November 6, 2015 by kittynh
I’ve always been an artist. I also enjoy doing crafty stuff. I’ve done everything from quilting to origami, and had great fun with any hobby I take up.
The problem comes though when someone says to me “You should sell what you make!”
My standard reply is “But if I made my hobby my business, I’d need to find another hobby.”
That brings us to ETSY. We all know Etsy as the online shop that sells hand made crafts. Only it isn’t that “online craft market”it claims to be. Sadly the success of Etsy is dependent on people willing to underpay themselves, those willing to rip off designs of others, and people willing to sell things they have imported from China.
China has brought many cheap goods to the United States. Sadly, even the Chinese are unhappy that much of their economy is based upon producing cheap goods. An aging population is not happy with the same jobs taken by the young and desperate. Making cheap crap for the world is not a career choice for the newer more educated and aging Chinese.
What do I mean by cheap? I mean so cheap that you can not possibly compete if you are a craftsperson. I bought a little gnome at a local store for $2.99. I bought it for holiday decor, and was thrilled to get such a cute gnome for such a low price. But, I had to do the math. Store markups are usually around 50%. This gnome cost the store less than $1.50. Obviously, someone had to make this, and it also had to be imported to the US from China where it was made. I can’t imagine this gnome cost more than 50cents to make, or no one is making any money.
I thought it was so cute, I decided to make a gnome using my wool felting skills. The China gnome is cotton, stuffing and some sweater like fabric for the hat. There is also a wire inside to keep the hat upright. It is far more detailed than the gnomes I made. My gnomes do not have hands or hearts. I have no clue how the Chinese could make it so cheaply, as it is quite nice.
My gnomes are made from 100% wool, and that wool was hand dyed. The beards are various materials, including expensive angora rabbit wool. The wool is all from local farms. I use a small hooked needle to shape and bind the wool. There is no glue involved. This takes time. I don’t even try for a totally smooth finish as that would take much longer. This is a very simple shape, but it still takes hours and hours to create.
Often my little wool creations accidentally become cat toys (trust me I own a cat). I like to attach the creations to wood bases, as it tends to discourage the cats and stabilize the very light felted works. I purchase the bases, as ones I cut myself often have bugs or mold. These I purchase from Michaels craft store are very nice and clean. However, the larger wood base cost $8.00, the smaller is $3.00.
This brings us back to Etsy. I can’t sell my gnomes on Etsy. Not when someone could import a bunch of these Chinese gnomes and sell them for $5 and make a profit.
I have first hand experience with Chinese imports, my neighbor sells jewelry on Etsy she imports from China in bulk. When I asked about her site she gladly shared how “You even get the photographs to use on your site! It’s so easy to make money, you just list stuff and ship it out!” She then showed me boxes of Chinese made goods sitting in her garage. Hand made perhaps in this case means “writing the address by hand” on the shipping boxes.
Also, as for copying, you can’t enforce your image or design, it just doesn’t work in reality. Once something is up on the internet, it’s pretty much free use unless you have enough money to defend your work. (I admit I used the Chinese gnome for inspiration for my gnomes!)
I do purchase from good Etsy shops that I feel I can trust. Crafters that I know are designing and selling works that they have made. It’s fairly easy to tell once you start looking at the site. If 25 people offer a “Bangle with Eiffel Tower”, it’s probably an import. You can purchase the product of course! Just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s unique. Also pay more if you want something truly hand made. We’ve become addicted to cheap goods, including cute $3 Chinese gnomes.
I of course enjoy my hobby. Would I like to make a little money on the side by selling my work? Of course, but instead I donate happily to charity auctions and friends get these things as gifts (like it or not, John Stewart, you and Bobbie are getting a gnome!)
I can’t suggest a solution to this problem, if it is indeed a problem. We all like cheap goods, and I even enjoy my little Chinese gnome. But, don’t ask me to sell my work. I enjoy being able to take as long as I like with my design and spend as much as I like on materials.
Also when you receive that hand knit scarf or hat or quilt or cross stitch, think about the hours your friend or family member put into creating that gift for you. It’s not “just a hat” it’s hours and hours of time. A gushing “Thank you” is always welcome! That’s payment enough for me!