The irrational economics of a craft business: The case for craft (part 3 of 3)
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I broke down the costs of my Judd mailbox, and then estimated the potential cost savings of a factory-made version (summary: $100 savings per box). Given that the craftsperson gains little financially, and the buyer pays for a pricier mailbox, why should craft businesses exist at all?
The Case for Craft
We live in a consumer’s paradise. The real cost of durable goods is the lowest in decades. This affordability is good in that it makes more of both essential and convenience products accessible to more people than at any other time in history. But a case can be made that we’ve pushed this concept too far, creating real extra costs that are becoming clearer every day, from climate change and destruction of our natural environment, to the loss of meaning in work and our shrinking middle class. Many scientists believe that our current economic model built on ever-increasing growth is unsustainable, and it’s hard to argue with them.
Craft represents an idea that stands directly opposed to the prevailing model of limitless growth on a global scale. Craft operates only at human-scale and requires an embrace of slowness. To purchase a crafted product is to make a considered purchase -- you found an item representing a maker’s idiosyncratic vision uniquely appealing, and your purchase lends direct support to this maker, not just financially, but also socially, encouraging her to pursue her ideas and make our material world richer and more diverse. While large manufacturers ignore markets when the economic opportunity isn’t there, makers are happy to fill in that space.
So back to the original question, why are crafted things so expensive? It’s not because of exorbitant pricing or profits. It’s because crafted items are the product of hours of labor, and we compare them to mass manufactured machine-made goods that are not only the cheapest in history, but also contain hidden costs that we are only starting to understand.
Art makes things for Material Mailbox. He is also an engineer, designer, and person who plays with data. Email him: art (at) materialmailbox.com