People Over Profit: The New Economy vs The Old Economy

the new economy, people over profit, handmade ethics, handmade culture
by Jessika Hepburn, Editor

I think we are at the crossroads where a new economy is emerging from the old. Right now we have the chance to be the creators not just of handmade but social change. It might seem silly at first glance to think that small businesses making pretty things can change the world but don’t laugh me off! I really believe it to be true and it drives every choice I make from parenting to pricing.

We’ve been talking a lot about ethics this month and have covered so much ground! Most of our articles have focused on the “micro” side of ethics-the specifics of giveaways, copycats/copyright, underselling etc…find all our handmade ethics posts here. As my last post for ethics month I want to talk about the “macro” or the far-reaching ethics of life, business, blogging and handmade. I think at the root of all our ethics posts is the divide between a new economy and the old economy, and that this separation affects how we do business and how we live. Today it’s all about the content (don’t worry we’ll get back to pretty tomorrow with some amazing cuteness via Marisa at Omiyage) so instead of images I am sharing some quotes and thoughts that influenced this post.

“Mindful spending begs you to consider each dollar you spend an extension of your personal values, creating an individual economy that centers on what you love and not what society tells you you have to have. It means choosing not to spend money at all sometimes, choosing to spend more on high-quality, well-crafted items that support your community, and choosing to spend less on items that commercialism has put an unnecessary price tag on.” ~Tara Gentile of ScoutieGirl on Mindful Spending


The Old Economy

The old economy is in the business of “have-not” and sameness, it tells us we aren’t good enough, smart enough or rich enough unless we have the next big thing. Unless we’re just like everybody else. It says that we can judge our worth on the quantity of things we own, not the quality of them. It puts us down and makes us feel less. It is the world of Walmart & fast food, home to the hard sell & the fast pitch. Of discounts and clearance and consumption without cause. It is an economy of taking.

We all know what that kind of economy gets us-cheap, disposable stuff that no one needs & that will end up decorating a landfill for the next bazillion years. It also leaves us feeling sad and empty. The old economy doesn’t care about you, your feelings, the planet or the future. It cares about the bottom line. It is a culture of profit over people. The old economy has let us down over and over again (think Union Carbide or the BP oil spill) and we know that it’s ethics are non-existent because it can buy it’s way out of any hot water. I believe it is a culture of “less is more” even though it might not seem that way.  It encourages us to have more stuff, yes, but by paying less and getting less value for what we do buy. In this paradigm things aren’t made to last or love, they are made for you buy and move on. There is also no room for supportive community in the old economy because it is based on competition instead of cooperation.

If you have ever eaten fast food you know that it doesn’t fulfil you in the same way a homemade meal from local or homegrown ingredients does. It lacks the heart and passion and the love of the hands that created it. In the old economy the “belly full but we hungry” (*bonus points if you know what song that line is from!). Sure we might have MORE stuff that we pay less for but we have LESS of everything in the long run.

The New Economy

Enter the new economy. A culture of people before profit. Of cooperation and diversity. The new economy says that not only are you good enough (whoever you are, no matter what you look like, where you came from, or have risen above-in fact because of those things), smart enough & wealthy beyond your imaginings in a way money can’t buy, but that you are needed. Your creativity is vital, people want it. Your work and story has a place here if you will just join in.  There is a market for what you alone can create.

“…find something you love, no matter how obscure, and dedicate yourself to it whole-heartedly, success is inevitable.”

~Tony of Rocky Top Soap Shop in his beautifully inspiring Featured Seller interview on Etsy

The new economy is telling us to slow down, fill our lives with beauty, own things of value, connect with each other meaningfully, be kind, participate. It is the business of giving in order to receive (sales, connections, growth). This is the economy where small businesses thrive, from organic farms & farmers markets to handmade businesses to sites like Etsy & Twitter, and where big businesses have the opportunity to learn and grow. The greatest thing is that you might pay more for a handmade/high quality/ethically made item or a great service but you are also going to GET more from your purchase. Not just in the tangible things like attention to detail and a higher quality. But if you are valuing this new economy in your life you will be spending less on things you don’t need and that don’t bring you lasting joy. Just like eating the fast food might fill you right then, the meal made with love will sustain you over time, filling both belly and heart.

Because of this divide we have shifted away from top-down marketing & mega-business.  We don’t want to be patronized or manipulated, we want to be talked with not at. We want to make a personal connection with the things we buy, and we aren’t passive consumers anymore! Gone are the days where brands succeed only because they are the biggest bullies in the school yard. And businesses of all sizes are realizing that this new economy is a very small community- so if they want to have and build trust (and their brand) they have to be respectful. With social media we are all so connected, businesses are expected to treat their neighbours kindly and if they want to really connect, to bring them cookies just to say hi!

But that doesn’t mean the old paradigms/economy doesn’t creep into our handmade community and make us question what we are doing and how. As the handmade movement grows there will be more and more challenges to what we hope to create, like big business copying handmade (and small businesses competing). Another perfect example? Heartsy. Heartsy is like Groupon for Etsy, it allows consumers to buy handmade at between 50-90% off the original price (check out this handmadeology post for a look at the numbers). As a marketer I know the value of sales, discounts and specials but feel they should be used carefully-as a treat to your customers to say “thank you”. When the deal becomes a regular thing then the customer begins to expect it and to question why they should pay full price when they can wait for your sale.

“As makers is the aim to sell our stuff for what it is worth or at discount? If people see handmade items sold at half price the general public will expect that price from everybody. I would love to see businesses promote buying handmade for what it’s worth. We all want to make a sale but we are never going to change things if people don’t value their own work. I can see for some people they would rather get a sale, any sale (especially on Etsy as the number of sales is public) instead of thinking of the bigger picture but in the long term I think it damages all handmade businesses. We can’t and shouldn’t be competing with big box stores. I want people to come to Noisette Kids and BUY from Noisette Kids because they love what they see not because I’m cheaper than Walmart (or wherever!). Also surely people will end up going to Heartsy when they want to buy handmade instead of other places where they will only see full priced items thereby only buying from the businesses who have the offers. Maybe I have a rose tinted view of the world but I really think we can make a difference if we all support one another and help people to realise what goes into designing and making a handmade item. ”

~Isa Maria of Noisette Kids & Noisette Marketing via email, feedback on Heartsy

Heartsy made all my red flags start waving! Platforms like Heartsy or GroopDealz might get you a boost in traffic, a new customer or two, but at what cost to yourself and to the handmade community? To me it is like selling couture on Kijiji or the buy, sell & trade-it’s the wrong market and brings down the value by association. Any advertising should be targeted to your market and help build your brand. By associating yourself with a discount mentality you detract from the value of what you do. Who sells fine art at a flea market? I am also wary of any big deal, why is the business so desperate for sales that they need to beg me to buy it! As a consumer I want the one of a kind, the piece of handmade so beautiful I am tempted to sell my firstborn just to hold it, the tomato that someone obviously loved and cared for, the bits of grace that we are lucky enough to have a chance to own.  I’ll pay more for it too-and gladly.

I would love (& I’ll keep you posted on the idea!) an online auction that encouraged people to spend more & bid on unique items with the goal of paying more. It would also be great to practice random acts of generosity by spontaneously paying more for an item we feel is underpriced and telling the seller why.

So I put it out to Twitter-would you rather pay more for more (more beauty, more quality, more detail) or less for less? This sparked a whole discussion on #moreismore that I would love you to check out and join in on. The outcome? Not one single person said they prefer to pay less for less. I know it’s a pretty small test group but it means something. As makers we can choose to be each others market and build this new economy together, to pay more for what we love and encourage others to do the same. We can spread our message high and low: that more is more and we wont accept less.

What do you think? Will you pay more for more? Do you think sites like Heartsy have a place in the handmade community/our new economy?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll join you there + on Twitter @ohmyhandmade with the hashtag #moreismore.


  • http://noisettekids.blogspot.com Isa Maria

    That was so well said! I really hope people read this and take the time to understand. A great post and like all your ethics posts this month such an important read for creative business owners.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you so much Isa-I know it is not a typical post for Oh My & it is definitely A LOT of words, but I felt it needed to be written & shared. I hope others enjoy! Also thank you for sharing your thoughts on Heartsy: )

  • http://nisseworks.com Stacey

    I think what sites like Heartsy do to the handmade community is paint us – all the creative folk who do this to & make a bit of money at it – with a very broad brush. It sends the message to the general public that yeah, you can buy our products for next to nothing and it’s ok. But it’s very not ok, especially if you’re trying to make a living at it.

    Artisans/crafters deal enough with people questioning the value of their work at shows and sales…do we need to be putting our work out there at a drastic discount just to get a sale? I mentioned this on Twitter earlier, but would those that pay less for our work want their work (whatever it is) devalued, too? Why does our work make us easy targets for undervaluing?

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you so much for joining in the conversation Stacy both here & on Twitter-it’s a great point that anything that lumps handmade artists together can be damaging. We are all so diverse and have different needs/wants/pricing equations.

  • http://www.petalpetal.com Brianne

    Thank you for this thoughtful post! I have definitely been under a shifting mindset from the “old economy” to the “new” one! After leaving a job at a non-profit where I felt I was doing a lot of “good” (but was insanely miserable and everyone around me knew it), i began a design studio last June and now design two lines of children’s handmade apparel. It has been a rocky road, but incredibly fulfilling and has changed my viewpoint on everything about how, when, where and WHY I shop. I sincerely agree that many handmade artists undervalue their work and try to compete at a price level with manufactured items, but I hope we as a handmade community begin to see our value and express it. if we don’t see it, neither will the greater communities in which we live. My greatest desire is that my business become an extension of who I am as a person, not only as an artist, and reflect my greater desire to develop and build up women entrepreneurs, along with having great fun designing children’s apparel!

    Brianne
    PetalPetal and VintageChild:Modern
    http://www.PetalPetal.com
    http://www.PetalHandmadeLove.blogspot.com

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Hi Brianne! Thank you so much for reading it-definitely the longest post we’ve ever had on OMHG! I have a background in non-profit work too and I know just what you mean-I truly believe that we have the power as a community & as individuals to shift peoples perceptions and help create a culture where we WANT to pay more and where others do as well. It’s happening it just is a slow process. That old economy has been around for a long time! “My greatest desire is that my business become an extension of who I am as a person, not only as an artist” is exactly what will change things!

  • http://www.holdoutyourhand.co.uk Marsha Oza

    I have spent the last year slowing my life down, and making the ‘physical’ shift from the old economy to the new. I now live on a boat (cheaper, lovelier), keep chickens (oohhh the eggs!), and am carving my niche in the handmade world to make a living from principles I genuinely believe in: learning how to make things enhances your life; I’m not the only person who wants one good thing to keep forever rather than 2000 crappy ones to throw away once I’m bored; the world will not be as good if we don’t keep traditional crafts alive.

    I can’t tell you how different it feels to live this way. Amazingly (and I never thought this would be true) I’m STILL up at 6am every morning… but now it’s because I’m excited about the day ahead and not because I have to get going for a 12 hour day at the office!

    I want less by volume, because more makes me exhausted and skittish. But yes, I want more beauty, more skill, more quality and more meaning – not just in the things I buy, but in my whole life.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Hi Marsha! I just love your comment so much & seriously wish I could come have tea on your boat with your chickens, sounds like heaven. I once bought a jewelers bench from a goldsmithing husband & wife team who lived on a sailboat and sailed the seas while making gorgeous things. They were in their late 60’s and so inspiring and in love. Just beautiful…thank you for reminding me of them.
      It’s amazing how when we stop paying less for less we end up having so much more then we could have imagined. Truly the simple things in life are the most valuable. And I totally agree about traditional crafts, as well as heirloom seeds, heritage breed animals, etc…the old economy was so busy with progress it forgot and ran over the old ways of doing things that are so vital. We are resurrecting those things (lace making, letterpress, sewing by hand…) and the world is a better + more beautiful place because of it!

  • http://fairiesnest.etsy.com Cynthia/The Fairies Nest

    Thank you so much for this well written and insightful post. I agree completely that there is a change in the air towards appreciating handmade in the context of buying consciously. When we pay more for handmade we not just buying a product but the time, artistry, and love that go into it’s creation. It is a thoughtful decision.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you Cynthia! There is totally a change coming & I believe we will see a growing trend of people choosing carefully what they buy & why as they feel less & less fulfilled by the old culture of consumption. It’s wonderful that not only are we making beautiful things but we are participating in creating a community!

  • http://whitherwilliwander.blogspot.com/ pamela

    hurray …What a wonderful post, Jessika! How welcomed a truly sustainable economy would be to our world .

  • http://www.tricotaria.com Andreia

    This is a great post! Everyone should read it and think about it! Thank you!

  • http://www.littleandalucia.com Erika

    Beautifully stated.

    My Dad has always said that you get what you pay for–if you want cheap things that will fall apart in a short time then by all means throw away that dollar.

    I prefer to have less so I pay more for what I buy. I don’t want to be remembered for a house full of crap–I want my kids to talk about the tiny silver necklace I never take off or the handmade quilts we use.

  • http://drawntoletters.etsy.com Joanne

    Thank you for your well written and thoughtful post. As member of the older generation I still live in an old home with well loved mostly handmade and upcycled furnishings. I used to pride myself on my childrens’ non-disney life. Now that they are educated and we are starting to think of our own future I am surrounded by my generation who trashed the planet and are now down sizing to another brand new home and their fourth set of new furnishings or traveling the world. We can only hope they are buying handmade this time and contributing to the economy you describe! I’m cheering for you all.

  • http://www.aquickstudyonline.com Zoe | A Quick Study Paper Goods

    Stacey, I love this thought in your comment: “…would those that pay less for our work want their work (whatever it is) devalued, too? Why does our work make us easy targets for undervaluing?”

    I find it particularly interesting because I work with teachers as well as being an artist/ crafter, and this really made me think about how both groups of people are currently undervalued, but how this is a really powerful moment in time where we have great opportunities to change that (in both areas).

    I’m so hopeful and interested to see what action this conversation (and post, as a really thorough and well-stated description of the problem) prompts in the handmade community.

  • http://ahousefullofmoxie.com MOXIELisa

    What an awesome post Jessika! I have to agree with everyone so far. I have slowed down and started really trying to live in the new economy of value and worth instead of stuff. I think it is important to be an example for our children because they are the ones that will be carrying on our traditions in the future.

  • Dana/the patterned peacock

    I just saw the documentary “The Economics of Happiness” last night so the ideas of the old vs the new economy were on my mind when I had the good fortune to stumble across your blog. Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. It is an important message that we can’t hear often enough or from enough sources. I am currently in the process of developing at Etsy shop so that I can transition from being a product designer for a large company to running my own much smaller, more personal line. I completely agree with your statement, “Your work and story has a place here if you will just join in. There is a market for what you alone can create.” If you are not a big company who needs to make big profits than you can design amazing products for your unique group of loyal customers instead of watering down your line in order to appeal to as many people as possible. I am excited about the new economy and look forward to my role in shaping it, both as a mindful consumer and a mindful producer.

  • http://ittybittybag.com Jen

    Thanks Jessika! I was nervous about posting my blog but it seems we are on the same page. I actually never heard of heartsy. I saw a knit cozy listed on etsy for $4 and I just ask myself, why? Thanks again for your support of handmade and fair pricing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dollyknickers Christine Ward

    I am so glad to see this in writing! I have seen so many ‘cheapen’ my craft with prices bent only on the bottom dollar and not on lasting quality. Also I have paid more for items I thought were priced far to low for the love, attention, time and uniqueness I was getting. I was happy to give more for more! I don’t expect quality handmade items to compete with the likes of Walmart. Personally I would rather not sell to someone that has the mentality of buying less for less. I don’t want my hard work to be classified as ‘cheap’. Thank you so much for your fine written article.