Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fairness For All

This issue of fairness, in regards to design, came up recently in my office lunchroom, when a group of us were admiring some handmade knits, made by a local Vancouver designer, in a magazine. We all drooled over the chunky brown shawl, and coveted it for our own, but when the $160 price tag was mentioned, it was quickly deemed ‘ridiculous!’ to be asked, as the consumer, to pay so much. At first I was nodding my head in agreement – I mean I can knit too, right? How dare she deem her knitting more valuable than mine? Until I realized, this designer is right.

Why shouldn’t she be asking for so much? Sure, wool isn’t that expensive, but there is her time to consider, overhead business costs, not to mention that the design is her art. Now how can you place a value on the passion, devotion and creativity that went into designing each handmade item? From afar that scarf may look like the one you saw at the mall last week, but trust me – it’s not. And as a jewelry designer myself, I felt ashamed for having discounted the value of this designer’s work. When I put myself in her shoes, I realize that is exactly how much she should ask for. Why? Because it’s fair.

Now trust me – I love a bargain. And I am definitely not advocating price gouging my customers! I just think that with all things considered in these poor economic conditions, we need to put our dollars in the right places. Victoria business owner, Trish Tacoma - owner of Smoking Lily - says it right: “It’s training your customers to understand that no, you’re not gonna get that $10 T-shirt because there’s no possible way that you can produce that $10 T-shirt ethically. It’s just not gonna happen. It’s training people to see that the sewers and printers are worth paying a decent wage too,” she says. “But I think people appreciate that the person buying the same groceries at the grocery store has made the dress they’re wearing. I think people really like that . . . buying local keeps the local economy going and keeps the money in the community.”

Life is about choices, and that includes the choices we make as consumers. I think it is so important to be armed with information about your buying choices, because there isn’t a single product or service out there without someone’s livelihood being on the line behind it. A conscious consumer should be aware of the difference between a bargain, and a steal.

Buying handmade is like buying a piece of art. You can guarantee that the designer has put a lot of thought, care, and attention into every single detail. The product has been produced under favourable and fair working conditions and quality is guaranteed. Most designers, including myself, have a lot of pride for their work and are happy to do repairs at any point in the item's life.

Luckily, resources like Ethical Consumer (an online directory of ethical Canadian businesses) make it easy to stay connected and informed about businesses in your community that do make a difference. This holiday season, more than other years, will be about making every dollar count in the most meaningful way. Buying handmade, while supporting fair trade business is the reason this season.


  1. Hey Jessica,

    This article is awesome!

    Thanks for mentioning us-
    All the girls from the Smoking Lily Studio

  2. It is important to have a sustainable economy, and that does not come from paying ridiculously low prices for everything.

    I am all for trying to find practical ways to save money while still supporting our local economy, but not ways to save money on creativity. As a society of rabid consumers, what we buy, where we buy it, and why we buy it are all equally important - go for local, quality products that will last. This in the long term will allow certain things to be produced on a larger scale, and lower the cost of them overall in the long run, (such as organic veggies,) and help us to readjust our values when it comes to artisans and craftspeople.

    (And I love my earings, by the way!)

  3. Chelsea, you are dead on with what you are saying here! Thanks so much for your vote of confidence and insightful words!