Updated: Aug 10
On the 31st of March I attended a Food and Craft Fair in Manor West Shopping Centre in Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland where I was given space for a 6 foot table to show my products. I met loads of people who told me that my work was beautiful and some who picked up bowls recognizing how special and unique they looked. Their look of wonder evaporated when I told them the price of the bowl they were holding. I tried to explain how much work goes into each individual piece, how rare the wood is and that if anything I am not charging enough for my work but the damage was already done. They thanked me for my time and moved on. The reality was they couldn't put the bowl down fast enough and leg it.
A side effect of importing cheap goods
The above attitude is not unique and I can't say that I actually blamed that person. Sure, it hurt a little to have my work knocked back like that. I suspect that it is a side effect of importing cheap goods into Ireland all the time which is ultimately damaging our sense of value.
Perceived Value Versus Market Reality
I can see why someone would baulk initially at the idea of paying €100 for a Salad Bowl, it is a lot of money for a simple hardwood bowl after all and you can find cheaper alternatives. I myself would probably hesitate to hand over that kind of money without an explanation of it's history. It seems most of the people I meet at various fairs have funny ideas about time and cost. Every one without fail would refuse point blank to cut their wages in half but feel justified calling something a Craftsperson has made expensive without hearing how it was made and how long it took. Where does this attitude stem from?
My previous blog post wood doesn't Grow on Trees has one part of the answer where wood is perceived to be less valuable than other materials (it's not). The other answer I believe is the effect of mass production and importation of ultra cheap products from a country I don't need to mention. In the interest of higher profits, companies source foreign factories to mass produce their products at a much lower rate than if their goods were made in factories in Europe. This was fine when it was only a few companies doing it but now we see many more following suit. The negative results are already visible in many countries but does not really concern the people because they are buying cheaper products. You've lost your long term job and your children will find it hard to find work but that's ok because you only paid €600 for an Ipad. Local businesses are suffering as a result. I don't even need to name any city, town or village specifically as it is happening everywhere.
Nowadays, people are also buying with the knowledge that the item may break quickly but "that's ok because it was very cheap and I'll just bin it and buy another". Whatever happened to the old way of buying something that's made to last? This attitude is contributing to oceans full of plastic waste. When will we learn?
How do you change what is happening without costing you a fortune? It's quite simple. Spend €5 to €10 a week in a local business that you wouldn't normally go to. If everyone did this, your town would flourish and businesses would in turn put that back into the local economy.
Shortsighted Spending Patterns
Buying cheap and/or throwaway goods is a false economy and very shortsighted spending. I am one of those small businesses out there and small purchases allow me to make a small living wage. Bigger purchases allow me to live a bit. Going back to that €100 Salad Bowl from earlier, which took about 8 months to dry, 4 hours of work to process start to finish, 3 years of learning to dry wood, on top of 15 years of general woodwork experience, not including overhead charges and VAT. €100 doesn't sound like a lot for something that could last forever.
What can you do about it?
It's a bit on the nose but you can visit my online shop today for real, quality Irish made products or book a private viewing of my stock. All pieces are environmentally sound.
Update in 2023; In the last 2 years I have added retail products to sell on my website. This is not a cop out but an attempt at survival. The only reason my business has survived Covid and the inflation of 2022 is by selling goods for a small profit. Have a look around my website, you might be surprised at the variation of products I have in stock.