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Is ‘handmade’ really that important, honestly?

 Look at the owls above- the one on the left is €7 and the one on the right €12.50 
Which one would you buy ? 

I asked this question on facebook yesterday …

I’m asking the same here … what do you think?

I have had several conversation online and offline since and to be honest it’s a little worrying that the majority of people say price is more important.  It’s hard as I am in the process of finalising Christmas stock and am torn between selling at a lower price just to compete with cheaper stores or at a reasonable price for what it costs me to make my stock.  Of course this is ridiculous as we all know they purchase huge amounts of stock at a fraction of what I pay so I really cannot compete.

Take for example this owl cushion below from a popular store Penneys (trading as Primark in the UK)

I myself think this is really cute and when I saw it a few months ago I have to say I almost bought it myself!  It’s only €7 !  That’s nothing, the equivalent of a coffee and cake with a bit of change. 
Then look at this guy below, and the first picture at the top of the post.  These are my owls that I have been making for about 3 years now.  I charge €12.50 for mine which are slightly smaller than the one above but 
I make them by hand.  
I pride myself on them being handmade and made locally.  My tagline has always been
  handmade, homemade and made with love 
but nowadays I barely even print that on my labels because I honestly think people couldn’t care less.  
Am I wrong?  What do you think?

I buy my fabric at retail prices.  For my owl it takes 4 different pieces of fabric so let’s say I buy a minimum of half a metre of each fabric at an average price of  €11 a metre so that’s approximately €22 for the fabric, not to mention  the stuffing, the ribbon bow, the time it takes for me to cut each piece and sew each piece and do the applique – approx 2 hours per cushion.   Let’s say I was earning €25 p/hr (yeah I wish”!) that’s €50 for two hours and we’ve not even gone into my electricity, heating, insurance, tax etc – looks like I should be charging about €80 for my owls!!   I then make my own labels and have to advertise my makes on my facebook page (more time) take pictures and post them on my online shop at etsy (more time) if I sell it online a commission is then taken from etsy and then from paypal so I’m losing more money. 
In comparison to mass produced items like the owl above 
which costs €7
I’m guessing that their fabric cost a maximum of 50c for the owls they make and according to reports (one here) they employ child labour at a cost of 76c and hour.  They also use industrial machines and production lines which is much faster so they probably make a cushion complete in under half an hour.  So I’m pretty sure it costs them much less than €2 to make these cushions, it probably barely costs 50 c if we’re being realistic. 
We all remember the story in April of the factory (that supplied garments to Penneys) that collapsed (article here) where hundreds and hundreds of peope lost their lives. Or do we?  I certainly do.  I have to say I have only been to Penneys a handful of times since but prior to that I would have been there a lot. 
pic source RTE
The picture above shows a factory that supplied Penneys which housed thousands of workers in extremely dangerous conditions.
This is where I work from.  Just me myself and I with my home insurance, my business insurance, registered for tax and doing it all by the book. 
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a plea to buy handmade or anything like that.  This is me questioning out loud the validity of my business in current times.  I appreciate this is an age old dilemma, the small maker competing with the large shops but at least, one time, there was a true desire and need for handmade but nowadays price seems to be ever more important.
So I’m asking the same question again, look at the owls below.  Which one would you buy?
Do we really care whether something was made in a factory in another country and mass produced or whether it was made in a country cottage in the West of Ireland by a local person???
Which one would you buy ? 
What do you think?  Would love to hear your comments below.  

2018-11-08T19:00:46+00:00October 17th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|


  1. LollipopsDaydreams 17/10/2013 at 8:33 am

    Hi Michelle, I know exactly what you mean and its an excellent question. I think it has so much to do with society, mass consumerism, capitalism, greed and the way we shop! Panorama had an excellent programme a few weeks ago which followed on from what happened after the fires in Pakistan. Pennys paid compensation to the workers but the other stores who had clothes made there have not. In factories nearby the workers are paid about one pound a day , work up to 18 hour days and get locked in (hence the fires starting all the time). So my reasoning is that the labour involved in making an item is not even factored into the costing, its irrelevant it is so low. I was examining a dress my daughter had and it must have been made up of at least 20 seperate sections and so many features, it would have taken hours to make and cut, even taking a production line into account and I think it cost me ten euro on sale.The people working in the factories have no choice but to feed their families, the factory owners will agree to ridiculous terms just to get the business so I can see why that happens. I really don't know what will make this change but I think there is a lot of people who do love to know where things are made and appreciate the work that goes into items, especially since the recession. You have to keep the faith!! Maria

  2. Anonymous 17/10/2013 at 8:48 am

    Hi Michelle

    I completely get what you are saying. It is so difficult in present times. I hand make things also, started as a hobby, has evolved into a bit more than a hobby now. When I started out, I was SO pleased that people liked my stuff that I nearly would have paid them to take it. I did sell things way below average costs. As more and more requests for my products came in and the disease of fabricholism took root, I sat down and calculated ACTUAL costs. I realised that I would have to increase costs.

    However, as a buyer, I'm always looking value for money. Some may call me tight but I really like getting something nice and not paying too much over the odds for it. So the conundrum is: keep costs low to sell and just about break even or make less, but higher quality items and charge a bit more? It is demoralising to spend all your time creating lovely stuff to have no 'real' financial reward for your efforts.

    Ideally, I would love to craft all day, every day, but realistically I'm not going to make enough to let me live without a part-time 'real' job. You're in a different position as this is your 'real' job. Good luck with it.

  3. Crafted by Carly 17/10/2013 at 12:18 pm

    It's a really great question, Michelle! But tricky to give an answer – so many factors can come in to it! I definitely think that only people who craft truly appreciate what goes into handmade items (and how little profit is to be made by makers). It's sad but true, I think.
    I LOVE your little owls! 🙂

  4. I'm going to 'blog' reply on Saturday… there wasn't enough room in my comment box! Lol!!

  5. Anonymous 17/10/2013 at 2:59 pm

    In all honesty Michelle I love to buy handmade, the quality and the care is evident to see, but a lot of the time the choice is taken from me as I have other factors to consider (braces, unexpected doctors bills etc.) so I tend to buy handmades in bulk (i.e, maybe for three or four occasions) when I have the extra cash and when I don't I have to choose price over quality. I really appreciate all the time and effort that has gone into homemade but cannot always afford it.

  6. Trish Munro 17/10/2013 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Michelle, this is probably the most important issue for all people who are small (often 1 person business). You cannot compete with the factory made products (and that in itself is another concern). You do your craft because you love it and are passionate about it. I think you have to make your pieces different in some way, find some way to make your pieces a little different from the generic shop bought ones. Perhaps you can customise them (names etc), have a unique quirkiness that only your pieces have. I make necklaces and pendants (in fact I met you at a craft fair in Cavan) and I'm constantly striving to create a uniqueness and brand image for my pieces. It's a battle and having a shop on Etsy where the jewellery market is swamped I know the what you're saying. Etsy itself was in the news recently with concerns about reselling of manufactured goods and it's easing up on the use of the term 'handmade'. I suppose you will come to a point where you will have to ask yourself whether it is worthwhile financially to continue. However, I don't think you should lower your prices, you are 'handmade' and that's the difference. Be proud of being handmade, lots of people still love to buy hand crafted pieces.

  7. Michelle Fallon 18/10/2013 at 6:34 am

    Great comment Maria :O) It's really interesting to see what other people think.

  8. Michelle Fallon 18/10/2013 at 6:35 am

    love it :O)

  9. Michelle Fallon 18/10/2013 at 6:36 am

    I totally understand, I would do the same. Not buy regularly but on occasions when I would go to a craft fair or seek out something handmade online I would tend to buy a few things :O)

  10. Michelle Fallon 18/10/2013 at 6:41 am

    LOL I'm having a flash sale of 50% off everything on my stand at the Farmer's Market today :O) Nothing ironically to do with this post – just clearing summer stock and celebrating my one month anniversary.

    Most of my stock is personalised – an awful lot of it hasn't even appeared on my blog or even on my Facebook page as I have had a lot of things copied so I keep a lot just for the markets/events I do. Even then I get a lot of people coming by "just for ideas" and openly saying that to me !! Can you tell I'm getting a little frustrated with the 'handmade' world? :O)

    Onwards and upwards though. New season, new stock!

    Thanks for your comment. I've never been to Cavan though so am wondering where I met you? :o)

    Take care x

  11. Trish Munro 18/10/2013 at 12:33 pm

    Ooops,so sorry Michelle, you look so much like someone I met at a fair in Cavan there who was selling similar pieces with her mother. Good luck with your sale today (though the weather is not the best today).

  12. Snag Breac 18/10/2013 at 3:13 pm

    Interesting post. To answer your question…I probably wouldn't buy either – I'd make one myself!

    I completely get the frustration with not being able to compete with the world wage market. I think handwork is totally undervalued and underpriced – from the workers in Penney's factories to craft workers who live down the road from me. Obviously the stuff in major shops that has come from factories is extremely cheap, but even the stuff that people sell at craft markets here in Ireland is totally underpriced also. I see handknitted jumpers for babies being sold for ten euro and it makes me sad that people are willing to work for so little an hour. It's really hard to make it as a craftsperson.

    If I wasn't able to make my own owl cushion I would probably buy something from a craftsperson rather than Penneys because it means something to me that someone has handmade it. But I'd also be very careful about what it was made of – I see that as part of the same thing….we are churning out goods at cheap prices that people can buy for next to nothing and that are frequently made from un-recyclable synthetic materials so at least when you buy from small producers there is the chance that more thought has gone into the materials. That is as important to me as that the item is handmade.

    Hope the sale went well anyway!

  13. Snag Breac 18/10/2013 at 3:30 pm

    I understand your frustration at people coming for ideas but I also think that is part and parcel of being creative – people do that at my stalls too but those kind of people are the ones who won't buy things because they will make them instead (yes, I can be one of those people too!)

    Obviously it is not cool to copy your items to sell but I have no problem with people copying my ideas because they want to make them at home for fun. I think it is part and parcel of being creative and feeding off each other. (That came out a bit Zombie-sounding 😉 but I just mean all sparking ideas off each other.)

  14. Letizia 19/10/2013 at 11:08 am

    Hi Michelle,

    To answer your question, I would buy yours purely because I prefer your colour coordination, shape and overall style. It stands out to me and appeals to me more.

    When I shop I'm looking at value and affordability, which is different for everyone but I never really consider where something is made. I'm always delighted to find out something I've purchased is local or hand-made or both but it wouldn't be my first consideration. And I know it's a horrible thought but I rarely think of factories when buying (especially since nearly everything is made in China these days) but I know I should and it sickens me when I do think of conditions in these workplaces not to mention child labour. The link between Pennys and bad work conditions abroad never even crossed my mind but you've given me something to think about.

    I would be one of those people too who might make something at home myself if I saw an idea that I liked but lets face it, It is never about saving money because by the time I've found the materials and taken time to research and trial and error and add my own changes or style and I've spent way more time and money than I would have on the original item. But I think that's more to do with getting inspiration and motivation from other people rather than copying them. Nothing hand-made with your own personal stamp can ever really be imitated.

    I suppose I would also be more inclined to buy hand-made for adults who can appreciate it and cheap and cheerful for children who take less care of everything which strikes me now as stupid when children could be put in danger making 'cheap and cheerful'

  15. Anonymous 19/10/2013 at 2:01 pm

    In many things price dictates whether I buy it or not. However, for the little extra luxuries, I can honestly say that if I was shopping for these owls and they were side by side on the shelf with such a small difference in price, I would go for the locally made item (in my case, made in the UK) everytime. Locally made (UK) is very important to me.

  16. queenofcuffs 20/10/2013 at 12:49 am

    Ahh yes this is question. I love handmade – I love the story and the time put into it.If I can't make it myself then I try to buy handmade. I love to give handmade as presents – but like so many craft people I have talked to – I know which friends who love to receive handmade gifts – and others will much prefer a shop item. It is often the crafter/artist 'story' input that makes the handmade item special. Like a writer 'having' to write – a maker has to make. I despair ever being able to make money making things – by the time I add up sourcing+ buying materials/ time/photos/insurance/ selling . . . but I still want to do it. Handmade is for individuals !!

  17. Liga Valge 20/10/2013 at 9:48 am

    Hi Michelle,
    I'm enjoying reading your blog this Sunday morning! It really is easy question for me. As a creative person I would definately buy handmade. And taking part in craft fairs myself I know exactly what you mean. I'm slowly realising that I should acctualy look at different venues to sell my work and maybe other craft people who make entirly everything from scrach too, because there are not many craft markets that really do justice to their name and more and more offten I can see that people selling mass produced ballons in China for € 5,- and similar are the busiest traders of the day.

  18. Raphaele 09/12/2013 at 6:53 pm

    Hi Michelle, thanks for this post, it really got me thinking, a lot! The bottom line is: yes, handmade is worth it. It is hard sometimes but remember what you do is unique, you are a very talented lady. I too make it all by the book and sometimes I find myself wondering if this is worth it. Your post inspired me a lot, I bloged about this here:

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