Why buy handmade things?
I was in the workshop the other morning pondering what I do, and how I do it. I wasn't pondering specifically the line of dovetail joints I was cutting, but more about how I sell my woodwork and the best way I can do this.
I am very lucky that my woodwork isn't my only source of income. I also have my day job (which I am fortunate to only have to go to three days a week). This gives me the financial security to spend the other few weekdays in my workshop making beautiful things for people who ask me to.
Some of my woodwork goes to local shops, where it will sit on a shelf gathering dust until sometimes (although not that often) some lucky soul buys something.
The shops I supply sometimes struggle to sell my stuff because it is more expensive than some of the other wooden items which are mass produced and/or have been imported from overseas. Why spend £40 on one of my bowls when you can get a similar bowl for half the price?
For people like me, producing small quantities of high quality craft items, supplying shops isn't really a good idea. We producers are always squeezed on price so shops can maximise their profit, and our goods are often sold for much less than they are actually worth. This is exactly the reason most things are mass produced and are made from poor quality material, because in our modern world it doesn't make financial sense to do anything else.
We all have so much stuff nowadays, that it is considered normal to buy what we need when we need it. The phrase 'we live in a throw-away society' is totally true. Items of furniture are now considered a consumable good - we buy cheap mass produced furniture, and then throw it away when it breaks (which it often does as it's made from man-made material like MDF or chipboard) or when it goes out of fashion. If you need more help in visualising how much junk we now have in our lives, visit a car boot sale. Or next time you go the the municipal tip, have a look around in some of the skips and see what people are discarding..... It's scary to see how much stuff we buy and then throw away.
I make handmade furniture which is designed and built to withstand generations of use and abuse. It is made of solid wood - no mdf or chipboard is allowed in my workshop. My furniture is held together with traditional hand-cut joinery and glue - no screws, bolts or funky metal fixings that need one of those funny allen keys. And it costs more than a flat-pack box from your favourite scandi-furniture emporium for these very reasons. There is nothing wrong with these places - I have bought enough IKEA furniture in my time and they fulfil a crucial role in providing low cost furniture for everybody. However, I think that we can easily fall into the trap of quick and easy gratification - for a few hundred quid I can furnish a whole house with mass produced, low quality furniture which might last a few years. Or I could buy one handmade solid oak table that will last for generations to use and enjoy.
Last week I delivered a commission piece to a client. When she saw it she was so delighted she threw her arms around me and give me a huge hug. It is so nice to feel such appreciation for the things I had made for my customer. Whilst getting paid for your work is always important, also sharing the customers joy and happiness with the things you have made is worth so much more.
I think this is the difference we should seek as consumers - if you buy good things from a local producer the whole experience is vastly more fulfilling. You can connect with the producer, and maybe you can even ask them about how they made it, or even watch them work. This adds value to the thing you are buying as you have more connection with where it has come from. And this connection should help you to understand why the thing you are buying costs the amount it does, will mean that you truly want the item you have bought, and will also hopefully make you less inclined to throw it away, but to pass it on instead should you ever tire of it.
As Vivienne Westwood put it, " Buy less, choose well."