Spend more, buy less.

I finally got around to taking some photos of the things we made for the Indie Craft Experience. And yes, we have plenty of things left to give out as holiday gifts. We made alien drawing cases, elephant onesies, dragon tote bags, quirky dolls, jellyfish pouches and cat pillows — all based on my children’s drawings.

My former intern, Erin McCamant of Gigi and Lucy helped me over the weekend and sold a few of her things (pictured above). She’s promised to write a tutorial for the fabric ornaments, and her adorable pompom purses were caressed by every single person who walked by. The cute monsters were designed by her artist boyfriend Sean Abrahams and will be hanging on our tree this year. Erin’s paintings will be featured in an upcoming show at Youngblood Gallery.

We had some great booth neighbors including Three Bad Seeds, The Small Object and Tot Toppers. I also met many wonderful blog readers, tasted the best chocolate bar ever and got a nice warm fuzzy feeling from the local craft community.

All in all, I’d say this was a fun experience, but definitely not lucrative. I didn’t expect much, but I was hoping to actually break even. Since I don’t track expenses very well, I’m not even sure how close we came. My accounting system consists of a folder of receipts that I compile at tax season and say “Oh, s*#t, I spent too much last year”. I think it’s interesting that there are books, online seminars, Etsy features, and entire blogs dedicated to making a living crafting, but I suspect very few people are really doing it — and paying for health insurance, a mortgage, car payment, student loans, etc. I’ve been fortunate in that I started off staying home with the kids, so writing and crafting has been a good way for me to get back into working slowly. Making money crafting is just not easy for anyone.

I think there are a couple of factors that play into this. Obviously, it’s tough for crafters to compete with mass-produced goods. There has to be demand for items that are made by hand whether for environmental or aesthetic reasons. I also think too many crafters are underpricing their work, devaluing everyone in the process. I don’t fault people for wanting to sell their goods competitively, but I think we need to carefully consider the true cost of our goods: time, supplies, fuel costs, office supplies — all of it needs to be included. And then what? Maybe you see that  it’s not a profitable business model, but rather a hobby. So move on, diversify your income stream. That’s my advice for crafters, and of course there is plenty of advice out there. Disclaimer: I’m clearly not an expert on making money crafting, but a lack of expertise almost never stops me from giving advice!

As we approach the shopping season, I have some advice for buyers too. Spend more, buy less. By buying handmade, you will support an individual directly, feel better about your purchase and have a one-of-a-kind item. Why do we need all this stuff anyway? Buy fewer gifts, but with more meaning. Really, I hate to be a grinch, but all this consumerism dampens my holiday spirits. And I’ll try to remember this little pep talk when I look over my kids’ Santa list this year. It’s tough to achieve that balance between buying handmade gifts and making sure that your children don’t end up in therapy pining over the plastic Barbie head they wanted as a kid. But I’ll try this year if you will too, okay?

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Shopping!

21 Replies to “Spend more, buy less.”

  1. My expense tracking is very much the same unfortunately…
    Great advice for buyers: quality over quantity! And great suggestions for self evaluation – thanks!

  2. Thank you for this post! It’s really hard to compete with mass-produced goods, you’re totally right, and I really appreciate hearing about how you’re striking a balance between the plastic toys your kids want and the handmade ones you want them to have. Consumerism has been on my mind a lot as Dave and I talk about starting a family.

  3. I absolutely loved this post. You are so right on all parts, the not making a lucrative living crafting, buying less and spending more, and making sure your kids don’t end up in therapy. After having both a screen printed kid’s T-shirt business and a handmade kid’s clothing business, one thing’s for sure, unless you make into major department stores, you will never become rich! Sewing and crafting for me now is strictly a hobby and if I sell a few things here and there, great.

  4. I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed yourself, even if you didn’t bring home some change. My friend, Mary, was thrilled to meet you. She called right after to gush!

  5. Thank you for this post! I agree with you on all counts. As a sewist (I’m primarily a quilter), I find it frustrating to see other people in the market underpricing their work. Yes, handmade quilts are expensive, but when you add up the cost of supplies and the hours it takes to make a quilt from scratch, well…they SHOULD cost a lot! I have moments where I envy those crafters who make things such as posters and greeting cards which are a little more easily produced in large numbers. Photography is also a field where it seems more likely to be able to make some sort of living because prints are easily reproduced. But sewing? Nope! lol. But of course that will never stop me from doing it. 🙂

    And I also completely agree about spending more and buying less. Personally, we aim never to buy commercial, plastic toys and we strive to buy handmade goods for our children wherever possible. It takes a lot more effort, but I think it is completely worth it.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. HI Ellen! Great to meet you at the show. I loved your booth and it makes me wonder about not making more $$. My only thoughts were that the show was not in the best location. It was super cool but maybe you had more lookers than buyers there. We have an indie craft show in Pittsburgh that is in a great, busy part of town and the crafters do really well. Although the space was cool, It’s hard to draw a spending crowd in Atlanta to an area of town that seemed so deserted. I like what you are saying about spending more and buying less. It is a challenge to find that balance but we have to keep trying. Some lucky friends are going to get those great items you made for the show! Take care & happy holidays!

  7. Great post! My children (5 and 17) have been warned that Mommy is making all of her gifts this year, so electronics and plastic will be out. 🙂 They didn’t seem too broke up about it, I hope to continue the tradition in years to come. One has a birthday in January, the other in February, so if they really pine for something not home made (a camera, radio, etc) they can get that gift then…or novel concept they can save their own money and buy it themselves! Love this post!

  8. This post is the reason why I don’t sell my work, at least yet. I am still waiting for the quick and amazing craft that takes me five minutes to make and yet has a high market value. Until then, I give my handwork as gifts because at this point, I don’t think others can afford it.

  9. I like your suggestions, too. I really dislike the obligatory gift giving part of Christmas… especially between adults (I have no problems with giving things to all the wee ones in my life!). I am trying hard to make everything I give…either food or sewn items or other artwork. I will no doubt make an exception with my kids and give some homemade but also give a few other things they’ve been wanting, with an eye toward what they will really use / play with versus what will just be more “stuff”.

  10. I’m giving handmade by ‘me’ gifts this year. It’s really what I love to do and especially love getting handmade gifts. I have a very talented son, who is in art school and his wife is equally talented. They always give me something that I cherish. I also have really talented friends and they are very generous!
    I will be purchasing some things, but they will definitely be locally made.
    thanks for your posts ~ always inspiring!

  11. Ellen, it was a treat to see all of the wonderful creations that you and your family produced. Erin showed me the Amazon site for pre-ordering your book, can’t wait to actually page through it! Have a wonderful holiday and I look forward to seeing more of your wonderful creations. Here’s to 2011!


  12. Great post!! I shake my head at people who complain about the price of handmade items. Only once in a blue moon do I stumble across someone who is clearly overpricing their items. You have to support people who buy quality material and poor their heart blood into their creations. Also having items that are one of a kind is soo very special. : )

  13. I could not agree more. While sites like Etsy are incredible for showcasing handmade, and giving people more access to handmade, I think it is kind of ruthlessly competitive. Many people end up undervaluing their work just to sell. My daughters wear skirts made by me on a daily basis. They are super cute and last forever. Other moms are always telling me I should sell them. When I say what I would have to charge for them to make it worthwhile and they clam up. The idea of not selling has become liberating creatively. I used to work about costs and labor time when considering new ideas. Now that I have committed myself to sewing primarily for family and friends, I buy the fabric I love and spend as much time as necessary to get the desired outcome. I still list a few small quilts on etsy from time to time and I just let them sit there. Every once in a while someone stumbles across one and buys it. That’s the extent of my marketing plan.

  14. Absolutely agree! Thank you for such a thoughtful post. So many people still think that handmade = cheap when it is often the opposite that is true.

  15. I love your idea of spend more, buy less! Last year and this year for Christmas I decided that everything I gave was going to be handmade – either by me, or bought from someone else. Makes for a much more special holiday season!

  16. I wish I could have gone to the show it was just too busy around here. My family would have loved your booth! I completly agree with the last comment. People do not expect to pay much. They seem to think they will pay you for materials only. I recently did a couple of church craft fairs and wasn’t expecting to much either but like you I was a bit dsappointed in just how little money came back to me. I even priced things lower then I would on-line (about 5$ an hour or even a little less)knowing people expect low prices and still people smiled, kids wanted to play with everything but there weren’t many people buying. Ah well, it was a fun day chating with other crafters and I have several Christmas gifts already made!

  17. First off, the things you shared pictures of are wonderful! I always feel inspired by the things I see here on your blog. It’s a happy place. 🙂

    And second of all, thank you so much for what you’ve said about trying to make a living through crafting. When I first started getting back into sewing and crafting I loved to hear people compliment my work by saying, “You could sell these!” It was an exhilarating and flattering thought. But as I’ve dabbled here and there at selling, I have come to realize that I really don’t enjoy it. I think I might enjoy it if I knew that the things I made would for sure make a profit, but since that is so far from the truth, it’s just not a very enjoyable experience for me. Although I do love going to craft fairs and things, so maybe I’ll try selling again someday. Anyway, I really enjoyed and appreciated your realistic and honest view of trying to sell handmade items. I so agree.

  18. what a lovely, honest post… i couldn’t agree more. (and oh my… those were the most amazing chocolate bars! i only bought one, and have kicked myself ever since.)

  19. As someone who has tried several times in the last 5 years to run a profitable craft business – from sewing accessories to quilting and now on to buttons, I can honestly say it is nearly impossible. I love making and selling things and there is such a buzz that comes when people buy and love the things you’ve made but now I don’t try to think of it in grand business terms, instead as a supplemental income. I know for sure I could never live off what I could make, especially with two young time consuming kids. In any case I love what you made and am hoping you’ll put to some of it for sale on line!

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