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.