Why Handmade is so “Expensive”

This post is copied directly from What the Craft. I know a lot of artists struggle to find a  balance when pricing handmade items. It’s difficult to convey a complex process to a customer to justify “high” prices of handmade items, when their point of view is formulated from prices of corporate-made goods.

“$70 for a t-shirt?!”

“I love your website, but everything on it is overpriced!”

“Your stuff is too expensive.”

“Are you rich or something?”

“I could make that for $5.”

“Sorry, but that’s a rip-off.”

“$80 for a hoodie? You’re not Gucci.”

I’ve heard it all. At first it hurt my feelings and made me worry that my prices were too high. Now it only baffles me that someone would say something so rude. This is my job. It may not be like your job. I don’t have a boss or regular hours, and I don’t have to drive to work or even get dressed for it (heh), but this is how I pay the bills.

I’m always tempted to asked these people, “How about I come down to where you work and tell your boss you’re overpaid?” Because that’s essentially what they’re saying.

But I’m too polite to do that.

Instead I decided to write this article to shed some light on the work that all of us that run a handmade business are doing… including all the behind-the-scenes stuff you probably never even think about. (And that some of us don’t charge for.)

Sure, some people will still be rude doucheballoons. That’s life. But maybe I can just make a few people think, “Oh, I hadn’t realized how much work goes into that!”

[Note: If you are a handmade seller looking for guidelines on how to price your items, please don’t use this article as a model for your own pricing. As you’ll see below, I’m a hypocrite when it comes to not underpricing. Please do as I say and not as I do. Read this guide for pricing instead, if that’s what you’re looking for.]


Step 1: The design phase

I sketch most of my ideas before I start cutting. Sometimes it’s completely spontaneous. I just start doodling and see where it takes me. Other times I have exactly what it will look like all planned out, and I want to get it down on paper so I don’t forget anything.

It’s usually just a quick scribble of pen or pencil on paper. Other times I take more time. I’ll add color with colored pencils or do the sketch 4 or 5 times before nailing down a particular design.

Since most of my sketches are quick, we’ll say the total time spent sketching one piece is 5 minutes.

As you can see, my sewing skills do not translate to pencil and paper skills.


Sketching: 5 minutes


Step 2: The drafting phase

Unlike a commercial outfit, I don’t have each of my patterns drawn up in every single size.  For custom orders, I redraft my pattern each time to match the customer’s measurements, because I’m not a fan of “standard” sizing.

Likewise, even for non-custom pieces, I don’t have patterns for each possible combination of styles I make. I get bored easily, so I prefer to make one of a kind designs.  For example, I have a single t-shirt pattern that I customize depending on whether or not I’m making a tank top, a hoodie, or a tee. I don’t have one scoopneck pattern, one v-neck pattern, and one crewneck pattern. I have one pattern for a t-shirt that I change each time I use it, depending on what I’m making.

Random tip: I like using old Tyvek envelopes for patterns because it won’t rip!


This shirt is pretty simple, so it only took about 15 minutes


Step 3: The cutting phase

This is another step that varies from piece to piece. My fairytale coats take at least 2 hours to cut because there are so many pieces. A simple tube top might take me 20 minutes. A zip-up hoodie takes an hour or more.

Start snipping!


Again, this one is pretty simple, so it only took 30 minutes


Step 4: The sewing phase

The most time consuming of all the steps, but one that also varies depending on an item. The formal dresses on my site, like the Nightshade dress, can take more than a full day to assemble. Same with the coats. A tube top takes 30 minutes, but a hoodie takes 3 hours.


This one took about an hour and 15 minutes. 75 minutes

Step 5: The photo phase

I usually make a big batch of items and photograph them all at once to make it easier. Because photos are The Most Important part of selling an item online, I like to be thorough. I generally take a modeled photo, a photo on the dressform, and a detail shot of the item laying flat.

This is one of the few steps that pretty much takes the same time, no matter what. I spend about 20 minutes on hair and makeup. Photographing 15 clothing items takes about 3 hours. Dividing the whole 3 hours and 20 minutes by 15 gives us 13 minutes per item.

Photographing the item: 13 minutes


Step 6: The measuring, weighing, and inspection phase

Before I put the completed items on the garment racks to wait to be sold, I measure and weigh each piece. I also take this time to inspect each one for any detail I might have missed before: stray threads, a skipped stitch, etc. Then they get a good going over with the lint roller and are put away.

Measuring, weighing, double-checking: 5 minutes


Step 7: The photo editing phase

The most tedious phase of all. I have to pick through all the modeled shots I take and find the ones where I’m not making a stupid face, blinking, or blurry. I adjust the light and color balance, crop, resize, and I add my watermark.

Editing the photos for one piece takes 30 minutes.


Step 8: The listing phase

When I add an item to my website, I have to upload the photos, write the listing description, and decide on a price. If I also list the item in my Artfire and Etsy shop, I can copy most of that information, but it still takes time. It probably takes about 10-15 minutes to complete the original listing and 5-10 more minutes each time I relist in one of my other venues. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say 15 minutes.

Listing an item: 15 minutes


Step 9: The marketing phase

Listing isn’t enough. The second most important component of selling an item online (photos being most important, as I mentioned before) is promotion. If you don’t get the word out, no one will know your stuff is there! For the time it takes me to promote one item on the various social networking sites, 20 minutes is a conservative estimate. (This doesn’t even take into account if I actually purchase advertising.)

Marketing an item: 20 minutes


Step 10: The shipping phase

Once an item sells, I have to get it packed up and ready to ship. I spend about 5 minutes tagging and folding and another 5 minutes packaging and labeling. Then I email a shipping notification to the customer.

Note: Most sellers actually drive your package all the way to the post office and stand in line. They’re not only spending time doing that, but they’re spending money on gas. I didn’t figure that into my calculations because I print my labels at home and have the post office pick my packages up, but for some sellers, this is a big Time Hog.

Packing and shipping: 10 minutes


Grand total
Sketching: 5 minutes
Drafting: 15 minutes
Cutting: 30 minutes
Sewing: 75 minutes
Photographing: 13 minutes
Measuring: 5 minutes
Photo-editing: 30 minutes
Listing: 15 minutes
Marketing: 20 minutes
Shipping: 10 minutes


218 minutes or 3 hours and 38 minutes.

My “goal” wage right now is $20 an hour. I used to use $10 as my goal, and then I realized one day that I could go get quite a few entry level jobs at that rate, and I’m not doing an entry level job. I have 8 years of experience and skill. $20 is a much more appropriate wage for skilled labor.

(And for those that think $20 is a huge wage, a full time job at that wage is equivalent to a salary of a little over $40,000 a year before taxes. Middle class in the US by every standard. On top of that, there’s no sick pay, vacation time, retirement or health insurance. After all of those expenses, it’s quite a bit closer to a lower middle class salary.)

At $20 an hour, this top cost $73 to make. That’s only time/labor, of course. Materials for this top cost $18, bringing our total to $91. Now go see what it’s actually listed for on my website.

Yep… $75. Less if it sells during a sale. With materials and overhead, I’m not actually making my goal wage, as you can see. With just materials taken out, I’m actually making about $17 an hour.

Now I’m busted. Those of you who know me will have no doubt heard me preaching about the evils of undercharging, yet here I am committing the cardinal sin myself. For shame!

I mentioned overhead: there’s a TON of time I spend doing extraneous things not counted on this list. Responding to customer emails is a huge one. Every time someone asks a question about an item, it’s another 5 minutes, at least. For the average custom order, I spend at least an hour emailing back and forth with a customer. Probably more like two or three usually.

I have to order fabric and supplies. I have to clean and oil my machines. I have to vacuum all the little bits of thread and lint off the carpet in my studio. None of my overhead is ever counted into my prices (cost of machines, computers, utility bills, seller fees, rent and utilities). If I counted all that, I probably am making more like $10 an hour.

When you buy a top at Walmart, someone was paid a decent wage to design the top ONCE, and then a person halfway across the world was paid a few cents an hour to make 1000 of them. Total time and materials for a single top at Walmart is maybe $3. If they sell it for $15, they’re marking it up FIVE TIMES the cost.

My stuff isn’t marked up at all, and neither are most handmade artisan goods. Even so, our time is more expensive than a sweatshop worker. But when you buy handmade instead of buying from a corporate giant, you’re getting a lot of things from us that they can’t offer. Handmade means we care about quality and attention to detail. Sweatshop workers care about one thing: make it as fast as possible. Handmade means we care about customer service. All corporations care about is that green stuff in your wallet. Handmade means you’re helping the local economy. Corporations mean you’re helping some rich greedy jerk get even richer.

So the next time you’re going to open your yapper about the price of someone’s handmade goods, think before you speak. (And if you’re still tempted to be a jackass, then at least remember the Golden Rule and keep it to yourself.)

*** I’d like to take a moment to thank all of my kickass customers, who are NOT the people that make the comments at the beginning of this post. With their support and appreciation, I am able to do something I love.

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