Friday, July 15, 2011

Ramblings And Musings About An Online Phenomenon That I Dont Like

Its getting to be time to be preparing  for Burning Man!I kind of want to go again., but I want to go in comfort. Its just turned into that for me - gotta be comfortable. Gotta be clean before climbing into my sleeping bag. Dont want to be sunburned!

For those who don't sew, I have lots of little vests, a pair of Leg Ruffles, and some cute Sampants up for grabs in my Etsy Store!They would be perfect for the Playa!

Ive got a few more custom orders of Fluffie Rufflie's and then I'm done. Yes, thanks to this new thankless economy, the orders have slowed to barely a trickle and Ive been forced to take on other kinds of work. I was really sad at first, but everything has its' season and now Im happy again. These Fluffie pants and pantaloons are taking way too long to make for some folks, and the stress of juggling isn't worth it for me. If you REALLY want a pair and are prepared to wait as long as it takes me to find the materials and make them just the way I need to while juggling projects, then I'm more than happy to make you a pair. I still love them. I still love how they look, how they feel, how they make you feel...............but you can buy my pattern and either have them made or make them yourselves. Its a win/win situation for both of us! And PLEASE send me photos of what you make! I REALLY want to see them!!! I feel like they are my grandchildren!!!

 I'm going back to my roots. The roots of making special wedding dresses and costumes custom fit for you and back to the art of making your clothing look like it was made for you - even if it wasn't. I think it is especially important in this day and age to keep your already purchased clothing in good condition. And if you bought something new and it doesn't look right, chances are that a tweak here - a dart there will make it fit beautifully. And this is what I like to do!

My new client , Nirmala, and I agreed  today that finding a good seamstress is like finding a good hairdresser - you don't want to let either one go............and I like that kind of thinking. She's my kind of gal!

Which leads me to something that has been bothering me this year. Ive been mulling it over and over in my mind for months and trying to make sense of what is going on with people. Since the economy collapsed last year, Ive tried to go with the flow..........Etsy pushes and tries to convince its sellers that having sales on our merchandise and goods is a GOOD thing. I don't really think that having a sale on handmade goods is a good thing UNLESS you are sick of it being around and you just want to clear it out.  But Etsy is trying to convince us to behave like a retail store in a retail market. Of course, this is all left up to the individual seller and I resisted for a while. But with sales down and this being my only means of financial support, I eventually caved to see what would happen.

I actually think its fun to have a sale now and then. The whole process is kind of a kick when people sit up and take notice. I actually enjoy taking a few bucks off now and then if it helps someone purchase something that they might not otherwise have justified. It makes me feel like I'm giving back in a small way. So I tried a variety of tactics. Sometimes just a few things were marked down. Sometimes just my particular custom goods; sometimes everything. I tried different price points or discounts for different reasons. At first it seemed to be a good thing. And while my profit went down the tubes on occasion, I was making a few more sales that might not have been made, and my name was getting passed around.

And then the abuse started. I could not figure out what was happening for the longest time!  People were not reading all the info on my custom listings all of a sudden. They were expecting custom goods to be made in a few days or a few weeks  - while I specifically state that this is never the case with my process. I had one or two people cause me so much grief at Christmastime that I was ready to throw in the towel. I was forced by Paypal to return money at a time when I could ill afford to while custom projects were in the works. (it completely ruined my Christmas - there were no gifts for anyone.) I could have and should have fought these people. I would have won, but it would have taken time. Paypal froze my account. Certain people complained to Etsy about me for taking too long. One woman's package was in the mail when she complained to Etsy before consulting with me. I was confused and in hell.

I NEVER and clearly state this - give money back when in the middle of custom work. I was in tears. I had a customer accuse me of taking the public's money and waiting til the last minute to work on projects. Another accused me of stealing.

WTF. I wondered if this was what selling online is like for other sellers and I wondered what I was doing to deserve this (yeah - I know that was wrong of me - but I'm only human and make mistakes now and then)

I heard from two other vendors that they were also getting bullied from customers all of a sudden.It seemed to be happening all at once.

I was flummoxed. Totally and utterly bewildered. Never in the 20 or so years of making custom goods have I ever been treated this way. Sure, Ive had the  bride who lost her mind during the wedding. Who hasn't! The stress alone from a wedding can kill you! Nobody can ever be 100% perfect with everything they do. I only do my best and I think that I've developed a pretty good reputation with that  - I have 99% of the time always been treated with respect. And I do admit when Im wrong. But this new phenomenon really blew my mind. If this is business, then I didn't want any part of it. But I knew that something was going on and it wasn't personal (even though I couldn't help taking it that way). I'm growing as a business person and trying on all sorts of hats just to get the right I decided to try  the Etsy sales thing.

I was talking about this with the owner of Fool Proof Studio the other day and she made a comment about how she thinks that sales on handmade goods cheapen the product.

And the bright incandescent light bulb about to be discontinued turned on full blast over my head - and ta da - there was my answer to this dilemma. But it is actually a two-fold problem. By putting my handmade wares - esp. my custom made to measure garments on sale periodically - these garments were cheapened and made less special in the buyers' mind. And wrong as some of these people are, it gave them permission to treat me terribly - to bully me - to literally sometimes make my life a living hell. I  suppose I knew the answer to this this subconsciously already. It never felt right. It felt like I was coming off as desperate to make a sale - and maybe I was at times. This is a tough world to try to be self employed in without any backing or financial support. Most of us who are making it on a shoestring are having a rough time and the shoestring is now very  frayed.........this is simply a fact................. but by cheapening our art, or designs, or whatever you want to call our craft, we can be putting ourselves in harm way. Because not everyone understands the difference between handmade and stuff you buy from an assembly line in a retail store. It is up to us to educate those who don't know. And those who don't know or respect this should not be our customers.

Also, being online can be very impersonal. As best as we make our little smiley faces and XXX's in our emails, this  cannot be a face to face relationship where we actually KNOW each other. It is far easier to abuse a character in print than to a real live face. I am quite sure that none of these people would have treated me this way in real life. And this has confirmed in me the value of someone actually coming into my studio, forming a relationship with me, and getting something special made to their standards with my creative process, and getting an experience that they would not get anywhere else.

I think that Etsy is a wonderful platform for the creative who wants to sell his or her wares. If things are not selling, maybe Etsy should be used as kind of an online portfolio. And if it sells, all the better!  I'll continue to sell  there while its working for me, but for those who really put a lot of effort into their craft, mark down sales may not really be the answer. Everyone is looking for a bargain these days, but should your hard work and effort go unpaid and disrespected? Maybe it depends on what the item is and how it was made, but to me, handmade items, if they are made well and are special, should by their very being, be a higher price point. The customer who will never buy unless the item is marked down substantially should never be your target customer. I know that not everyone is self employed and that maybe their crafts are just made for fun only - and I do understand that - but if the crafted items are unique and the effort taken to buy the technology and learn the skills to make them look nice in real life and online are applied - should not these items be treated as the gems they are?

Ive learned a valuable lesson. I'll be conducting business differently from now on and treating my work with more respect and I'll be expecting the same respect in return.  Oh sure, I'll probably have a sale now and then on ready to wear and pre-made merchandise, but its got to be fun for me as well. No more sales on the custom goods. No more abuse. I'll be sending out info that must be read first for custom work to commence. Perhaps this is part of working with the public from behind a computer, but if I wont treat you this way, I should not be treated this way. NONONONONONONONO. I DO take things  personally. I put a lot of ME into my clothing. Even if I'm making 10 pairs of Sampants. I made them! With my own two hands! I think a lot of us feel that way. Not everyone, but a lot of us.

And as most of my customers are fabulous and "get" it, this dilemma in no way reflects you!!!! I just now have to protect myself from the bad eggs out there. I got a little sucker punched  from my own naivete. I would be very interested to hear from anyone else who has noticed this happening. I was previously blaming it on the economy and maybe people being tighter and more sensitive to where their money is going.. Maybe  feeling less secure and perhaps feeling guilty about how the money is being spent and therefore getting punchy and more abusive...........all of the above?

Artists, fellow craftsmen/women - protect yourselves! Value your goods!!! No Abuse allowed!


Elizabeth said...

Oh my gosh Kathleen! That is just horrible! I agree you are right about not putting handmade items on "sale." I have tried to price my items lower in the last year so that they would sell and focus on the fact that at least it was $ coming in. But it's wrong. I have had some very well off costumers and sometimes I can't believe how they haggle with me. I probably shouldn't complain in public, but well it's frustrating. I'm hoping things in my house will improve soon, my dear husband just hasn't been getting nearly as much work as he used to, and I can buy some more of your beautiful things. I want you to know I appreciate & value the work you do.

kathleenCrowleyCostumeCouture said...

I didnt want to come off as complaining, but sometimes I feel the need to talk about things that Ive experienced so much through my learning the ways of business - and sometimes I cant find anyone else discussing these things except in private.

And while I think "never let them see you sweat" is probably the best way to conduct yourself in public, I cant help thinking that this is a behavior that most of us are unaware of until it happens. Its really easy to just be an anonymous face behind a computer. And when we mark down our work in desperation or in hopes of making more sales, this leads people to either wait until you have a sale, (which means that if you are a tiny self supported cottage industry type, you just are not going to make much of a living) or it means that your work gets cheapened in the eyes of the beholder.

Its such a dance - and Ive been learning so much through all of this. So Im not complaining - just trying to open up awareness. Some will never care about where their purchases come from, and some do.

Its such a struggle these days for so many. I know designers who have thrown in the towel. Im hanging in for now. I love making things and I love eating, so the two concepts have to be married happily somehow in all economies! We must keep creating!!!! Thank you for your kind words!!!!!

Elizabeth said...

Well said!

Stacy said...

Well said Kathleen!

I have been working in online retail for 5 years now. I deal with stressed out brides and frustrated husbands every day. We sell handmade wedding rings. I have been to the places they are made and they are being made 1 piece at a time by jeweler that have been making rings for 20 plus years.

I agree with the fact that the general public just isn't educated on how things are truly made. At the same time though they don't want to be educated. America in itself is such an instant gratification society that everyone expects things immediately or they think they are entitled to a discount or free. (Yes, I have had people tell me they think they should get the item for free because it didn't ship when they thought it should be shipped by).

It's insanely difficult to make people happy in a "customer is always right" ideal when what the customer really wants is your blood and sweat for free.

I have learned over the last five years to say NO. Yes we may lose a sale but when it really comes down to it the customer that is going to be THAT difficult to begin with is going to bitch about it in the end and we end up taking a loss on it anyway so it's just easier to say no up front.

I will say that people have gotten worse over the last couple of years. With the economy being as bad as it is retail has gotten very cut throat. Everyone wants to "steal" your business and make the money. So I have customers that call and say "This website has this ring for $200 lower than what you have it for." I know what the cost is and I know that they are only making $20 on the ring itself. The downside is that you are ordering from a shady company who will most like take your money and run but people are willing to take that risks to save the money.

The saying "You get what you pay for" truly means something these days.

I plead the 5th on Etsy...that company has so many issues they don't know which end is up.

Don't cheapen yourself. You make wonderful items! I wish I had the money to buy more. Your clothing is worth every penny spent.


"Jade" said...

I am proud of you Kathleen. I have the same problem with my photography. suddenly people wanted way more work done for a little. And after the money I put into my equipment, I found myself wishing I had charged them more or not taken the job at all. Very well said, my dear.

kathleenCrowleyCostumeCouture said...

Thank you so much for your comments! Its not good that its happening, but it is good that we are talking about it. Someone somewhere will realize they never thought of it that way.

The bottom line is, we all deserve to earn a decent living at what we do best whether it be making things, selling things, fixing things, and even cleaning toilets. If we do it well, we deserve to earn a living just like someone who goes to work in a cubicle. Its as simple as that. I might not like the price of the loaf of bread that I buy, but I sure know what goes into the sale and manufacture of it - and the baker has to eat. The janitor of the factory has to eat. None of us are exempt from that. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

Martina said...

I am so sorry to hear all of this....

just sending some love and support..

Ievannah said...

Oh God, seriously, this is terrible :( I tend to have money issues and constantly juggle between dance classes and costume expenses, so when I see an item I would like to have is getting cheaper thanks to the very person who spends time making it, it doesn't make me feel like it's a bargain stuff and like the seamstress is my slave ! It's even the opposite, because I know how much time and patience it takes to create handmade gorgeousness instead of sending a pattern to a cheap Indian or Chinese factory. I love what you do, Kathleen, it is totally worth saving up money AND waiting for you to make it. Your work inspires me when I sew my own costumes, and as soon as I am wealthy enough, I'll be ordering a special something ! Keep the magic going. What you put in the world is so much more than fabric traded for money.
Lots of love,

kathleenCrowleyCostumeCouture said...

Well, dont get me wrong - I love a good sale too! But I just dont have that steely spine and financial backing that running a business the efficient way needs to have. There will always be a bad apple out there no matter what you do. But I cant afford them. Neither financially nor emotionally.

If my merchandise is faulty or I didnt do something to specifications, I always do my best to make it right. Often it is simply how one measures themselves. But humans are not perfect - non of us are. If we were just all nicer to each other, wouldnt the world be a better place to live in! (thats the hippy in me coming out)
Thanks everyone! You obviously are NOT the troublemakers! LOL!

Lorraine Dean said...

Hi Kathleen - I agree. I'm not on Etsy, just make a few tribal belts and sell them on the side by word of mouth. There is very LITTLE money in handmade items so nooooo you can't afford a sale and shame on Etsy for pushing that. Keep on creating, your designs are simply amazing! Much love, Lorraine