Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who's Conditioning Whom?

For our anniversary, my hubby and I went to the Festival of Lights which seems to be our new tradition. This year I actually managed to convince him to pull off at the gift shop so I could look at all the crafts and we could maybe buy our ornament for this year. I managed to brave the crowd, in spite of my phobia, and look at all the wares ranging from crappy kitsch to glorious crafts.

As I looked at the various things, sometimes marvelling and other times thinking that I could make something ten times better, I looked at prices as a reflex. As someone who sells my crafts I guess it's a matter of "sizing up the competition" even when not in direct competition. There were a few people that I thought were charging too much. I admit that I'm not always drawn to "primitive" painting and crafts, but sometimes I like it. However, I'm never going to spend good money on a piece of bark that looks like it was painted by a kindergartner. As usual, there was no tatting but a lot of knit and crocheted items, most of them desperately underpriced knowing how many hours went into them.

I started to wonder about where this drive we seem to have to undercut ourselves as artists comes from. It seems to happen mostly with the fabric and fiber artists. The woodcarvers, potters, and such seem to know what they're worth and price accordingly. I got to thinking about why the fabric and fiber artists do this. I'm still not sure, but I have a few theories.

1: The usual "I have a friend/sibling/parent/grandparent/etc. who sews/crochets/knits and I'm going to get them to make me something like this" comments make us worry that if we don't price it to move, it won't. I am guilty of this one. I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of people who will get something similar to what you've made somewhere else for less money or a favor. I once had a woman stand not five feet away from me counting my stitches in a scarf I had for sale. If she'd asked, I would have gladly told her. Garter stitch isn't a personal trade secret. However, this annoyed me. Rather than buy a $10 (yes, grossly underpriced, I know) scarf or even talk to me about it, she just stood there trying to figure it out without acknowledging my work. I think this sort of attitude that you shouldn't expect people to pay you a decent wage for what most people consider a hobby is one of the reasons we undervalue ourselves.

2: Plenty of people want to blame Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, etc. for selling items that have the same look as handmade for what breaks down to less that a penny an hour. I don't think this is the real problem. Yes, there are people who look at what we've made and say to themselves (or callously aloud) "I could get this at Wal-Mart for three bucks." Ok. Go for it. If what you want is mass-produced junk, get it. Have a field day! You're not my target consumer. The person I'm looking for is the one who wants something unique. Something that took more time and thought to design and create.

3: We've conditioned our customers to undervalue us. Too many of us have thought of what we're doing as a hobby and maybe a way to make a little money on the side. The hobby sellers are the biggest threat. It's not the big chain stores because most people understand the difference between handmade and mass-produced and will buy accordingly. I think that the hobbyists have taught too many customers to expect prices based on wanting to be able to go out and get more yarn or fabric just to keep up a crafting habit. They're not looking for profit and they're not going to get it. I don't have too much of a problem with these types. I just wish they'd stick to ebay and leave things like etsy to the rest of us.

So that's what's been rattling around in my head since Friday. Each time I look at my new little Santa ornament, I have mixed feelings. I feel bad for the crafter knowing that he probably took at least 2 hours to make and I got him for under $5. I'm also proud of myself, because I got a bargain ;)

On a side note, while World of Warcraft was down today to institute a new patch, I finished a new tatting a new ornament. I have to stiffen this one because it isn't as tightly packed as I usually make things. Pictures to come later.