When I first started trying to sell things for a living I realised that all the other jobs I had ever had were easy. But this lark - trying to persuade people to part with their hard earned cash - was pure struggle.
And I wasn’t even limited to one product. Unlike the makers and suppliers that I was meeting who had dedicated themselves to their chosen niche, I had a raft of different things to talk about and show off on social media with an ever expanding collection of goods that I was looking to promote and sell. But it was becoming increasingly obvious that despite the significant number of people prepared to pay (red painted) lip service to the idea of #shopsmall and #shopindie the number of them who were prepared to reach into their actual pockets to do so was far less inspiring.
The thing is, I realised pretty soon that I was one of them. With two kids under three, a house only half-way renovated and a business to run, even I wasn’t actually shopping small as much as I could when it came down to it. With an embarrassing number of birthday and Christmas gifts being picked up in Tesco and artfully pimped into something ‘more indie looking’ with tissue paper and the addition of some home made cake on the side.
So I do get it. It’s hard to break habits and it’s hard to justify the extra time and expense that you seem to need to shop small, local or indie. But here’s the thing. It’s about time that we face up to some home truths about the products that we are buying and some truths about the products that we are not.
Buying handmade to order products made by a woman working from home, so she can fit her working life around both her family life and her creative skills, is going to cost you more. More money and more time. But that’s not because she’s trying to fleece you (she’s probably paying herself significantly less than minimum wage) and it’s not because she’s tripling the cost of the fabrics, ingredients or other components that she uses (she’s probably charging you an absolutely marginal amount above the price she paid. Which by the way is probably only discounted from full retail price by a tiny percentage – because unlike the huge factories she can’t guarantee them a bulk order every month). So the reason that it costs more is that this woman is seeking to make a small profit for her efforts, her time and her skillset.
It’s going to take longer for you to get your mits on the goods because it’s probably handmade or maybe even made to order. But I’m here to tell you that this is a good thing. Choosing gifts and belongings for yourself and your family should surely be about choosing wisely, about choosing beautifully. If you are going to bring an item into your home, your family life – or someone else’s – then surely that item should be considered, selected with care and passed on with love.
When you buy something from a supermarket or large high-street retailer you are paying for a whole lot more than just the product. There’s complex machinery behind that product. There’s the fully staffed factory that’s been used to produce it, the fleet of transportation that’s been used to move it from one side of the world to yours, the packaging, distribution, advertising and retail efforts of many. A system so complex that it makes the process of buying indie seem almost comically simple in comparison. One woman designed it. She sourced the component parts and put them together herself. She wrapped it, wrote the note to say thank you and posted it herself. And then it arrived on your doorstep. The end.
I’m not saying that the complex systems are without merit or use. We need them too. And there are also battles to be fought for the men, women and children toiling in these worlds for pitifully small sums so that discount product can be passed onto us on the shop floor. But when I meet the women making such beautiful, thoughtful, impeccable products it is impossible not to fall for their stories and want to fight their corners.
Working with these women has opened my eyes to so many wonderful things - not the least of which is the real struggle to get the incredible creativity, talent and skill of the hard working makers and suppliers toiling away out there to be heard above the loud and shouty voices of the huge brand leaders. The struggle is real but I sincerely hope we are at the start of a revolution in how we all choose to shop, work and support each other.