I recently read an article on the New York Times website that attempted to answer this exact question. The article Sorry, Etsy. That Handmade Scarf Won’t Save the World. was written by Emily Matchar, an articulate writer who delved into the issue thoroughly for the brevity of the article. I actually enjoyed reading it because it was so well written. Being a writer myself, that says a lot.
In the first three paragraphs, the author points out the irony surrounding handmade goods and their pricing. A store bought sweater, for example, can cost $20 or less at Walmart, but a hand-knit sweater can cost well over $100 on Etsy. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, handmade was free, and many families only survived because they wore only handmade clothes.
Almost every family had someone who could make by hand what they needed. These handmade arts were ubiquitous. (Interestingly, during the Great Depression, people used whatever they had on hand to make what they needed. Recycling at its best.)
In today’s world, not everyone knows how to knit or crochet clothing or grow food in a garden organically. Hence the increase in cost of handmade goods and organically grown food. It’s supply and demand.
For example, in my family, my great grandmother knew how to crochet and knit as well as how to weave baskets along with a variety of other handmade skills. But in the early 1900s, you had to know how to do those things unless you were rich and had people to do it for you.
Unfortunately, those skills were never passed down in my family. My grandmother was never interested in learning, she always said she wasn’t creative. While I was very interested in learning to crochet in my 20s, I had no desire to learn when I was a seven or eight year old child, and my great grandmother died long before I was ever interested in learning these arts. So, unfortunately, her skills died with her.
The article from the New York Times goes on to discuss how buying handmade has become morally significant to many people. Handmade is typically equated with sustainability and environmental friendliness. While handmade is sustainable and better for the environment, mass production is still the primary source of goods in this day and age, which means damage is still being done to the environment. The author states that we need legislation for those changes, and she’s absolutely right.
The article also points out that eco-conscious campaigns such as “vote with your wallet” and “buy home grown” are ideologies that look good on paper, but are not effective in practice. Essentially, the benefits gained from these small campaigns are outweighed by the ubiquity of big agriculture and mass production.
The author unfortunately seems to also support the “now” mentality of our current economy. We want something, and we want it now. We have difficulty thinking about the future especially when it pertains to our great grandchildren. So if the changes aren’t immediate, what’s the point? These ideologies of sustainability may not be making a blatant difference now, but if the movements are allowed to progress, eventually they will.
While we do need legislation to make major changes in our society, the change has to start somewhere. The controversy surrounding GMOs today is a great example. Movies such as Food Matters and Forks Over Knives point out the inherent dangers in our current food supply, and these movies have helped shed light on the question of whether or not our food should be labeled if it contains GMOs. And in 2013, two states (Maine and Connecticut) enacted legislation requiring foods containing GMOs to be labeled!
Another example, took place back in the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement began with just a few like-minded individuals, and in 1964 the “Civil Rights Act” was passed. The movement originally started in 1955 and didn’t officially end until 1968, and we’re still dealing with racism today.
My point is change takes time. Humanity is evolving. The Civil Rights Movement was a giant leap in our evolution, but nothing changed overnight. If you look back through history, you can see all the changes that have been made to society, and most of those changes started with just a few people with the same ideals and morality. The founding of this country is another great example.
But some changes are immediate. People who watch movies such as Food Matters typically make some change in their lifestyle, and that change can alter their quality of life. The world may not reap the benefits of these immediate changes, but the people making the changes will.
Our family, for example, went vegan after watching both Food Matters and Forks Over Knives along with a few others. Since then, my health has significantly improved. I no longer have high blood pressure, and I’ve reversed my ventricular hypertrophy (enlarged left ventricle of the heart). The movies inspired me to make changes in my diet, which lead to other changes such as regular exercise.
Again, big changes take time. These ideological campaigns will not make global changes overnight. But they aren’t meant to. What they are meant to do is inspire people to make changes in their own lives.
That’s what matters, the changes that we make to our own lives, and that’s how global change starts. It’s like a seed that grows into a flower, it doesn’t happen overnight. Just because the choices we make today don’t have an immediate effect on the global economy or the environment doesn’t mean we should not make those choices. Doing so would effectively put a stop to the movements that lead to change.
So will buying handmade change the world? Not today. Knowing that the $35 tablet and smartphone case set you bought in our shop on Etsy was made with organic cotton yarn and cruelty free by a full time working mom trying make a little extra money to support her family? Now, that could change your life today.