Curious Scarves: thoughts on the costs of making thingsMarch 8, 2011
I’ve just launched Curious Scarves today and lots of people are commenting on the price. That’s good. People aren’t commenting on the idea.
This is the second thing I make for sale. The first one was Topoware. I learnt that there are a few ways to go about making things for the world and have learnt some hard lessons on the back of it.
1. Get things made and try to sell them in shops is hard.
When we designed Topoware, I put down £4K for 50 plates and bowls to be made at Caverswall in Stoke-on-Trent. It was a lot of money. I tried to sell them on Etsy but they shut down my shop because it wasn’t handmade. Eventually sold about 4 to 5 sets to friends through Folksy. At the time this wasn’t my day job or Karola’s. We didn’t push the retail side of this as we should have and I learnt that shops never answer email requests or any emails for that matter. You have to go see them with a sample, let them look at it for a while, and then bug them about it. Lack of total dedication to this sales activity hurt us on the long run of course and most of the collection is still sitting on my shelf.
2. Selling things for cheap doesn’t pay unless you’re in China.
I sold Arduinos for the first 6 months of Tinker, from Matt’s flat, putting things in envelopes, going to the post, etc. Selling a thing that cheap meant there was virtually no money to be made if I bothered to pay for my own time. I was running a business, not an expensive hobby which is why eventually we stopped. Living in London and selling things that don’t pay for my time is pretty much the dumbest thing I could have done.
3. Sell things locally and on demand: it’s the internet way.
Curious Scarves are made on demand for now as I don’t have the money to just pre-make a bunch. That’s what the internet is good for too. I didn’t want to waste Alexandra‘s time or mine, I wanted to get something right quickly and give people as much flexibility as possible. She made some beautiful prototypes which I used to tweak the dimensions and take some pictures. She lives 10 minutes away from RIG so I could have the conversations I needed with her and get her to respond quickly. For all those reasons and more, I prefered working with her. She also needs to be paid properly for her work, which is only fair as for a “large and wide” scarf, she spends 4.5h knitting on her machine. This is worth paying for. I prefer to encourage local production and young designers than going off to asia and get kids to be exploited. I think that’s also part of being a responsible designer. This might mean I get very little traction because it’s a little more expensive than your run-of-the-mill high street shop, but that’s ok, because it’s not a high street product.
Smart, local, global design. I think it’s worth thinking about.