Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Pledge to Buy Handmade?

This week we’ve been celebrating American Craft Week by sharing the reasons why we do and why we should buy handmade and locally produced goods, and pledging to do so whenever we can. It’s been inspiring to read everyone’s stories and one can really feel the love and care that people are expressing. Sort of one big warm hug for all things hand crafted. That’s a good thing – a very good thing.

This morning, though, a curious post was pointed out to me about why the buy handmade pledge doesn’t work. Needless to say, the title made me stop for a moment. Handmade not work? How can that be? It goes against most of what we, at HTA, have been saying and proclaiming for the last 2 years since the creation of our organization.

So, I read the post – albeit with a bit of trepidation. Turned out, it was a thoughtful expression of some pretty clear, concise points. It took the stance that to pledge buy handmade is a directive and that folks need more than a directive to connect with something and actually change behavior. They need to understand the whys and hows of the initiative. When a directive such as “Buy Handmade” is given, it often just preaches to the choir, so to speak. Those who already engage in this behavior, will say “Yeah, sure, I’ll sign your pledge”, but it doesn’t necessarily change behavior in those that don’t already subscribe to the directive.

The Gilbert Toymaker Kit, circa 1920's, by A.C. Gilbert.

The question then formed, how do we reach out to the unbelievers? Just because something is handmade or locally produced doesn’t necessarily make it a quality product. We need to recognize what makes these products better and why it is better to spend our money on them rather than mass produced items or at the big box stores. In many ways it comes back to American manufacturing. Many, many years ago (at least that’s how it feels), America was known for its manufacturing. Indeed, the US was the center of the industrial revolution and just about everything was made here. This is no longer the case. That is not to say that there are not reputable and incredible overseas manufacturers. There are. But things have certainly changed in our society regarding how and where things are produced.

The pledge to buy handmade could then be seen as an extension of a return to American manufacturing. Some would say that this is an impossible dream. But, every good dream started with an idea. Not every locally produced or hand crafted item will have value to you as a consumer. Not every locally produced or hand crafted item will be something you choose to purchase. But, taking the time to hear the story, to be thoughtful with your purchases and to think before you buy is something everyone can commit to do.

We continue to be faced with uncertain financial times as a nation. Many leaders have said “If you are not part of the solution, than you are part of the problem.” Here is one way to be part of the solution. Time to take a stance--sign the HTA Buy Handmade Pledge!

--By HTA board member Jill Chuckas, owner of Crafty Baby in Connecticut.


  1. It seems to me that a more thoughtful title to that post would have been: Why "Buy Handmade" Is Not Enough. Certainly the title as it stands grabs attention, but the strong negativity of the wording may actually be detrimental to the movement if people don't read the post thoroughly.

  2. Hi Jill,

    My post touched a lot of people and clearly I have a lot of follow ups to do.

    One thing that was a commonly missed point of the post is that, while galvanizing a movement is important, what's really important when it comes down to makers & selling their work is individual products.

    My voice and the voice of organizations like HTA are the ones that should be concentrating on messages like "Buy Handmade."

    Makers, individually however, need to ask themselves hard questions about what story they are telling about their individual products. It's not enough to say you should buy this wooden toy that's handmade instead of that wooden toy because it was made in a factory. Tell me the story of your toy, tell me about the character I become when my child plays with it, tell me about how you made it, where you made it, how your children played with something similar.

    Clearly, there is a narrative to be told around a wider movement. But far - FAR - too often I see markers give themselves an easy way out by saying "People just don't get that they should buy handmade." No, they don't - but that doesn't mean you can't sell to them. Speak their language.

  3. Hi Tara- Yes, your post touched many of us. It was a great spark to get us all thinking in different directions and looking for ways to keep our movement going. The story behind the product, the individual artists and the history of the craft are the bigger reasons to buy handmade. We should definitely all work to "speak their language".

  4. I am finishing up a post about the very same thing! What is it that will make people think about purchasing handmade vs. something mass produced in a foreign country? Still figuring that out though...