Get Your Craft On

Why handmade is “so expensive”

“$70 for a t-shirt?!”

“I love your website, but everything on it is overpriced!”

“Your stuff is too expensive.”

“Are you rich or something?”

“I could make that for $5.”

“Sorry, but that’s a rip-off.”

“$80 for a hoodie? You’re not Gucci.”

I’ve heard it all. It’s not something I hear often, but any other seller will tell you- you remember every comment like this. They get under your skin. They fester. The next thing you know, you’re a walking rage zombie! At first it made me worry that my prices were too high. And even now that I have years of success under my belt and wonderful repeat customers that assure me my stuff is worth every penny, the rude comments still hurt my feelings sometimes.

This is my job. It may not be like your job. I don’t have a boss or regular hours, and I don’t have to drive to work or even get dressed for it (heh), but this is how I pay the bills.

I’m always tempted to asked these people, “How about I come down to where you work and tell your boss you’re overpaid?” Because that’s essentially what they’re saying to me. Why not be rude right back? But I’m too polite to do that (and afraid of karma).

Because I think a lot of these comments stem from a lack of awareness versus rudeness, I decided to write this article to shed some light on the work that all of us that run a handmade business are doing… including all the behind-the-scenes stuff you probably never even think about. (And that most of us don’t charge for.)

And sure, some people will still be rude doucheballoons. That’s life. Karma will be all over their asses.

But maybe I can just make a few people think, “Oh, I hadn’t realized how much work goes into that!”

[Note: If you are a handmade seller looking for guidelines on how to price your items, please don’t use this article as a model for your own pricing. THIS IS NOT A PRICING GUIDE. It’s not how I price my items, it’s merely a representation of the massive amount of time it takes to create and sell a handmade item. As you’ll see below, I am a hypocrite when it comes to underpricing. Please do as I say and not as I do. Read this guide for pricing instead, if that’s what you’re looking for.]

 

Step 1: The design phase

I sketch most of my ideas before I start cutting. Sometimes it’s completely spontaneous. I just start doodling and see where it takes me. Other times I have exactly what it will look like all planned out, and I want to get it down on paper so I don’t forget anything.

It’s usually just a quick scribble of pen or pencil on paper. Other times I take more time. I’ll add color with colored pencils or do the sketch 4 or 5 times before nailing down a particular design.

Since most of my sketches are quick, we’ll say the total time spent sketching one piece is 5 minutes.

As you can see, my sewing skills do not translate to pencil and paper skills.

 

Sketching: 5 minutes

 

Step 2: The drafting phase

I make a lot of one of a kind designs, which naturally requires some drafting. This can range from drafting an entirely new pattern to altering an existing pattern in my collection.
For most custom orders, I redraft my pattern to match the customer’s measurements, as most people don’t fit into “standard” sizing.

Random tip: I like using old Tyvek envelopes for patterns because it won’t rip!

 

This shirt is pretty simple, so it only took about 15 minutes

Step 3: The cutting phase

This is another step that varies from piece to piece. My fairytale coats take at least 2 hours to cut because there are so many pieces. A simple tube top might take me 20 minutes. A zip-up hoodie takes an hour or more.

Start snipping!

 

Again, this one is pretty simple, so it only took 30 minutes

 

Step 4: The sewing phase

The most time consuming of all the steps, but one that also varies depending on an item. The formal dresses on my site, like the Nightshade dress, can take more than a full day to assemble. Same with the coats. A tube top takes 30 minutes, but a hoodie takes 3 hours.

 

This one took about an hour and 15 minutes. 75 minutes


Step 5: The photo phase

I usually make a big batch of items and photograph them all at once to make it easier. Because photos are The Most Important part of selling an item online, I like to be thorough. I generally take a modeled photo, a photo on the dressform, and a detail shot of the item.

This is one of the few steps that pretty much takes the same time, no matter what. I spend about 20 minutes on hair and makeup. Photographing 15 clothing items takes about 3 hours. Dividing the whole 3 hours and 20 minutes by 15 gives us 13 minutes per item.

Photographing the item: 13 minutes

 

Step 6: The measuring, weighing, and inspection phase

Before I put the completed items on the garment racks to wait to be sold, I measure and weigh each piece. I also take this time to inspect each one for any detail I might have missed before: stray threads, a skipped stitch, etc. Then they get a good going over with the lint roller and are put away.

Measuring, weighing, double-checking: 5 minutes

 

Step 7: The photo editing phase

The most tedious phase of all. I have to pick through all the modeled shots I take and find the ones where I’m not making a stupid face, blinking, or blurry. I adjust the light and color balance, crop, resize, and I add my watermark.

Editing the photos for one piece takes 30 minutes.

 

Step 8: The listing phase

When I add an item to my website, I have to upload the photos, write the listing description, and decide on a price. If I also list the item in my Etsy shop, I can copy most of that information, but it still takes time. It probably takes about 10-15 minutes to complete the original listing and 5-10 more minutes each time I relist in one of my other venues. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say 15 minutes.

Listing an item: 15 minutes

 

Step 9: The marketing phase

Listing isn’t enough. The second most important component of selling an item online (photos being most important, as I mentioned before) is promotion. If you don’t get the word out, no one will know your stuff is there! For the time it takes me to promote one item on the various social networking sites, 20 minutes is a conservative estimate. (This doesn’t even take into account if I actually purchase advertising.)

Marketing an item: 20 minutes

 

Step 10: The shipping phase

Once an item sells, I have to get it packed up and ready to ship. I spend about 5 minutes tagging and folding and another 5 minutes packaging and labeling. Then I email a shipping notification to the customer.

Note: Most sellers actually drive your package all the way to the post office and stand in line. They’re not only spending time doing that, but they’re spending money on gas. I didn’t figure that into my calculations because I print my labels at home and have the post office pick my packages up, but for some sellers, this is a big Time Hog.

Packing and shipping: 10 minutes

 

Grand total
Sketching: 5 minutes
Drafting: 15 minutes
Cutting: 30 minutes
Sewing: 75 minutes
Photographing: 13 minutes
Measuring: 5 minutes
Photo-editing: 30 minutes
Listing: 15 minutes
Marketing: 20 minutes
Shipping: 10 minutes

 

218 minutes or 3 hours and 38 minutes.

I’m going to stop right here and point out again that this is. not. how. I. determine. my. pricing. I do not time each and every part of making an item. That would be tedious and also I would freak out even more than I normally do about there not being enough hours in the day.

However, to put the amount of time it takes to create one of my items in the context of price, let’s do the math.

I would say my “goal” wage right now is $20 an hour. I used to use $10 as my goal, and then I realized that I could go get quite a few entry level jobs at that rate, and I’m not doing an entry level job. I have 8 years of experience and skill. $20 is a much more appropriate wage for skilled labor.

(And for those that think $20 is a huge wage, a full time job at that wage is equivalent to a salary of a little over $40,000 a year before taxes. Middle class in the US by every standard. On top of that, there’s no sick pay, vacation time, retirement or health insurance. If you still think it’s too high, then I can only shrug and continue on.)

At $20 an hour, this top cost $73 to make. That’s only time/labor, of course. Materials for this top cost $18, bringing our total to $91.

Even with being overly anal about calculating labor and materials, we’re still not anywhere near the true cost, because of “overhead”.

You can make the case that taking photos, editing photos and listing the items all should count as overhead. But so should the TON of time I spend doing extraneous things not counted on this list. Responding to customer emails is a huge one. Every time someone asks a question about an item, it’s another 5 minutes, at least. For the average custom order, I spend at least an hour emailing back and forth with the customer, sketching, shopping for materials, etc. Probably more like two or three hours.

A lot of people also have to drive to the post office (gas money) and stand in line (more time) to ship. I ship from home, because I got REALLY sick of that game. But I still often drive to the post office to get my orders in the mail TODAY, if I missed my mail carrier already. I had to buy a postal scale, and I pay a subscription fee for my print-at-home service.

I offer free shipping from my website, so there’s another cost that comes right out of the price of the item.

I have to order fabric and supplies. I try to clean and oil my machines and vacuum my studio at least once a week. Not to mention the actual cost of sewing machines, computers, utility bills, Etsy and Paypal fees, rent and utilities.

In most standard pricing models, you double the “at-cost” price for wholesale to cover the overhead and then you double the wholesale price for retail! That would put me at over $350.

I would be surprised if there were many handmade sellers using that kind of pricing model, though more power to them if they’re able to.

Let’s say I added on $10 to account for overhead to make it $101. That’s still my wholesale price, which I would then double that for retail – $202.

Yowzers. Obviously, I don’t use this method to price my items. Did I already mention that before? Oh, twice? Okay then.

In reality, I charge about $90 for this top, which coincidentally is the “at cost” price using the above formula.

I don’t point that out for pity’s sake. The responsibility to price things to meet my own goals and needs is on me. Like many artists, I choose to price where I’m comfortable knowing it will sell.

(And now I’m busted. Those of you who know me will have no doubt heard me preaching about the evils of undercharging, yet here I am committing the cardinal sin myself. For shame!)

When you buy a top at Walmart, someone was paid a decent wage to design the top ONCE, and then a person halfway across the world was paid a few cents an hour to make 1000 of them. Total time and materials for a single top at Walmart is maybe $3. If they sell it for $15, they’re marking it up FIVE TIMES the cost.

My stuff isn’t marked up at all, and neither are most handmade artisan goods. Even so, our time is more expensive than a sweatshop worker. But when you buy handmade instead of buying from a corporate giant, you’re getting a lot of things from us that they can’t offer. Handmade means we care about quality and attention to detail. Sweatshop workers care about one thing: make it as fast as possible. Handmade means we care about customer service. All corporations care about is that green stuff in your wallet. Handmade means you’re helping the local economy. Corporations mean you’re helping some rich greedy jerk get even richer.

A few people have responded to this article that just because I WANT to get paid $X an hour doesn’t mean I SHOULD or WILL. And they are absolutely correct. But that’s not the point of the article.

Others have commented that my process is too slow. Time yourself the next time you make a project, start to finish. I can promise you I thought I was a lot faster before I wrote this article. If you can do what I do, and do it faster, kudos to you. But that’s still not the point.

The point is: Don’t be a jerk. I put a lot of time and effort into my pieces, which is what I’ve tried to illustrate here. If you don’t appreciate that, that’s okay.

All I ask is that the next time you’re going to open your yapper about the price of someone’s handmade goods, think before you speak. (And if you’re still tempted to be a jackass, then at least remember the Golden Rule and keep it to yourself.)

And lastly, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of my kickass customers, who are NOT the people that make the comments at the beginning of this post. With their support and appreciation, I am able to do something I love.

For more on this topic, check out these great articles:

367 comments to Why handmade is “so expensive”

  • Matt

    The only problem I can see with this: it’s fair enough wanting to be paid for all the time you put in but by your reasoning – once you’ve sold the first edition of a particular design – you should cut the price down to just cover materials and assembly time right?
    Because you already paid yourself for the designing time from the proceeds of the first sale… or do you only do one off items?

  • Heather

    Kudos to you! Loved the article and am totally with you.
    I think it’s sad that handmade items get looked down upon for being too expensive. Walmart (and store like it) ruined retail. Now all anyone wants is what’s cheap (and yes, I’ve been guilty of that too) even if it’s cheaply made.
    Keep up the good work. You are very talented. :)

  • I think it’s hard for “ordinary” people to understand what it takes to make a garment for selling. I admit that I was like that myself until I went to study as a fashion designer. It opened my eyes. All the materials (fabrics, yarns, decoration stuff..etc), the time you make that garment, marketing, a sewing machine, patternpaper and other stuff you need to just make the pattern or garment… Puuh, they just aren’t free. And also you have to pay taxes for each garment you sell. We all have to pay our bills and I think it takes a lot of work from a fashion designer when they don’t hire chinese children to do it inhumanly with a minimum pay. We should all respect that :)

    Sorry, I carried a away with my post :D And sorry for my bad english. I love your site, it’s very inspirational :)

  • Renee

    Several months ago I saw a article about hand knitted socks. The knitter had a business and sold her socks for $100 a pair. Would have the link to that site? Thanks in advance.

  • Paile

    Hey thought this article was really great, you’re am inspiration. I have no real experience in this kind of business, or any business for that matter as I am very young, however, I was wondering do you have friends or employees to help with the production of your items and for you is there minimum price for some items in order to simply keep your store running. Sorry for being so naive, but I am interested in this area and I am having trouble comprehending how you’re are able to not go hungry.

    • Lex

      I do all of the production myself, but my boyfriend is my business partner and does a huge amount of the promotional work. Part of how this works is that we keep overhead low by doing all of the work ourselves.

  • Mary Beth

    I ‘was’ making custom slipcovers for sofas. My last client put me over the edge by starting to ask how much was paid for fabric. She had changed her mind on the fabric! It took me several calls to the supplier to get swatches and then she changes her mind. I called the supplier and he wouldn’t refund the fabric. I had already sewn/made the large seat cushion because it was a chaise. I am convinced that women are basically ‘cheap’. And I always quote way lower than what it takes to sew the slipcover.

  • Sam

    I think the price should be based on how long the item will last ( how many washes ect.). Price based on anything else is wasteful and bad Karma. If more humans were creators instead of consumers, you could trade your goods to other creators of similar quality.

  • My experience women look down at other women. I heard the comment at my last trunk show “she’s not a big name designer” a lot of women get their fix from wearing “the name brand” They are not buying quality, it is evident by this statement. I have over 35 years of experience. You will get reconigtion if you charge what the big names charge, that is if you can keep the standards high, I can and do.

  • Elizabeth

    My advice to you is to charge a lot more and then people will respect you more. Justifying how much you charge by putting $20 an hour to each task is absurd because you are an artist and your work is limited & exclusive. I agree with the woman who said women like to see this as crafty or women’s work and not true design, because it justifies them wanting it for less. I am certain that you are worth more then $20 an hour. At least start with $60 an hour and you will see that you will be a well respected designer.

  • Ashleigh

    This was a wonderful article! I hope you dont mind me quoting some of what you have written on my own blog? I will reference you and this blog thoroughly though :)

  • Cheri

    All I can say is “amen!”

  • Awesome article! It’s a good thing that we handmade artists LOVE what we do!

    I make natural kids’ toys, and a lot of time and effort goes into every one. My prices are high, but not when you consider the time and quality materials. I do not charge anywhere near the standard pricing model.

    Thanks for a great article!

  • Great article. Everything I make is one of a kind and there is a lot of work in the process. I get very discouraged because I cannot compete with China and people really have lowered their ideas of what is quality. However I love creating and keep pressing on. Again great article.

  • Dana

    Love this. Agree with every word.

  • Sue McLoughlin

    Hi Lex, what a great article. I live in Ireland and have been a hand knitter and have been for over 30 years, although it is only in the last three years that I have been selling my work. The comments about my designs were great, ie’ you wouldn’t see that in the shops’, ‘very unusual but beautiful’, ‘WOW’ stunning’ etc etc. Then there were the other rude comments, ‘I can buy it cheaper from Penney’s, Dunnes, Asda’, ‘I’ll give you €5 for it’, and of course ‘that’s way over priced’. I did put up a sign in my shop: Would all prospective customers please consider the following before making insulting offers on my work. ie the time it takes to make the item, the cost of the materials, my overheads ie emailing customers, electricity, phone calls etc. I still got some very rude remarks after displaying this, but, some other people were very apologetic and even purchase some of my work. Now, I label all of my items with the time it takes me to make them so that people can see how much effort and love has gone into making them. It seems to be paying off. Might be an idea from some of the other crafters who have posted replies to you write up. We are very under rated in many people’s eyes. Good on you Lex for for speaking up.

  • Michelle

    I hardly think you are being “too slow.” If anything, you seem to be a bit conservative with your time estimations. Although, with 8 years under your belt, you probably have everything down to a science. Good sticking up for yourself.

  • Every time I hear that “Oh, I could make that for $5.00.” The first words out of my mouth are, “Really? I’ll take 12 dozen, how soon can you have them ready?” That usually shuts them up.

  • A wonderful article. I face exactly the same problem. The ultimate case was some fellow who averred, ‘I can make that.’ He walks off and comes around again and asks me where I get my designs. A big part of our problem is that the great majority of people no longer make anything. They do not even cook much less hook rugs, make clothing or raise a garden. Thus no concept of process, or its skill or time requirements.

    • Lex

      So true, and yet for some reason, they all think they can do everything!

      Of course, if they really can make what we make (for so much less!), then why aren’t they?

  • Jay

    I’ve lost count of how many times someone comes up to my table at a convention and goes “pfft, I could make that…I’m not spending the money.” It’s horribly rude, and few of our handmade jewelry pieces are over $20. Breaking down the materials and whatnot can cause some items to be huge in profit, while others are barely breaking even. I underprice a few items (I know I know that’s bad) to counter balance the ones that fit more towards the “Standard” of pricing. This is a fantastic article though.

  • Arielle

    I’ve been rather ignorant in my life before and told someone I could make something that they made, and tried, then of course gave up and realised how much effort it took.

    I also guessed on your rate of pay before I actually saw your cost breakdown. My assumption was based on what you should be paid for your experience and time. When people look at the amount of money it takes to do things in this day-in-age, things don’t really look so grandiose. I try to buy as much made in usa items as I can to support businesses like yours, and the people whom work in them. That usually means paying a little more, and buying less (something most people should do).

  • Cassie

    THANK YOU!
    I knit & crochet.I don’t make a job of it for many reasons. However, I get many compliments on my work & everyone wants SOMETHING. After a few people have been more than disappointing, I have quit selling. I strictly donate. Prices can be difficult to gage & you pose a good point of entry level. I have found fiber experts are far from entry level.

  • Cher

    I hate it when people come up to my shop at the shows I do and say they can make that. I actually told one guy that is great I need 100 made by the end of this week for another show I’m doing. The look on his face was priceless and a few of the other shops got a big laugh out of it.

  • I totally understand where you’re coming from, just ignore them!
    They’re the same dumbasses that’ll pay 199.99 for a simple white T-shirt that Beyoncé or some other famous people would make!

  • charris

    Wow…When I read 3 1/2 hours to make that shirt I was impressed! That is fast!

  • Tasha

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’m a handmade artist and lover myself. As I attend more shows, I heard these little comments from some people that visited my booth.
    I tried to ignore them, but sometimes these little jabs just makes me go nuts.
    I put so much effort and love on each items, I just wish that everyone understands that.

  • Heather

    Artisans are undervalued as most people have no idea the work or resources that goes into making something, clothing seems to be particularly problematic because of much coming from third world countries at 1/10th the cost. I think it would have been good for your article to cover the costs of set up too. I had a friend a while back ask me to knock up a copy of a t-shirt they liked I said sure that will be $790. obviously they didn’t take me up on offer. When I explained to him that it would require a cover stitch machine(that’s $750 of the price, I was still quoting low) and I don’t have one yet he stared at me blankly. He said but you have lots of machines. after explain the different types of machines he then said surely that’s for a top of the line machine! I then took him on the JUKI website and showed him what industrial vs handmade sewing is, I showed him just how expensive machines can be. And sure I could have done a work around and made it with my other overlocker and a twin needle, and yes I would have recouped the cost of machine eventually but that’s not the point. The expectation of people who think it’s somehow my responsibility to pay for their stinginess is really frustrating. sorry rant over. Again love the article ta.

    • Jake

      Very True! While I am a woodworker, not a seamster, the principle is the same. I literally have tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment but some people think if I’m not competing with IKEA prices I’m overcharging. Well, if you want particle board junk, go ahead and go to IKEA. If you want solidwood furniture that you will be able pass down to your kids and then to their kids, then come see me.

  • LOVED your perspective. Living in the age of WALMART is never easy for soft goods entrepreneurs :-)

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