15 March 2010

The Perfect E-Commerce Venue for Handmade: Part 3 - In Support of the Individual: Membership Eligibility (or, How big is too big?)

Personal Note: I apologize for not posting last week. I had a lovely and long-overdue visit from my sister, and opted to spend my time away from the computer, reminiscing, regaling her with tales and pics of last summer's trip to Japan, baking wispy, minty chocolate cookies, and wandering the aisles of a wonderful Mediterranean market.


Strictly speaking, many of the products we buy day-in and day-out may, in fact, be made by hand. While there may be many differences between those products and the items being offered for sale on 'handmade' sites, the most distinguishing point is often that of being handmade 'by the seller' of the goods, rather than being mass-handmade in a factory.

When setting up a site for handmade-by-the-seller merchandise, one of the big and slippery questions is 'who is allowed to sell here?' Seems like it should be obvious. Clearly, a single person designing and constructing her/his wares is an ideal client. But, there are also legitimate small-scale operations of two or more people who work in concert to create handmade objects in their collectives or cottage-industry studios. So, the next question that logically follows 'who?' might be 'how many?' or 'how big is too big to be considered handmade?'

Should someone who designs an item or items, but has no hands-on-part in the construction of it/them be allowed? Most would probably agree that a partnership consisting of a designer and a maker who work exclusively with one another would still fit the definition of handmade. But what if the designer had two or more people working to make many of the objects s/he designs? Still okay? And if the designer had no affiliation with those makers other than that of an employer? Those items would still, strictly speaking, be handmade. But should a line be drawn separating true handcrafters from those who may be running a small-scale factory of sorts? And what about those who design a product and have it completely fabricated elsewhere, then have the finished products shipped to them so that they can, in turn, sell them? Is 'designer' roughly synonymous with 'handmade'? If so, what would stand in the way of well-known designers of clothing, handbags, shoes, and housewares, etc. from selling alongside those individuals who do everything from conceptualizing, to construction, to listing and shipping? Like a brick-and-mortar mall, does a handmade mall need anchor, or Big Name, 'handmade' shops? What about shops that grow from a one-wo/man operation into a thriving employee-dependent company - should they stay, or be be required to leave once they are no longer doing the bulk of the work?

Whatever the answer to these questions might be, I'm of the opinion that such scenarios should be anticipated prior to the opening of a site to paying members, and a plan for handling such events be written into the TOU. It is the only way to equitably protect the interests of both the venue and its users.

While there are virtually unlimited outlets for selling factory made, and even factory handmade, on the internet, there is a steadily growing demand for sites which provide individual makers with a dedicated space to sell their creations. And while the notion of handmade-by-the-seller is gaining in popularity, there are very few venues specializing in such merchandise. (And even fewer that provide the proper environment/interface, the appropriate array of tools/options - for both sellers and buyers - and the necessary traffic. These issues will all be discussed in future articles.)

I'm very interested in hearing how handmade sellers and buyers feel about this week's topic, and what you would consider the optimum arrangement/limitation in order to preserve the intent, and the integrity, of the handmade site.

1 comment:

  1. i would say that hand made is made by the person selling..if its a collaboration they the people involved should be the sellers (and not 100 of them please!)


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