Why does handmade cost so much?

Posted by Stephanie Verspagen on

Lately, there have been a number of posts floating around the Facebook groups that I am a part of, from other sewists and bagmakers, mentioning that potential customers have asked them "Why does handmade cost so much?"

The answer is pretty much the same, whether it is bags, quilts, knitted or crocheted items, etc. I will attempt to explain it using the items that I make as examples.

The cost of the raw materials (cotton, cork, thread, zippers, bag hardware etc.)
  • Retail price and taxes: Everything that I purchase is at retail prices. I do not buy enough to get wholesale prices or even big discounts. Since I do not collect taxes on the products I make – yet, I cannot claim the taxes that I pay for the raw materials.
  • Shipping and Handling, currency conversion, customs/duty: The number of quality fabric stores in my area has seriously dropped in the last two decades. To get the selection and quality of fabric and hardware that I require for my items I need to order them from online retailers. That means that I have to pay shipping and handling charges for almost everything, the difference in the currencies between the USD and CAD as well as any customs charges incurred.
  • Quality: as mentioned above, the quality of the raw materials I use is important to me. You really do get what you pay for – and quality raw materials help me to make/create quality products.
The cost of labour/labor – minimum wage and the amount of time spent making the product
  • Minimum Wage: Here in Canada we have a minimum wage that, in January 2018 it goes up to $14 an hour. We have to pay others a minimum wage, so we should not have to work for any less.
  • Quality of Work: Just as important as the quality of raw materials is the quality of my work. The number of hours that it actually takes me to make the items that I sell is more than what I build into my prices. Sometimes it is double. My sewing machines can go a lot faster than I actually run them. To create nice straight topstitching lines, I need to slow it down. I spend the time to tie off and weave in my ends so that they are hidden and there is less chance that the stitches will separate. If in doubt, I will add something called ‘Fray Check’ to the stitches, which helps to keep them together.
  • Other time spent (at the moment I do not build this into my price):
    • Looking for the right fabric that matches what the customer has requested. It can take hours to comb through the thousands of different fabrics available to find just the right one for the particular item and one that works for the person that has made the request
    • Finding a pattern that works for the customer and their needs. There are about a hundred patterns that I know of out there to purchase and I am sure there are a lot more that I have not found yet.
    • Creating a pattern when one is not available to purchase. Having a bag handed to me or having a picture of one shown to me does not mean that there is a pattern already created for it that I can use. This means that I will need to spend extra time designing one.
The cost of having the right equipment to do the job
  • Quality of Equipment: Having the right, good quality tools and equipment is just as important as having quality raw materials to work with and doing the best work possible, when trying to produce a quality product. It can also help to reduce the time needed to make the product. 
  • The different types of equipment needed: There is more to bag making than just having a sewing machine, any sewing machine. Here is a list of just some of the tools needed (not a complete list):
    • A good heavy-duty machine to make it through the layers of fabric/interfacing/foam that is present in some of the seams of the bags.
    • The proper machine needles, bobbins, and presser feet (walking foot, Teflon foot, zipper foot, zigzag foot) are also required
    • Proper fabric scissors, a self-healing cutting mat and rotary blade, stitch ripper (or two), rulers (all shapes and sizes).
    • Iron and ironing board that can withstand the amount of use needed
    • A hole punch to make holes for rivets/grommets and a rivet/grommet press to put them together properly (and not ruin the rivets/grommets)
    • Proper fabric marking tools – this can be harder to find than most realize
    • Quality glues and other adhesives
    • A good pattern – if purchased and possibly the acrylic templates for the patterns that I make the most. Paper patterns have a very limited lifespan.
The overhead costs
  • Here are some of the common overhead costs
    • An accounting package (or accountant if needed)
    • Business cards, product labels
    • Website (for me Shopify – I tried a free version from another website design provider and it didn’t work the way I wanted)
    • Etsy listing cost for each listing and the subsequent renewal fee
    • The Etsy payments, Shopify payments, PayPal or Square fee charged for processing payments
    • The actual cost of shipping – the cost that is not always covered with the shipping charged as well as the packaging
    • Cost of hydro used during production – from the sewing machine, iron, desk lamps for the light box used to take pictures of the product, etc.
    • Cost of storage for raw materials – boxes, bins etc. (Not everything is purchased new, I do re-use shoe boxes for some raw materials as well as the little bags that my hardware arrives in)
Profit and making a living
  • Yes, I can admit it – I have built a small profit into the prices that I have listed (or at least I think it is, but then again I seem to keep finding new overhead costs that I did not realize were there).
  • At the end of the day, the idea of being in business is to make a profit and a living. 

One thing I did not include in the above list is experience as I was not sure where to put it. This is a hard one to quantify and all makers are different. I learned to sew, on a machine, over 35 years ago (when I was 4 years old. Just kidding – I was 12). I have been sewing on and off over the years – mainly clothing and window coverings. It is only recently that I started to make bags, wallets, etc. So, those sewists/bagmakers that have more experience may build more into their prices.

Anyway, this is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I hope it does help to understand that there is more than just the cost of the fabric to consider when looking at handmade.



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