A different “business” model

I’ve been researching prices for beadwoven earrings. Not the most pleasant thing. It does remind me of the time (years ago) I was doing research at either/both the EDD or BLS for “handcrafters” (beadwork falls into this category) and found that the average wage was below the poverty line (IIRC). Looking it up at this point in time, although it doesn’t provide a living wage in my locale, neither is it below the local poverty level. (The EDD website is just opaque; I found the above page through Google.) From having been in this community for a while, I suspect most “handcrafters” have supplemental income from family or from another job…but it’s not like I’ve actually done a survey, or anything (I suppose I do have a hypothesis).

Across Etsy, I stopped searching after finding six providers who have similar(-enough) style to mine. The good thing is that their prices range from about $45 to $75 for finished pieces (and upward from that, stopping at around $225 for matched sets). The bad thing (for anyone wanting to make a living off of this) is that $45 is mid-range; $75 is high-end. Etsy is saturated with categories of work very similar to each other, which are undersold for the time and effort they take to build (e.g. $18 for a pair of fringe earrings…which take how many hours of work? Cut $18 in half to get the wholesale price: $9. At most, those earrings are $4.50 each), though possibly not for materials costs.

The barrier to entry as regards cost, is low; the issue lies in gaining skill, knowledge, and experience (and having the chutzpah to charge for labor, well beyond the cost of materials); that, and attempting to compete in a global market on a basis of price. That’s not to mention, design…which process, I am not sure anyone actually teaches anyone how to do. I’ve started to try, but then I realize that my process of design is just one approach, which may not work for everyone. There’s also the fact that I’m teaching myself how to design, and a lot of this is just notes from the field and bringing you along for the ride, so maybe you won’t feel so alone if you decide to venture out into this.

On my excursion through pricing research, I did find several sellers who were using patterns given in books — books that I have (while I don’t have the information [or authority] to give a definitive judgment, I personally consider this a no-no, unless: 1) the pattern is so basic that it can’t really be owned, regardless of where one found it; or 2) one asks or otherwise gains permission from the pattern author/source, or at least credits them. I did not see credits in the samples I read). On top of that, I found at least one who was buying ready-made materials from an online seller, putting earwires on those materials, and reselling them at about double the price. Which, to be fair, was less than $10. While the latter may not be illegal (the original seller may in fact encourage such turnaround), you know…it’s Etsy. People sell what they want to sell, at a price at which they feel comfortable.

To some degree, I know that a lot of those sales depend on people not knowing how much something cost, or from where it was sourced, or how much work went into it, or who didn’t get paid to make it. It’s a big ethical consideration that I have, which is why I’m not comfortable charging your new goat for something that I felt didn’t cost me very much — unless you consider the cost of the accumulation of skill and other benefits that I’ve gained by doing this for over two decades, or the cost of acquiring enough materials to be able to design comfortably, the tools I’ve accumulated over years, etc. Of course, my “ethical considerations” were also what got me into Library Science (note that I only represent myself, here — I need to say that); my “ethical considerations” are why I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing B2C Advertising copy for certain industries; and I’m not sure where any of these “considerations” are going to lead me.

When published in books, rights (the question remains: rights to specifically, what? Design? How is “design” defined, legally?) — at least commercial rights — are usually reserved to either the author or publisher, though I see this trend changing as regards online tutorials. (This may be because no one wants to hunt down and serve a cease-and-desist order to someone on the Internet who may be half a world away, for violating Intellectual Property law which may not even apply in that locale; let alone multiple incidents of these infringements; let alone attempting to prosecute someone with no money while you also have no money.) After a certain point of development, resources beyond tutorials and books so introductory as to be the same material rehashed (or minorly altered), become difficult to find. That’s one of the reasons I started this site.

Of course, one may ask if it is nearly all rehashed, given the origins of many of the stitches…but that (how Intellectual Property law applies to traditional and handed-down knowledge) is another entry.

So far as I know, the same dearth of public knowledge exists in reference to Silversmithing. I have found and used a total of one book which teaches enough to actually give a beginning Smith reasonable tools. This is The Complete Metalsmith: Student Edition, by Tim McCreight, published by Brynmorgen Press — which McCreight incidentally founded. However, the last time I looked for books on Smithing was several years ago, having been turned away from the subject by many very pretty but ultimately vapid and only partially useful books on the subject, of nearly no use to a serious aspiring Smith. My attention has since been drawn by authors known in the field, such as Charles Lewton-Brain, of Ganoksin fame (I believe he also appeared once on The Curse of Oak Island). If I were to look further for intelligent and useful information on Silversmithing, I’d likely start with these sources. Not Oak Island, but…the other ones.

One of the alternatives to selling finished beaded pieces, when the charge (in labor) for those pieces would exceed the cost in materials by a wide margin, is in selling patterns and/or kits. Selling a pattern with materials I know work, would include an added benefit (not having to acquire all the pieces, which can result in significant charges and significant extra materials, unless one already has a stash) — which those who only view free online videos of my work would not have. The issue is then simply packaging, and how to write/draw out the patterns so that other people can understand them, not just me. The thing with patterns is that they have to be written down and/or drawn out regardless, unless you’re okay with having no idea how you made something seven months (or two years, or five years) down the line.

I found a number of pattern-makers on Etsy with decent work (or at least, the finished objects are decent — I haven’t seen the patterns) and did a little investigation as to how many of them offer additional help in deciphering their work. This appears rare. I saw at least one person offering support services, though I’m still unclear as to how to offer assistance when I actually don’t know what the other person is doing. This is why I’m considering setting up video tutorials and linking from the PDF pattern, itself — though I seem to be the only one in my little circle who thinks that video tutorials on top of written patterns, are a good idea. When I mentioned it, I seemed to spook people…

My best impulse to help a person is to livestream myself making something (if that’s possible; with my current skill set, it is not), and allow the viewer(s) to ask questions as I go along. My second best impulse is to warn people about the difficulty level of the pattern (though I’d have to get back into using patterns, to gauge this), and let them know what stitches the pattern is based on (if any).

Keeping this website, blog, and social media presence going (with interest in the beadwork and design fields — including what I’m learning through design and production as writing inspiration) is another alternative to selling tons of finished pieces. However, my main thrust as regards making a living will then be my writing (and/or then-proven Web Content Production skills), not selling a massive amount of cottage-industry jewelry…which, after the patterns are, “perfected,” is a relative waste of my time. Opportunity cost, remember? I have the ability to do much more than piecework.

This seems to be an ideal way to combine (and preserve) my love of working with beads and my love of writing. In the meantime, I’ll be dealing with studying to possibly become a Bookkeeper (!) or working in the Information industry — if I can find any openings (in an area I might want to move to).

I’m not totally sure about this arrangement, and reserve the right to change my intention and direction at any time, but right now I am brainstorming…and have been thinking rather than working. If I keep my beadwork as a hobby — not a business — sell some extra jewelry on the side, sell some kits and patterns on the side, write about what I’m discovering as I work and grow, do some researched pieces for the site, and develop a resonant online profile (not only consisting of writing; but also this site, still images and video)…I may be able to enter Web Content Production later on (possibly in the beading or jewelry design industry), or find other work in the same field (e.g., writing about beading and beadwork; writing about Art Jewelry [handmade jewelry often made by small-scale artisans]; inclusive of internal industry writing).

My primary income until then, however, will largely be sourced from work with records and information. I can tolerate a dull day job that allows me a living wage and some time off to do what I actually want to be doing…even if it’s not immediately profitable.

Given this: if I’m still serious about it in a few days (or even before then), I should re-write my Business Plan. Even though this isn’t a business, it was writing the Business Plan, and doing some research (though I should do more in other markets), and tinkering with the numbers, and timing myself at work, and finding out how much in materials I was using…these things together all let me know that making multiple identical copies of the same pieces was not how I wanted to spend my life. Especially if I’m charging a lot and would still have financial stress, and would eventually — if successful — not be able to keep up with demand, and have to expand the business. I’m not in this to manage other people, or to be fabulously wealthy. I’m in this because it’s stimulating and there’s a wonder to it that I don’t get with words.

There are ways out of this that don’t require switching gears to build an online portfolio (like selling a lot of inexpensive, low-effort items), but I’m not sure I want to go there, at this point. I don’t deal in throwaway junk. I’m a craftsperson. Craft matters, to me.

Published by Haruna

Haruna is a Librarian by training, currently pivoting from Public Services into Technical Services. Their undergraduate major was English -- Creative Writing, and they hold an additional small degree in Art (i.e. Visual Arts). Currently, they are trying to figure out whether to place their energies more into language and language arts, or producing handcrafted jewelry and face coverings, for the interim...

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