Shopping for truly handmade products can be a great way to support independent artisans and small businesses, while also acquiring unique and high quality items. However, with the rise of online marketplaces, it can be difficult to determine whether a product is truly handmade or simply mass-produced.
For me, as a crafter, I can spot the mass-produced fairly easily – but I noticed that not everyone can do the same. I decided to write this article offering some tips to help shoppers recognize a truly handmade product and identify online shops that sell genuine handmade goods.
- Look for imperfections
I believe this is maybe the best way to go: One of the hallmarks of handmade products is that they often have imperfections (that make them unique!) Look for some uneven stitching, a possible asymmetrical shape, and other small inconsistencies that indicate the product was crafted by hand rather than by a machine.
I might re-create some of my designs, but every single one of them is different than the other . The 2 cm bracelet might be 2.1 cm or 1.95 cm, the closure might be half cm closer or further from the edge, my stitching might be uneven at the 15th hole or the 25th, my pink daisies might be a bit pinker (is this even a word?) or lighter and so on.
If every item in a shop looks identical or if every item looks just perfect, it may be a sign that they are mass-produced – or crafted by a machine.
(And this is a good conversation starter: If a crafter uses for example a sewing machine, are their products still truly handmade? Let’s leave that one aside for a future article.)
Fun Fact about me: I do not believe in perfection.
- Read the product description carefully
If you’re shopping on Etsy or another online marketplace, make sure to read the product description carefully. Genuinely handmade products should have detailed descriptions that explain how the item was made, what materials were used, and/or any special care instructions. If the description is vague or doesn’t provide this information, it may be a sign that the product was not truly handmade.
- Ask Questions!
This one is another great advice: If you have any questions about the product or the seller’s process, don’t be afraid to ask!
Genuine handmade sellers will be happy to answer any questions you have and provide more information about their products.
Do you like the flowers on this bracelet but you would prefer them to be red instead of yellow? Would you prefer black stitching instead of brown? Or maybe a snap button instead of a stud? Could the seller adjust the width to 3.5 cm instead of 4? And so on.
I make everything from scratch: Therefore, alternating the design and customizing it according to your needs, is not a trouble at all. (In fact, it often sparkles more great ideas for future designs! And I am so thankful.)
Fun Fact about me: At least 1/3 of my designs are YOUR ideas that came into life and I am forever grateful – so are all the amazing people out there who love them.
To summarize this advice, if a seller is unresponsive or gives vague or evasive answers, it may be a sign that they are not selling genuine handmade products.
- Check the seller’s profile, social media and reviews
Before making a purchase, take a few minutes to look at the seller’s profile and read their reviews. Genuine handmade sellers should have a detailed profile that explains their process and showcases their work – often their home-workspace, even family photos, signs that there is a real person behind the screen.
They should also have positive reviews from previous customers who were happy with their purchases, and if there are negative reviews, please read them. It happens often a customer to buy something without reading the (whole) description, or complain about late delivery – and this is something totally out of sellers control. Generally though, If a seller has little to no information on their profile, no social media presence or many negative reviews, it may be a red flag.
Fun Fact about me: I got a 1-star review! And it made me an Etsy Star Seller ever since.
Consistency is the key in most factors of our life – in the search of truly handmade products as well. I have a little more than 400 products in my Etsy store – most of them are leather bracelets. I have a few simple wallets (maybe 30?) and even less keychains (maybe 5?) so my field is leather bracelets. I do like experimenting and try a few other leather goodies here and there, but one can clearly see that my shop sells leather bracelets!
It is okay to see a shop that sells ceramic mugs to have a few ceramic bowls as well, or maybe a few small ceramic flower pots. But if a shop is selling a wide range of products in various materials, from embroidered pillows to ceramic bowls and through pet supplies and fancy metal sponge holders and drop earrings(!) You can be sure that it‘s not made or designed by a single person.
- Impossible volume of sales
Last but not least, while a lot of sales is probably good for the shop, it might be a red flag for the buyer. Please check the total sales of the shop, in relation with the time they have been selling.
It took me a year to get 30 sales, and in my second year I am not making more than 30 sales per month (yet). While I can handle more, this more cannot be too much (I am a single mom of two, with all hiccups included). At times, I get 6-7 orders in a weekend and have me running like a headless chicken to make ends.
To summarize this: Something might look handmade, but how a single creator can sell 2000 items in a X-short-time of something that takes days to make by hand? It might be ok if we talk about printed T-shirts, or stickers (?) but not handmade sweaters/cardigans, or hand painted ceramic mugs, or hand-crafted earrings, or hand-tooled leather wallets.
In conclusion, recognizing a truly handmade product and identifying online shops that sell genuine handmade goods requires a bit of research and careful attention to detail.
By looking for imperfections, reading product descriptions, checking seller profiles and reviews, asking questions, being aware of sales volume/time, shoppers can make informed purchases and support small businesses and artisans who create unique and high-quality products.
Thank you for reading! See you next time!