Over the last few weeks I have been listening to podcasts each evening. If you don’t listen to any I highly recommend you to do so. It’s so great. I found so many inspirational interviews that just blew me away. Anyway. I was listening to Grace Bonney from DesignSponge the other day discussing the issue of hand made products vs mass production. This topic is very close to me because I’m just about to launch my online shop built on locally made and sourced home décor products.
My previous business was all about imports, distribution and retail network. The products we sold were mass-produced but I wouldn’t say the products were sold to the mass market. We were trading in the fireplace and renewable energy markets so quite far from true mass market products. However, from very early on we faced several problems.
Price and exclusivity
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from that business was that unless you’re actually producing your own products, it is extremely difficult to complete on price, mainly, with other businesses importing the same products. Trading in the EU, where there is no restriction on goods movement within the EU countries, basically means that anybody can start importing products from one country and selling them in another. It took me few years to build up my network of retailers, to build up partnerships and business relationships with them, my suppliers and manufacturers as well until one day someone else started importing the same product range not directly sourced from the manufacturer (I had the exclusivity) but from a wholesaler in Eastern Europe. This was in the middle of the recession where everyone in the market was literally fighting over breadcrumbs. As you can imagine I wasn’t very happy about it.
Transportation and environmental costs
The other issue I had was the transportation costs, I mean not just moneywise but environmental as well. We were selling eco-friendly products and all our marketing efforts were pushing this very heavily yet on the other hand we were importing them from the Continent in fully loaded lorries!
Craftsmanship and handmade design
With this experience I decided that if I ever have another business I have to design and make products myself (not literally, I’m not a robot but you know what I mean) and will build a business based on locally sourced materials. Some of my projects over the last year introduced me to the world of craftsmanship and the appreciation of hand made goods. I’m fascinated by the processes, skill and knowledge that go into making beautiful products using only tools, hands and human brain.
The debate I was listening to was about “justifying the price” for hand made products and changing the customers’ mindsets. A lot has been done over the past few years in the food industry where we are constantly encouraged to buy local produce, which sometimes can be at premium. And people understand that. However in the home décor and fashion sectors this is still a difficult habit to break. The interesting point they made was that many people are willing to spend hundreds even thousands of pounds on designer clothes yet they are not prepared to spend similar amount of money on a beautifully crafted piece of furniture. Why?
How can we grow and support our local businesses when our purchasing behaviour is not going to change? How can we encourage the young generation to go and learn crafts and skills if there is no visible motivation, security, personal and financial reward?
I talked to my seamstress the other day and had a discussion about how she struggles to recruit British workforce to make soft furnishings. These skills which have been passed on from generations are dying out. We are used to mass production and unless we change and start supporting these businesses and also educating our children from very early age, the world won’t be a nice place to live. Anyway, that’s what I think.
Price of handmade products
When working out my prices I wanted to offer a good value for money but obviously the price bracket had to be higher than the lower scale of the market. I want to offer unique products designed or curated by me which are accessible to wider customer base. So how do I justify the prices for my products? There are so many beautiful materials which the general public doesn’t know about (unless you work in the industry) or don’t have the access to (some makers only sell to trade designers or retailers). I purposely don’t want to use the word “affordable” here because I’m not trying to make designer goods affordable. I believe there ‘s no such thing. Rather, I want to bring my products to you guys so you can get that designer touch at a very reasonable price point. Most products I’ve designed are made in the UK using British made or sourced materials. And that needs to be acknowledged. There is a story that is behind each product I sell. There is a story behind each fabric design or material I work with. It is very personal. Some products go through several pairs of hands before they reach the final destination, your home. No machinery or mass production. I also limit my collections so only a number of pieces is produced which adds to the “limited edition” factor.
Highlighting British craftsmanship
So in my biz post over the next 4 weeks I want to highlight some really great British made products. I hope you can join me. I have some truly stunning products to show you.
In the meantime, I want to hear from you guys, do you shop handmade or mass-produced goods? Do you want to buy handmade but don’t know where to find them? Are mass-produced products more accessible, visible and convenient? Would you want to buy more handmade products but don’t have time to browse the internet or visit local shops? Are you prepared to pay premium prices for handmade lifestyle goods? Let’s talk.
Cover photo credit: lovelysofas.co.uk