What is the true cost of handmade items at a show? I’m not really talking about taking a bead and sticking it on an ear wire. There’s almost no training or skill involved in that. There’s not much honing of a craft going on there. Though it does take time to assemble, it’s small and not considered skilled labor.
How much do you make an hour for your expertise? How much should a hand crafter make per hour? What is right for a living wage? It’s easy to forget sometimes the nature of how some jobs work. In many jobs, you get paid a set wage + benefits. Some jobs involve a commission, which is generally highly taxed by the government even if it is really what you feed yourself with. Other jobs, like waiting tables, are often half of minimum wage with the expectation that you will make up the rest in tips. That was a rude awakening when I landed my first waiting job right out of college. I was taxed out of my $2.13 an hour each week as if it were twice that, because it’s assumed I would make up the other half of minimum wage on tips. And I didn’t. Sigh, those were the days.
So how much should a hand crafter make? Well, one obvious thing to consider is the cost of table fees to get into the show in the first place. Just here in Austin, there are shows that range from $40 a table to over $3000. It’s a chunk of change, and somewhat of a gamble playing the odds whether you will sell something at the venue or not. Space rental is not cheap. Neither is security, electricity or many other expenses people might not think of. If you take credit cards, you have expenses there as well.
You have the cost of materials as overhead. When it comes to yarn, it’s interesting to me that so many buyers really have no idea how much yarn can cost these days. To buy enough to create a garment is a pretty substantial chunk. Are we using “That Old 70′s Yarn?” Or something nicer like silk or cashmere or even a microfiber? Either way, it’s way more now than it was when I was a kid.
Then there’s the amount of materials as well. Just because a hat you find at WalMart cost $5 doesn’t mean it has a comparable amount of fiber in it to something handmade. Nor does it mean the yarn can be purchased in the US for so little either. Where many often use one yarn for a design, I often use three myself. So that’s a jump in cost for me. Plus there’s the value of other elements, like antique buttons or sterling silver findings.
And then we come to the aspect of time and of skill. What would you pay an expert to do and what would you pay a beginner? There should be a difference. There’s something to be said for a skill that has been honed over time. Because the quality of labor is much different. Why should an expert be paid the same as a beginner? There’s a reason why we pay doctors what we do, they are highly educated, trained and skilled.
But let’s say we have a beginner. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Even people receiving training to flip burgers get at least minimum wage. If an item requires $30 of materials and takes 4 hours to make, you have at minimum a $59 item, before taxes. Right? What if you decide not to charge minimum wage? Even at $5 an hour (a minimum suggestion from Crochet Liberation Front founder, Laurie Wheeler), you still have a $50 price tag. At minimum. For beginner grade work.
I like some points Laurie made on this subject in previous years on the Crochet Liberation Front forum, “The best way I know of raising the value of anything, is to value it yourself.”
Followed up in her article last year “At What Price?” Laurie has this to say:
“FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS FUZZY DO NOT…and I repeat…DO NOT UNDERSELL YOUR WORK!! …. Materials + Time x Skill = $$…. Time is valuable. Especially in today’s fast paced world, time is PRECIOUS, your time is VALUABLE. If you spend 2hrs on a hat and you spent $3 on the materials and you only charge $4.00, $3.00 covers the materials and you just made FIFTY CENTS an hour. Really? You are not a SWEATSHOP…You are WORTH more than that… “
Also, I’ve heard many women make comments that should never be made, like: “Oh but I enjoy doing this so I don’t charge very much.” WHAT? Seriously? Did I just hear that? SO you should only get paid for what you don’t derive a sense of satisfaction from? (I’ve never heard a man say something like this, btw.) If you’ve ever been guilty of saying something like that, stop and consider the craziness of what you’re suggesting. Not to mention how it undervalues the work of all hand crafters when you do that, including the ones who rely on selling their wares to put food on the table. Just because you don’t have to rely on it to feed your kids, doesn’t mean you should undersell your work.
Factors to keep in mind as you consider pricing also include rarity, how labor intensive, precision of the work, and expertise and range of experience. Some items, you’ll have to judge. You may have to tweak your prices or process a bit here and there. Just because you are capable of making wash cloths out of cashmere doesn’t mean it’s practical and that everyone will buy one for what it’s worth or at all. Hmmm… So maybe there’s a cap there somewhere on what kind of materials you expect to use for what items and the price range most of your customers will fall into?
There’s also travel time, packing materials and postage. If I’m doing custom orders and find myself driving all over town from yarn shop to yarn shop trying to find what will make my customer happy, it becomes an expense that has to be accounted for, because they want a custom item and not something I have ready to go. And it requires me to take time off from my regular business and work only for them until they get what they want. That can be a lot of time, especially if they don’t really know what they want or it’s difficult to secure! Think about the fees you would pay a graphic artist when you don’t have a clear idea of what you want. Usually you get one or two proofs and that’s it. Consider that custom handmade should not be much different.
So when you’re pricing, you have a lot to consider for variables. And once you have that, stick with it and do not let buyers bargain with you. Not only is it poor form at shows, but when you do it, you give people permission to essentially cut your pay! Set a fair and reasonable price, based on the variables we’re discussing and decide ahead of the show how you will deal with such requests. If you want to offer a discount for multiple purchases, that can be nice, but price your individual items accordingly so you are still coming out on top in the end. Do not stoop to the rude folks either. They are not your market. Be polite, but do not waste your time on them. You want to know at the end of the year, after all those last-minute material purchases and all the time invested and you sit down to do those taxes, that it was worth it. If you never stand up for yourself, who will?
Now that you’ve read all this and taken stock, how much are you worth? Think about it and add to the discussion in the comments!
If you liked this article, you might also like: When Artists Hear “I Can Make That.“
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