Thursday, December 17, 2009

By Hand or Buy Hand? The Creative Small Business Dilemma

I read this article on Etsy businesses in the New York Times with great interest today, because I’ve harbored small-business dreams for a little while now.

When I worked in New York, I designed and executed prototypes for women’s neckwear during my “spare” time, scouring the fashion district during lunch for gorgeous European fabrics. (I still have a stash and should work them into a quilt.)

In my current incarnation, I’ve made what I call tiny cakes, which can be tabletop decorations (I like to display them on upside-down egg cups) or if I add a velvet ribbon, an ornament for the Christmas tree.

And don’t even get me started on my Royal Court collection: more handmade fabric embroidered tree ornaments that pay homage to Marie Antoinette in various guises.

But although I very much like making these things for myself and for presents, I wonder whether they would become “work” in a less positive way, had I a business on Etsy, for instance. An alternative is to have someone else manufacture the pieces, and while that works beautifully for, say, jewelry, if I’m touting something that’s hand-stitched, I’d want those stitches to be mine.

So what to do? What if, say, a bride-to-be gave me an order for 200 tiny cakes to be placed at each wedding-table setting? Perhaps I’d hope that her wedding were two years in the future, so that I didn’t have to make one cake almost every single day. Would I loathe the cakes by week 2, with 14 down and 186 left to go? Or would they be so charming in numbers that I'd feverishly make more? (When I left for grad. school the great critic Northrop Frye advised me not to study what I loved, because I’d end up hating it. I did in fact, switch subjects, so that I still, happily, love Chaucer.)

Perhaps art is the answer. Rather than selling my wares piecemeal, I could cultivate an artistic persona and have a gallery showing. And the price of my tiny cakes would then explode, because everybody knows that the smaller the piece of art, the more valuable it is. Right?

OK: I’m getting into murky territory here, but I am grateful that the NYT article jogged my memory. Alas, I have not yet made a single thing this holiday season, because I would have had to begin at 2:00 a.m., but I think that over the next two weeks I’ll try an item or two and decide to which realm they belong.


LPC said...

These are exactly the questions I have asked myself about writing the blog. For now, here's what I say. Since I could earn a good wage were I to go back to corporate life, I had better REALLY like blogging. And if I had to do things I didn't like, well then, might as well go define some software.

K.Line said...

I read that article too - and it made me think! I harbour a secret wish to one day start an Etsy store, but I don't know about working myself to the bone in my own personal sweatshop. I hope, perhaps, that I can have an Etsy shop that lets me make some pin money while I enjoy good work life balance.

Thumbelina Fashionista said...

You've certainly got talent, Miss C., but I personally couldn't handle making loads of ornaments. I'd get exhausted.

Case in point: I love fashion but I can easily get bored by it. This semester wore me out (I had loads of work) and when I get home I'm pretty much too tired to take pics or think of something clever to say. But I guess it also depends if you love the (therapeutic?) nature of working with your hands and seeing a finished product. Something to think about.