The other day, someone asked me that question (yes, all makers get some form of this same question), “Why make buttons, Jo-Anns has lots of them for cheap”!
I especially cringe when the question is delivered with the condescending tone and attitude that you are some sort of sub-species because you haven’t figured this out yet. The best response is to NOT get defensive. Just realize that they are feeling threatened by your obvious creative skills and are already in full-on defensive mode themselves (it works for me!). Their auto-response is to make you feel like an idiot so they don’t have to. Don’t try to educate them at this point, their wall is up and nothing you say will get through. Accept that they are not a member of your tribe and never will be. Answer with a polite and non-committal “because it’s fun” and let it, and them, move on. If they are not already on the defensive and are genuinely interested, give them a polite and educational answer. This is the same attitude you need to respond to people who complain about your prices because they can buy “the same thing” for cheaper at Wal-Mart. They are not your market, let it go. You don’t need to get philosophical.
“Well, it’s not the same thing but it will do the same job” is an acceptable answer. This is the answer I give to people who can’t comprehend why I weave fabric, knit socks, spin yarn, or dye my own anything. Back in the 90’s I taught beginning sewing classes at the local House Of Fabrics. The first class was always opened with a trip around the table asking my students to introduce themselves and tell us why they want to learn to sew. The most common answer was “because I want to save money”. This told me two things: they were clueless, and they were encouraged to learn to sew by their grandmothers. That is a very old fashioned idea and not a realistic goal. The ones who answered with “because I can’t buy what I want to wear” told me they were there because they saw the true value and potential for learning to sew. To ease the shock of the naive, I would ask them why they didn’t just go to K-Mart for a skirt and point out that it would be cheaper than making one when you consider the cost of the fabric, pattern, zipper, button, thread, sewing machine, iron, ironing board, pins, scissors, and this class. They would immediately start whining about fit issues, color and style choices, etc. By the end of the conversation they had come to grips with the fact that saving money was not on the table. They were really there to learn to sew because what they really wanted was better fit, more of their own style, their favorite fabrics, and an outlet for their creativity. That last being the biggest reason, just the least acknowledged. My job was to teach them the basics of how to sew – and – to be OK with the fact that they were allowed to be creative for creativity’s sake and not because it was practical.
Why do so many of us feel guilty for wanting to do something creative? It could’t possibly be because our public school system has officially decided that all creative pursuits are non-productive and a waste of money could it? Don’t even get me started and apologies for the digression.
Making something is a form of creative expression. Humans have to create, It’s in their DNA, they have to. Granted, some more than others. But we all find a way to express that. Even a weight lifter is a creative. They are creating a better body, bigger muscles, less fat, whatever. They are changing something and that is a creative process.
When you solve a problem, that is a creative process.
So how do you answer the truly curious? The genuine questioner? This is an opportunity to educate! Don’t waste it.
“I make fused glass buttons because I love the contrast of smooth glass against fabric. I could never find a mass market button that was worthy of the work and effort I put into making my clothing and wearable art so I had to make them. And, I love melting things.”
If you are a painter, you could explain that you have so much to say, but you think in pictures. What better way to tell your stories? It wouldn’t hurt to add that you like the feel of paint under your fingernails (or not)!
So, why should someone buy your work instead of making it themselves? Well, some won’t. Some will copy what you have done and think themselves clever and creative. They don’t get it either. They are not in the majority but, it’s going to happen, get over it. There are those that love what you do, understand the creative process enough to know that it’s not as easy as it looks, and want to add some real quality hand-mades to their lives. Some are creatives and makers themselves, but can’t do it all. Most of my button customers are wearable artists. They want the smallest details of their latest creation to reflect the care and art they put into their garment. That includes the buttons, and I can provide them. Just like I will buy someone else’s buttons if they are ideal for what I’m making – or their hand painted fabric, or yarn, or earrings…
The biggest part of your tribe will be other makers (and they won’t ask that question). But, there will also be art lovers who chose to express their creativity in other ways. One of my customers is a marketer who needed to look professional for a business meeting with a huge client. But she also wanted to look subtly arty – she replaced the plastic black buttons on a pricey wool blazer with fused glass art buttons. It was stunning and effective!
So, did I answer the original question of why make (fill in the blank) when I can buy it for cheap? I did for me. And anyone who gets it. Maybe not for a non-maker. But, the ones who don’t get it are not my market. I can live with that and it doesn’t hurt my feelings.
How do you feel when you get that question?