Thursday 16 April 2009


Let's get stigmatised! Or not.

A couple of weeks ago, Steven and I were looking at the Sustained feature and he noticed the price of the jacket at the bottom of the page.

Steven: '£110?! That's a lot of money!'
Me: 'Isn't that what you paid for your Luke 1977 jacket?'
Steven: 'Yeah, but that's a brand.'

Has anyone had a conversation like this, even with someone who can see the amount of time and effort that goes into making things? After completing my diatribe as to why a handmade jacket should cost more than a mass-produced one I've been giving this question a lot of thought: When you buy something, what is it that you are paying for?

Is it the craftsmanship? By and large, my experience of handmade goods is that they are of high quality. Properly priced handmade goods tend to be made by people who take themselves seriously and have confidence in their craftsmanship. We are not paid on the basis of how many items we can churn out in a shift as people in factories are (quantity over quality), we make and sell in low volumes so customer satisfaction is paramount (quality over quantity). If you are a small business with a quality issue, your sales base will shrink as you lose repeat customers and word-of-mouth sales.

Is it innovation and design? The handmade sector has a definite advantage over factory made in this respect. We offer small batch runs (or even One Of A Kind and custom orders) and we are more likely to change our designs often depending on available materials and 'creative vision'. I like the fact there are only five orange bird print coats in the world (in three different countries no less), my customers like that too.

Most simplistically, when you buy from big business you are paying for the 'brand' and this means the name, the image, the marketing strategy, the warehouses, the design team, the overseas production, etc. But on a more fundamental level, what you are actually buying is credibility. To a lot of people, a 'brand' equals validation; the fact it even exists lends itself credibility. It makes you think, 'For this to be a brand, people must buy their things. People buy their things because it has value. I will pay money for this (I might even pay a lot of money), because it is a brand and other people must do the same for it to exist.'

So what can you do if you want to be taken seriously? In short, do everything that a brand would do (at least superficially):

  • Give your business a name, this is now your brand. Think about the connotations of your name-- would "Amanda's Handmade Baby Clothes" make potential customers think I was professional? If you're stuck, treat it like you're naming your rock band. Do they make any sense?! No, and you don't have to either.
  • Get a web presence, or at least a dedicated email address with your company name in it. Buyers would like to be able to contact you at much more than they would like to contact you at If you don't want to set up on your own, join a selling platform that will give you your own shop. I've found that sites specifically for handmade goods like Etsy or Folksy are better suited for me than Ebay. You are in a crafting community and your buyers expect (and appreciate) that they are handmade goods.
  • Get labels on your products, you will immediately gain credibility. This is less expensive than you think (I buy sew-in name tapes), or you can even make your own with iron-on printer paper or a stamp and twill tape.
  • Get a logo. Again, you don't need to do anything fancy. I just have my business name in a special font and bright colours. There are plenty of free font websites to have a play about with. Or, pay a very reasonable amount to a graphic designer. There are hundreds on Etsy alone who will make you logos, banners, avatars etc. and grant you instant professionalism.
  • Don't underestimate the power of swing tags. Everything in a shop has one, your goods will look much more credible with them. It's subliminal. All you need is a hole punch and a bit of creativity. Hand tied ribbon or twine looks very pretty but a tagging gun is cheap, easy to use and very quick.
  • If you're selling at a fair, get a sign. Or bunting. Anything that draws people in and announces your brand.
  • Most importantly, get thick skin. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has heard someone say at a craft fair, 'I'm not paying that much for something handmade!' (Italics used to denote disdain). They are not your target buyers and never will be.

I'd love to know what other people's thoughts are about being taken seriously as a maker! Or any tips you might have as well :)


  1. Great post. As a tip, I'd say create a catalogue, at least for trade enquiries. Mine is only 6 pages long and A5 (so I can staple it in the middle) so it doesn't need to be an essay, just the information needed in a nicely presented manner with straightforward text. Oh and a PDF version for e-mailing if this is good too ;)

  2. Another brilliant post about business - I wouldn't say you're a non-expert (you should ditch that tag ;o) ) ... as your thoughts & tips on branding are so valid & useful. Thank you!

  3. Brilliant post, thanks!

  4. A great read and well written. I absolutely agree with all your points. Take no notice of those who say such stupid comments about what you should/should not be doing - you are doing a job you enjoy and they are just jealous. And you manage to do all this with children, take care of the house etc. Well done you.

  5. Great tips there!! I feel soo much more professional now that I have a logo and feel more branded!
    I think we all need thick skin. Family are sometimes the worst offenders!

  6. Great post and great advice. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Excellent advise, great article

  8. Really good post - I agree with every word. Something I always try and do is make sure that every customer is able to find me again by having something with my business name/website included in the packaging. Just a homeprinted card in the box will do the job. They pray they come back and buy again!

  9. Fab article - I had similar conversation with my hubbie about a gorgeous handmade raku bowl (£40) his comment but you can by one in ... for a five. aaarrrgghhh Needless to say I did explain and I think he eventually got it - he did buy me the bowl.
    I think we are slowly realising as a society that handmade, quality and more unique products are better than mass produced items, that don't last and that everyone else has. Well lets hope anyway :)

  10. Fantastic post! And looking at it in this very logical way makes me wonder why a huge number of people expect handmade individual goods to be cheaper than mass produced goods? I certainly don't have the buying power to get low prices on my raw materials like a big company would, let alone that it's just me and my imagination, no production line. Anyway, enough of the rant - and thank you for a great post!

  11. I definitely agree with almost all of this - it's difficult to get yourself taken seriously as a small trader, but the key element is - take yourself (and your business) seriously.

    Don't cut corners. Do be professional. Do stick with it - if you work hard and make the right noises, there is no reason why you cannot succeed and show those doubters a thing or two!

  12. What a great, well written article! I still have a few friends who seem to think that I price my work too high as I include a cost for my time and why should I when I'm "only doing a hobby"?! Most people have come to realise that I spend at least as much time working at home as I did teaching full time, and that galleries wouldn't stock my jewellery if I wasn't professional.

    Another tip - join a craft guild if you can. Even if it's a small one, it's great as a conversation opener when talking to potential stockists.