OR: 5 reasons deciding to shop handmade is for YOU
As told by Leah Jones: Matt’s eldest daughter
M.Jones Creations has been going full swing for just over a year, and I have really enjoyed spending some weekends at craft shows. I get to talk to other vendors, organizers, and, most importantly, the people who attend them. Becoming an appendage to a member of the artisan community has slowly changed the way I think about shopping for gifts. Other than the obvious (supporting local businesses and artisans), here are some reasons I’ve decided to shop handmade this Christmas.
1. Skip the Crowds
If you’re anything like me, you don’t mind malls or big-box stores most of the year. I need a new pair of dress pants for work, stop in at the great outlet center. My fan breaks in the middle of a heat-wave, Walmart it is. But as soon as mid-November hits, I tend to avoid high-traffic shopping areas. Crowded parking lots, exhausted children, and picked-over “sale” sections give me a headache that doesn’t go away until after boxing day.
But when you shop handmade…
Many artisans sell their products through multiple venues, including local shops that love hand-made items and antiques looking for a home. The person behind the cash isn’t a disgruntled teen looking to save up for a car, they’re owners who have a real passion for curating a collection of unique and high-quality goods. These proprietors know the artisan in person; know their name, know where they come from, and know the history of the gift you’re looking at. But best of all… they’re not one of a hundred stores shoved into a crowded parking lot along with 4000 panicked Christmas shoppers. Most artisans will gladly provide you with a list of stores that carry their product if you ask, or you can usually find a list online. These stores are also great places to discover new artisans and products, for gifts and for yourself.
Some local options
Here are some shops in Ontario we love, where you can also find our barn board items:
- Clover and Chrysalis: Cambridge ON
- Simply Cottage: Bracebridge ON
- The Revive Studio: Morriston ON
- The Basement Off Broadway: Paris ON
- The Windmill: Mt. Pleasant ON
- Big Deal: Brantford ON
- McCormick Country Store: Camden East ON
- A Country Mile: Mapleview Mall, Burlington ON
I can hear you saying, “I don’t need to go to Walmart to GO to Walmart nowadays – that’s what the Internet is for!” Well, big box stores aren’t the only ones who have embraced alternative options for Christmas shopping. This all leads me to…
Shopping handmade is easier than ever, largely in part to the wonderful thing most of us hold in our pockets: the Internet. The same thing that makes it possible for you to read this blog has been harnessed by artisans around the world to set up online shops and websites. Etsy has played a large part in this, allowing you to browse for just about anything that can be crafted by hand, from clothes to decor to books and more. Etsy is basically handmade Amazon; browse your options, pick your style, pay with a credit card and have it shipped right to your door! Other artisans have e-commerce right on their websites instead, but its the same concept. You can shop handmade without leaving your house. How’s that for convenient?
Now not all handmade products work for a shop like Etsy. For products made from reclaimed or recycled materials (like our barn board flags), each piece is completely unique, and really should be picked out individually. HOWEVER don’t dismay – many artisans have multiple avenues for you to choose from when it comes to getting your hands on their goods (ours are conveniently listed on the “where to buy” section of our site). Find a local shop that carries their items, make a trip out of it and go visit the artisan in person, or visit one of the many craft shows that the Artisan frequents. Many artisans now take credit cards using things like SquareUp, and there are always e-transfers and shipping if you can’t make it out to visit. Most artisans will be happy to help find the best way for you to shop handmade.
3. Quality Products
Artisans care about their products. Most artisans (at least the good ones) get into the business because they love their craft, and have a talent for it. Artisans can’t afford expensive advertising spots or space on the shelves of big box stores. Instead, members of the handmade revolution rely on word of mouth, and online reviews to do their advertising for them.
What does this mean for you?
When the consumer’s word means everything to a business, quality is key. Etsy users can leave product reviews right on the bottom of the product page. Facebook allows customers to tell their friends and the artisan directly how much they love their new handmade item.
Long story short, poor quality goods usually don’t make it far in the artisan world. Talk to others at the craft show, read the comments, and ask questions about the process and materials. Most artisans love talking about their work and the time that goes into it. Do your research, and I promise you’ll be impressed with just how much goes into handmade items.
4. Something for Every Budget
There’s a misconception that handmade items are only feasible for those with big budgets. The truth is there are lots of options at many different price points. It only takes spending a few minutes on Etsy or at a craft show to see you can find handmade gifts anywhere from $5 to $500. My family does a $15 “steal a gift” game each year, and I’m positive I can easily find something handmade to fit the bill. If you’re looking for a bigger-ticket item, the artisan community has that covered too.
This being said here are a few tips to help save on handmade gifts:
- Follow your favourite artisans on social media and be the first to know if they are having a promotion or sale.
- Cut out the shipping. If possible, pick your piece up in person or have a local friend pick it up for you.
- Visit craft shows. Some vendors have “show specials” because you are coming to them.
- Pick from the standard offering. Custom work is time-consuming for artisans and priced accordingly.
A note on haggling…
Artisans spend a lot of time coming up with fair pricing for their items. They must consider their time, materials, HST, as well as costs of things like participating in craft shows. Remember these are high-quality items made by people who put in lots of time to make them so, not something at a flea market or car dealership. Blatantly asking for discounts is largely discouraged in Artisan communities. Would you haggle at a storefront?
I generally find most people who shop handmade are happy with the prices that artisans set. Often consumers understand the value of handmade goods compared their mass-produced counterparts, and can see that value in the items they’re choosing from.
And now, my favourite part about shopping handmade…
5. Gifts With a Story
When you shop handmade, you aren’t just gifting someone a product. Supporting an artisan means taking home their skills, passion, and (most importantly) their story.
Handmade gifts are a conversation piece. Where did you find it? Where is the artist from? Maybe its made from naturally shed antlers, or wool from alpacas that live in Dorchester, or salvaged barn board from all over Southern Ontario. Maybe each piece takes hours to carve or knit or paint or dry. Did you find it in a great outdoor craft show or a cool store running out of an old foundry? Did you spend an hour going through the options to find just the right piece for a loved one, or see it from across a crowded craft show floor and know immediately it was perfect for a friend? Maybe you got it custom made, just for them.
Handmade gifts are so much fun to give in person, because you get to tell its story, and its connection to the real person who made it, just for them.
You can’t get that with a DVD or waffle-maker.
Final Thoughts: Shop Handmade (Where You Can)
Shopping ONLY handmade this Christmas is a lofty goal. I’m not suggesting you limit yourself to only artisan-made goods. If my sister loves a movie that came out this year or my fiance has his eye on a specific watch, I’d be happy to fight through the big-box stores to get it for them.
What I’m suggesting is to consider handmade options for a few of the people on your shopping list. Save yourself time wandering crowded malls, stay within your budget, and find something high-quality with a great story to be shared with future gift-admirers.
I’m shopping for handmade gifts this year because it makes sense for me, and because I can’t wait to watch them be opened.
Some places to look for that perfect handmade gift:
- Craft shows: if you’ve missed a show, don’t dismay! Many shows list the artisans in their past shows on their websites (e.g.: Art in the Barn). I often look up past shows just to find artisans and products I might like, and to get their websites.
- Find a local store that supports handmade products (see “where to buy” for our picks)
- Ask around! Ask in person or on Facebook for recommendations.
- Etsy: it really is a great way to find artisans from around the globe
M. Jones Creations makes handmade rustic decor from reclaimed barn wood. Creations include: Barnboard Canadian Flags, railway spike coat racks, and barn door furniture. Everything is handmade by Matt Jones in Burford Ontario.