Handmade in America
Handcrafted products are gaining momentum once again. While there was never a major decline, there was a definite dip in the purchasing of handcrafted products from makers in the USA. “Our sales are definitely trending upwards after a couple of years where we started to see a slight downward dip. We are starting to see more and more millennials looking for gifts with meaning, that have a story and are made with love,” explains Meredith, owner of an upscale gallery in Northeast Ohio.
Speaking with industry leaders over the past few months validates what Meredith is seeing. A new appreciation and validation of handcrafted products. A recent study in the Journal of Marketing might provide part of the answer. It found the missing ingredient when consumers are looking for gifts for others or even for themselves – love.
According to the study, “handmade products might be perceived to contain and transmit the artisan's "essence" in the form of his or her love for the product in a way that machine-made products cannot," write the authors Christoph Fuchs and Martin Schreier. The customer then perceives the handmade product itself to be literally imbued with love."
Study participants were instructed to imagine that they were in the market for a gift for someone with whom they had a close relationship. They were given a list of items including ceramic mugs, soap, leather goods, and stationery which were described as machine-made. They were then shown images of the handmade equivalents, some labeled "made with love" or accompanied by heart-shaped graphics and other visual "love" cues.
Participants clearly favored handmade items when they were making a purchase for a loved one, and many were willing to pay up to 17 percent more for handmade items in general. Consumers seemed to believe that the creator's love for the handmade product had somehow transferred to the product itself, and that the product now "contained love." This was found to be the case even when the customer did not personally know the creator or even who the creator was.
With this renewed interest, artists find themselves able to explore more, create more and dream bigger. Every artist has a story and it’s that story that many consumers fall in love with. The inspiration, the dream, the focus and the high skillset each maker possesses is evident in their product line.
Meet Val Talbert owner of Maverick Objects based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Val is a handcrafted jewelry designer melding raw stones and metal together to create modern bohemian and contemporary artistic jewelry designs. Maverick Objects is a minority woman-owned company that practices Fair Trade by using sustainable materials that are renewable and recyclable in an effort to reduce waste and environmental impact. Val shares, “I provide my customers with conflict-free and ethically-sourced raw minerals that have been self-mined by myself. We cut and polish all of our stones that we extract in mines around the world. We create our work to capture the organic nature of the stone in order to conserve the unique textures, colors, and imperfections. We hand fabricate all of our designs, so no two are identical. We believe in doing the majority of our own production and preparation work because we want to ensure we are giving our customers the highest quality work.”
Val is motivated by her love of creating and being able to share her designs with the world. She is inspired by nature and her love of Earth’s raw beauty. “All my pieces feature raw stones which are self-mined by my husband and myself. We travel to public mines to extract our own minerals. When creating new designs, I try to showcase the raw stones to capture their untreated beauty.” All Maverick Objects designs incorporate crystals. Crystals contain many metaphysical properties that have been known to help with a variety of different ailments. As Val explains, “Since we mine our own stones, we make sure we use those with the strongest energies in our designs.”
Val believes people appreciate handmade because of the story behind the designs. “With handmade, you know specifically who made it, how they made it and what materials were used. Handmade products are more than just a product, they showcase the designers passion, creativity, and uniqueness. With handmade products, designers value quality over quantity.”
E. Drumm Design
Big dreams and a strong focus are the root of E. Drumm Designs which began in 1988 after owner Elisa Drumm left her job in NYC as a textile designer. After moving to the Boston area, Elisa tried her hand at freelancing as a textile designer. After little success, Elisa began creating her own line of hand printed clothing. Elisa shares her story, “I found studio space in the country in a charming little building down a dirt driveway and heated by a wood burning stove. My husband built a printing table while I hired a pattern maker and several seamstresses and called my mother for advice on how to run a business!”
Elisa grew up surrounded by art with both parents working as artists and owning one of the largest craft galleries in the country. Elisa explains how her childhood began the foundation of what is now a successful business, “I started working at my parents’ gallery at the age of 13 and spent my summers at Penland School of Crafts, weaseling my way into classes while my parents were busy teaching. I was able to study at a very young age with some of the greats in various areas - photography, pottery, weaving and enameling. We also traveled to retail craft shows; loading up the family van with kids, the family dog and my father’s work. My sisters and I would entertain ourselves, while my parents worked, by creating ways of earning a few pennies on our own. One show we sold garlic bulbs that we found in a nearby field, another show we managed to get hired by the balloon vendor.”
A few years into her textile business, Elisa began painting wood, designing wall objects around metal pieces her father made for her. “I found I was drawn to bright colors, perhaps due to my background as a textile designer. I wanted to make affordable objects that customers felt comfortable buying as gifts or for themselves. Most of my work is in the home décor category - mirrors, clocks, furniture, and boxes – inspired by my love of color and whimsy. It is also very important to me that I continue to hand paint each piece. That still makes my work unique in this digital age. It also allows me to personalize my work and vary a piece slightly even though I may be painting multiples of the same piece.”
E. Drumm Designs has recently added two new lines to their collection. The Spirit Collection is a line of wood hands and hearts with inspirational wording and motifs. “I have always been obsessed with the simplicity of the heart shape and hands. These shapes appear throughout my work, but this collection offers several variations in color, sizes, word choices and motifs. Our Loud Ladies collection was inspired after spending a weekend with my wonderful female friends and millions of women expressing themselves “loudly” during the Women’s March on the capital in Washington DC. I wanted to honor women and feed my soul at the same time by creating a limited edition line and one-of-a-kind wall pieces. Each portrait is named and given a personality, some honoring real women who have touched me emotionally,” shares Elisa.
Bubbles and Butter Artisan Skincare
Consumers are drawn to a fabulous maker story. Learning how the artist developed and nurtured their line while taking a peek into the company beginnings plays a large role in purchasing. Meet Nicole Van Lun owner of Bubbles and Butter Artisan Skincare whose background plays a pivotal role in the development of her company and her product line. As Nicole explains, “I inherited ridiculously oversensitive skin from my mom. I became a product junkie by default, simply because I was trying a ton of stuff to see what would work for me. This basically summed up to be a ton of time and money spent trying to find a solution.” Nicole’s business journey began early having two entrepreneur parents that took her to business conferences as a teenager. At the young age of 14, Nicole had that proverbial lightbulb moment that she should start her own skincare line. Putting that idea on the backburner, Nicole began life in corporate finance until taking the leap so many artists do and began a new venture.
Nicole explains the journey she took to get to where she is today. “I started out in the beauty industry by becoming a professional make-up artist and launching my own beauty consulting company. I was able to do really amazing things like being featured in a HarperCollins published book, working with the Jackson 5 brothers right after Michael Jackson passed away, working backstage at New York Fashion Week with top designers such as Jason Wu (who went on and designed gowns for our Former First Lady Michelle Obama), taught a three-hour make-up workshop at two colleges in New Jersey (which literally makes me a beauty professor!) and was featured on MSNBC, eHow.com, and Huffington Post Style.”
Sounds like Nicole knows what she is doing! Her entire focus has always been on skincare spending years and countless hours of researching, apprenticing, testing, and perfecting the formulas. Bubbles and Butter Artisan Skincare products exist solely to make customers feel and look unapologetically gorgeous every single day. When asked for her thoughts on why consumers are looking for more organic, handcrafted products Nicole says, “People are craving transparency. Telling us that a product is healthy on your super sleek label and then upon examining the ingredient list you discover that it's not, has created a lot of distrust in major corporations caring about our health. People are desiring to live a long quality life and are realizing that everything they consume matters.”
Consumers of handcrafted products look for items which bring them joy, ultimately hoping that same joy will be passed on to the recipient if the item is a gift for a loved one. Laura is a self-confessed shopaholic and lover of everything handcrafted. “Years ago, I stopped shopping at the big box stores when looking for gifts for loved ones. The gift was always deeply appreciated especially when I was able to add a small note with the gift sharing the artist’s story. My friends and family always found the stories inspiring making the gift more cherished. One day I said to myself – stop buying just for others, why not fill your home with handcrafted! The best advice I could offer myself. I have since been filling my home with handcrafted products which bring me joy every day,” explains Laura.
Christine Hsiang owner of Wonderflies started her business as a hobby soon after graduating college. She shares, “I had just gotten a dog and many of my first creations were inspired by him. I love being creative and coming up with new ideas all the time, thereby choosing the name "Wonderflies." I created Wonderflies with the belief that wonder is everywhere, including in the little things.”
Christine designs her handcrafted line to bring that joy which Laura looks for when shopping. As Christine explains, “My designs bring happiness to customers because they are just so simple, honest and sweet. Whether it's with a card that someone will think is perfect for their loved one, to a bookmark that inspires someone to read more often, I try to spread joy in some way or another.”
Christine finds her inspiration comes from nature and the relationships we all have in our lives. “I love the quiet beauty and the whimsy of everyday nature that people sometimes miss. I try to capture that in my work. I think it is so easy to buy things that are manufactured that sometimes people would like something more unique for themselves. Makers create their products with love and care, and that is hard to find that in a non-handcrafted item. You appreciate what you have much more.” As a child growing up, Christine always had a vivid imagination and an appreciation for nature and animals. “I would stay out and play in the grass, looking at the clouds and smelling the flowers! I do that still as I'm fascinated by the beauty around me. I graduated from Parsons, School of Design with a BFA in Communication Design and I started my business soon after. My goal is to create products that inspire care and curiosity for nature and the world around us.”
Purpose, balance, and symmetry are key components in handcrafted products. The artistic eye of the maker comes through in all they do and that is a feature not overlooked by the consumer. Meredith enjoys shopping at small boutiques and galleries looking for statement jewelry pieces for herself and her daughters. “I find handcrafted products are not only made well, they show the care and the attention to detail the artist pours into each piece,” explains Meredith.
Shirley Price Limited Editions
Artist, Shirley Price-McGrew owner of Shirley Price Limited Editions, agrees with Meredith, “In today's world, you can find most anything made overseas is of very poor quality. I personally think the new awareness and desire is due to all the handcrafted magazines ads and distribution; wholesale shows; retail shows with special emphasis on gallery participation by advertising, are supporting the handcrafted world of artists’ work.”
Shirley’s jewelry line is a perfect example of everything a consumer is looking for in handcrafted products – purpose, balance and symmetry. An elegance and soothing balance draws the viewer into her fine silver jewelry. Asian-inspired pieces announce the beautiful symmetry of line and color. The designs express the visual and emotional relationship between metal and stone, thereby establishing the best possible marriage of the two.
Shirley shares her journey, “I started creating/fabricating jewelry as a hobby in 1972. My late husband, a well-known California artist, kept nagging me to use my talents. For a few years, I created pieces for myself, family, friends. Upon retiring to our local mountain dream home, I became more involved with this hobby. A studio of my own gave me inspiration to devote time to my designs. In 1994 stores/galleries and the general public were buying my collections. This is my 25th (silver) year for selling my collections.”
Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, Shirley’s artistic life path has taken many turns all resulting in an amazing story and amazing product line. She started with knitting and selling baby booties, caps, sewing some of her own clothes at the age of 10. In addition, Shirley has explored pottery, weaving, leather work, leaded glass and watercolors. Shirley recalls her mother saying, "Art is a story worth telling." Shirley found her heart's story when she discovered precious metal work. Studying fabrication in California at the Irvine Fine Arts Center and the Revere Goldsmith School in San Francisco allowed her to hone her art. She continues to take classes of interest in and around her studio's location.
Shirley knows what the consumer is looking for. She explains, “my pendants come mounted on a plain, black card. Inside you will find an anti-tarnish bag, description of the stone including what it is and where it was mined. Also included are the healing properties; care instructions, my bio/statement, (with no contact information), and the story of my current collection. My retail buyers are happy to be able to include all this information for the consumer!”
Buying handcrafted means, you are buying a piece made with beauty, care, master craftsmanship and most important, love. Consumers today are more interested than ever in the story of the artist and the purpose of a piece. We only see this trend growing into something larger
To know more about the artists and their products, please visit www.indieme.com