In high school, I was a *bit* of a drama nerd. One of the plays I was in was called The Curious Savage. I played Lilly Belle, the spoiled socialite. It was the closest I ever came (or ever will come) to being part of the upper class. It’s a wonderful play about what makes a person “crazy”. One exchange from the play has been coming to me a lot lately.
Hannibal: And did you know that the human body has only twenty cents’ worth of calcium in it—five cents’ worth of iodine, twenty cents’ worth of phosphorus, and –well—even at present high prices—nobody is worth over a dollar and a half.
Mrs. Savage: So you only value me at a dollar and a half?
Hannibal: Never. You said “worth”. Your value is inestimable.
The Curious Savage by John Patrick
I can still hear the disappointment in April’s (playing Mrs. Savage) voice when she thought she was only valued at $1.50.
This question of worth and value has been plaguing me as I’ve been trying to price my work.
Usually, I subscribe to the philosophy on the right, which I’ve stolen from the internet. However, over time, I’ve been asked to sell some items for various different events and functions.
I have to admit, I’m usually very Hannibal-like. Many years ago, FIL and I got into a slight amount of trouble one Christmas. We were given a limit on how much to spend for our Christmas exchange.
My FIL made me this beautiful laminated cutting board (I don’t let Poopie use it, I can’t trust him to only use one side). I made a pair of socks for a cousin. We were told we “cheated” because our gifts were worth more than the limit. However, neither of us spent *any* money on our gifts. The materials were scraps off from other projects we had done.
I had made many things before for close family. Many of my family are crafters. So while handmade is appreciated, it is also more expected. We never learned how to determine the worth of the items in dollars and cents. It’s like that meme says–either free, or no go. Basically, it’s putting a dollar amount on love. We were also poor, so we weren’t ever going to spend money on something we could do ourselves, so it’s not like we had an idea of what *other* people were willing to spend for the same/similar item.
Which leads me to my Other News. I was invited to participate as an artist at the Second Annual Rejected Art Faire (I’m assuming it’s going to keep going). I am so excited about this project as a whole and will surely bore you in future blogs about it. There are so many lessons to be gleaned from this event!! We’ll have an arts vs. crafts discussion at some point. As well as discussions about rejection, perceived failures, the downfalls of perceived success. Who knows what else I will milk this thing for.
Right now, though, we are going to look at value and worth since I need to figure out pricing structures on my items. Let’s take Poopie’s Cookie Monster (featured image). I want you all to realize that I have re-stuffed him 2x. I have no idea at all where his stuffing goes. One of the times I fixed him, I tried to put eyes back on him, and believe it or not, he looked way creepier. So, Cookie is still blind. Defining value vs. worth is difficult because they are in each other’s definitions. For ease of understanding, Dear Reader, I will just use definitions based on above. Worth is the dollar amount. Value is the intrinsic amount. So: W orth = W ealth and Value = Values.
Take Cookie (don’t really, we’d cry). We will talk about worth first, because that seems to be easiest (I’ll show later on how it’s not). Cookie is literally worth nothing. Even if you found a Cookie monster collector, they wouldn’t want him. However, I know without a doubt that if the house were on fire, Cookie would be the first thing saved, even before me. There are many reasons why Cookie is so valued. However, those reasons don’t translate to dollars and cents. So, his value is truly inestimable. For more on this subject, I highly recommend reading The Velveteen Rabbit. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s at any library as well as retail outlet.
In the past, I’ve crafted as gifts. I think I’ve talked in less specific terms about how the Value of those gifts were mismatched. Take a sock for example (I make a LOT of socks, so this is easy). The cost of making a pair of socks for me is this: 5-30.00 for yarn (depending on the yarn used and if I find a sale). If I’m hand knitting, then we won’t count the cost of the needles because they are amortized over many projects–so, we’ll assume that it would end up being a wash. However, with hand knitting, it would take me say 10 hours, (an hour a day for 2 weeks = 14 hours) which is crazy fast–I’m sure it’s way more. Minimum wage in Oregon is 10.25/hour. That means that I should get 100.00 in labor. But we all know that’s unrealistic, so lets say it’s only 5.00 an hour. Even *significantly* devaluing my labor, this pair of socks is 55.00. Ok, I rarely “hand knit” a pair of socks anymore. I use a Circular Sock Machine (CSM). That brings my labor time down to 45 minutes to crank each sock. But I still have to close the toes by hand, so I’ll say just 15 minutes for finishing a pair of socks. We are back to an hour. Lets not devalue my labor quite so much. Lets say minimum wage is appropriate, and not argue that (though I could). So the time is less, but the CSM costs $2,000. I have NOT made anywhere close to 2,000 pairs of socks. But lets say I do, that’s still $1.00 a sock. So, conservatively speaking, with significant devaluation of myself (by way of my labor), not taking into account any overhead or profit (yay capitalism), a pair of my socks is worth:
$5.00 yarn, $10.25 labor, $1.00 machine, which is still $16.25. Again, this is the product only, this does not include the marketing/selling costs (booth costs, time in a booth, web hosting fees, I could continue to go on and on)
I go through all of that not necessarily to show you how awesome I am (though I am awesome), but to continue this conversation of value and worth. A pair of socks made for a gift is worth $16.25, but what is it’s value? That is in the eye of the receiver.
The cousin listed above found the value to be much more than that $16.25, that’s why I got in trouble. For that cousin, the fact that I made it gives the item more value than it’s worth. However, Thing 2 doesn’t find the fact that I made something to be of any more or less value than the item’s worth. She would much rather I spend $1.00 on a store bought pair of socks for her. She values them much more than socks I make. For whatever reason, they fit her values better than the socks I make. I’ll be honest — for a long time, this hurt my feelings. To be truly honest, this still hurts my feelings. I do not make her socks any more because of the value mismatch. The purpose of giving is pleasing the recipient, so it behooves me to give what is valued by the other person. Not necessarily what I value. My feelings have been much better since I stopped trying to foist my valuables onto someone who prefers something else. We are both happier: she gets what she wants, and my feelings aren’t as badly hurt.
So, we come to the pricing of my work. The general public much better aligns with Thing 2 when it comes to value vs. worth of a handmade item. So we have to price accordingly. However, many in the public still don’t understand how much they are devaluing labor. I’m not even talking about intellectual, emotional, or creative labor. I’m talking about just the manual labor. Others who work in the previously listed fields can go into much more detail on their concerns. I’ll just say that if a maker of goods has such a hard time valuing their work, how much harder is it for a maker of ideas, feelings, and/or services?
I have been to events with vendors and heard people scandalized at the prices of some things. In fact, I see it in Facebook groups as well. Or they don’t understand how something which they believe takes fewer materials could be a similar price. Well, maybe the labor is the same? For example, if I get into making shorty socks, they’ll probably be the same price as “regular” sized socks (20.00 for inquiring minds). Why? because I can still only get the same number of socks out of a skein regardless, and because the most difficult part is the shaping, which I will still have to do, so, the savings in labor is minimal, and as we see, I’m already devaluing my work left and right to make it marketable.
We have all done it–we’ve discussed pricing of someone’s work in their booth, or just outside of it. Guess what…they can still hear you. The question for you shouldn’t be how much it cost them to make it, but rather, how much would it cost you to make it?
One year, BIL and SIL thought they would make gifts instead of buying. Part of it was Christmas ideals, and part of it was honestly cost saving. Do you know what they found? They ended up spending at least as much money, and far more time making things than buying pre-made things. I’m not sure how all the other recipients of their gifts feel, but I can tell you, regardless of what the dollar amount they spent on making my gift, the value is inestimable to me.
So, why would you spend $20.00 on handmade socks when you could spend $1.00 on store bought? It depends on what you value in a sock. If you want a barrier between your foot and your shoe, then buy the $1.00 sock. But, in doing so, don’t tell an artist/crafter that their wares are not worth what their price is. But, if there is something in the socks that matches your values, then by all means, buy them. And if you cannot afford them, let the maker know how pleased you are that they are making things that match your values.