsy has spilled over to other venues, most recently showing it's ugly head at Zibbet. Folks are angry, hurt and upset.  Name calling, finger pointing and pure hatred fill the social media sites that once promoted our wares.  While I'm distressed and sad that my friends and colleagues are hurting, I view this event as a good thing - a long overdue cleansing of the field.  Consider the stock market and the inflated prices that created a bubble.  That bubble burst because the underlying value of the stocks could not support the inflated pricing.  I believe the handmade market has just experienced a bubble bursting, and am hopeful for a real recovery.

As both a buyer and seller, I've experienced this recent flurry of anger.  I've encountered many vendors with hateful attitudes and unreasonable shop policies.  I've dealt with overly demanding buyers.  It puzzled me for some time until I realized that most of these sellers were more interested in profit than in their craft.  They bought into the advertising and promotion telling them they could "quit their day job" and make a living selling arts and crafts.  Many of these new shop owners  had never sold their wares before.  They hopped on the Ebay and Etsy wagons and were dragged to some success by a tidal wave of "handmade" passion.  Etsy became a designer label, and substandard goods sold with ease.  Buyers were confused and unable to count on high quality workmanship. Sellers were cautioned to raise their prices and promote their "brand".  But like every trend, the "handmade" movement has passed it's heyday.  That does not mean that high quality, well-priced goods are out of style.  Far from it!  What I see is the end of the love affair with the label, with ANYTHING sold on Etsy being considered a prize.  What I envision is the survival of the fittest - the artists and crafters who value their work beyond it's monetary value.  Those are the people that created the frenzy and will continue to create their wares whether they sell them or not.  Those sellers with a primary interest in earning a living wage will cry out in anger and eventually find other sources of income.  Those of us with a passion for creating will continue making and sharing our wares.

Now, I'm not saying that art and financial success are mutually incompatible.  I've known several lucky artists who have done very well.  But I've also seen many who thrive with a popular product then crash and burn when the trend subsides.  Think about it…how can 1 person alone create enough quality product each week to financially sustain a household?  The very definition of true handmade goods makes profitability almost impossible.  History tells us that most artists are not valued until their death!  Where do you think the term "starving artist" was born?  Chasing a profit is like a dog chasing it's own tail!  It doesn't make one very happy!

Folks like me make things because we must!  Creating is a way of life, a true passion that has nothing to do with profit.  Now, profit is wonderful and there is nothing more thrilling than receiving that email saying "a sales has been made on your account"!  But it's the validation, the knowledge that someone, somewhere liked your work enough to want it!  That is even more thrilling than the monetary gain.  That's what keeps us selling!  If you are lucky enough to love your work AND make a profit, you are truly blessed!

Learning things like SEO and product photography, not to mention keywords and descriptions are challenging.  They are a necessary "evil" in marketing our work.  Some have made money simply because they excel at the marketing end of the business.  But, most of the happy artists I know struggle with the marketing.  Again, it is not the REASON they create, it is simply a necessity.

In conclusion, I wish all my fellow artisans continued success.  But most of all, I wish them happiness!  That, to me, is the difference in a vendor and a true handmade artist.  Here's to Happy Handmade Artists and Crafters!