Friday 23 November 2018

Celebrate Handmade this Black Friday!

Whilst some of you will no doubt be sitting hunched over your computers and phones in a frenzy of Black Friday shopping today, I know that there are many more of us out there that have started to side step around the madness of the day. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate a bargain as much as the next person – and if I was in the market for buying a new TV or washing machine I’d probably be doing the exact same thing. The problem is, does this bargain hunting spill over into places that aren’t quite the right ‘fit’? Big buys like white goods, furniture, phones and gadgets are the perfect candidates for price slashing: they’ve got huge margins, they’re mass produced, and more often than not they’re priced at a point that is actually designed to be reduced. (I mean, when doesn’t that sofa shop have a sale on?!)

So, I thought I’d take a moment to explain why I’m not slashing prices but instead joining in with Folksy’s ‘Celebrate Handmade’ day today – and to give you a glimpse of what it takes to bring something handmade from conception all the way through to the point of sale. 

You, dear reader, I know can appreciate the value of buying handmade: you know and understand the amount of care and attention that goes into the item you’re buying, and you know that buying direct from the artist, designer or maker gives you a fabulous sense of having got it right. You’ve found the perfect gift for your home or a loved one, you’ve bought it ethically (no sweatshops involved), you’ve supported the British economy, and you’ve done your bit for the environment too (it hasn’t been shipped from China).

But, have you ever stopped to think about what happens to the person you’ve bought from? That tiny business or cottage industry, that artisan who sits in their studio every day – what do they think when you place an order? Here’s a clue!:

As one of those tiny businesses, I can tell you that this is absolutely spot on. I may have been running PhotoFairytales for over 9 years now, but I never (ever) fail to get a rush of joy when an order comes in. It doesn’t matter how busy I am, I never take for granted the fact that someone has looked at my work and thought: “I’ll buy that.” It truly is an amazing feeling. Every Christmas Day I take a moment to think about all the customers I’ve had over the recent weeks who are giving gifts to their loved ones that I’ve made. It’s an AMAZING feeling.

So, what does it take to get a new item from inside my imagination to a state of being a physical item wrapped in a parcel and flying through the post? Let me give you a glimpse:

  • The spark of the idea pings into my head – I’ll mull it over for days/weeks/months, scribbling down ideas, thinking about whether it fits with my existing work, thinking about what it will look like and how I would do it.
    Approximate ‘mulling’ time taken on average: 6 weeks
  • I’ll then start working out the design and often prototypes too: thinking about colours, images, design and materials, working on sample designs to see if I can make my idea translate into an actual item.
    Approximate working out time on average: 6 weeks
  • Next step is to work out how much it will cost to make, and find out where I can get materials. Then I need to work out what I would sell it for and what the profit margin will be vs the time taken to make it. (Very often items never make it past this point – I’ve had so many ideas over the years that I’ve had to let go simply because I couldn’t make it work financially.)
    Approximate time taken to cost a project and source materials on average: 3 weeks
  • So, now I know I can go ahead with my new item I need to hone the design. It might be something that is a one-off or a whole new range – so often this will involve coming up with not just one design but maybe as many as 10 or more. This is the bit that can really take time (but it's the bit I love!).
    Approximate time taken on finalising design: 6 weeks
  • Now I need to get some photos of the new product to add to my shop. Depending on how many items the new product is made up of, this can take between 2 days and a month.
    Approximate average time for product images: 2 weeks
  • Next I need to add it the PhotoFairytales site and my other online shops (eg, Folksy, Wow Thank You) – this involves designing new pages, writing copy about the new product and uploading product images.
    Approximate time taken to add the new product and put it on sale: 1 week
  • Now I need to tell the world about the new item – so, blogging, social media, mailing list, promotions, marketing. 
    This is hard to put a timescale on as it’s always ongoing, but the initial promotion will take on average about 4 weeks.

So, from the basic idea to the point of having an actual item on sale takes (very roughly) about 28 weeks. Or over 6 months. And that’s not 6 months of working just on this new project, that’s 6 months working around all the usual day to day work. So bringing a new item to fruition can often take closer to a year.

That means that before anyone has even bought my item it’s often been in production for 6 months to a year! It sounds like a long time (it is), but it’s an indication of the amount of thought and consideration that goes into my work – and I know I’m not alone with that. This is what ALL designer-makers do.

And when you, lovely person, place an order and I sell the very first of my new items: wow, just wow! I’m not sure how I can actually get across the feeling of euphoria that brings!! Truly. 

Because everything I make is personalised and made to order I need to then make the item you’ve bought. That takes anything from a day or two up to a week. Then I need to package it and get it posted to you. Sending you an email to let you know your order is on its way, perhaps a follow up email afterwards, then a bit of brief admin and the job is done. That item you’ve just bought may have taken me a few days to make and send to you, but the love and work that’s gone into it up until that point has been going on for months and months.

And that is why you know handmade is so special. That’s how you know that you’ve just bought something truly unique. You've just bought something that has had time poured into it, but also creativity, artistry, skill, experience and talent too. 

And that’s why designer-makers, artisans and crafters put their hand on their heart when you click that ‘buy now’ button.

So, can I just take this opportunity to thank you for A) reading this massive waffley post all the way to the end, and B) for supporting and celebrating handmade. If it weren’t for you we wouldn’t exist. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Sarah x

PS: Search for the hashtag #celebrate_handmade on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to discover fabulous people running tiny businesses and creating fabulous things. Shop handmade this Christmas!

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