Monday, April 09, 2012

Handmade Maybe


There is a certain expectation that is accepted when something you buy says handmade.  You generally expect that it was made by some persons hand.  To be more specific you expect that it was made by the person selling the item, or that to some degree there is some relationship to the person selling the item, and the person that made it.  You also have the idea that it was made for the most part by hand, not with a machine, although to some degree you can consider certain tools as part of the makers hands.

A knitted sweater that is advertised as handmade, may very well have been made by some one’s hand, or at least on a manual machine, but that does not really make it hand made if the seller is just buying from some large selection of goods that are available to the buyers in general.  There is that the item that is considered hand made, should also be rather unique, if not entirely in design, at least in values of numbers of them available.  If a mold is used to make some ceramic vase, it is relatively accepted that the person making the vases will use a slightly different scheme in decoration or at least there should be some unique quality to the vase in order to carry the handmade insignia.

As I do searches for items on the web and to establish what is made by hand, and that which is made by hand on a machine, or produced in such numbers that it no longer is unique, I wonder how do you indicate that which is really made by some one’s hand, is unique and to some degree made without the use of machines?  As I ponder this question, I find there is no definitive answer to that question.  Instead it is left to the discretion of the buyer.  This is unfortunate, as most buyers are not aware of the difference, and the price doesn’t always reflect the cost or the work involved.

Let us look at some numbers.  If I knit a baby poncho, I have about 10 man hours into it, not including any prep of the materials.  This assumes the use of yarn that is purchased.  If I had to shear the sheep, card the wool, spin the yarn, ply it, and then skein it up, that would add another 20 man hours or more depending on several factors.  So assuming that the yarn is purchased, the time is for the knitting and finishing of the piece.  Another maybe hour is expended preparing the materials for sale, including the marketing.  So all together there is 11 man hours into each piece.  At a regular pay rate for hand crafts, say about $12.00 per hour, that means right away the piece would cost $130.00 just to cover the basic cost of labor.  The materials are small with a baby poncho, maybe a skein of yarn, and some accent applications, with a basic cost of about $5.00 in pure materials.  This makes the base cost of the piece $135.00 for labor and materials.  So to really ad a profit to the piece we then have to add the margin, let us say 25% of the cost or $33.75 for the profit margin.  The total for the piece is $168.75 including the profit margin.  In addition there is shipping to the location, which of course varies, but this would be added to the cost to the customer.  Let us say that the shipping is about $7.50 to most locations, this makes the final cost to the customer $176.50 including the shipping.  This doesn’t include the tax or other cost that would be in addition to the stated price.  My research has shown me that a baby poncho no matter how made can go for between $5.00 and $350.00, which is an awful huge range.  The average price I have seen for them being given the term handmade run about $35.00 not including the shipping.  Let us assume that is the going price in the market.  So that means if you take the values of margin and materials out of it, leaving just the value of labor that leaves $21.25 for the labor.  So that considered, that means the labor rate for the 10 hours (we won’t even consider the marketing and preparation time), is $2.125 per hour.  So from the $12.00 per hour that is the accepted rate (according to the US Labor Department) the worker is now down to less than $2.50 per hour.  The minimum wage currently in the US is $7.25 an hour, meaning that the worker is earning 20% of the minimum wage for what should be considered better than manufactured goods.  Now if this poncho was made on a machine by a famous designer, despite the design for the poncho is as old as clothing itself almost, it can somehow get a price closer to the high price point of $300.00 per piece.  This makes some sense as you are buying the designer’s name, but that rarely means anything anymore.

So I am left to ponder, what is the work is worth, and how much should I accept as a loss to sell.  Or do I sell at what it is worth, and accept that very few will sell, and accept that as the cost of being paid for the work.  In the long term, the value for the work will have to speak for itself, and until I earn the right to demand the price, I will have accept a lower value for my labor, or less sales.  I will take less sales, as in the end it is easier to reduce the price than to raise it, although not impossible.
Well that didn’t answer the question, but it does provide part of the issue, and the rest will remain to be quarried at some other time, and in yet another article, when I have more time and information to draw from.
JD

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