Although I have had my Etsy shop closed since April due to my pregnancy, I have never ceased to work on my felted creations and my feltmaking business. It is not as if I threw up my hands and quit completely during this time because I do really consider fiber art and felting my business - not just a hobby. Now that I have resigned my college level design instructor position to be at home with my baby, I am more serious about pursuing my online and retail felt business than ever. I am truly looking forward to being a stay-at-home-mommy, but honestly, I have never ever been one to be satisfied without some type of creative career purpose, and I believe working from home is a good example to put forth in front of my child.
That being said, something has been on my mind lately........
As some of you may know (if you read my blog regularly) I've been creating felted wool beads and geodes with wild abandon - mainly because it is all that I can physically accomplish at this stage of my pregnancy. Behind the scenes, I've also been conducting a little market research. Basically this means that I've been trolling the internet to find what is current and trendy in feltmaking and also what prices are set at right now and what seems to be selling. Even though I am a strong believer in creating what you love and enjoy in your own style, I am not oblivious or ignorant to the fact that there are real consumers out there that you need to inevitably buy your handmade product if you are to succeed in business. Normally what I research is all handmade (usually unique, one-of-a-kind, and created on a small scale) because I feel that is where the market is for my items. It seems to only make sense to focus research on what is similar and artisan created. Something happened this week that opened my eyes to another side of the feltmaking market as well as disturbed me just a little.
Earlier this past week, I received a very nice email from a company overseas that manufactures "handmade" felt products on a mass scale. The company actually helps to employ and support women in their own country. The email didn't have anything to do with my felted creations really, but rather it was a short message to congratulate me on the upcoming birth of my child. I'm assuming that they have seen my blog posts about the pregnancy. The email was quite personal and very nice so I have no complaints about the email itself, but it did make me think outside the box on marketing and business practices in general. Apparently, if I am doing market research, so are others, and not just other handmade artisans like myself, but everyone - small and large!
It never bothered me to think that other loner feltmakers like myself were seeing my creations and doing research of their own. Part of being any kind of artist means that you have a need for inspiration and encouragement from fellow artists. I love checking out fellow fiber artists' blogs and shops just to satisfy my need for eye candy. On the other hand, it is part of the business of being an artist as well. With the email that I received last week, I realized that not only are my fellow independent artisans seeing my creations and checking up on my work, but larger corporate manufacturers are as well. This is somewhat unsettling to me considering that an overseas manufacturer can mass produce and undersell the average independent artist very, very easily in today's market. Although I am all for free enterprise, this is disturbing to me as the little guy in business. Mass production of "handmade" items makes it that much harder for an independent artist to sell his or her items and pay themselves a living wage according to the standards of the United States, where I live, and many other countries as well.
As you could probably guess, this past week, I did market research on felted wool beads and geodes, just to see what was out there already and how it was being priced, etc. This was quite fun because I very much enjoy looking at photos online of felted items - you don't have to twist my arm to do that! I found that most independent artisans who where selling their handmade felted wool beads in places like Etsy, Artfire, and other sites catering to handmade, had similar prices that seemed fair for the amount of time and effort involved in creating such items. Then, after the email last week jolted me into reality, I decided to search for mass produced "handmade" felted beads made by such overseas manufacturers and found that they were being sold at a small fraction of the price of independent artisans' individually handmade felted wool beads. The mass produced beads' pricing could really never be competed with by a loner artist like myselft trying to pay themself a living wage.
So what does all this really mean? Well honestly, I'm not completely sure. It is just something to consider when you are doing market research since the reality is that (depending on what you create), you are competing with everyone, small and large. I have decided, whatever the market dictates for pricing, I will price my items to pay myself a living wage whether they are uniquely one-of-a-kind felted wool scarves and accessories or whether they are more generalized, yet still unique, handmade supply items such as my latest creations of felted wool beads. I know that I can never realistically compete price-wise with mass produced "handmade" beads made by an overseas manufacturer (nor do I want to!), but I am hoping that my individually handmade felted wool beads can be seen for what they are - extremely unique, top quality pieces of art created by a skilled professional. I also hope that the consumer will respect and be drawn to the fact that I am a stay-at-home-mommy (to be) who wants to continue to care for my child full-time, but also be a productive career artist and contribute financially to my family. That is priceless really and worth pursuing whoever the competition may be!