Work In Progress

a critique on the “buy handmade” movement
February 10, 2008, 4:33 pm
Filed under: craft, Design & Visuals, economics, trends

About 7 years ago I began trawling the web looking for people who who made and sold handmade clothes. It was then that I knew I was witnessing the first glimmers of what is now the enormously popular craft “revolution”. And up until recently I was pretty convinced that it was indeed revolutionary. People making their own soaps and hand-towels! The spirit of Che had descended on the US at last! When I discovered a couple years ago it was love at first click. I bought a felt brooch that looked like a fried egg.

But lately the whole thing is beginning to wear thin on me. Every time I see a “buy handmade” sticker or button I feel a little irritable. What really irritates me is that the movement has essentially just spawned more crap for us to buy. Its still at its heart, an exercise in consumerism. And like anything that starts out cool and unique, it becomes quickly gobbled up by the mainstream (or just urban outfitters) and re-packaged back to us with faux hand-stitching. Go on Etsy now and its just all this STUFF. A lot of it is pretty terrible too–but that’s to be expected in a creative field. Deep down inside we still love shopping, and we like to feel cooler than our peers. For the moment, buying handmade satisfies these desires extremely well.

Beyond the stuff aspect, I also dislike that there is a sort disingenuous idea that it is somehow a moral better to buy handmade. Especially when you take into account the enormous amount of waste that goes into handmade. When something is ethically manufactured (ie lean–for a great blog on lean manufacturing in clothing please go here), the whole process has been studied and analyzed down to the number of stitches that go into a hem. This actually greatly reduces material waste. As someone who does do handmade–I can honestly say it is extremely wasteful in terms of materials and labor. I make too many mistakes. I have more scraps than I know what to do with. I waste thread and time because I am probably unknowingly doing it the “hard way”. Also of note is the fact that almost all the materials used to make homemade things are coming from places like China. There are very few textile mills in the US now. There are some in Europe but they mainly cater to the couture set. Things like buttons and zippers are manufactured in Asia. Not to mention that many of these shops do not buy their materials wholesale–which adds to costs. A homemade commodity does not get to neatly escape these problematic manufacturing issues.

That said I love the homemade stuff. I am a slave to Etsy. I love the personal feeling customer service and the creativity and Shops like anti-factory, use second-hand scraps which greatly cuts down on material costs and waste. But I take issue that buying homemade is better. Its just another form of consumerism.