You get what you pay for.

A friend of mine makes exquisite jewelry.  I make jewelry myself, and part of me looks at her earrings (not her pendants so much) and says, I could do that.  I could do that for less than she charges.

Except I couldn’t. Nor could you.  Nor could any of the people that tend to dismiss the work of artisans as not being worth what they charge for it.

The reasons I can’t do the work of my friend is because she designed these earrings. I would not have thought to put that particular arrangement of stones together. I have the know-how to copy her designs, but that would be unethical.  I don’t pirate music; much less would I pirate the work of a woman who creates beautiful jewelry.

Nor do I begrudge what she charges for them.  She is an independent businesswoman, who has expenses beyond the actual silver and gemstones: her time, for one, and the overhead needed to run a successful business. (Like many things, jewelry making requires bulk materials on hand — you do not go to the bead store and buy individual beads.)

The craft explosion in America has resulted in far too many people who trivialize what  it takes to be an artisan. It takes more than skill, it takes determination and love of craft.  There is a world of difference between knitting a sweater for your boyfriend and selling hand-designed pieces for a wider audience. I tried to sell my work for a while, but came to the realization that I lacked the doggedness necessary to make a go of it.

Gifted amateurs exacerbate this problem. They undervalue their own work, undercutting prices for more experienced professionals.  The rise of Etsy and other online marketplaces give them a forum for this. A few years ago I was selling jewelry to people at church and my workplace, and I was fortunate to have customers who were knowledgeable and insistent on paying what my work was worth.  In one case, I showed one of my Christmas trees to a professional artist.  She loved it, and asked me a few questions about its construction, and then what I would charge people for them. I told her, and she bluntly replied that I would be charging half of what I should be.

I was reminded of all of this recently by a John Oliver rant about “fast clothing.” We look for cheap, rather than good, and the result are workshops in Bangladesh and Vietnam. Then when we view artisan goods, we are shocked by the prices, when we should instead be appalled by how our acquisitiveness damages not just those who would make a living by their craft here, but the poor people in other countries. (There is another rant about the dropping purchasing power experienced by the 99% in this country, but that is for another day. There are poor people for whom buying cheap is a matter of necessity, and I do not begrudge them, any more than I think poorly of people who shop as Walmart because they need the low prices.)

The “locavore” movement needs to apply to more than food.

By the way, the friend who makes jewelry is Rain Hannah, and her website is Honey and Ollie, and her Etsy shop is honeyandollie. Check her work out. Oh, and members of my family? There are these lapis lazuli earrings….

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2 Responses to You get what you pay for.

  1. Geri says:

    Very good points. It is so hard as a crafts vendor to make the decision of how to price things. I would sell my beadwork at crafts fairs in the 90s, and price things what they were worth, and get no sales. I eventually learned to make more “quicker pieces” that I could sell reasonably within peoples’ budget ranges, but the gorgeous large pieces were what I loved to make, and those just didn’t sell at my asking prices. I was about at the point of marketing to higher end stores rather than crafts fairs when my eyesight started to do odd things after 8 hours of seed bead work per day, and I returned to just doing beadwork for Hanukkah presents and the like.

  2. Rainy says:

    Pat, thank you! Great post. This is such a complex process – the pricing and marketing of our goods. It really does go beyond the cost of materials and even time. Here’s how I break it down nowadays.
    1. I buy my gemstones wholesale from reputable dealers – even at wholesale, those can cost anywhere from $30 to $300 per strand, or even more. There’s so much fraud and fakery with gems. I do pay a little more and have developed relationships with gem merchants who I trust, to insure that my customers get what I say they are getting. I break down the price to a per-bead cost based on what the strand cost me. A bead might then cost me $.05 or $10.95 – depends on the bead. You only pay for the beads in the piece you are buying. I buy eco silver, my fine silver is recycled and I charge for metal by the inch or by weight, based on what I paid for it – the spot price. This fluctuates. I spend time watching metal prices so I can buy when it is lower. You only pay for the metal that is in your actual piece.
    2. My time – I have an hourly rate. Actually I have two hourly rates, depending on what I’m doing. I charge my lower rate for things that I can’t do quickly. I charge a higher rate for things I’m really fast at (basically this means I get a decent wage either way, but my customer isn’t paying for my learning curve). I track my time at every stage of the process.
    3. Other costs I have to try to account for – studio rent, internet, boxes to ship in, Etsy fees, website fees, fuel, hotel at shows or camping fees, food at shows, percentage to show organizers (we often have to pay 15% of our profits to a show after the show is over, I do 5 shows a year that require this) travel costs to and from shows, to and from the post office, website listings, taking photographs, tagging stock, pricing, editing photos, etc… I don’t charge an hourly rate for these things. I do so much multi tasking and the steps are hard to track. Tacking on a percentage to the final retail price is the easiest way to pay myself for these things. I work an average of 65 hours a week at my jewelry business. I do not make an hourly wage that is livable right now.
    4. Which brings me to Profit – finally, FINALLY I tack on a little percentage of profit. My accountant congratulated me last year – I made a $2500 profit after expenses. Go me. The IRS will finally see me as a real business. 6 years, here we are. I’m a real boy! After I write them their check. And pay the State of CA for my LLC, and my sales taxes, and cut a check to the accountant for figuring that stuff out. 🙂 Well there went my profit. I can probably afford to splurge on a sundae at Fentons with what’s left.
    5. There are a lot of formulas that people use for pricing – I really like Eni Oken’s pricing spreadsheet a lot, it gives different wholesale and retail scenarios and I actually tend to price my work towards the middle of her suggested price range. I could legit go higher. I choose not to. I like the middle path.

    In the end, people are paying for my unique vision, for the years it took me to get to this place, the study of art and design, the constant striving to perfect my craft, learn more, try new skills and bring them to my bench. The fact that I know when to *stop* hammering a curve, not just that it needs to be hammered flat. I don’t actually do anything that isn’t pretty much available as a YouTube tutorial if you want to learn it. The thing that makes it mine and worth money is that I *did* learn it, I did master it, and I have practiced it every day since then. When someone looks at my work and says, “I could do that.” I invite them to try. That almost never happens to me anymore, but it does happen. It always makes me growl. For the most part, people are very happy to pay me what I ask for. But it’s taken me 6 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get here.

    I am never not working.

    Honestly I also give a lot of stuff away. At any show, I’ll have a few trays of $15-$20 stuff. And when that little kid comes in looking for a present for mom and they only have $5? I will find them a $5 pair of earrings, even if it means erasing a “2” while they aren’t looking. I love to do that. When someone just can’t afford it? I often offer a discount so they can. Never if they ask to haggle and never if they give me a ‘tude about the price, but if they are genuinely nice people and I can tell they just haven’t got the money? I’ll make them an offer. I love to do that too. I am happiest when someone gets what they want and they walk away happy.

    Anyway, that’s kind of how I break it down. I shared this in the comment because I really appreciated your post. That you get it. That you’re willing to have a conversation about what the real picture is. The real picture is HUGE and I think missing from our understanding about how things are made. Target, Ikea, and WalMart selling cheap goods for cheap prices has warped our understanding.

    You know what I can’t do? Seed bead work. Ugh. Those gorgeous trees you make, the seed bead goodies? They’re stunning and I admire them and doing it makes me want to scream and pull my hair. I can’t do it. When *I* am shopping at art faires, I pay handsomely for bead weaving and the seed bead stuff. I’ve got this friend who does stuff with woven borders for cabochons that’s just… O.O For pottery, for glass, for handmade things, I am happy to pay top dollar.

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