Handmade is having a resurgence lately. People are reconnecting with the idea of handicrafts, handmade, arts & crafts and craft markets. Websites such as Etsy have dominated the online market share, with Handmade At Amazon launching late 2015. As a handmade jewelry artisan, it’s a good time. And I am excited that people are once again valuing the maker movement; the one-of-a-kind treasures made by human hands here in America instead of churned out in a factory in a third world country.
The problem comes about when people abuse the definition of “handmade” to profit from this goodwill; when they falsify what handmade truly is. I see people pass off mass-produced items as “handmade” all the time. This hurts those of us who are true artisans and waters down the market. It also undercuts the value of true handicrafts and teaches consumers to expect “dollar store” or “Wal-Mart” pricing, making it much more difficult for artists to make a living.
For example, if Jane Doe comes along with items made in China that she buys for pennies and resells as “handmade” she can afford to charge very little for the items. Meaning, a consumer used to the “Wal-Mart” type lowest possible price mentality will see something truly handmade and scoff at the “expense” of it.
Pretty pictures don’t mean something is handmade. Take this image from instagram for example.
As of this writing, over 400 people have “liked” it. It’s being passed off as “handcrafted.” But is it really? A 30 second search on AliExpress (a website where you can buy wholesale goods direct from Chinese factories) results in this:
Look familiar? It’s the same exact item. Available for $2.49 each with free shipping. It’s NOT handmade. It’s some piece of junk from China made from unidentifiable materials and made in a factory in a third world country with questionable human rights.
What about the “dragon claw” pendant. That’s handmade though, right?
Nope. $1.89 per pendant with free shipping.
Ok, but surely the crescent moon druzy pendant must be truly handmade, right?
BZZ!! Three strikes, you’re out! Just another case of being a reseller. (A reseller is someone who buys mass produced, factory items at wholesale prices and turns around and resells it for profit without disclosing it was actually manufactured elsewhere.)
Not only does this blatant lying and misrepresentation mean that truly handmade artisans can’t compete financially with resellers, but it degrades the consumer’s trust in handmade. It puts down in their minds as to whether or not something is made by hand or not.
This isn’t a new problem. Nor is this example the only person who distorts the truth for marketing appeal – nor the first to be highly successful selling tall tales as to a product’s origins. One need only google “Ecologica Malibu” to come across articles (like this or this or like this) discussing the case of the “recycled boat wood” furniture.
You can also google “Three Bird Nest” to find one of the most INFAMOUS abusers of etsy – and self-proclaimed “richest etsy seller” at one point – to find articles like this.
So, it’s not so much a “Genesis” here that this one, highly successful jewelry seller is making hand-over-fist reselling you cheap junk from China with a fancy marketing scheme and instagram filtered photos. It’s that this continues to happen and hard working artisans like myself continue to get the squeeze.
If you want to buy cheap, junk, costume jewelry or cheap, junk accessories you are welcome to it! It’s a free country and a free market. But I sincerely hope that you take the time to educate yourself about what handmade TRULY means.
Does it look like something a person could have made in their home, studio, or garage? Or does it require industrial machinery? If the latter, chances are that means it WAS made in some factory somewhere.
When you shop on etsy, or you attend a craft fair or craft market, ASK QUESTIONS. Know what you’re spending your money on and decide who and what you wish to support. Those of us who make our living literally by hand are depending on it.
Miss M. Turner is the owner and founder of PhoenixFire Designs and has been creating handcrafted jewelry, all made 100% from scratch in her Tampa, Florida studio since 2001. Her successful etsy shop celebrates it’s 10th year in 2016, with thousands of happy customers all around the world. M. Turner also vends at local markets, craft shows, indie festivals and other art shows throughout the greater Tampa Bay Area and into Sarasota.