Friday, January 25, 2008

More Than Snowman Poop

I’ve got another long blog post for you. What follows is a speech I gave in my Toastmasters club about buying handmade. Let me preface this with writing out a speech word for word is not the Toastmaster’s way, but I gave this speech 2 weeks before Christmas when the Elle Belle shop was going crazy (I’m certainly not complaining!) and I just didn’t have the brain power or time to devote to making an outline or memorization so instead of leaving my club hanging without a speaker I wrote it out and did my best to not read every word. Anyway, I also need to add that not all of this is my own original thought. I found some really great resources and quoted some other Etsy artists. Everything in purple is from people who say it better than I can.

I’ve always felt a compulsion of sorts to support small business and am forever on a quest to find and frequent establishments at which I can get to know and build rapport with the owners. I nearly always choose St. Pete Bagel over Einstein’s, Stellie Bellies over Gap Kids, and Jay’s Fabric on the Beach over Jo Ann’s. I’ve also been interested in crafts of all types stamping, collage, paper crafts, crochet, beading, and sewing pretty much for as long as I can remember. So, you can imagine my excitement when nearly a year ago I was introduced to a community of people who make and sell hand made items and embody the indie craft movement. I’m just going to admit right now that at the time I thought when a segment of people were referred to as “indi” it meant they were some sort of modern day Hippy. I soon found that Yes, it’s still short for Independent even when applied to a group of people and generally just means they’re unaffiliated, in this case with large corporations. I was so inspired that I started my own business where my very talented friends and I make and sell the things we’ve crafted. A huge segment of the aforementioned community sells their items on a website called Etsy.

Now, my Mom has always been “crafty” too, so we used to go to craft fairs together all the time when I was younger. These fairs were all very similar, we would see lots of cinnamon brooms, lots of crocheted pot holders, and in general things I like to refer to as “Snow Man Poop”. Perhaps you haven’t been lucky enough to familiarize yourself with snow man poop, so I’ve brought some for you to take a gander at. My point in bringing up snow man poop is that you can absolutely find snowman poop on Etsy, but you’ll also find so much more than craft fair items of yester year. Everything from lamps, to candles, toys, furniture, clothing, mugs, you would be surprised at just how much you can find on Etsy. Any time I think “I need to stop by Target and get….” I usually hit up Etsy first. Among other things, I’ve bought notebooks for work, a handcrafted leather belt, fabric, wrapping paper, soap and cards all on Etsy. Since I am a crafter myself, I relish the idea that perhaps the artist I’ve purchased from feels like I do when someone values something I’ve created enough to make it their own… proud, supported, and thankful.

So, those are my reasons for buying handmade, but I’m going to talk to you about more reasons to buy handmade and perhaps you’ll find one that speaks to you personally and will be the motivation you need to finish your Christmas shopping this year with handmade items. Everyone does still have Christmas shopping to do right?! There’s got to at least be one last little thing you need for that stocking, a gift for that crazy aunt that’s hard to buy for, something for that friend that will likely show up with a gift for you even though you don’t have one for her, or a coworker who deserves a little something as a thank you for sitting so close to you every day.

Is anyone else bothered by all the horrible news about toys lately? With the holidays upon us, all the news about lead, and other toxins in children’s toys seems particularly ominous to me. My solution is to buy handmade toys. Then you’ll know where it came from and what it’s made with. Hand crafters are motivated by creating a quality product, not finding the cheapest way to crank out a bajillion thingamajigs.

If you go into what I’ve come to refer to as a “Big Box Store” you’ll find that they receive a big box of 100 of the exact same T shirts and each of their thousands of locations across the nation also received their own big box of 100 of the exact same T shirt. I can go into the Big Box store in Pinellas county and see the exact same items as the Big Box store in my parent’s little town in IL. The ascendancy of chain store culture and global manufacturing has left us all dressing, furnishing, and consuming alike. People make really cool, weird, beautiful stuff that you’ll just never see in a soulless big box store, so if you don’t buy handmade, you’re missing out on all that, well… soul. The founder of Etsy puts it this way “Wouldn’t you rather wear something that’s an expression of someone’s creativity than something that a marketing firm has determined is commercially viable?”

Let’s talk about Quality. Some of the finest things in the world are handcrafted… cars, watches, instruments. When you make something over and over your craft improves. Handmade items are made with a skill and craftsmanship that’s absent in the world of mass manufacturing. Each piece has been touched, labored over, and loved by a single individual devoted to making it perfect and it shows. We live in such a disposable society where we buy things on impulse and get bored of them 2 weeks later. I feel the recipient of a handmade item appreciates and values it more than say a gift card you picked up for them while you were standing in line at CVS anyway.

Do you know the person who made the clothing you’re wearing right now? Machines have taken over more and more of our work and computers more and more of our brainwork. Our ties to the local and human sources of our goods have been lost. Buying handmade helps us reconnect with one another on a level that takes us back through history where supply and demand was met on a more personal level. When you buy something directly from the person who makes it, you’re not just giving them money, you’re also saying “Hey, I like what you do. Keep being you”. There is almost nothing more validating to an artist than someone spending their hard earned dollars on their handy work.

Buying handmade is better for the environment. The accumulating environmental effects of mass production are a major cause of the poisoning or our air water and soil. If everyone moved even just a little bit of their spending to small scale independent artists, there would be less to mass produce. And, many hand crafted items are made from used or recycled materials, resulting in less waste and a smaller overall cost.

But, if ensuring the products you buy are safe, maintaining some individuality, buying and giving a quality product, connecting with and supporting a person instead of a corporate bureaucracy, and helping the environment isn’t your cup of tea, how about avoiding the crowd at the mall? There are many places to buy handmade items. There are always craft fairs going on locally, just check the newspaper. In St. Pete, you can buy produce, crafts, and a delicious lunch to boot while you take a stroll downtown every Saturday at the Saturday morning market from 9-2. There are also a couple of shops in town that sell items made by local artists. If and Only If on 4th St. and Craftsman House in Kenwood. And of course, there’s always the internet. It’s not too late to buy items online in time for Christmas. My favorite place to shop online is Etsy, but you can find another community of crafters at along with links to where you buy their items online.

Some people buy handmade for political and environmental reasons, and some because handmade gifts are just more satisfying to the senses, but whatever your reasoning, I hope you’ve been inspired to add at least one handmade item to your shopping list this year. For so many reasons, it’s just better to have a handmade holiday.


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