As you know by now, we recently sold everything and moved to a new country. Funny thing happens when you sell everything, you realise that you need to buy everything all over again. Almost daily, I find myself pulling out my phone, hopping on Amazon or Lazada and searching for some random item to fill some random purpose. Isn’t that amazing though? Literally anything I can think of can be on my doorstep in a matter of days from anywhere in the world!
I bet this is a habit that you’re familiar with too. The question is though, how much of the things in your life do you truly love? And let’s ignore your phone or those shoes you got on sale! Of all the items that hold true sentimental value to you, how many of them came from Amazon, a bargain store or some sweatshop in China? Now you do you, but my guess is that like us the answer is zero.
It’s an easy pattern to fall into though. Let’s say you want a new coffee mug. You hop online, scroll for way longer than you care to admit, searching for that perfect mug. You narrow it down to two options. You realise that one is charging more in shipping than the cost of the mug itself so you add the other one to your cart only to realise that it only comes in a bright mustard colour. So you go back to the list and pick something from somewhere in China that you can’t pronounce. Said mug shows up two days later where it either gets used for a while before breaking or gets shoved to the back of the cupboard and never sees the light of day again. Oh well, it was only $5.
Lets play out an alternate scenario. You go to a local artist market. You wander around interacting with locals and come across a ceramics stall. You see a mug that resonates with you and go in for a closer look. The artist who made it sees you and goes into an incredibly detailed explanation of how the light coming through the window on that day inspired them to glaze the subtle curves of the mug in just this way or that. They tell you the life story of George, the local who runs the quarry where they bought the clay. You find out that they’ve studied ceramics in Europe, and have been doing it for 30 years. You buy the mug and use it everyday for the next 10 years. Best $30 you’ve spent in ages!
Looking back, our favourite experiences have always involved the interactions of scenario two; artisans and crafters taking time to tell the story of what they produce. After hearing their stories of the love and time they have poured into their craft, you can’t help but share their enthusiasm too:
Cocktail bars that ask what flavours you like, rather than offering a set menu
Restaurants that can tell you the name of the cow their curing beef leg belonged to.
Farmers who describe hand-harvesting obstacles when you purchase their market produce.
Organic grocers who give you an apple for free, because they know it will easily be the best apple you have ever tried.
We sit in awe, listening intently to all of these stories of hardship, growth, perseverance and patience. With an unknown result and slow financial gain, these creators persevere, wanting to do something that’s real.
That's all well and good, but why is artisan-made now so much more important than ever?
Keeping traditions alive
Something truly hand-crafted is more often than not a labour of love passed down from generation to generation or the result of hundreds if not thousands of hours of practice. The time and resources required to produce things by hand means that every dollar that you spend supporting them allows them to keep doing what they love.
Buying locally drastically reduces the distance it takes for an object to reach you as a consumer, resulting on a lower environmental impact at a global scale. When you buy from someone who is completely dedicated to what they do, there is also a much lower likelihood that they will involve harmful additives or chemicals to the things they create.
Your money goes further than just the artisanal product or service that you buy. So many of the craft producers we meet are incredibly generous and active in supporting their own communities. The dollars that don’t go back into their craft usually finds its way to the pocket of someone just as talented and passionate as they are.
Every multinational corporation on the planet speaks the same language: dollar and cents. For every purchase you make outside of the traditional supply chain, their bottom line is slightly affected. Whilst hand crafted goods will never be the primary manufacturing process, the principles could be adopted if enough people commit to small producers. Just think of the how our attitude towards plastic has affected change in big businesses right now! What you buy really does count!
If you’re willing to tune into the spiel that a passionate producer wants to give you, you will undoubtedly come away with a deeper appreciation for how something is made, the materials it consists of, or just some interesting fact that you would never have known about, were you not face to face with the maker.
Digital technologies are now capable of producing truly amazing products with an unprecedented precision and there is no doubt that they will have a huge role to play in the path to a sustainable future. Handmade objects capture something that a machine just can’t though. The natural imperfections produced by the human hand is often what leads us to define something as beautiful or valuable. Many mass produced objects will try to replicate this, however something truly handmade is one-of-a-kind.
But, as much as we would love to completely surround ourselves with handcrafted goods, this isn’t always realistic. The cost barrier to many of these objects or experiences is often exponentially higher than the standard options. We’re not suggesting that you never buy that mug from Amazon. But what we will ask of you is to pick your battles and seek out objects and experiences that mean something, when you have the economic capacity to do so.
Find a product and producer with a story and a soul that need to be heard and felt.
It’s about the little decisions we make every day, and how they can collectively affect greater change. We vote with our dollar. If we want more affordable and accessible artisanal goods tomorrow, we must support them today.