Wednesday, November 23, 2011

the true cost of handmade | somer sherwood

the true cost of handmade | somer sherwood

I recently did my first craft fair. And at that craft fair, one woman picked up every one of my hats, tried them on, and made a sort of a noise in the back of her throat indicating disgust. Then she muttered, “I don’t really like these hats” before looking at the price tag for one of them and looking at me over her glasses: “Do you really charge this much?”

Ok, I managed a retail store for many years, so I’m used to this type of customer. I’ve met hundreds of them, and I know it’s less about whatever she is looking at and more about what is going on in her own crazy brain. Some people just have this need to be nasty. But this was a little different. What she was cruelly and callously saying to me was that what I created had no value. My art has no value. It is worthless and ugly. And I won’t lie — it stung a little.
But back to her question about the cost. The particular hat she picked up was $150 and it was this one:

The offending freeform crochet hat: Lettuce Go to the Mothership. $150.

You can’t see from the photos, but it is made of thousands of tiny little stitches, all folding in on themselves and creating a pretty elaborate underwater sea creature type effect. It’s made of hundreds of yards of very nice wool in colors that I carefully selected and put together in a way I thought would be pleasing. I spent probably 18 to 20 hours making this hat.

So let’s do the math.

Without accounting for the cost of materials, at $150, I would be paying myself about $7.50 per hour for this hat. This hat that I created. This hat that is my art. This hat that is one-of-a-kind, that evolved from a tiny little round of crocheted stitches into its own Thing. This hat that I made with my own hands, that I kept working on until my hands began to hurt. $7.50 per hour. That is less than minimum wage.
Let’s add in the cost of materials, which were probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 for this hat. I used a combination of a handspun wool and some other more commercially available wool. That drops my wage per hour to about $5.50.

Now let’s consider all the other costs: sales tax, for one, which I don’t charge to customers (too messy), but I must pay on every item I sell. Sales tax in most places near where I live & work hovers right around 8.75%. So on that $150 hat, I will pay $13.13 worth of sales tax. My hourly wage is now $4.84. Is the customer paying with a credit card? That’s another 3%, or $4.50 I don’t get to keep from the sale of that hat.

How about the cost of the tags I make and print out at home? The tissue paper I wrap the hat in? The bag I put it in? My business cards?

I could make two of these hats per week, assuming they are all this intricate. Even that is pushing it; 40 hours per week of crocheting would be pretty hard on my hands and wrists. But let’s assume I make two such hats per week, priced at $150. My income? $193.6 per week, or just over $10,000 per year. And that’s before all those pesky other business expenses, like licensing fees, the cost of office equipment, gas, my craft fair booth display, and self-employment tax.

Can YOU live on $10,000 per year? If anything, I set my prices too low. And I acknowledge that. I do it because this is my art. I love it, and I will continue to do it, even if no one ever buys one of my hats ever again. I’ll just be that crazy lady who compulsively crochets a bunch of weird stuff. My future grandchildren can inherit all those bizarre things that crazy Nana Somer made back in the olden days.

If you are still reading this, I ask you: please. Next time you are at a craft fair, or on Etsy or another handmade site, think about how much work, love and time went into handcrafting that item you are thinking of buying. If the price seems high, I assure you, it is not.

EDIT, 11/23/11 9:22 a.m.: Due to the surprising, overwhelming response to this post, I’ve expanded on it here. Thank you to everyone who has commented so far! What a discussion! Lots and lots to think about.