Monday, June 7, 2010

I can't afford to buy handmade ... or, can I?

Yesterday, I vended at a small, local monthly craft fair. Due to violent storms that kept sweeping through Chicago in waves, there was nearly zero foot traffic. Most of us who regularly sell at this show all know each other, at least vaguely, so much of the day was spent wandering over to one anothers' tables, drooling over the new pretties that everyone had made in the past month, and following that with a heavy sigh and the obligatory "I really wish I could buy from you but I am sooooo broke right now -- maybe if I make some sales today."

Disappointed in my lack of sales, my inability to afford other sellers' sparkly wares, and in my fellow Chicagoans' unwillingness to leave the house in bad weather, I hunkered down with my pliers and chainmaille rings and got to work. I reminded myself that the day wasn't a total loss if I could at least get some new pieces made.

The storms finally eased a bit, and we had a few shoppers come through as the show was about to wrap up. One woman immediately made her way over to my table. She had about a decade on me and looked utterly normal on the surface, but I could tell from the black hair and something about the way she'd carried herself that she'd been goth back in the day. After spending a fair amount of time admiring my jewelry, holding various pairs of earrings up to her ears, and asking lots of questions about my process, she uttered those same words I'd been hearing all day: "I'm unemployed and I have NO money to be spending on this sort of thing -- seriously, NONE."

OK, fair enough. I was in the same boat (though I do have a day job) and I'd been hearing the same thing all day; times are tough for us all. I started to commisserate, and then she added, "but, I'm starting a business and I believe in supporting other small business owners. You can't put out to the universe that you have no money and can't support others, and then expect others to support you, right?" With that, she took a pair of earrings off my display, paid for them, and left with a smile.

Her words are still stuck in my head as I write this. Here was a woman most likely worse off than me, yet she somehow found 10 bucks to support my craft. Why were none of us vendors doing the same for each other? Is it that we really didn't have the money, or that we were choosing to spend our money elsewhere? Speaking only for myself, it was the latter.

I have gotten into the habit of checking handmade venues first when I NEED to buy something -- for example, I recently needed a get-well card for a relative and bought one on Etsy rather than picking up something generic at the CVS down the street. But for those of us, like me, who have a little room in our budgets for the occasional want, couldn't we sometimes choose to swap one want for another? Here in Chicago, $10 buys you one fancy girly martini in a nice bar, cab fare when you're too impatient to wait for a delayed bus, an ordered-in lunch at the office, entry to a club. Couldn't I pass on that drink, suck it up and wait for the bus, brown bag my lunch, or forgo a night out now and then, so that I've got a little extra cash to support another independent crafter?

I generally don't believe in "The Secret" -- positive thinking is all well and good, but I think saying that people who have cancer or are starving to death in third world countries just aren't putting out enough positive, abundant energy to the universe is a load of hooey. But I do believe in karma, what-goes-around-comes-around, do-unto-others, whatever you want to call it, to some extent. And the next time I catch myself telling another crafter that I can't afford to buy from her, I'm going to think about whether that's really true, or whether I could make a different choice so that I can.

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