There. I’ve said it. Sometimes I really do hate being a maker. And I’ve got my reasons.
I came across this adorable little cozy mug at the dollar store a few days ago. Wandering the aisles of dollar stores is actually kind of fun because you occasionally come across secret treasures, just like this one. I almost put it into my shopping basket.
And then I thought to myself, “Hey… I could literally make this.”
It happens pretty regularly. My creative brain is always whispering, “Don’t buy that, figure out how to make it instead!” When in reality I know that it would likely cost me much more money and time than it would to just simply buy it at the store. I was just about to “quiet the voice” as I usually do, but the fact that this coffee cozy is knitted made me stop.
If I were to try and make something like this I would first need to buy the yarn required, which would be about $3.00. A mug would cost me $1.00. Then I would need to spend about 4 hours actually knitting the thing. It’s made out of a very fine yarn, so that right there makes the entire process take way longer. It also has cables and I am not very good with cables yet, so that adds even more time to the project.
So I’m in about $4.00 plus about 4 hours of my time. If I wanted to sell something like this and pay myself at least minimum wage, it would be about $45.00 total for the mug and the coffee cozy.
How much do you think the dollar store was selling it for?
I can’t even begin to compete with that. And the most frustrating part is that I can almost guarantee someone will see this mug and ask me to make one for them. I will have to decline because the price would be absolutely ridiculous. They will go back to the dollar store and buy it there.
The hardest choice I have to make is whether or not I should accept a commission. I enjoy what I do so much that I actually consider (and sometimes agree) to pay myself less than minimum wage for my work just because I want to make the item. The business part of my brain usually steps in and solves my internal struggle, but sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s hard enough to convince people to purchase your handmade items over store bought goods. Prices like what I found at this dollar store make it almost impossible.
When I first started my business I was 17. I had very few sales and I had very little recognition within the maker community. People didn’t want to buy things from me because they didn’t trust my skills as I was so young. I don’t really blame them either.
I do remember having an interesting argument with a friend about my prices. I remember her telling me that she was shocked anyone would pay $15.00 for a hat (yes, I was only selling my handmade crocheted beanies for $15.00 when I first started out). I didn’t protest much or try to defend my prices. I was a little more self-conscious back then about my abilities and I thought she might be right. Maybe my prices are too high. Maybe I really shouldn’t be doing this.
We went to the mall a few weeks later. Her words were still stuck in my mind. I remember taking a small hiatus from knitting and crocheting because I was trying to decide whether or not I should continue with my work. She bought a beanie that day for $35.00. It was a chunky knitted beanie with a big fat pompom on the end that looked like it was about to fall apart. It was an expensive name brand accessory from an expensive name brand store.
Of course I immediately questioned her purchase. Why would she buy one of those hats for over twice the price of one of mine? Her answer was simple: “Because it’s (insert name brand here) obviously and you just make yours.”
So it’s okay to give large amounts of money to a clothing store that doesn’t care about you to support a business who either makes everything with machines or child labour.
The concept of priorities is an interesting one. I want more people to shop for handmade goods to support small businesses, and in turn, support small families and young entrepreneurs. But even I catch myself sometimes choosing something from a large name brand store over a smaller handmade shop because for some reason it seems more trustworthy.
I could keep rambling about this topic for hours, but I’ll keep it short and sweet tonight. One of the most difficult things about being a maker is the fact that you have to compete with stores that have been around forever and have established themselves as credible sources for consumer goods. Your product could be a million times better than what can be found in stores; it could even be cheaper. But there will always be people out there who do not trust things that are handmade and will always choose to shop at the name brand stores over choosing handmade.
And it sucks.