Let me start this post by raising my coffee mug to the many fabulous mama businesses out there. (Insert 3 coffee emojis right here).
As I started writing this post, I was going off in a tangent about being a disposable society. That we buy things just to buy them and don’t really think about where they come from. While that’s true, it was getting off topic a bit. So I cut and pasted those words into another document and you can look forward to that post in the future.
What I meant to get around to saying is that when we don’t think about where our merchandise comes from, whether it’s a tomato from the store or a new piece of clothing, or a spatula we use daily for cooking, we lose perspective on the privilege of having what we have in the first place. Buying becomes habitual rather than purposeful. We buy because we “need,” assuming we can’t wait. Or we buy what we “want” whether we need it or not.
While I’ve always been a proponent of buying used when possible, there’s something thrilling when you buy something new when you’re not used to owning new things. I get it. I’m not anti-shopping or purchasing. I’m just trying to be more aware of where I make those purchases. And hoping you want to do the same.
There’s also something thrilling when you buy something that someone else made. When you see the person who made it face-to-face. And while not all businesses are mama owned, this series is purposefully about mamas so that’s my perspective here in this post.
When you buy from a store, you add things to your possessions that you have no real connection to. You likely remember what store you bought them from, but that’s about it. What’s the story behind that blanket? What’s the story behind those shoes? What’s the story behind your necklace? I doubt we really think about that much.
But when you buy from another mama who made the product that is going to end up in your home, you make a connection with a human being. There’s a story behind where it came from. There’s a sense of community you build when you know where your product came from. She made this shirt. She made this hat. She made this bag. She made this cutting board. She made this necklace. I would love to be so purposeful about my home and wardrobe that I can tell the story of what I wear or how I decorate by the people and places I buy things. While I’m not an antique lover, I think that’s probably a bit of the thrill of the process. The story behind it all.
Mama businesses are at the heart of shopping small. Much of the time, it’s just a mom who has a talent, or is looking for a creative outlet, or has a heart for a mission and uses her talent and creativity to do that with her business. Mamas are taking time away from all the things in their lives, including their kids, to create. They have to find ways to create in the midst of motherhood. Sometimes this mama might have a few people who work with her but many times, it’s just her. She’s doing it because she loves it, because it gives her a place to create something beautiful, and because likely, the little bit she’s making off of your purchase is really helping her family.
I think the biggest deterrent that people see when they want to buy from a small mama business is the cost. Why should I pay two or three times as much for this when I can get it so much cheaper somewhere else? And therein lies the problem. I’ve talked about it a little bit before. That as a society, we think things should be cheap. It’s what we expect. And that’s a huge problem. Because when we buy it cheap, it means the materials and the labor were cheap as well. Which means at the end of the sewing machine, or factory line, or manufacturing plant, there’s a worker who is often not getting treated the way they should. All in the name of cheap products.
Cost of Handmade Production
I asked my friend Tabitha to help explain the cost of producing her own piece of clothing to help you understand the process. You can check her business out here tomorrow. But for now, think about what she says.
Alright friends, I’m going to make this simple. What wage would you expect to earn in your profession? I used to be a lawyer. Now, while I didn’t see much of my billable hour, it was perfectly acceptable to charge $140/hr for my services. Let’s say you’re a teacher and you’re hired to tutor. You probably wouldn’t do the job for less than $30/hr. And how many of you would work for minimum wage, or even $10/hr? (I’m betting none of you raised your hand).
Now let me break down garment construction a little bit.
Cost of a pattern: $10-$20 (or if I design my own, then the time that takes — ps, it’s months, not just hours or days — would get billed back into this cost)
Cost of material: $20-$40 (assuming 2 yards of fabric which is what is needed to make most women’s tops/shirts, purchased from a fabric shop)
Cost of thread/notions: $10
~If using a PDF pattern (which is cheaper), assume 30-60 minutes for printing and assembly.
~Once pattern is assembled, tracing the size and cutting out pattern pieces will require an additional 30-60 minutes.
~I can usually finish sewing a more involved garment such a button-down top or pants in 4-6 hours
What’s my time worth? I’d like to think it’s as valuable as your time or any other person with a “real” job, so $30/hr sounds reasonable. But since I know no one would ever dream of paying that price, let’s just say I’m a sucker and signed up for a $10/hr wage.
If we stop there and tally it up on the conservative end of the price ranges, we’re looking at $90 for a button-down top or dress or something along those lines. This is why I stick primarily to kids clothing and women’s accessories. Things that are quick to sew and use relatively little material. It’s also why I don’t make much of a profit. It takes a long time to make a profit on $10/hr. It’s also the reason I usually turn down commissions and refuse to take alteration jobs. My time is valuable and I simply cannot afford to do it.
While this example is for clothing, I think you’ll find a similar response for other kinds of things that mamas make. So if you think about it, when you shop small and you buy something that another mama made, with their own two hands, with their valuable time, you are choosing to honor not only that mama’s talent, but her time as well. You’re saying, “Hey, I know I can get this cheaper somewhere else, but I want to honor you and what you do and what you’ve created.”
Value of Handmade Production
I’m telling you, when you buy something from someone directly, you think about that person when you use it or wear it. Maybe not every time. But it happens.
When I wear a shirt from Elegantees, I think about the sewer at the other end. Given back their dignity after a life in human trafficking.
When I wash with soap or pump lotion or wear makeup, I think about the lovely ladies at Poofy Organics, making these products by hand with love.
When I wear a headband made by my friend Tabitha, or drink coffee in my handmade mugs, or wear a shirt sewn by a survivor of sex trafficking, I think about the person behind the product. On a good day, I say thanks for them and even lift up a prayer on their behalf. But it makes me think about what I use in a way I don’t think about when I don’t know where a product comes from.
And, bonus: handmade purchases often come with handmade notes or something that makes it more personal. Like this purchase from Molly with Spearmint Spruce.
I’d love to have a long list of things to share here that I’ve bought from mamas. Lord knows I don’t have the money to do it all. And I’ve already told you there’s no obligation to buy from your friends. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it when I can. It’s like everything else in life. You start small. With one purchase. And then one more.
Celebrate One Another
It’s another way to celebrate each other, mamas. Find someone locally who makes something by hand. And buy something from them. Not because you feel like you should. But because you want to. Because it’s the first step in building relationships. Because it’s the first step in making changes in how you think about shopping.
I only wish I thought this way many years ago. So slowly, I’m trying. I’m being more purposeful in my purchases (and trust me, right now in my current life stage they are few and far between).
So, the next time you’re looking to buy something new, stop and do some research before you go out to a store. Check Etsy for small mama business. Search FB and IG. I have found so many lovely mama businesses that way. Put out a little request on FB to see if your friends know someone who makes what you’re looking for.
And stay tuned! I’ll be introducing several mama businesses to you this week. Simply because by sharing these other mamas, it’s a way to celebrate who they are and what they do.
Use the comments below and celebrate a favorite mama business of someone you know.