There is a fundamental problem with the idea of buying “handmade.” Chiefly that the vast majority of things we buy are made by hand.
The hands don’t look familiar, though. They maybe a different color. They may be rough, cracked. They use tools & machines we don’t understand. The hands that made your bookshelf, sofa, or television may be thinner than yours – achy from lack of food.
Those hands have never had much of a choice in how they earn a living. Nor have they had much choice in how they live, where they live, or who governs them.
Those hands get no respect.
Yes, those hands work in factories. But factories aren’t bad. This handmade movement isn’t about factories. It’s not about mass production, it’s not about luxury vs austerity. The handmade movement is about respect: for ourselves, for our goods, for others, and for our community.
The factory system as we know it now is about subjugating workers, concentrating power, and maximizing profit at the expense of quality. In this system, people – and their hands – are merely pawns in a game of profit. Respect is not a consideration.
In recent years, we have rediscovered the ties that bind us together as humans. The digital age – coupled with crippling consumerism – has helped us see each other as equals and not human steps on a ladder to higher status. We recognize the respect due to all of those around us.
Including makers of all ilks.
Is it possible that striving to create a business model that generates respect is as valid as a business model that generates profit?
When I look around the blogosphere, Etsy, eBay, and other marketplaces, I see many individuals, makers, and mom & pop businesses that don’t respect themselves, let alone those who are buying from them. I see makers underselling, I see coaches apologizing, I see designers ceding power, and I see potential visionaries wearing blinders.
I see petty conversations. I see back stabbing. I see values out of focus.
As the handmade movement has grown, it has adopted its own limiting set of expectations.
Instead of creating new rules, we have a tendency to apply old rules to a new paradigm. This is a moment in time where that won’t work. The rules are being rewritten and reimagined – we can choose to be a part of it or not.
I propose that we codify an expectation of respect throughout craft culture, microbusiness, and personal consumption. If you’re an entrepreneur, respect yourself in your prices, your product descriptions, your conversations with cooperititon [definition coming!], and your use of the marketplace. If you’re a consumer, respect others – all of them – for the value they add to your life through the products they produce – whether lovingly handcrafted or mechanically constructed.
As the contemporary handmade movement grows, matures, and scales, we will learn to create factories, collectives, franchises, and chains that embody the respect we have rediscovered in ourselves & those around us.
We can build a system that promotes respect instead of denying it.
How are you working today to promote respect in business & in life? What businesses around you – or around the world – promote respect in innovative ways?