Not quite a handmade Christmas

Some time ago I came across the Handmade Pledge. It was appealing – the pledge to support indie crafters by buying handmade gifts and requesting that others buy handmade for the pledgee. But I haven’t signed up and I suspect I won’t. I tried figuring  that out this morning (pretty early, while knitting a sock that will be a gift).

First of all, a little bit more about the pledge. It is expressly in support of indie crafters in a move away from conspicuous consumption, the environmental damage involved in mass production, a political protest against unfair labour practices and the multinational ‘big box’ department stores and their homogenous style. As the site says, some take the pledge for political and environmental reasons and others in support of the individuality and creativity of the indie scene. These are all good reasons to take the pledge, whichever part of the globe you come from.

But I haven’t taken the pledge because real life intervenes and the things that have intervened are things that I think a burgeoning indie craft movement should recognise. Mostly, it’s economics. It takes a certain middle-class privilege to take the pledge. It takes a reasonably secure income, access to a secure high-speed internet connection, time, and exposure to the craft scene. A low paid job dependent on hourly wages won’t really get you there; public internet access is not great for the security of your banking details (and most indie craft is accessible online); working overtime, double shifts or the second job really eats into your crafting time; and a certain cultural orientation is required which relies on leisure time to explore one’s own creativity and value that time spent as a worthy activity (rather than supporting other family members, working those extra hours, or spending time on family and housework).

So I haven’t taken the pledge even though I’m middle-class with a steady income. I don’t have time to commit to making all of my gifts, much and all as I would like. I do have to consider housework, tiredness, and enjoying time with my family. I have to actively manage my stress levels and help others manage theirs, so saying I’m going to be out of the loop for the weekend while I craft isn’t really fabulous. And we have budget limitations so I couldn’t really commit to buying handmade. I respect the talent and hardwork of crafters enough that I accept the higher prices that go with hand made items.

This isn’t meant as a rant against the buying handmade pledge but a call to understand the economic and social constraints that may prevent many from participating. And having some understanding of those constraints means that indie crafters (and I hope to be one of them someday) can adopt a new way of selling our goods. A range of goods that can be priced into the lower range; investigating different physical market locations; a referral system that shows customers where to buy affordable, handmade fair trade goods.

It just seems to me that if you’re going to be alternative then you need to go beyond the surface of things and offer an alternative structure or way of operating. Think about why you find the system unacceptable and see how you can do things differently for the benefit of the greatest range of customers.

Hear endeth the lesson.

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1 Comment

  1. kate said,

    January 9, 2009 at 1:06 am

    Clearly I’ve taken rather a long time to get my thoughts together on the Handmade Pledge, but here goes anyway. I haven’t signed up for it, or promoted it explicitly, but I support it in general.

    I haven’t taken it largely because I’m “not a joiner” as they say in highschool, or perhaps “a bit commitment phobic” as they say in therapy. I try to be clear about the sorts of presents we would prefer people give us and the kid, and give them a heads up on where you find such things. The people in my life who buy kids plastic made in China aren’t cash poor though, some are time poor. Some are just creative thinking poor, or just not on my wavelength on what constitutes a good toy. They tend to go to one big toy shop and buy everything in one go. Much as I would like to boss them around, I don’t tell those people where they should spend their money. I do try to steer them in the direction of toys that I wont have to take directly to the op shop or the bin. I try to engage them in conversation about the sorts of toys the kid really loves long term, and the sorts of toys that are interesting over several years for different purposes. I don’t think I’m winning. People seem quite happy to tell me why I’m wrong and give the kid toys they know will annoy me.

    This Christmas the adults on my side of the family decided to give money to a school in Kenya rather than presents to each other “because we don’t really need anything” and supporting education in developing nations is a good thing. Despite this, the loungeroom was groaning under the weight of presents for the kids. Many of those presents were made overseas, possibly by very poor children, or parents who are far more “time poor” than any of us. I never have figured out how we (as a culture) decide that if fair trade goods are too expensive for us, the non-fair trade goods are a reasonable, or essential, purchase. I can’t work out why, if I couldn’t afford a fair trade soccer ball, my kid would be entitled to a cheap soccer ball made by someone else’s kid. A kid who is too poor to ever go to school. It all makes me very cranky every December.

    So every Christmas I come back to supporting the handmade pledge, with my exemptions for buying wine and books (from a charity wine-seller and local bookshop) because it challenges us to think about our sense of entitlement. I feel entitled, goddammit, to provide the kid with a big pile of toys and if I haven’t made them, or saved up for them, or planned for them, I should still be able to go out Christmas Eve and whack something on the credit card. The fact that he doesn’t need anything, on the contrary he’s drowning in toys, doesn’t come into it.

    I’m not really sure how we get there, but part of it is teaching our kids why their haul on Christmas morning is smaller than their classmates’, which is hard work at least in part because we have to step back from what we want to provide and commit ourselves to what we can provide ethically. Part of it is teaching the general populace how to spot the difference between good toys and crappy toys. Another bit is the campaign for fairer and safer labour universally, coz it’s not all about the individual consumer decisions. Some collective action wouldn’t go astray.


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