What makes handicrafts or hand-crafted products expensive?
This entry was co-written with Co-founder Sabith.
“Why does a huipil cost $500 or more? How can an alebrije cost $350? It’s so beautiful but so expensive!” These are probably questions and remarks that you have asked yourself or made at some point. We admit– we have asked these questions ourselves and made such a remark as well.
Living in the West and more specifically, in industrialized societies, we are accustomed to mass-manufactured products that are cheap to produce and of subpar quality. These products, at times, are discounted or go on clearance every so often in order to make way for more cheap, mass-manufactured products. And the cycle continues.
"So why do handicrafts or hand-crafted products cost so much? At times, they can even be hundreds of dollars!" Fabiola asked O during her weaving lesson.
“It takes many weeks if not months to weave the fabric that you see here,” O explained. "Think of the hundreds, if not thousands of hours that go into making this single piece that you hold in your hands. If an artisan works on just one piece of fabric for this long and does not do anything else, how much would you pay him or her?"
There was silence as Fabiola worked out the math in her head. Yes, it made sense. In many ways, the cost of a few hundred dollars is actually a discounted priced. If these fabrics are weaved in the U.S., for example, they would cost thousands of dollars– not hundreds. That is, of course, if you are lucky enough to find a fully, hand-crafted product. After four days and a tedious three hours of lessons each day in the scorching heat of summer, Fabiola understood the level of detail and attention that goes into each item.
A similar conversation came up with another weaver that specializes in woolen products in a town that is 40 minutes by car from El Centro. This artisan shared an anecdote about a Japanese visitor, who offered him the possibility of mechanized weaving.
“So, why didn't you get the weaving machine?” Sabith asked.
“Well, for starters, it would be out of my reach, financially. It was thousands of dollars. Secondly, I convened all of my fellow weavers and together we determined that it would be an insult to our traditions and craftsmanship if we could even afford this machine as a pueblo. We would never get a machine to do the work that we do. This work is like meditation for us. Each thread tells our stories, many of which span centuries. This style of weaving is our way of life and something that has been done for thousands of years by our ancestors. How can we easily give that up and willingly allow a machine to erase all of that history?”
This sentiment summed up all that one had to say about this phenomenon.