Have you heard the stereotype that men compartmentalize thoughts and feelings and women tend to do the opposite - lumping everything into one ? My failure is that I see the big picture all too often and can't stop thinking about it. When I start to analyze things, I can't help but see everything as one big issue rather than lots of little ones, however unrelated they might seem.
When I first started Rennes three years ago, I was fresh out of undergrad with a fine arts degree in a collapsed economy. In my last two years of school I had started to think about design, sewing, and textiles. Most of what I learned I taught myself. I grew up in a house where making something by hand was an option; in that sense, unlike my grandparents generation where making something by hand was the best and most affordable option. Because of this, I have always had a strong appreciation for the quality, hard work, and love that goes into making something by hand. But at the same time, I have also realized that you can't put a price on handmade, because in today's economy, no one will pay you fair wages for that quilt you hand stitched for a month straight.
Question in Point
Over the past three months I've been reflecting on my business and how it relates to my beliefs. I'm a maker, a seller, and a buyer - but how do these things relate to each other? Is it possible to be non-materialistic but still love to make and acquire beautiful things? And if so, can a shop which by definition sells goods, be non-materialistic?
At what point did a portion of the handmade market place branch off into a platform for exclusive fashion? Large companies are noticing this trend, but can a small one person business fit into the corporate mold successfully without handmade being sacrificed?
Consumerism: Making, Selling, and Buying
I've enjoyed making things for a long time. At some point it occurred to me that I could sell the things I made for fun. Then shortly after it occurred to me I might be able to make a living selling what I made.
I also enjoy buying things. I seem to acquire a lot of stuff. My parents tell me one of the first things I had to have was a pink polka dot dress in a department store when I was two; I screamed and cried until they got it for me. This habit seemed to continue throughout my life - (with less screaming of course) but always maintained a strong sense of life can not go on with this, and most of these items by default seemed to be clothes.
Before we lived where we are now, I lived in a Quaker community of twenty people in downtown Boston. I had more crap than anyone else there. I was super self conscious about it. While I was there I downsized considerably, and even more so where I live now - but I still have a ton of stuff. What has sunken in over the past year is that I don't want any of this stuff - I want things to be simpler than this. I only want a few things - I want them to be simple and well made and last me a really long time. The other night, I filled up a bag of clothes and took it to the goodwill - I didn't even want to try to resell them because I knew someone else needed them more than I needed the fifty dollars I could make off of them. This isn't to say that we are rolling in the money and I can afford to donate everything, far from it, but I think the harsh realities of watching and reading the news everyday makes it sink in slowly.
At What Cost?
On Sunday I spoke with my aunt from Topeka - she is an amazing quilter and quite crafty. Over the past couple of years she started doing fairs around town selling her quilted bags. They are very well made and most of them are in the price range of $15-40. She has a few more expensive items, the highest ones topping at $65. She said a few weeks ago that a lady came up, looked the price tag of the $65 bag and said something along the lines of "Sixty-five dollars for a fucking bag?!"
I'm sure my aunt puts as much time and care into making her bags as I do, if not more! I know there are a lot of factors to be taken into consideration here, but regardless of location, materials, overhead expenses, clientele, etc. - why are we so quick to determine what we think is the best price for a handmade item? That situation is not unique to my aunt, to me, or probably to other makers out there. Is it fair to apply our "getting the best deal" tactic to handmade?
The Best Deal
You may be familiar with a certain Tabi shoe I'm obsessed with. Eventually I bought the beige ones on sale at Totokaelo. Then, after seeing how amazing they were in person, decided it was imperative to get a pair in black, which I tracked down at another shop online, also on sale.
Clearly the full price of $700 was way and I mean way beyond my means, and I was sane enough to know that. Clearly the sale price of $500 was also way and I mean way beyond my means, but I was not sane enough to know that. The funny thing is, unlike other things I own, I've never worn anything so much, or continued to love day in and day out. So the question is, what is the real value of these shoes? Is it the sale price? Is it the full price? Or is it what the buyer is willing to pay?
Ends Justifying the Means
While I ask all these questions, the problem lies in I have no answers to them. We live in hard times where class divisions are becoming more and more visible and we keep hearing that things are looking up, but in my experience we're still looking for the best deal, the best way to get by on a day to day basis. I haven't purchased any fall clothes this year, though I've knocked off a few things I wish I could buy but can't afford too.
The reality is I feel torn about sewing right now. I feel like I want Rennes to be about minimalism - about having that one or two perfect things and that's it - but that's barely a business plan is it?
Thanks so much to a few of you who encouraged me to write a bit more about what I was thinking. I really appreciate it.