Why Buy Handmade?
If you've ever been to a Farmer's Market, you'll no doubt have seen vendor stalls offering everything from honey and bees wax to locally grown produce, farm-fresh meat and eggs to myriad handmade items - everything from pens to ice cream scoops to pepper grinders and homemade breads, squares, pies, jams, jellies and other preserves. The list is essentially limitless - and often at a premium price. The question here is, "Why buy something handmade when you can likely buy a similar item at a retail store often for considerably less money?" Why indeed.
We all spend our hard-earned money for very specific reasons. Sometimes we intentionally seek out organic produce specifically because these vegetables are intentionally grown without the use of chemical pesticides or its because we value foods produced locally rather than supporting greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the transportation of goods over long distances. Or because we believe that if it's locally grown it is healthier and therefore better for us and for the environment. Makes sense.
So what about other items that are handcrafted, like tea towels or handmade soap? Why spend $8, $9, $10 or more on a bar of handmade soap when you can purchase 6 bars of a commercially-made soap for half that amount? Why buy a tea towel from a weaver like me for $35 or more when you can buy a similar item at a big box store for a third the amount or less? Actually, there are many reasons.
Some might say that 'quality' is the key but it is certainly not the whole story. It really depends on what you mean by 'quality'. Take a cotton tea towel for example. Cotton is cotton. Cotton lasts as long as cotton lasts regardless of whether the item is made by hand or by machine, understanding that there will also be differences in the use of the item, thickness of the cotton thread, and density or thread count. Use a tea towel to dry dishes and it will last a lot longer than if you use it as a rag when working on heavy machinery. Okay, so what else does 'quality' mean?
To me, quality is a process; a process that ensures that each item is made to exacting standards, that there are quality controls integrated within each step of the manufacturing process. When I make a tea towel for example, I not only look for the consistency in weaving pattern, I also plan for and look for the 'hand' or 'drape' of the fabric. A tighter weave, for example, will often translate to a longer-lasting fabric but is stiffer than a looser weave. Tea towels woven with 100% cotton versus a cotton and linen blend or 100% linen will have different qualities comparatively speaking. Try finding a cotton/linen blend at a box store!
Since we're on the topic of tea towels, another question I'd ask is "How are the towels finished?" Cotton threads have an oil that is added during the spinning process and I always like to remove as much of that as possible from each item prior to sale - this is part of the 'finishing' process. When washing fabrics, I always throw in a couple of dye-trapping laundry sheets that trap free dye particles released during the wash to prevent color bleeding, and then into the dryer once washed. I doubt very much that mass-produced tea towels are treated with as much care and attention.
After drying, I iron each towel and fold. I also hold up each towel to the light to check for 'skips' or other errors in the cloth. Skips can occur if you happen to pick up an unintended warp thread during the weaving process - a trained eye can pick these out. If I have a skip , I'll need to fix the issue by taking a needle and a length of yarn and weave the missing thread back into the fabric. This does not affect the integrity of the piece nor will the thread come out of the fabric, but it does make the fabric look the way it was intended (if you hold it up to the light!). Do manufacturers of mass-produced towels finish their towels in the same way and with as much care and attention? If it's worth making, it's worth making right!
When I make soap, I work in a very clean environment. Again, quality here is paramount at every step. My intention is to produce a long-lasting quality bar of soap that you would be equally proud to give as a gift or to use yourself. You won't be able to find any of my soaps at a box store! I won't put any ingredients into my soaps that aren't required.
Every soap I make is intentional - the qualities and properties - are planned to the last detail. Properties such as how solid the bar is (a softer bar won't last as long as a firm bar), the overall scent (or none at all), and whether there would be exfoliating characteristics and if so, which type or types will be included in the batch, all contribute to the overall product.
In this photo, I'm pouring a batch of our Inspiration glycerin-based soap bars. Once the individual bars of soap have set, they are freed from the mold and are immediately shrink-wrapped. This serves two purposes - one is to prevent the bar from shrinking over time due to evaporation as well as for your safety. Current health regulations require that we be able to wipe off potential contamination before being able to sell to the public; shrink-wrapping makes the most sense for us.
Just to my left in the photo you'll see a wooden box. That's another one of our soaps with the creamy surface from an earlier pour that is just setting up. That soap will need to sit for about 48 hours before the 'loaf' can be removed from the mold. Once carefully freed from the mold, the loaf will then will be cut into individual bars. From there, the individual bars will sit undisturbed for another 4 - 6 weeks while they finish the curing process. Once ready, they'll also be shrink-wrapped and packaged ready for sale.
Every ingredient has an intentional purpose. Whether its the natural ingredients used as exfoliants in some of my soaps or the pure essential oils that I use for fragrance, all are created from wholesome, natural ingredients that are procured from quality suppliers. I use these soaps myself! Quality matters to me, both in the ingredients or materials I use to make rugs or tea towels or scarves or in the soap-making process. It should matter to you, too.
What you can't buy at a big box store is variety (although they might argue the point). Oh, sure, you can get that tea towel in a checkerboard pattern in brown and white, red and white or green and white and they call that 'variety'. And you can buy any number of mass-produced soap bars like Irish Spring® or Oil of Olay® or Dove® that have been on the market for eons. I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about interesting scents and design styles that you won't find at your local grocer's. Do any of the mass-produced soaps out there use actual Irish Guinness stout as one of their ingredients? I've not seen any. And yes, we actually do make a Guinness-based soap! Remember that loaf in the wooden container with the creamy top? Below is a photo of that soap that's been removed from the mold and cut into individual bars. It's still curing and will be available for sale in early May 2021 (we require each cold-process soap to cure for 4 - 6 weeks).
Woven tea towels purchased at a box store are made by machine (thank you Industrial Age). That's fine for what it is however that's not what I'm referring to - I'm referring to the significant styles and weaving patterns that are available out there, right now. Some of these patterns are older than our recorded history. There are as many patterns as there are weavers in the world, likely more. A quick search on the Internet can show you glimpses into the amazing world of hand weaving. I'm especially proud of the tea towels, scarves and rugs that I've made by hand. I'm proud because I care. Because of the quality assurance steps that I take in every aspect of everything I produce, I can be proud.
Shopping at your local Farmer's Market affords you the opportunity to meet the actual people raising, growing or handcrafting the items you are looking to purchase. If you take the opportunity and ask questions, you'll learn about the extreme care and attention the vendor imparts on the goods they sell and the pride they have in everything they make. You can even ask to have an item custom made to a particular size or particular color palette or particular material. Maybe you are searching for a gift for that special someone. Maybe you want to pre-order any number of different tea towels made with specific materials or specific color combinations to fit the personalities of those people important in your life. Whether you choose to purchase locally through your neighborhood Farmer's Market or from a website of a producer of quality, handcrafted merchandise, you'll be supporting your local economy AND getting exactly what you want. We're your neighbors after all!
Why buy handmade? Not only will you get the care and attention to detail that you'll not often find with mass-produced items at a big box store, you'll be getting exactly what you want and made to a higher quality standard. Go ahead - take the time to meet and get to know your local vendor - you'll be very glad you did!