Fast-crafts: a lesson in making cheap handicrafts on tight budgets

Indigo dyeing and shibori have become quite a major fashion trend during the past few years and the trend is now being translated into interior decoration. Recently we have been receiving some interest in our shibori textiles for hotel projects in which requirements range from shibori wall pieces for over 200 guest rooms to throw pillows for 10 suite rooms. When we first started getting these sorts of inquiries we bubbled with excitement, especially when we saw the positive responses to presentations of our works. The problem is that while more and more hotels and interior decorators are reacting to the growing interest in handmade goods their experience is still mostly limited to working with large volumes of materials cheaply manufactured on a grand scale. Hand dyed indigo shibori textiles can take quite a bit of time to make and this has to be factored into the cost. It quickly becomes apparent that the cost of production is a reoccurring issue: the invariable response is “Can you make it cheaper?”. This often leads into a discussion familiar for Ann who has experience with designing textiles and decorative items for large commercial projects where design and cost have to be compromised to meet the budget by changing the materials and methods of production.

Most of the time the clients want an overwhelming amount of pillows or wall pieces with the ‘handmade’ look of indigo shibori textiles at wholesale price. Some clients have suggested that to cut costs we should take photographs of our hand dyed work, manipulate it on the computer and print it digitally on yards of fabric. In another case a client expressed quite an interest in our work and asked if other colours apart from indigo could be used, to which we said yes as we could use other natural dyes to achieve a wide range of colours. However, she replied, “Naturally dyed goods are quite expensive so maybe you can use chemical dyestuff instead and market the products as textiles ‘inspired’ by natural colours”. I am reminded here of an article about fake plastic daffodils being “planted” at Fallbarrow park because the real ones (which had inspired Wordsworth’s poetry) had suddenly bloomed earlier due to changing climate patterns. Apparently the ducks and tourists had not noticed the difference. Digitally printed photoshops of handicrafts and “nature-inspired” chemically dyed crap is just around the corner from plastic daffodils. So are plastic icebergs and ass implants. But what makes it more frustrating is that these sorts of suggestions come after the client shows enthusiastic support and interest in the handcrafted approach to individually unique works. I guess some people want to appeal to a certain consumer base by having handmade goods on their premises but don’t want to pay the price for them. There is also the tendency for decisions regarding interior textile decorations for hotels to be left until the last minute while more important issues are finalised, such as the brand of refrigerator in the room, size of sink, etc. This can lead to jobs that are not only low-paying but also rushed.

This is our recent project: 36 pillows for a 5-star hotel in the south of Thailand. I have to say it was a good exercise, although essentially we worked almost for free. I hope that the day will come soon when we have more than just two pairs of hands, a more streamlined process and better facilities to make our work faster, better and of higher profitability and quality. Perhaps then we might actually make money from these kinds of jobs. Until then I think it is much better to continue working towards making, marketing and selling textiles on our own terms to people who actually appreciate the work that goes into making hand-dyed goods and who know how much they are worth.

indigo shibori pillows

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