buying handmade isn’t a trend. buying crap is.

grapefruit handmade felt pin cushion

It’s easy to think of buying handmade as a trend.
We see cool people buying handmade, embracing homegrown, and embracing the DIY aesthetic.

Go to the mall – look around – you’ll see big brands trying the emulate hand-stitched appliques, hand-thrown ceramics, and indie designed jewelry. Surely this is just one trend in a succession of many trends. People will soon want to see machine perfection and cookie cutter design, right?

Eh… I don’t think so.

Megan posted the latest Jeep commercial on Crafting an MBA as evidence of this. The jist of the commercial is that America was founded on hard work & great craftsmanship. We’re people that know how to make great stuff (in this case… Jeeps) and it’s time to remember that again. The values of craftsmanship, the desire for quality, the respect for hard work and interesting design aren’t new, folks. It’s way old school.

What was a trend – albeit it an extended one – was the desire for crap. For most of the last century, there was a growing trend for things that looked machine-made, mass-produced, digitized, modern, industrial. As this trend reached its zenith, there were more machines making more cheap crap than ever before. And we bought it.

We bought it because that was the trend. We bought it because our neighbors were. We bought it because the marketing told us to. It was the thing to do.

What we realized with the financial collapse of the last couple years is that crap is not a sustainable platform for an economy. And it’s really not very cool either. Seriously.

You know what is? Making great stuff with our own hands. And with machines that our hands guide & manipulate. In fact, we make pretty great stuff – and we always have. We make innovative, fashionable, trendsetting, revolutionary stuff that changes people’s lives.

Crap just doesn’t change people’s lives. And I don’t think it’s here to stay.

Nope, sorry crap – you’re just a trend. And a bad one at that. I’m ready to throw you out the window and get back to buying awesome stuff made by hand.

{grapefruit pin cushion by seapinks}

P.S. If you’re in the US, happy 4th of July! I might be back Monday… but probably Tuesday.

P.P.S. Check out all the fabulous new summer advertisers on the right!

22 thoughts on “buying handmade isn’t a trend. buying crap is.

  1. Love it! “Crap just doesn’t change people’s lives. And I don’t think it’s here to stay.” woo hoo! Have a nice holiday weekend Tara thanks for the hard work towards this cause:)

  2. tara, i love this post. i love the bit about how big box stores are trying to emulate a handmade look. i am often aware of “turning off” my graphic- designer-brain’s desire for perfectly straight lines or precise circles when i’m making art….i’ve actually really come to cherish my wobbly circles! ha! i like that my art has a human touch, and i love when i can see it in other artists’ work as well.

  3. I agree that buying “Crap just doesn’t change people’s lives.” However, I think we also have to educate the consumer. Our society is constantly looking for a deal and sometimes “crap” is good enough for them because they feel they can not afford something handmade. (Which is more than likely more expensive than “crap.”) Just as Jeep is trying to educate the consumer that we can make great things right here in our community with our community, we need to do the same.

    I also think we need to watch our use of adjectives, especially when we are trying to educate. You mentioned “digitized, modern, industrial” when speaking about mass produced “crap”. However, there are plenty of handmade goods that are digitized, modern and industrial in design. There is also plenty of handmade goods that are organic, rough and earthy. Does that mean those goods are sloppy and poorly made? I hope not!

    1. hey danielle! thanks for your comment. i’ve written a lot on the subject of why to buy handmade & why to pay more when you do and was purposefully trying to turn the idea on its head a little bit today.

      i think you’re right that i did fall a little short with my phrase “digitized, modern, industrial.” what i meant was that there was a tipping point after which, in the mainstream market place, those adjectives were rarely matched with great craftsmanship. by all means, i’m a HUGE fan of modern, digitized, and industrial when it comes to handmade or micro manufactured goods!

      1. ” i’m a HUGE fan of modern, digitized, and industrial when it comes to handmade or micro manufactured goods!”

        Best of both worlds. Rapid, local production of small batches of highly custom goods.

        Or even better, bespoke.

        And I just had a *killer* idea along the lines of bespoke in my field.

  4. I agree that crap needs to get the hell out of our society! How many times do we continue to buy crap…it breaks because it was not handmade and then we go and replace the crap that just broke because we can buy it for next to nothing! Somehow, we must break this wicked cycle of man buying crap and thinking that it is alright for the crap to break because it is cheaply made and does not cost much money….handmade must get into this equation!

  5. I think it’s cyclical actually. When you look through the periods in design history once Western society discovered industrialization, there are periods where society (particulary the middle classes) were obsessed with anything mass produced (especially at the dawn of the industrial era where suddenly the middle class could own decorative items that previously had only been afforded by the wealthy.) For instance the Victorian period was heavily influenced by a desire for the machine made and by owning and displaying a lot of it. The period was then followed by the Arts and Crafts movement, which rejected “dehumanising” industrialisation in favour of the authenticity of craftsmenship. I think the current market for handmade and vintage is a similar rejection of what we view now as a corporate dehumanising of our society. We want to buy back a time where we were individuals to the businesses who hold much of our lives in the balance and not just some faceless person who can be kicked out on the street for being behind on the payments without a second thought. I think that eventually we’l cycle back into a mass-production over limited-production, but the positive is that the innovations of the limited will be the ones who will have driven the new market and moved us forward.

    I totally agree that choosing to buy 4 cheaply mass-produced items is not better than buying 1 well-made limited-run produced item. I don’t think we should buy things because they are currently on trend with the idea that we can and should toss them away in a few months to bring in something new. And that includes handmade items, which can just as easily be relegated to the world of decor-trend-disposables given our consumer culture. We should only buy what we love because we love it whether or not it’s meant to be “disposable” and fill our lives only with what will enrich our souls the most. Though, to be honest, I think we have to de-program ourselves from buying anything un-neccesary, which will be hard, especially with so many pretty, cool and just downright covetable things out there in the handmade sphere.

  6. Fantastic post!

    I love a good bargain as much as anyone, but if what you’re getting for your money is crap that will fall apart after just a few uses, it’s really not much of a bargain, is it?

    I think a good way for the average consumer to shift their mindset away from the “crap” trend is to think less about how much money you’re putting out at the start and think more in terms of “cost per use.” Better to spend $100 on a dress you’ll love and wear frequently for the next 5-10 years than to spend $20 on a dress you’ll only wear a few times before it falls apart and/or you decide you don’t really care for it anymore.

    I probably won’t stop scouring clearance racks and thrift stores in search of genuine bargains (I’ve gotten more use out of a grayish-blue trench I found for $2 at a thrift store than any other coat I own!), but I find myself moving farther and farther away from the mindset of buying things I don’t really love just because they’re cheap. That kind of behavior will just fill my house with a bunch of un-fulfilling clutter. And there are few things I hate more than clutter and feeling unfulfilled!

  7. Amen, Tara! Thank you for this, and for reminding us what quality and craftsmanship and *value* really mean. It would really do all of us a lot of good to embrace the idea of “fewer things, nicer things” rather than pure accumulation for its own sake.

  8. It’s funny that you bring up machine stitched appliques that are meant to look like hand-stitched. This is what I sell on Etsy, and I’m always worried that someone will not like my product because some of the stitches are crooked! I’m proud of my work and proud to do everything by hand, and when people ask me why I don’t even use a sewing machine, it’s hard to explain to them the feeling of pulling that needle and thread through over and over again then looking at the finished product and saying “hey, I MADE that!”

  9. Great post! I especially love, “Crap just doesn’t change people’s lives.”, too. I should post that in my work space! :)

    As someone whose only time on the planet has been during this mass-produced-crap-buying period (I guess that is most of us), it is good to remember that this wasn’t always so, and that pendulums swing. I am feeling the shift in my own life, and am glad to be buying more heart and soul and less *crap*.

    -Kristen

  10. Right on the money Tara! I tried to talk about how evidence of the artist’s hand is what inspires me back in February
    http://www.candiedfabrics.com/2010/02/26/hand-art-coordination/
    I love how you of course have looked at the big picture and expanded it to include everything. I love Chloe’s reminder about the Arts & Crafts movement – what we’re craving has been craved before. If I follow in the footsteps of William Morris, well follow I shall!

    I try my best to buy mindfully. Here’s the dilemma though…our 2 old cordless phones needed new batteries – it was cheaper to buy new phones than replace the batteries…WTF? Crap is so ubiquitous in our society right now, we’re fighting a very uphill battle!

  11. Tara – I’m utterly behind you on this – I don’t feel we can preach it enough.
    One point of discussion, though: my mom (a professional costumer) raised me on the saying “Remember, you want Handmade, not Homemade!”
    I usually got this as she inspected my stitches and cuts and directed me to rip them out and do them over. It was meant as a warning against the ‘It’s All Good!’ attitude – because it isn’t.
    It is entirely possible for handmade to be crap, too. Historically, artisans strove for the highest levels of perfection, in whatever medium. In items made with high quality, obvious variation is only seen in the materials – never in the workmanship.
    Looking for the ‘mark of the artisan’ should be a strenuous exercise in discernment, not a casual observance of the obvious ‘crooked stitch.’ The logic that would follow that reasoning would be ‘It is handmade – therefore it is in-expertly made.’
    I’ve been a member of several different handwork guilds in my life – their commitment to excellence in those endeavors is something that seems to be missing from our current general handmade culture. Embracing the highest standards instead of being content with and exalting mediocrity. The quilting guild springs to mind: in hand-stitched quilting competitions, a single errant, malformed stitch can disqualify you completely. Can you imagine the quality of work that wins? Yeah – I want to be that person when I grow up!

    Studying and knowing your medium and creating with intention – not happenstance – are what the truest spirit of handmade are about. When master artisans made their seemingly flawless work available in the past, do we really think our ancestors accepted items with the ‘mark of the artisan’ if both could be had for a reasonable price? The old saying ‘You get what you pay for.’ springs to mind.
    Yeah – crap needs to go – and buckling down to do the work necessary for excellence is what will excise it!

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