“$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.
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.
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.
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
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:
- The Project Workbench: Materials, Time, Creativity
- TwinkieChan: Trader Joe’s Yogurt and $9 Wine
- SomerSherwood: The True Cost of Handmade