The Choice to Go Handmade
There is something magical about a handmade item. It’s almost as if all the love, time and thoughts that went into bringing it into being can be felt when you hold onto it. Things that have been made by small independent creatives, artists and designers tell a story, and if you listen closely you will hear that story.
The further I have gone on my own handmade story, starting with my market stall at the age of 17, the more I have come to truly understand why you just can’t beat something that has been handled and made by the same pair of hands from start to finish. When I read older stories, such as Little House on the Prairie, I notice how content these people are with a small number of possessions, and I wonder when I walk past row after row of plastic and fast fashion at the store if the ability to have a gazillion outfits and bucketloads of knick-knacks has contributed to our feeling of happiness at all. I’m not sure it has.
In the age of mindfulness and getting back to a simpler yet more grateful way of existence, I believe the little cottage industries, the makers, the doers and the dreamers have their part to play. Aside from the often superior quality of a handmade item - which is most likely to become a family heirloom, not a contribution to the tip when it wears out after a year - creators not only give us a more colourful world, they make communities when their work is being supported, loved and admired. Certainly it may cost you more, of course it will. People need to eat and live after all. We all do.
I believe the social and community benefits are much higher when you support a local maker, or a maker anywhere. On a local level, the money you spend will go back into your area which means the other small businesses will flourish in turn. This can help create jobs, futures for your children. The ongoing effect can be quite huge, a ripple in the pond so to speak. When you choose to buy handmade, you are also helping to create a world that celebrates individuality.
If you stop for a moment and think about it, art and creativity are such a vital part of society. In an increasingly negative and often scary world, the beautiful act of creating something good, something amazing gives back, produces a smile. Creativity is the opposite of destruction. One gives while the other takes. I don’t feel that buying handmade should become a religious activity - where you do it solely because you see the benefits and feel the need to contribute. It should be more than that. You should really love what you are choosing to buy. You should love it and treasure it. The maker poured their love and creativity into what they made, it is your duty to love it too.
I have recently reached the point myself where if someone is quibbling over a price or seems to have an overall negative mindset towards one of my items, I would rather they didn’t buy it. A piece of my soul goes into each item I make, the transaction is one I would like to look upon with joy. I don’t want to feel undervalued and under appreciated. When that happens, handmade is no different to a mass made item. The customer isn’t caring about it enough to take it home to love, they are just seeing it as another must-have item. Something to post on instagram or boost their social status. The ability for a maker to only create such a small portion of items in comparison to mass-produced items means that handmade is special, it is unique and we should preserve that. It was never made to be in competition with the local supermarket or department store. It’s not about that at all.
One day, I wondered about the waste created by the mass market. I stopped and looked around at all the ‘stuff’ around me. The two dozen clothing stores. The dollar shops filled with replicas of more expensive counterparts. The stacks of two dollar stationary. Stuff. Loads of it. Where could it possibly all go? It was researching production for my own clothing business that opened my eyes to why the fashion industry is called the rag trade. So much of what we see in stores goes to landfill. It’s thrown away. Prior to this, the environmental impacts on creating so much cheap clothing so quickly are huge. It’s the hidden cost of the ten dollar tee shirt.
I live in the countryside. The natural environment inspires me. Flowers make me so darn happy. The birdsong fills my heart. I would rather see animals roaming grassy landscapes than locked in feedlots and sheds - the meat market’s version of mass production. The need to accumulate and to have just for the sake of having is actually affecting the environment and our beautiful world. The welfare of people and animals are at stake. Behind the gloss and glamour of all that stuff, are too often choked rivers, ravished forests, piles of rubbish and people working for less an hour than it would cost you to buy a cup of tea. And all to just have ‘stuff.’ Stuff you have to work long hours to buy and then spend cleaning. Most of the time, it’s all the cheap little purchases we make that tip the budget. You’ll notice that the bigger, more expensive items you buy less of aren’t actually the things that are breaking the bank!
There are many, many positive effects of buying from a small creative business. You should give, and you will receive in return. Not just a beautiful new dress, not just a doll or a bag or a birthday card. You will see the world change around you. You might not buy as many physical items, but you will be buying so much more. You will be supporting a local family, who will support other local families. You’ll be saying no to the waste, pollution and cheap products whose inability to last well will over time cost you hundreds more than the more expensive handmade item. Where the only person winning is the bigger company - you lose out because the quality is zip, and the workers lose out because the manufacturing has been moved to a part of the world where the living standards would be less than acceptable in your neck of the woods. So if you stopped and asked me “why should I buy handmade instead of a mainstream item?” I would answer, “Because why shouldn’t you?”