Saturday 28 May 2011

The Devaluation of Handmade

Somebody asked us recently what ‘handmade’ meant to us and why, in our opinion, handmade is now much more popular than ten years ago, for instance.

I would like to share here with you some of my thoughts in the matter.
To begin with, ‘handmade’, means for me simply, made by hand. Beautifully or sloppily, uniquely or mass produced –by hand- , creatively or copied, all is possible.
Although we all use the term handmade as a synonymous for exclusively made, we all know that is not that, per se. The hilarious site Regretsy is a good source for horrors made by hand. From dried orange peel posing for earrings to ‘artistically’ put together clothing that won’t stand wearing, let alone washing, there are masses of stuff made by hand that could have better remained unmade.
So, in order to continue to use the term handmade as a term to express quality, we need to be more specific, handmade alone is not enough.

Ten years ago, or thirty, the situation was not much different, in my opinion. At that time, there were exclusive shops offering beautifully handmade items and we were all being pestered with itchy hand knits.
What has changed? What has changed is that with the onset of internet, Etsy and similar sites have made possible to sell handmade wares without the need to peddling them to shops or fairs.
Anybody with a modest camera and basic computer knowledge can offer his/her products to a world wide audience.
And in the strength of Etsy, its availability, resides also its weakness. Everybody can put up stuff for sale. And while Etsy has been a life saver for us, I notice by myself that I don’t browse as much on Etsy as I used to do.
There is an amazing amount of talent on Etsy. Gorgeous items, true art. But to discover them, one has to wade through a still bigger sea of items that are made by hand, but without involvement of the mind, or the soul.

I know that I may sound elitist, or snobbish, but I dream of an ‘Etsy-Deluxe’, so to speak, a curated Etsy for only hand-well-made items. Items that are original and durable, items made without cutting corners, items with artistic and esthetic value.
The term handmade has devaluated by its success, and a new word –or a new approach- is needed.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the matter.


  1. Bello questo post, da quello che ho capito sono d'accordo con te. Ciao

  2. So true!
    I was surprised, as I realized, most of the buyers don't even expect good quality or materials from hand made, don't expect anything to last for long. Too used to the mainstream impulsive buying just for buying's sake? I'm clueless ...

    Honestly thinking of changing my attitude as maker/seller just to survive ... :(

  3. Unfortunately, that's won't happen with Etsy.
    It main idea is to let anybody selling their 'handmade' on Etsy. We do need to grown up outside Etsy if we want to be bigger.
    For some people cheap prices is more important than the 'handmade', and Etsy is famous as a bargain place for a handmade item.... Sad but that's the reality:(

  4. Great post!!!
    I totally agree, I'd love a place where unique pieces with artistic and esthetic value, as well as real originality, are offered. As you said, items that are made with involvement of the mind, or the soul (or both!). I dream of that place too, a place where artful creations instead of bargain pieces are appreciated. But unfortunately, as Ira said, Etsy attracts many bargain hunters... I cannot compete with that market.

    But... on a happier and more constructive note... where there's a want there's a WILL!!!! The "Etsy-Deluxe" we're dreaming about may become a reality if WE, the creative minds, make it possible. WHY NOT???? Let's think about it, ladies!

  5. You are so right. It is a very poor term.

  6. Such a wonderful, inspiring, thoughtful post. First of all: thanks for posting it. It must be so inspiring to create a place with handmade pieces, made with love (ofcourse), and only quality. Sometimes it's so sad it's always (well, often) about money. We keep on making what we think is beautiful and it will be handmade. Cor is planning to metalsmith the chains for our necklaces as well and not use bought chains.
    I am focussing on making our jewelry and paintings and not bother about the devaluation....
    Wishing you and Esther a wonderful day, Esther.

    - Nancy

  7. Thank you so much for writing about this! I totally agree with the other comments here, I wish for a site that only allows quality handmade products. I simply refuse to diminish my shop to a level that I wouldn't feel comfortable with. The reason people would not expect well made quality items is, imho, thanks to the fact of the mass produced items in the big chain stores that are cheap and treated in such a way.
    A beautiful handmade item should be loved and well cared for and not be treated like the bargain stuff you can get almost anywhere.
    But, that's just my opinion of course.
    Again, thanks for having the courage to post this!

  8. Deeply agree - and thanks for raising this question!

    It is a tough problem-- I remember, that there was for that reason that you are mentioning, it was an Etsy deluxe, with curation, and it worked only with application. Now it is open to anyone. It may seem, that to make money one has to open up to mass-demand. That seems to be the road of Etsy. (Though I think, that there must be a way to keep alive and growing an online marketplace for good quality...but maybe you dont make a fortune out of that.)

    I do agree with Ira: it seems that we have to "grow up" outside of etsy. A while ago I read an article saying, that we can look at etsy as a business incubator. It really made me think.

  9. The truth has spoken, thanks Estella. Time is indeed moving so fast forward that many people have the growing crave for creative entrepeneurship.

    Ira has a good point and I am slowly bringing myself away from it.

  10. Even if the term handmade gets corrupted and used for mass produced goods, the spirit behind the word, and that of the Handmade Revolution are real. People really do want to change who profits from the goods they buy. We are tired of corporate greed.
    Lee/ OneClayBead

  11. I don't agree about a "curated Etsy for only hand-well-made items. Items that are original and durable, items made without cutting corners, items with artistic and esthetic value." Who is to decide what is artistic and esthetic value for instance? And what is original and durable? How do you know if something is made "with involvement of the mind, or the soul"?
    What looks great on a piture can be badly-made in real life. And vice-versa.
    No "Etsy-Deluxe" for me!

  12. I ageree with your point, Estella!

    But Dindi has also got the point to some degree...

    While the estetic and artistic side is hard to judge, the quality should not be questionable!

    I like to think about myself as a craftswoman rather than an artist or an esthete, but (of course) hoping that what I like and make will also appeal to others :)

    I try to value the idea and image but that same idea/image doesn't have to be liked by others.

    That's why I believe that the quality and craftmanship should be valued more and those are the characteristics that will endure time and temporary changes of fashion.

    Check out a Polish site - - an Etsy equivalent with good quality and ideas to offer!

    If I had the time and money, maybe it would be good to try to organize something similar. But Croatia is such a small market that I could not concentrate only on local products/suppliers...