I just returned home after having participated at a major bead and design show as a vendor. I returned with most of my inventory unsold due to what I can only see as the demise of the old culture of buying at the set price instead of at a discount. As a business person, I am subject to the fluctuations of cost and demand and must suffer whatever losses occur. As an artist I am very disappointed by the total ignorance of quality and price most of the customers seem to have. Many are merely looky-loos, fond of attending to look and not buy. They are window-shoppers and consider the show to be like a trip to a museum.
Others want the thing (whatever it is) at a much lower price than I can afford, without caring about how much time it took me to make or how much my materials cost. They have been educated by the explosion of foreign markets offering highly well made goods (in my instance, jewelry) for Wal-Mart prices, and do not know that these goods were made by slaves, children or very poorly paid workers living on nothing more than a subsistence margin. Some even have to buy their own tools and materials, lowering the worth of the their work even more.
While I make all my jewelry individually from scratch and by hand also, I don’t get paid for doing it. I price my jewelry at what I consider “rock bottom” already, while designers like Van Cleef & Arpel can command whatever they want as steeply as they want. Yet they say absolutely nothing about price. In fact the common refrain has been, “if you have to ask, then you can’t afford it.” This does not work for me. I only charge what I think is fair, but it never seems to be the right price.
But the ignorance is even more distressing to me than price. You have no idea how many people don’t even know what a brooch is. It used to be that these things used to be in high demand, but now they are not. One shopper even said that a brooch I had for sale should be hair jewelry. This does not happen at my other venues. I don’t know what has happened in the last few years but it would appear that the coming generation will be even more ignorant. They are not interested in learning anything either, as I have been cut off in mid sentence by those who don’t want to know. They are only focused on “pretty” and “beautiful work” but they don’t want to buy. I have to shrug my shoulders and say, “fine.”
I had other vendors engage me in conversation, and we are all in the same boat. People don’t want to buy it at that price, or they are not interested in how it was made, or even that the cost to make it has gone up. They want 99-Cent store prices. What kind of appreciation can I gain for my work with that attitude? None. And when there are another 150 artists all selling their jewelry, the competition for buyers’ eyeballs alone is even worse. At one point, I went on a short break and the moment I went out the door to my ballroom I was confronted by a table covered in jewelry pieces, and a bin filled with bracelets. The sign above it said, “Bracelets, $1.50 each.” How am I supposed to compete with that? Nobody else could afford to do this, and as an artisan it was plainly insulting to me that I was in competition with a wholesaler. This was supposed to be a special highly organized show. But it felt like I was selling at a swap meet.
Over the weekend I decided to get out of jewelry and switch to something even more artistic, and I won’t lower my prices anymore. If you can’t afford it, I don’t care. I refuse to discount my prices to suit shoppers’ tastes and expectations. I will gain more respect among my fellow artisans and I will earn what I deserve for my work. I am living in a different world, where respect for workmanship and understanding of technique have been buried beneath ignorance and indifference. I can afford to continue exhibiting, but my economic expectations of making a profit on my work will never be met.