At the beginning of November I was in Milwaukee vending at the Midwest Gaming Classic. Traffic, and thus sales, were slow, leaving me with lots of time to browse the internet. I came across Umair Haque’s article “Why Everything is Suddenly Getting More Expensive — And Why It Won’t Stop”. Haque discusses how certain costs of production has been excluded from the final price of products since the start of the Industrial Revolution. This means that prices have been artificially low all these years. While the article focuses on such externalized costs as pollution, the disparity between the true cost of goods and what consumers pay is a familiar one to makers, artists and crafters.
Making–whether furniture, clothing, kitchen pots or food–was changed by the industrial revolution. Machines could weave fabric faster tahn human hands. Sewing machines made hand sewing obsolete. The assembly line divorced the artisan from the final product. And in that process time and labor gained a new, cheaper price. People power was priced at the same rate as machine power.
Fast fashion and off-the-rack clothing is priced so low because the cost of the labor to make it (from fabric production to the actual sewing of the garments) has been deliberately devalued. Customers used to paying $8 for a T-shirt at Walmart cannot fathom why artists charge more for any item of clothing. I had to justify the prices of my skirts (which I sold for between $55 and $65) all the time. Yes, I could have charged half of that if I greatly discounted or even excluded the cost of my labor. But that wasn’t going to pay my bills.
What will it mean for crafters and makers if prices continue to climb and don’t drop eventually? If the cost of mass produced goods starts to close in on the cost of handmade we might see a rise in people buying the latter over the former. There might be less haggling at events. Makers might not have to constantly defend their pricing strategies. Maybe we all stop undervaluing our labor. That would be lovely.