I've posted this article on my jewellery blog originally, but I thought I'll post it here as well to reach more readers.
This topic has been covered numerous times by pretty much everyone who sells their crafts, and every artisan has their own reasons for making particular items more expensive than other and some of the reasons are the same with every person. I will write however about my own creations and try to explain what you pay for buying MY jewellery.
I was raised in a Poland, which lies in Central Europe and was one of the communist countries back then. You probably have only a vague idea about how that system worked, but bottom line was people in general were rather poor and stuff wasn't available. And I'm not talking about luxurious stuff like jacuzzi tubs or fancy food, I'm talking about basics.
For example: meat was rationed and the choice of vegetarian food was quite poor in comparison to what's available now. Another example: you had to stand in a queue for weeks or months to buy a basic home appliance like a washing machine or a fridge, because there were ten of them available per one big city at a random time. A literal queue - families would take turns and people would borrow small children from their neighbours and pretend they were mums and dads so the rest of the people in the queue would think they needed the merchandise more and let them forward.
It may be hard to believe now, but I am neither joking nor exaggerating. So needless to say, one had to be creative to have anything more than bare minimum needed for survival. That's why handmade stuff wasn't associated with luxury and uniqueness at all - it was something you had to make yourself because you couldn't afford to buy it or it just wasn't there to be bought.
And after so many years after the fall of communism in Poland that notion is still there - handmade item should be cheaper than mass produced because it's something you've just made last evening while watching TV and out of scraps from your grandma's basement. Moreover, demanding any serious money for your products is frowned upon and means your self esteem is too high (don't ask) and the satisfaction that somebody wants to own whatever you've made should be enough. So you can imagine my surprise, when I started to make jewellery, post pictures online for friends to see and after a while suddenly people from all over the world wanted to buy it. That's when my own mindset started to change and I started my own tiny handmade jewellery business.
Why it costs so much
If I want to be an artisan full time I need to take every little detail into consideration. Some of those aren't clear to the buyers and people still ask about such things, so I divided everything into a list of factors that contribute to the end price so it's easier to understand.
It's a job, not a hobby
People have the need to comment on everything they see but rarely are their comments thought out at all. So I've had good hearted nice and polite people say to me that they admire my hobby and it's fantastic to have something that you do in your spare time. Make no mistake, this isn't a hobby. It's a full time job. I don't have any other job. I quit looking for a job in a graphic design department to do this and I'm doing it full time. So, as with every other job, I need to make at least the bare minimum that will allow me to live, and it's not a whim or something optional. If you go to work you expect to be paid. It doesn't matter that your work isn't as "necessary" like a doctor's or a fire fighter's job. Artists, artisans and entertainers are the only people whose job is to make your hard life more bearable. Imagine your life without music or any decoration at all. How would you feel without them? So please respect that work and don't complain about the price - if you don't want something, just don't buy it, you really don't need to be mean about it.
Supplies cost money. It doesn't have to be a lot of money per one piece of jewellery, but sometimes is, especially when the supplies are actually handmade. Ordering supplies costs even more money, because if you want to actually make it cost effective, you need to buy them in bulk so the shipping doesn't cost more than the supplies themselves. Buying them however in regular non-online shops can be ten times more expensive than ordering them online. Bottom line is that supplies are one of the biggest factors when calculating the cost of an item.
Taxes and fees
If I want to have a legal business I need to pay taxes. All selling platforms (like Etsy, where I have my shop) charge a listing fee and then a percentage of the sold item. PayPal also charges me per every transaction, so if you actually take off the taxes, fees and supplies cost it's often about one third to half of the price of the item. So for every €50 pendant that you buy from me online, just a little bit over €30 ends up on my account, and this still isn't pure profit!
Business cards and graphic design
There is a chance that you've come across my website or a shop through a business card. Well, they don't come for free either. I am lucky to have a background in graphic design so I don't need to hire anyone to design them for me, which would add to the cost substantially. I also designed my logo; the cost of having a logo like this designed for you is from a few hundred to a few thousand euro. So I guess we're all lucky (me as a trader and you as a buyer) because this way my jewellery is actually cheaper than it could be!
I am just a one person doing all of this and I need to reply to emails myself. Most of the questions I get are actually answered in the FAQ and Commissions sections of this blog, but people can't be bothered to read them, so I must waste time to reply to the same questions all over again. A time that could be used for making another item. So, in fact, if you don't read the FAQ first before emailing me, you're essentially making my jewellery more expensive. Just sayin'.
The creative process A to Z
I've covered all the additional costs, but the substance of the whole thing is the creative process, which takes a lot of time. I'll try to explain the phases.
Looking for supplies
It's a form of art on its own in a way. The worst case is when I have an idea for a particular item or a custom order where I need specific type of stone or glass colour. It can take many hours to actually find the damn thing in an online store that actually delivers to Ireland. Sometimes it takes shopping in several stores over the time of many months to have the exact materials I want for an item, because colours, textures, materials and sizes mustn't be random and need to be matched. This also takes years of art related education, by the way. It's a bit easier when I just browse supplies and buy things I like and could potentially use, but this is also a great way to have an awful lot of money basically frozen as supplies.
It's the most fun part usually and my average pendant doesn't take more than two hours. Really complicated things take more of course, which is reflected in the pricing. With easier stuff like beaded earrings it takes most time to match the right beads to make an interesting outcome than to actually assemble them, because if something is simple it must also be interesting in some way so it's not just plain and boring. Here comes the art education again. The only thing that I don't like to make but is essential are the ribbons on which the pendants are worn, so recently I began to buy ready ones. Still, I have to make non-standard sizes myself.
Photo taking & editing plus listing
Again I am lucky to have a background in photography as well and know how to take a professional photograph of a product. Otherwise my photos would be blurry, dark and on a fuzzy background or I'd have to pay someone to take them for me. But again, taking and editing photos take time and sometimes several attempts if the item is difficult to photograph (labradorite, for example, is my most favourite stone to work with and the least favourite one to photograph -it's irridescent and I can never properly convey that feature). After I've taken and edited the photos I need to list the item in the shop. Fortunately Etsy has been easier to use recently and gave us for example shipping profiles that we can use instead of typing everything each time.
Shipping & handling
Needs to be done, takes time. Enough said.
What you actually pay for
When you're buying my jewellery you pay not just for all the complicated things that I mentioned in this article. There are also unmeasurable things that are, in my opinion, one of the most important ones
- Uniqueness. Each item I make is absolutely unique. There is no other one like it in the world. If this isn't worth paying for, I don't know what is.
- Quality. My pendants don't break, unless smashed with a very heavy object. At least I've never had any complaints. Also, after a few disappointmets I only use enammelled wire to ensure it won't change colour in time.
- Beauty. Tastes are different and I cater to a selected clientele who like this sort of aesthetics, but with every piece I make sure that the materials used are matching in colour and texture. Even the ribbon matches. The wire wrapping may be freeform but there's nothing random or uncontrolled about it.
With all the factors that I mentioned, I sell my items for the lowest possible price that will let me at least pay my bills. It's a sort of a wholesale price, because if I was to charge for it like retail shops do for mass produced goods, the cheapest pendant would have to cost around €80 (as opposed to €35) and less people could afford it. And this is actually what most artisans do, just because they love their work and they actually want to make it available and affordable. Think about it the next time you feel like demanding a discount from an artist just because you think you deserve it or letting them know they're crazy for charging that amount of money for an accessory.
Having said all of that I'd like to thank everyone who has supported my work for the last few years and bought stuff I make.