Home Craft Stories Choose handmade – why buying handmade is better
why choose handmade, what's so special about buying handmade

Choose handmade – why buying handmade is better

Why I think buying handmade is so special…

By Tash Goswami

I love handmade, I buy handmade, I make handmade and I sell handmade. Yet often when I’m asked why handmade is so special, why each piece costs more than a similar item in the high street shops or why I bother making in the first place, in the face of such hostility I am often stumped as to what to answer. So I decided to do my research, get myself prepared for the next negative comment and be ready to stand up for what I believe in.

So what really is so special about handmade?

Well, firstly it’s a mistake to compare handmade with the large corporations – there really there is no comparison. We don’t sell it in the same way. We don’t buy it in the same way or even receive it in the same way.  How do you compare a jar of mass-produced jam with a homemade preserve using locally grown fruit presented in a beautiful recycled jar with a cheerful label? It’s impossible.

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Buying handmade is more sustainable

Mass production means bulk buying and this forces the lowering of prices down the line, mainly in the production of raw materials.

I would argue that handmade is more sustainable than mass production. Mass production means bulk buying and this forces the lowering of prices down the line, mainly in the production of raw materials. Lower production costs ensure that the large-scale companies can make more profit while selling, at what first appears to be, a low price – a bargain price.

Dig a bit deeper and what this really means, is that many people worldwide are forced into jobs with little pay and this has a knock-on effect for those countries, in so far as they cannot develop, cannot sustain their environments and any adverse condition, such as a drought, has a far more adverse impact upon them than if they were wealthier.

The wealthier nations, such as our own, then have to subsidise these poorer countries with loans, rescue aid, charitable giving etc. That money comes from you. It’s a false economy; it’s a profit on a page but not profit in reality because if you had paid the real price in the first place there would be no need to pay up in another way.

So when you look at that £1 mug from your local supermarket, it’s not a bargain. It will cost you more in hidden charges than what you initially paid for it.

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Handmade is forever not for just now

Each handmade piece of work is as unique as each person in the world… and there’s no need for an upgrade if it’s already perfect.

Mass-produced items are perceived as or actually are, ‘throw away’. A horrible culture of ‘if it’s broken, don’t fix it – just chuck it out’ is now so prevalent that we throw away things that are perfectly fine. We want an upgrade, the latest version, the next best thing… we want to be noticed. However, what we are failing to notice is our rubbish piles are growing higher and higher!

Here is where handmade excels – there’s no need for an upgrade as it is perfect already. There is no need to keep up with the Jones’s as a handmade object is unique. Even if it’s one of a series, each one will be slightly different from the next. It’s the minute imperfections that make it so desirable. Why, I hear you ask? Well, if you own a handmade, unique piece of work then only you in the whole world own it. That’s over 7 billion people who will never get to have it because you have it and if you keep it until 2050, then it will be nearer 10 million people who don’t have it. How’s that for having the edge on everyone else? Each handmade piece of work is as unique as each person in the world.

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Buying handmade is the real thing

High Street shops want their product to replicate the handmade feel, but it’s a fake.

Mass production is now turning to small crafters for help. High Street shops want their product to replicate the handmade feel, but it’s a fake. It’s not the real McCoy! However, they also recognise that people don’t want to live in bland, off-the-shelf environments. But rather than give you the real handmade object, they want to sell you a machine-produced copy. The difference can be likened to that between a diamond and a cubic zirconium. Both are good, but I know which one I would cherish a whole lot more.

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Buying handmade supports local people

Buy handmade from local people and the revenue stays within the country, taxes are paid, money is generated and the overall impact on our economy is huge.

Buying handmade supports local craft industries and people, wherever you buy it. The price you pay for it is exactly what you see – there are no hidden costs. The revenue stays within the country and people are not out of work but working in their business either as individuals or groups. Taxes are paid, money is generated and the overall impact on our economy is huge.

In the UK, the creative industries account for about 7% of the GDP and each artwork (and I include the handmade mug in this) contributes to this. Furthermore, government investment in the arts sees an amazing return of £2 for every £1 invested. Does it make sense to cut this investment? I think not.

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Buying handmade keeps craft skills alive

We are facing lost skills, the demise of handcrafts and a real loss of our cultural identity. Buying handmade ensures traditional craft skills are kept alive and creates a demand for education in these skills.

When we buy handmade we are helping to ensure traditional making skills are kept alive and creating a demand for education in these skills. At the moment the powers that be are busy replacing skills-based training in the crafts with less labour-intensive or material-rich courses – more often than not, offering courses conducted on a computer and easily stored on a pen drive. The outcome of this is potentially lost skills, the demise of handcrafts and a real loss of our cultural identity. Students can be herded through the system quickly, without a huge investment and now can be charged a small fortune for it.

But what happens if the machines can no longer be run – for example, when our petrol supplies run out? How will we as a nation reinstate these lost skills? The economy is so fragile because we’ve already lost so many of our skilled industries and we’re now playing catch up again. Would it not be better to maintain and increase a skilled artisan base, rather than scramble around at some future date to rediscover it?

why buy handmade

Buying handmade celebrates who we are

Each handmade item is about people, not machines. It’s about the skill of each maker and the magic of their imagination.

Handmade is a celebration of our contemporary lives and our living culture – not a mass-imposed, one-size-fits-all consumer culture where everything looks the same and is easily boxed up. Each handmade item is about people and not machines. It’s about the time and effort that goes into each piece of work. It’s about the skill of each maker, the technical ingenuity of the maker, the magic of an individual’s imagination, and it’s a treasure on a beach of throwaway machine-made tat!

Call me biased. Say I am a ranting maker on my handmade soap box! But don’t deny the facts – buying handmade is far better than some people have ever given it credit for!

This post was kindly written for Folksy by Tash Goswami of Blethering Crafts. Blethering Crafts has regular interviews with interesting artists and makers from all over the world.

Do you agree with all of Tash’s points – we’d love to hear about why buying handmade is important from you, so please add a comment! Thank you :)

Image credits: Hand-printed Bird Spotting Tea Towel by Sarah Papworth from Beetroot Press, Blue Glazed Stoneware Pottery Beaker by Little Wren Pottery, Handmade Double Bed Quilt by Lisa Watson, Handmade Artisan Apron by A Dog Like Sparky, printmaker Fiona Carver at her printing press, Sailor Cat Portrait Painted on Wood by Emma from Menagerie

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Arlene McGinness July 14, 2011 - 6:56 am

This is a great article and I couldn’t agree more with it. The uniqueness and ‘flaws’ of handmade things are so special. I wish more people, particularly those who feel they have no talent in art or crafts, would realise that it’s the process and thought behind it that matters, not so much the end process. So many people don’t make things because they think they have to look perfect in order to be ‘good enough’, but if it looks perfect then it doesn’t look handmade.
The first thing my partner ever gave me was a handmade card. He hadn’t made cards before but knew I liked handmade things. He bought supplies and spent ages putting together a card with various things I like in it, even including an origami swan. It’s one of my most prized possessions now.

Kirsten aka Quernus Crafts July 14, 2011 - 10:06 am

Thank you, Tash, for a timely and well-argued piece. I very much see one of our duties as handmade artists and makers to educate the public in the advantages of buying handmade and local – we can do that by articles like this, by running local workshops to show people what’s involved, and by being more visible with craft events, etc. There’s been no better time to raise the handmade flag (or bunting?!) because of the economic times – I’ve noticed that people are more willing to buy something unique and personal, rather than generic and cheap – something which lasts and is more meaningful. So it’s just a case of getting the message out there, and we can all do our bit on that score!

Anon July 14, 2011 - 11:11 am

What an intersteing read, and so true. I make, buy and love handmade. When recieving a gift I would rather it was handmade. More time and thought has gone into a handmade item than something bought off the shelf. I feel that mass produced has the advantage of being able to reach far more people than one artist can alone. It is important for artists to work together to compete with the mass producers and then this way our voice will be heard as loud as theirs. It is also paramount for artists to pass on their skills to the younger generations so that the skills are not lost or their understanding of what is involved in creating one-off artwork. The internets ability to bring artists together is the way forward to compete with the mass producers.

Steff July 14, 2011 - 11:25 am

A rant from your soap box it is- and what a well- researched and altogether very true one!
Our throwaway culture gets me ranting, too. The economy is going downhill, people are losing their jobs and homes and the future is looking bleak- yet big companies still see fit to tell us that everything will look a lot brighter if we wear this pair of shoes, that lipstick and those bracelets to drive around town in car A with a little stop at fast food palace B… sorry, but I’m out of it. What I buy for myself is either second hand or handmade, and what I give as gifts is ALWAYS handmade (by me or others). Only stuff that is genuinely broken gets thrown (like that poor old kettle this week- it pained me, but it had lasted for years and years, what can you do…) and the only fancy gadget other than our laptops and my “came to me by miracle” camera is a PS2 we found in the charity shop. The less you have, the less stands around being ignored, right?
We are not on a huge income, but I am most happy to shell out £20 for a handmade little gift, whereas it wouldn’t occur to me to spend £20 on any, say, new item of clothing. Value for money is what I want, and handmade value is a lot more than just monetary. A little conversation with the seller, a thank- you note in the lovingly wrapped parcel, maybe even a connection via facebook, all those are things you are not very likely to get from Sony, Pandora, Hallmark or Pottery Barn.
And if you will excuse me now, I have a little folksy gift shopping to do – there are a few birthdays coming up and all I have so far is a card (handmade with a driftwood beach hut and bunting, take THAT, Hallmark!).

Jay July 14, 2011 - 3:24 pm

Couldn’t agree more Tash – brilliantly written with passion and flair!! If only the government would realise this so that they could help to reinstate and support artisans and their crafts and by doing so drive our economy in a more positive and productive direction. Keep on your handmade soapbox Tash!

WeirdWood July 14, 2011 - 8:20 pm

Interesting you mention our ‘throw away’ culture, everything we do has a consequence, the North American Indians realised this in that…everything is circular, our home planet is round. I guess what they were trying to say is ‘what go’s arond comes around !

Tash Goswami July 15, 2011 - 6:34 am

thank you everyone for taking the time to write such beautiful comments and feedback.

Maisy Muffin July 15, 2011 - 12:58 pm

I am so much in agreement with everything you have said. I said something very similar on the forum this week. Homemade things are wonderful because so much love and care goes into them and, when done well, are so beautifully made. When I think about it, all of my special things that I want to treasure forever are all made by craftspeople. Mass produced, cheap and throwaway items mean nothing to anyone and just make life hard for the poor people who produce them, who earn a pittance of a wage, and make life meaningless to those who are surrouded by them. Go and stand in the middle of one of those cheaper than cheap wearhouses surrounded by nasty plastic things and you’ll soon feel depressed. Handmade is the way to go to help everyone’s ecconomy and quality of life. I’m completely with you on all of this. Martine

Chippy July 15, 2011 - 6:15 pm

Hi Tash
A very interesting and well written read. Non sustainable manufacturing will mean that handmade will become the norm again. It may not be our lifetime but it is quickly becoming apparent that cottage industry is becoming popular again.

Biff July 16, 2011 - 10:39 pm

I totally agree with what Tash has written. I find it so frustrating at times at how little attention is paid to handmade work. It saddens me that some people have gotten so used to the mass produced goods we are fed by large corporations that they see handmade as ‘cheap’.

jennie sandford July 17, 2011 - 8:17 am

Brilliant Tash. So refreshing to read a serious, political article within a craft arena. We get carried away so much with the beauty, cuteness, even genius of handmade products that we often forget the bigger picture, that a handmade life can positively contribute to society in many ways. But you’re preaching to the converted here and though I applaud you for it, I can’t help feeling depressed that in this country, the majority, the people buying clothes at ‘primarni’, art from IKEA, cards from Hallmark or feeding their families at McDonalds, are the same people who bought the News of the World and who are still buying The Sun or The Daily Mail. More interested in celebrity culture and sleazy gossip than real issues at home and around the world. Unless there is a huge social/cultural shift, I’m afraid the people with money and power will just carry on feeding the public ‘what we want’ – mass produced crap. It is up to all of us to get on our soap boxes and get the word out.

Helen Houghton July 17, 2011 - 9:27 am

Wow what a fabulous article – I couldn’t agree more. You need to get into politics girl!! no maybe not….
I’ve seen for many years that people (in this country) are unwilling to pay for skilled labour and craftsmanship. My father battled most of his working life as a carpenter and joiner making bespoke joinery (window frames, staircases etc) and clients would come to him for his expertise but rarely be willing to pay a fair price for it – knowing that door frames are readily available in the ‘big sheds’ at a fraction of the price. People rarely want to see the big picture though.
We live in a Primark culture and we need to stand up against it.
Fair Trade gets my support every time.
Great blog.

Sami July 18, 2011 - 8:07 pm

You know what, it really is difficult to keep on plodding along making handmade items. It’s difficult because we feel we should compete, we feel we should look polished and finished and perfect.

But perfect= imperfections.
A tatty looking potato covered in mud that’s just been dug up from your back garden, or a symetrical, clean potato, bagged up in plastic, imported in from goodness-knows-where and available in the supermarket?
I know which one i’d choose.

Thankyou for writing this article- i’m going to re-post it on my facebook site, as i think it needs to be shared… it’s so easy to feel down and upset that you’re not running 15 stores and employing 100s of people yet, when your products are better quality and more lovingly made than those big stores… but that’s the beauty of it- it’s made by you, it’s wrapped up and sent by you, and I guarantee the person opening it feels happy and special just from receiving it. Nothing beats a Folksy package in the post :)
keep plodding on people! Because happiness is handmade…

aka Made by Sami

Segundo B March 22, 2014 - 4:35 pm

What a great article. A lot of people are not aware of why handmade is better. It supports traditions, culture and people. Handmade is also sustainable which is a fashion win-win.

Thank you for contributing your article to us.

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Gary Evans August 17, 2015 - 10:10 pm

I have just stumbled across this article, and agree 100%!
I think there is a huge need to keep the word going about how much better handmade items are, and how they are unique and customisable.
Still a relevent post and subject which I have shared on my Quillation Twitter page to keep the message going.

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