mass producing the handmade

Ever since founding inleaf six years ago, I have been conflicted by the rigor required when making handcrafted work for a larger market, and the spontaneity that I normally crave when creating my art. I am often approached by store owners who want to purchase my work for resale and I am always flattered by these propositions. The idea that my pieces are available in shops throughout the country is exciting and over the years I have developed wonderful relationships with many of my retail customers.

But the reality of selling work wholesale is complicated. My fabrics are hand dyed and I print with real leaves, some of which are available only part of the year. I often use vintage fabrics and components in my work. None of these methods lend themselves easily to mass production. The dye batch of my favorite aqua blue color will inevitable be slightly different each time, the shape of the geranium leaf will vary, and the pretty cotton print used for purse linings will run out. Then there is the price discount that is expected for wholesale orders, which doesn't always take into account the amount of work or cost of materials required to complete each piece.

I love what I do, and I am fortunate, especially in these difficult financial times, to create work that is still in demand. My solution, for now, is to offer a limited wholesale line, consisting of items that are still handcrafted, but more easily reproduced and multiplied. I am also exploring possibilities to expand, by hiring a seamstress and developing screen printing techniques for some of my designs.

The reason for this post is not to complain and whine, but rather to start a discussion and share ideas. I don't think I am the only one harboring these thoughts. How do we create a viable market for handmade goods, without loosing the handmade touch? How do we sell handcrafted objects in a way that works for everyone – the store owner, the maker, and the consumer? I would love to hear from all of you!