It can be a little overwhelming to see the prices of handmade items. Sticker shock to be exact. Yes, they run a little more than something that is mass-produced. Many times handcraft artisans hear things like “oh, I could make that much cheaper myself” or even “You charge WHAT?”. And quite often artisans will hear “I can get something similar much cheaper at WAlmart”. But here is what you need to know about handcraft artisans…..
They rarely make even minimum wage. They put more time and care into making the items they sell than any factory machine or factory worker. They love what they do. And in most cases, they have seriously under-valued their own work which means you are really probably getting a steal on that item that might have given you sticker shock.
Making items from scratch, by hand, is much more involved and costly than just picking up a few items at a craft store and throwing them together. It takes a lot of thoughtful planning, trial and error (which usually ends up wasting much product until the process is perfected), picking out just the right materials and ingredients, preparation of workspace (not every artisan has the luxury of having a dedicated space to work in – many times the space they use is shared with their family), the time and attention of actually producing the products, and then there is packaging and presentation that also has to be thoughtfully planned out . If you’ve ordered something to be shipped there is also the time it takes to go to the post office and the cost of the mailer to ship out the items. While a machine in a factory may require someone to operate it…..it can whip out hundreds of an item in a short period of time. In that same amount of time, an artisan may only be able to produce ONE of a similar item.
Pictured above is an example of a soap we make here at The Soap Hut….Soap Petals. Soap Petals are silk rose petals that are HAND dipped, dried and packaged 24 in a jar. The cost of materials has to be added up to start with. Then everything has to be prepped (dipping station set up, soap base cut up and melted, fragrances measured out, etc). Once that is done the petal dipping begins. With each petal being HAND dipped it took over 16 hours to dip approximately 2040 petals. That’s about 120 per hour. Packaged 24 petals to a jar will give you 5 jars ready to go in an hour. At $10 per jar, provided they all sell, that’s $50 for 1 hour of work. Hey, that’s pretty good though right??? Not so fast…..it’s not so great when you have to take out the cost of materials and there’s no guarantee that every jar of petals is going to sell. In addition, we also have to take into account overhead of the sales venue which could be a craft fair, a booth inside of a retail location or even commission paid to the venue. And we haven’t even calculated in the cost of other overhead expenses such as electricity, rent if dedicated space is rented, water costs, etc.
By the time all expenses have been deducted and the venue paid, the artisan is most likely going to be making minimum wage at best. But more often than not, the artisan is actually making LESS than minimum wage….. this is for SKILLED labor. Yes, you read correctly. Skilled labor. Most of the items made by local artisans are not items that you just wake up one day and decide you’re going to make it for yourself. It takes talent. It takes time to learn the art. It takes skill. And don’t get me started on Soap Curls. Those took double the time and produced fewer jars which reduced skilled labor pay by at least half. Below you will see a picture of soap Curls. Each bar of soap is cut into tiny “shreds by hand (we have tried various kitchen tools that are used to shred carrots and other foods and it just doesn’t work). Then each shred is hand curled on the wooden dowel.
Stay tuned for Value of Handmade – Part 2. In part 2 we will look at the cost of making crocheted washcloths.