Monday, March 5, 2012

Hand-Made vs Mall-Wart

Jen Arbo's tirade against the dollar-store-ization of our little part of the planet struck a nerve. With me, really brings into focus the effect that mass consumerism has had on our planet. And here's an illustrative parable, one that involves, funnily enough, Jen and myself...

I'm passionate about a few things, knitting being one. In fact, I'm practically obsessed with knitting socks! I blog about it. I dream about it. I've joined a local knitting group so I can talk about it and show off my various knitted socks. The sock drawers of my relatives are filled with the products of my needles.

Now, I know Jen. She asked me to knit her a pair of socks recently, which I happily did. She even offered to pay me. Sweet, but, as every knitter knows, the only possible response is to turn the offer of payment down, because...

There is no way that anyone could afford a pair of hand-knit socks if they were to pay what it really cost.

You know what a pair of hand-knit socks cost? At minimum wage, about $200. Socks. Yep. The yarn will run you $10 for cheap 'n nasty, to $30 for a beautiful hand-dyed skein. The rest is labour. What are you getting for $200? Well, one-of-a-kind. They don't fit better, but they do last longer. A lot longer. And since they took all that effort/money to make, you tend to repair them, not throw them away, so that makes them last years. On the downside, you are stuck with them for a long time, which means you can't keep up with the "latest look" in socks. And they don't look all that classy with a skirt.

But, this is the value that hand-made things used to have. People in the past actually paid this amount for their socks (or they spent the time and made 'em themselves, while watching the goats). Which is why they wore them to rags, and why they were poor. Oh, and fashion? Forget that. It was all about tradition.

So was it better then? Or better now? As with so many things, I'm not sure.

On the one hand: beautifully crafted one-of-a-kind, last-forever-and-repair stuff, and on the other: fashionable clothing and furniture, redecorating, cheap-enough-so-everyone-can-afford.

Society has shifted, thanks to industrialization and mass production - and this started decades ago, before "globalization". There are many sides to this societal shift and we are all affected. Who hasn't inherited stuff that they don't like and can't use (china, dinnerware, crystal, furniture...) because it isn't to their personal "taste"? (and, why is "taste" important? whatever happened to "tradition"?) Whose garage isn't stuffed full of items they use 1x per year? Who doesn't rent out mini-storage because their own home is "too small"? Who hasn't participated in children's birthday parties, with their incredible surfeit of plastic goods and built-in consumer messaging? (don't even start on Christmas.) Who doesn't buy magazines that advise you to change your decor by buying new towels or repainting, or craft magazines that advertise "quick and easy" projects? Who doesn't give away bags of clothing to the thrift store on a quarterly basis? I am as guilty as the next.

For me, the problem isn't the dollar store. It's the fact that people have replaced the joy and discipline of creating something time-consuming themselves, with shopping. The arrival of mass-consumerism and advertising has changed people's appreciation of what it takes to make something, has changed what "quality" means, and has changed people's expectations of "how much is enough".

This is deeper than just the dollar stores. They're just a symbol.


  1. I got to wear my new socks today. They are seriously the most amazing socks in the world, so amazing in fact, that I think I'm kind of inspired to learn how to knit so I can knit socks myself. Thank you RMD, these are the bestest in the world.

  2. Awwww, thanks Jen! Truly though, for a sock-obsessed knitter, the pleasure was all mine!


    ...someone else who feels like I do...