I was reminded of why I prefer not to go to big box chain stores the other day. I found myself in one of those retail behemoths for one item and beat as hasty a retreat as I could, the better to remove myself from the overwhelming fake pine tree scent and row on row of plastic and press wood, shrink-wrapped, items. A young woman rang up my purchase while talking to another worker; I can’t really say there was actual interaction between us. On the way out the automatic doors, I passed a Starbucks (I didn’t actually see the sign but there was no mistaking it).
Such is a real-world shopping experience in the early 21st century: lit by fluorescent lights and, though you may be surrounded by scads of workers and customers, devoid of any actual human contact.
Shopping is just shopping some might say, but here’s why I’ve come to prefer to look for handmade things.
1) When you buy handmade, you’re often buying directly from the person who made an item and who, very often, puts all the proceeds from her or his sales right back into a small, sweatshop-free and most definitely not corporate and global business.
Indeed, one maker (who interacts with everyone who emails her company) emphasizes that relationships with others — establishing and maintaining these — are at the core of her business and I can attest to this.
2) You’re supporting local economies. People making things out of their home are putting their earnings right back into their communities, whether by purchasing supplies or (should their business expand beyond a one-person operation) hiring locally.
3) You’re buying something unique that someone made painstakingly, one at a time, ethically, from carefully selected materials (that can be organic and sustainable and reclaimed). Call me a stickler but I really prefer not to give gift cards to iTunes, etc., to to those who mean a lot to me.
4) You’re helping to make the world a little smaller. I’ve bought handmade items from makers literally on the other side of the world. Most of those items are one-of-kind creations that would never be hawked by Amazon. They are made by talented people who love creating, aren’t at all inclined to aggressively promote and hawk what they make and really appreciate being able to make a living doing what they do so well (often while being able to be at home and care for children and family).
5) For all these reasons, participating in the handmade movement means you’re creating community, whether you’re knitting brightly colored “tree huggers” and yarn bombing local streets in the cold season or finding yourself sharing parenting stories with a mom in a place you’d love to visit but can’t at all right now. Indeed, the act of making an item by hand itself creates community.
This holiday season I’ve gotten sets of blocks with the names of my secretary’s grandson, neighbors’ kids and grandkids, cousin’s preschooler and toddler, as well as hand-printed calendars for other cousins for whom 2012 has been a year of joys and sorrows. At this point, I’m rarely able to see my relatives but do want them to know that they are very much in my thoughts.
Are you shopping handmade for the holidays?
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Photo by QUOI Media