are we sending the right message?

A guest post by Brigitte of Covet Chicago.

chalkboard thought bubble

In my morning stroll around the Internet, I devour my favorite indie design blogs right off the bat. Most days, the content energizes and inspires, providing a creative boost that influences my entire day.

But, every once in a while, it has exactly the opposite effect.

Buy local!
Buy handmade!
Support indie business!
Go green!

{Lazy consumer!}

It’s a bit like getting reprimanded, isn’t it?

I consider myself a part of the indie movement, if mainly as a supporter with my blog and my wallet. I spend a lot of time thinking about the nuances behind these sometimes competing directives. For instance, I often find myself pondering the deep philosophical question of whether it’s more important to buy indie or buy local if you live is a small community with few businesses of any kind. This type of questioning melts my brain.

So, I don’t feel yelled at when I see these messages over and over, because I’ve bought into the values they support.

But do your friends? Does your family feel as though you look down on them for not buying all their goods on Etsy or at the new, crazy affordable, incredibly stylish vintage shop down the road?

{You wasteful glutton, how could you shop at Crate & Barrel instead?}


Recently, Tara has been raising questions of how the indie movement can communicate with new audiences. I think this is an important shift, as the values we take for granted may be new or even innately challenging to people living in the prevalent consumer model: buy cheap in bulk OR spend wads of cash on “quality” designer goods.

When you talk to people who only see these consumer options in their day-to-day lives, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re challenging their very value system. By urging your friend and acquaintances to change their ways and buy indie, you subtly pass judgment on their choices.

I don’t think that should stop us. But it calls for extreme sensitivity. How can we reframe the message to help people get their toes wet without pushing them off the diving board?

Brigitte is a writer finding happiness through creative living. She blogs about the process, muses about the indie movement and showcases Chicago’s art and design scene at Covet Chicago.

{ chalkboard thought bubble by rachel denbow, available on red velvet art ]

21 thoughts on “are we sending the right message?

  1. Hmmm…I don’t think it’s reprimanding anyone to encourage them to buy handmade or local. But, it can be reprimanding if you make them feel bad about themselves. It’s all in the way that you talk to someone, what relationship you have with that person, and respecting different viewpoints. It’s just like sharing any other value such as going green or vegetarianism. If you share the reasons that you do something, it can be inspiring. But if you focus on making others feel less than you, it can have the opposite effect.

  2. Good point! I probably don’t encourage those around me enough, but then I also don’t stick to it myself as much as I’d like… What I did do – although we made a “traditional” wedding registry at a chain store, we listed it through a registry which spends part of the money on charities of your choice, and in addition I kept reminding people that we LOVE handmade, local, artisan type things that you could never register for at any chain store. I would have loved to skip the store entirely but too many of our guests are more traditional and heavily rely on it :/

    But in our case, we tried to reinforce to people that it’s what WE prefer, rather than telling them where to buy things for themselves.

  3. This is a very good point and an interesting subject. I think it is wonderful to buy handmade when you can (I’m an Etsy seller myself), but I also see the other side, having had a husband who worked in a factory for 8 years and worked so hard to produce commercial products in order to support our family. If everyone stopped buying commercially produced products completely our economy would be in trouble. Maybe that would be a good shift over time, but it could be devastating to families who rely on these jobs. OK – off my soapbox now. 😉

    1. This is a very important addition to the conversation. One of the other deep questions I find myself chewing on is…what is our end goal? What would the economy look like if everyone bought into the buy indie message?

      I don’t yet have an answer.

  4. I think the most likely scenario for most consumers will be a combination of purchasing indie goods with more “commercially produced” products.

    Therefore, the best purchasing environment is one that promotes the benefits of the products to the consumer, while recognizing that the consumer will also be buying other types of products.

    So, if we want to encourage them to buy our vegan muffins we need to recognize that there still will be times that they buy doughnuts from another vendor. If they receive “guilt” or “judgment” from us while contemplating a purchase from us, they are likely to turn away altogether.

  5. Now that I think about it, I find myself being very opinionated and assertive (sometimes) with my family when it comes to buying handmade over mass-produced (I cringe when my sister tells me about a new bag or article of clothing she bought from “Urban”). To be honest my obsession with buying second-hand and handmade really only developed this past year so it’s definitely a view I have only recently developed.

    I think that a good way to share how wonderful buying local/handmade/indie is is to buy something local/handmade/indie for your friends and family! When they comment how lovely the item is, you can tell them a little bit about who made it, how it was created and where it is from (most Etsy sellers talk about these things in their Profile). My goal this year is to buy 100% handmade and homemade gifts for Christmas (I’m already shopping now!). I have already formed a connection with some sellers and I can’t wait to share my new Etsy acquaintances with my family when I give them their gifts!

    Simply buying handmade gifts for others is an easy way to show people (in person) just how amazing the craftsmanship and personality of handmade items are. This act may encourage them to take that first step to supporting the local/handmade/indie community.

  6. I think leading by example is the best way. I both sell and buy on Etsy and locally. When a friend comments on my jewelry it’s fun telling them I made it or bought it at a craft fair. I love being able to give a gift, then tell the recipient who made it. Recently, a coworker mentioned to me he was looking for leather “man” jewelry. I told him to do a search on Etsy, and he was so happy to have discovered an awesome source for what he was looking for. I sort of think of it like religion…no one wants to be told their lifestyle or values are “wrong” (hey, I’d say a good 75% of what I buy is commercial), but show someone what is available, and that it’s affordable too, you can make an instant convert!

  7. I agree with Sasha. Buying handmade gifts is a good way to ease people over to buying handmade themselves, instead of preaching to them or making them feel bad. Also, wearing handmade items proudly can urge others gently to check out the shop, or artist you bought it from. I’ve been buying handmde gifts for my family for a few years, and making them gifts myself for many more. I just read that in 2009 the US saw the highest rate of poverty since 1994. This may just be the time when people are willing (or forced) to change their value system and their relation to spending. I hope in the long run it bodes well for the handmade movement!

  8. The thing that concerns me isn’t so much that its a reprimand as its an endorsement of consumerism. I’m fully supportive of supporting indie businesses, local, handmade, etc., however; if its something we really don’t need then its just consumerism for consumerism sake and that’s not mindful or helpful to ourselves, our communities, or our planet. Sometimes the best choice is not to buy period.

  9. Great post! I think about this, too. Sometimes I feel guilty that I simply can’t afford to buy handmade/local goods, so I wonder how it makes others feel. I try not to push it too much, but occasionally insert a reminder that it’s an option :) Luckily Austin is a great place for promoting indie business and people are really receptive here! My friends love learning about local businesses and receiving handmade gifts (that’s my fav way of supporting and promoting locals!).

    Again, great post!

  10. Good point Brigitte. I think the important thing is to talk about what you do and why you find it important and promote all the benefits of indie/handmade goods. If people like you and want to follow your example, they will.

    It is never good to impose your beliefs on another and act superior because you don’t shop at Target. That will only turn people off. Be realistic. We live in a world with a bazillion stores offering nice and not-so-nice inexpensive goods. Not everyone can buy everything handmade/local/indie. As long as a shift is made…if you can convince one person to buy something handmade and do it in a positive way, then you are doing a good job.

  11. I was going to leave almost the exact same comment as Kathie! I tell most of my friends not to spend money on me, but for special occasions, I will direct them to a wish list that is mostly full of indie crafted items.

    I usually ask for hints when looking for gifts. If someone asks specifically for a commercially made item, I buy it because it’s what they want. If I get just a hint of what they want, I will usually buy indie if I can.

    I have found that handmade does not always equal better quality. There is a shop in Seattle that sells repurposed clothing and not only is it very expensive, the clothing usually has tears and stains. It makes me livid. I love to support artists, but gluing some lace on a stained Old Navy t-shirt and pricing it at $80 seems like exploitation.

  12. Thanks to everyone for all the thoughtful comments! I love the theme that’s developing around leading by example and/or sharing our genuine enthusiasm when asked about the indie items we wear or display.

  13. Great post Brigitte!! Very interesting topic – I never thought about how that message is taken since I think I’m like you – I support indie in my actions. Such a great point that there’s a new audience out there that may feel yelled at! I think it helps when people are enthusiastic rather than coming from a point of view of looking down at others. People seem to respond to the enthusiasm in kind!

  14. I think that as long as the product or service is quality, the local/handmade/green encouragements should be the icing on the cake. Like Terrell said above, it doesn’t matter if it has some righteous tag on it if the item is crap. I work with Women At Risk, International and we sell handmade items from all over the world made by survivors of human trafficking. We make sure that even if people do not know the story behind our goods, they find them lovely and appealing anyway. Of course they buy to support the cause. But they also buy because they just really like the pieces. We can have the best cause in the world, but if we are just selling shoddy tchotchkes, people would not want to buy after the first pity purchase. I think this holds true for local/handmade/green as well.

    And really, we have these tags today because the economic system is so screwed up. If big boxes and little boutiques could greenly import well made goods from fairly paid workers in safe conditions, and we were able to export the same, these labels wouldn’t matter so much. The end goal is that everyone and the earth is taken care of, not so much the labels themselves.

  15. Wow some really great points here.
    I also liked the point made that if we completely stop buying commercial then that creates a whole different problem.

    I am not sure why we need to label that we buy one or the other. What about just buying the item that suits your needs and budget? If it is from a commercial store or local designer then so be it. It should be up to the person selling to earn your sale and meet the consumers need.

    Great topic though especially as I run handmade market and shop handmade in Canberra so I can relate to this. Although I would buy and recommend handmade it is because what is on offer is fantastic, great value and quality. It can be a real challenge to get the right mix though.
    I have no qualms on sending someone to Myers to buy if we don’t have it and they do especially if I don’t have a designer that can make it.

    Is this topic not all about offering what the consumer really wants and knowing your target market?

    Jules x

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