Why it's So Hard to Price and Sell Handmade

The original version of this article was lost when I upgraded my website software, so I decided to rewrite it! I  think it's much better now.


There's a bottom line to this article: There are a several factors and perceptions at work that make it difficult to price handcrafted items.

I see it as an intersection between the art you are making and the person who could buy it.

It's difficult to find that sweet spot. It takes confidence in both your skills and the art that you make.

And it doesn't really matter what you're creating: quilts, paintings, crochet, knitting, writing, mixed media, metal sculptures, ceramics, etc.

Make no mistake- you did create it.   You saw something in your mind's eye. You plucked it from the ether and translated it into reality with raw materials that you purchased with hard earned money. 

You might have even shed some tears or some literal blood, say after stabbing yourself with a needle :)

But, if you're going to sell it, you're going to need relentless self promotion. For many artists, this in an unnatural state of affairs. 

There are self-envisioned failures, sometimes preventing you from even starting.  There's fear of rejection and self-doubt in your skill.

These challenges, like crafting skills, take continual practice to overcome.  I have, for the most part, come to ignore these and press on.  For instance, I am now much more confident at displaying my work at my quilt guild's Show and Tell. 

I also now have a finished quilted acrylic painted wall hanging that's waiting to be hung at our March 2019 quilt show.  I also have a large box full of quilted and sewn items that will be sold in the show's boutique.

It took me 3-4 years of persistence to reach this point.  No one else will get you there- just you.

Now that you have these wonderful artful items, it's time to find someone to purchase them.

But, the consumer and the artist are almost always at odds. They have their own self-interests.

Much of their bottom line tends to be fairly simple: They want to pay as little as possible and this tends to collide rather abruptly with an artists desire to recuperate material costs + a profit margin, so they can create more artwork.

Similar to any business, if you cannot - at the very least -  recuperate material costs, you are not going to continue for very long.

As a means of comparison, let's take a trip to the big box store!   And by Big Box, I really mean Walmart, but let's also think about discount stores, like Aldi, Ollie's and Dollar Tree.  Consumers expect to find things cheap.  A line from the Robocop movie comes to find:  I'll buy that for a dollar!  Even though your art isn't going to be in these stores, it's still important to understand the consumer a little better. 

But, how did those stores arrive at these low prices?

The companies that produce those cheap things are operating in third world countries. Their raw supplies were purchased in vast quantities at steeply discounted rates.  Those discounts then translate to lower per item costs. Oh, and they're also cranking them out in mass quantities- non-stop.

Even after these things are shipped across an ocean and low wages are factored in, which in some cases, are dollars per day....everything is still insanely cheap!  

Now, let's compare my buying power to those companies.

I purchase everything in vastly *smaller* quantities.

I may buy fabric in 1 to 2 yard lengths.  I may buy a single spool of thread, a single tube of paint or a single packet of needles. I receive very few discounts. 

My luckiest day is buying something from Fabric.com and I 'Win the Lottery." That means they decided to give me whatever was remaining on the fabric bolt from 1/2 yard or less for FREE.  I may find fabric on sale at 50% off per yard or receive 20% off my purchase at Joann Fabric.  Michael's always has a 40% off coupon or acrylic paint could be on sale for buy 2, get 1 free.   Dick Blick Art is awesome - they have great prices!  They deal in quantity and they happily pass it along to their customers. Sometimes their shipping is even free!

I also work a full time job. I craft in the evenings or on the weekend, but I almost always have something else that I need to get done.  It is never full time.

I operate a single sewing machine, rather than a warehouse full of sewing machines.  If my sewing machine breaks- oops.  My production is now zero and I need to pay for repairs.  That also means I have to drive into Atlanta and be without my sewing machine for 3-5 days.

Don't get me wrong, I love the art I make!  I want to offer it to others, or at the very least-  share it!

However, if you're going to sell, then you must consider the time involved and the raw supplies that were used to create your art. 

Let's face you- your skills rock, but how long did it take to hone them? No one else makes anything like you.  It's unique to you and your life's experiences.

The bottom line here, is that it's a balancing act and it's one of the toughest acts around.

Keep telling yourself this: 

Your artwork has value. You have just created something that no one else has ever seen!  You have wrapped yourself in, around and through what you have created.  

Thanks for reading and keep moving forward with your craft!

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