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Hey there! My name is Megan and I'm the sewing, pattern making girl behind Dolly Henry. This is my blog, where I share my own creative adventures and hope to meet fellow fabric enthusiasts. I also design and sell sewing patterns through my online boutique, alongside a beautiful collection of clothing and dolls. Thank you for stopping by!

NEWSLETTER

Selling Handmade Isn't About Funding Someone Else's Lifestyle




I've never really written one of these posts before. Some say you should, but I've never found it a terribly good idea. I'm talking about pricing your work correctly as a creative.

I think the reason I've shied away from talking about it, is that it feels a bit like a long justification exercise that can sound, if one isn't careful, well a bit unprofessional. After all, do large stores put out signs next to their clothing with a costings breakdown of the item? Well no. If they did, it'd probably horrify us as customers at the massive profit they are making and set the brain ticking as to what poor sod had the unfortunate job of making a bunch of t-shirts for so little money.

The other half of my brain, however, thinks a little bit of consumer education is necessary for the age of the fast and cheap. After all, we are all conditioned to a certain price point and being able to have certain things for relatively small amounts of money. That is the bonus of the mass production and bulk buying era. What our brains fail to realize is that we often compare apples to oranges. The apples being a run of the mill store item, and the oranges being a handmade item.

I am a lot braver than I used to be so I am just going to come out and say something that is a fact. Not all handmade items are created alike, and I don't feel that the handmade sector has done a good job at marketing the quality, boutique artisan side of things. I've been to markets to sell my products where when I stopped and looked at the branding of the handmade market, it didn't exactly say "beautiful products where you will expect to pay the higher prices for designer items" No, the branding shouted "Come and get a cheap and cheerful gift! Fill up your bag with lovely affordable handmade pieces for the whole family!" No wonder the customers had that mentality!

The trick is when handmade is affordable for the customer - and that term is usually used for buy a lot and spend a little - it isn't for the creator. The thing is, the customer will go to work and be paid an hourly rate the next day. The maker will not. If she doesn't get paid for the hours it took to create her item, then the customer might be putting food on her table while her child wears beautiful clothing made by the person who will be struggling to put food on her table.

The entitled need to be able to have lots of everything for nothing doesn't quite work with handmade items. The maker loses out. The entire mentality is just wrong. It isn't completely the consumer's fault after all expectations and opinions are free. The maker feeling pressured by other makers in the handmade community, and, by the consumers to have it for naught attitude is where the issue lies.


It's actually up to the handmade industry as a whole to not only educate their customers on the value and cost of small artisan-produced goods but to change the perception that handmade is the cheap pretty thing you can buy off Facebook for the cost of a pub lunch.

I'm being brave and I am charging what I need for my products now. Why? Because I can't change the cost of electricity, water, rent, petrol, groceries or health care. Those are all things I need to be able to pay for. I am so lucky to live in a first world country. I am appalled that many people making things overseas for people like you and me aren't getting those basic human rights because we want to own twenty t-shirts. I haven't mentioned holidays or anything fancy above - I've just mentioned the basic cost of living that I and other makers need in order to be fed, housed and clothed. Something that customers with a salary expect to be able to have too.

The idea that someone should be able to make something for next to nothing is a bit insane. And it is jolly rude if that is what somebody expects. I understand it though, we are conditioned to clothing prices being well under what it would cost someone who is paid a livable wage to do. That's why a lot of manufacturing has gone offshore. Sometimes I wonder if we just wanted less and paid a bit more for it if that would be more useful to the citizens of the world than having to make up for it in all the poverty charities. What if when they worked, they were paid enough to feed their family, fix the hole in the roof, school and clothe their children and buy filters to fix the unsafe water like you and me?
(yes we actually have to have a filter on our water because of our rural location!)

I can't change the world, but I can help a bit by not contributing to the problems. If you are reading this and still have difficulty understanding why the beautiful handmade pieces you buy need to be a certain price, then I will break it down simply and quickly.

Most makers work from home - the workplace has rent or a mortgage.

Most makers use electricity - they are in the home all day, using the electricity to make the products. Electricity costs moolah.

Most makers use machinery of some kind - sometimes it needs fixing, maintaining or replacing -
this is a running cost of having a business.

Most makers are selling via the internet - they have to have a camera, computer, printer, software and of course, a phone and internet account. This is a running cost of having a business.

Most makers have to buy supplies - this comes at a cost, quite a high one and includes shipping fees.
This is a cost to making a product. For example in clothing, we don't just have fabric. We have thread (hint, it is NOT cheap!) needles for the machine, interfacing, trims, buttons, lace, zips, labels. Then we have packaging, paper string, cards. All of this has to go into the cost of the product.

Most makers have to keep records for the tax man and gulp - yes pay tax!
This is a running cost of having a business.

Most makers have to sell their work somewhere - stores take massive cuts, websites and payment systems have monthly and transaction fees.
This is a running cost of having a business.

Most makers will advertise in one way or another.
This is a running cost of having a business.

ALL of this has to fit into the cost of a product. All of it. And then there is the hourly rate, which has to cover not only the time it takes to create a product, it has to cover the time it takes to talk to customers, go to the post office, do the bookwork, research and order supplies, chase up orders, post on social media etc. If the hourly rate does NOT cover this, then you are effectively being paid for about an hour or two's work a day. If your hourly rate is only $25 and you are earning $50, it will be hard in a country like Australia for you to get by.



Now there are professional and non-professional makers. The professional full-time makers are like me - I have to earn a full wage from my job. I don't have a backup. Non-professional makers have all the same costs in running, except it is a hobby for them and if they don't make the sales, it doesn't matter as much, they have backup income either in the form of a second job or a partner's wages.

On top of the cost of producing and getting a product to customers, makers have normal things to pay for. Like a car, food, clothes and health care. Makers are no different to their customers, they have to be able to afford to live. So if the customer actually cannot afford to buy your product, you can't afford to sell it to them. It is that simple. Giving someone something at a reduced rate doesn't make your cost of living go away. And you aren't guaranteed to go to work the next day and get a pay packet at the end of the week to make up for the lapse in judgment.

When I wasn't being paid for my work, I was working my tail off. I was working six days a week, missing out on time spent with family and friends and the toll it took on my health was enormous. I worked so hard and had very little in my bank account to show for it. The effort I was putting in, in another job would have been earning me WAAAAY more. And that was my fault. I didn't stop and look at the costs of living and the costs of producing my product. I didn't click when my customers could afford to order several outfits and then fly to a separate state solely for a photoshoot and I couldn't even afford a weekend away in a motel in town. (that sounds dodgy haha!)

Thankfully my brain cogs woke up and realised - if my customer is buying brands they don't really care about (yes they told me!) for $99 for a set of mass made kids clothes, and paying for multiple photo shoots (photographers are artists but guess what? They get paid! Because there is an industry standard!) and if my customers are flying away for photo shoots or filling up suitcases with my clothing to go on holidays...then they can afford to pay me properly for my work.

And if they don't want to, because they want a lot of stuff, then they will just have to do without it. Because as a maker, it isn't my job to fund somebody else's lifestyle. Nor is it my job to give away high-quality products. I can't walk into Myer and have them give me a whole heap of clothing that I can't afford for free or at heavily discounted prices. So it was silly of me to do that for my customers. It's not their fault. It was mine for not realising this and asking for a correct price.

I was afraid to, largely because I am pretty sure what goes through a maker's mind is "I love this but what if people won't buy it at this price?" It's okay! Your current customers may not because they are the wrong market. But with a bit of effort, you will find the people who will pay! Because believe it or not, there are people out there who appreciate what you do so much, they can see the value in each stitch.



I was also afraid to because there are a lot of other people making stuff out there. BUT they aren't really competition. Any more than Target or Kmart are the competition. Customers who purchase from them are not likely to be your customers, and often the quality just isn't there. No, not all handmade businesses are created alike. This is fairly apparent when someone copies your work. There is no way you can pump out masses of cheap clothing without something slipping. It just isn't possible. I'm telling you this because I have worked my own designs down to be as time efficient as possible without cutting quality and working solidly all day, it was still only possible to make two or three things.

So, if you've made it to the end of this post - sorry it was a bit long - but thank you for reading!

If you were unaware of the costs of making an item by hand, then I hope it has helped enlighten your perception and I hope/pray/beg that the next time you consider purchasing handmade, you stop and think about all the work that goes on behind the scenes and how precious that item really is.

If you have a handmade business and are a little scared to charge what you need to live, please don't be. There are things you can do to raise the profile of your business so that the presentation reflects the quality of your work. Don't worry about what Jane over there is charging, you can't live off Jane's wage! Chances are, your customers are paying photographers, cake ladies and gosh, even their hairdresser twice as much as they are paying you so if they can't afford your products, you have a choice. You don't have to sell it to them. If you need some more courage, check these two places out -

The Business Bakery - no this isn't an affiliate link - but Julia's work and beautiful smiling face will literally change your life! Her website has STACKS (like pancakes!) of amazing tips and advice and this course is worth it a thousand percent....

Dream Job Shop - I love this podcast by Andi from the Dream Job Shop.... How to Create the Perfect Price to grow your income!

Megan x

11 comments

  1. Well said! I'm amazed at how rude people can be about prices of handmade products. They want handmade but don't want to pay for it.

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    1. I think a lot of people lack manners and are a bit thoughtless sometimes! :-)

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  2. Great article and so very true - some people think when you make something, you should give it away for next to nothing. Thanks for sharing this info and your thoughts too!

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  3. Never said better Megan!!! I hope you post this on your FB page as well, it needs to be shared!! I can tell you from first hand experience that in the USA everybody wants more for less. And that being said, I have seen identical items sell right away in one part of the country, while in another region they collect dust on the shelf. You are right, finding the customers for your product takes a lot of effort but soooooo well worth it!!! 💕🐿

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    1. The USA market does seem to be particularly cheap in some areas, I have noticed that too Kim! The prices some PDF patterns are makes me wonder if they are just no good or whether they are underpricing terribly for all the design and production work!

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  5. Great article Megan, well done for being brave enough to write it. So much big about! I knew a lot of it already, but it's good to be reminded ... and you've given me a few new things to think about, and a different perspective on something. I'm planning to open up a little etsy shop, and the costing of my products has been worrying me - I feel much more confident after reading this. Thank yiu xxx

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    1. Hi Cathy! Thank you, I am so glad it encouraged you a little. It can be hard to stick to your guns as far as prices go, I get that completely. I wish you all the success with your etsy shop!

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  6. Well said, Megan! I recently came across this when I underpriced for a commission piece. I have decided that I will have a set price, and if the customer isn't happy with it, then they don't have to buy it! Thanks for the encouragement!

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    1. Too right Michelle! I'm glad this has helped, just think your skills are obviously valuable to the other party and no it didn't just take a few hours or days to make, it took YEARS for you to get to the point where you can create like that!

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