Facing competition from mass-produced goods at so-called, “handcrafted,” venues has been frustrating. My business as an artist depends on the integrity of the handcrafted shows to enforce their rules, which stipulate how many assistants an artist can have, (usually you are allowed 2-4 assistants with the artist being required to have a pivotal hand in production). One response to my complaint about an aritst who was violating festival guidelines, was that she is, “more of an entrepreneur.” My mind has been spinning, thinking of all the ways my fellow artists and I struggle as entrepreneurs, and why.
Being an artist and a business-woman is, in many ways, a contradiction. The artist has a desire to constantly create something new, to explore, play and innovate. The entrepreneur finds a product and focuses on selling that item, finding the most inexpensive and efficient way to mass-produce and promote it. Repetition and uniformity ease the work of the entrepreneur and frustrate the artist.
An aritst has a personal relationship with her customers; creating something unique especially for them. The entrepreneur sells the same item over and over again, her product a carbon copy of thousands of others.
The artist has to find the buyer who is looking for quality and originality, a niche market has to be found & nurtured. The customer is as unique as the product. They seek out handcrafted venues specifically because they want to support artists.
The entrepreneur can market their goods widely. With a repeatable product it is easy to work wholesale shows, a website and multiple retail outlets. Because her time is not spent in production she can focus on marketing.
There’s a difference in production times, materials cost and quality, as well. I make a reversible cap, for example, each one-of-a-kind cap is of irreplaceable unused vintage fabric left over after cutting out my panel skirts. Scraps vary in size, so multiple hats can’t be cut at once. Hundreds of mass-produced dresses can be cut out of ordinary polyester fabric in the time it takes me to cut 20 unique hats.
The mass-produced dress takes no thought to create once the pattern is made, while composing each hat is time-consuming. Fabric for the pocket, top and brim must create a harmonious whole; the two reverse caps must flow together beautifully This is the dream-time of creating. A right-brain world where the clock must be ignored.
And then the many steps of the sewing begins. Sewing the bill together and topstitching it; sewing a patchwork of fabrics together for the sides; attaching a pocket; inserting a label; sewing the top to the side; attaching the bill to the body; sewing in a bit of elastic for a secure fit; attching the two hats together; & topstitching closed the hole through which the two sides are turned right-side out. Working at top speed it still takes at least 20 minutes to complete one hat. I can never compete with an assembly-line seamstress who sews one part of a garment over and over again. A team of sewers can complete several dresses in the same time it takes me to make a single cap. I retail these one-of-a-kind creations at just $48. The mass-produced dress retails for $125.
Is all that effort worth it? As an artist, yes. I’m immensely happy with this spunky product that carries a bit of my love wherever it goes.
Still, I have to make a living. It takes to work to find the market where my work shines and doesn’t have to compete with mass-produced or imported goods. It is a blow, not just to my bottom line, but to the fragile artist’s heart when shows don’t enforce their own rules.
When I can hire sewers I will have more options for sales outlets, and more time for marketing. The web will be more viable, I will be able to print line-sheets to create wholesale accounts, sell at wholesale shows, and shows that have areas dedicated to non-handcrafted items. Of course, I want to grow, but I will keep my integrity as an entrepreneur as well as an artist when I do.