There are many new companies out there claiming “handmade (fill in the blank with whatever product),” as their largest marketing scheme. Using the term handmade, or, hand-crafted, works well these days in marketing. Why? Because, you (and me) like handmade goods. We appreciate goods that were made honestly, by a human, and with no affiliation to corporations.
Many of us have had enough with bigger, faster, stronger… and cheaper. Many of us are tired of having so many valueless things that either we can’t get around to enjoy because there are too many other things we have that we haven’t used yet, or that as soon as we begin to enjoy them, they break, or fail.
Large businesses and small businesses alike have caught on to this trend of “handmade” and the idea it conveys in the public’s eye. Many of them even understand they can charge a premium for it.
Here’s the problem: Most of these companies are actually hands-off. The owners/CEOs have little to do with the process of actually making their products and know even less about how to make them. The term handmade, in these cases, is purely for marketing aesthetic. What these companies do know how to create is, a clever marketing plan.
This is why we often find successful companies with sub-par products. They can be successful because they understand psychology, not necessarily quality.
And we are duped.
Not because we are unintelligent, uninformed, or apathetic. We are duped because the psychology of what makes people buy into something is predictable, measurable, and marketable.
Did you know that you are 6 times more likely to buy a product you see someone who you respect wearing? In marketing that’s called social proof. That’s why there’s a line outside of apple stores during a new iPhone launch. Once we see someone else doing something, it seems more attractive, or less silly.
This is also the reason why for years no one could run a 4 minute mile. Everyone said it was impossible. Everyone. Then, Roger Bannister did it. As soon as others saw that it could be done, they did the same. Now the 4 minute mile is the standard for middle-distance runners. If you can’t do it, you can’t compete.
Unfortunately, social proof is also the reason why the rates of suicide and murder go up in proportion to how widely a suicide or murder is publicized. Ever wonder why it seems like when there is one mass shooting, several more occur soon after? Psychologists have discovered that we are more likely to “copycat” someone who we identify as similar to us.
To be clear – social proof is not the bad guy. I mean, look at the 4-minute mile. Or the way Jordan changed basketball. Social proof is an important element to effect growth and change in society, culture and ourselves. As humans, we need it.
The question is, can you trust the source its coming from? And can you recognize when you’re being influenced? These are the skills we need to develop.
This leads me to why I choose to lead my company down a path of transparency.
My definition of “handmade” is not the same term used by corporations and small businesses who desire to capitalize on the current state of our culture, by using social proof. My definition of handmade is not built upon the one or two workers in an assembly line who still remain, even if just to operate a sewing machine.
My definition of handmade is much more grounded and tangible than that.
I, and the occasional help I receive, make everything start to finish, using hand tools, and machines from the thirties. I even use a hand crank sewing machine to put the uppers together and all of my shoes are hand-lasted and finished.
So why is a commitment to handmade so important to Standard Handmade?
1. We believe we make a better product through patience. The act of slowing down the process, intentionally, allows us to put all of our concentration into each step of the process. We can inspect our stitching, be sure every area is covered with the proper amount of glue, and wait for the glue to be the correct tackiness for the best bond possible, make sure all pieces are the right size and shape, and that all of the steps are followed with the most care.
There is no place at Standard Handmade for increasing production unless the quality can be repeated at that increase.
Note: If I had only one pair to make at a time, it would take 3 weeks to complete the pair. Any faster and the process is rushed in such a way that the outcome could be a shoe that stretches too much once broken in, or falls apart after a year.
2. We believe in our work. Not just the work of shoemaking, but in all of our work. There is value in using our hands and in physically exerting ourselves to create. We connect with our work in a way that just sending an email or making a phone call cannot give us.
Vision alone is not enough. Taking a material that is flat and without form and creating something valuable (and new to the world) from it, is where the magic begins. To create is to be like God.
We sweat, and we grow blisters into calluses. We sometimes bleed. Our hands get raw from the continuous stretching of the leather. We lose fingernails to the beating of hammers. Our hands turn black from the wax and the glue and the dirt and the oil.
But, we earn the respect of the finished pair of shoes by sticking with them until the end, and we gain a strong sense of responsibility for them. Further, there is something concrete. We don’t have to boast about the ways in which we are clever, smart, or capable. We simply point to the shoes and say, “see, they work as intended.
They are more to us than a sale. They are reminders that integrity will outlast fashion, and that honesty has a purpose.
3. It is healthier and safer to make footwear by hand. Not only is it more physical and great for keeping our hearts and muscles healthy, it’s also healthier to our senses. There is less damaging shop noise from loud machinery to damage our ears. Less flying objects to damage our eyes. Less powerful machines that a limb or a piece of clothing could get caught in. And less dust and fumes to damage our lungs and sinuses.
An added bonus is that the shop is pleasant to be in. We can have conversations without yelling, and we don’t have to worry as much about heavy machinery safety. We can even eat meals when we are hungry, or enjoy a beer or two while we work.
4. We have more control over the outcome of the final shoe. Like sculptors shaping a bowl, we are able to emphasize certain details of the work, or clean up imperfections. We can also add extras, like a person’s initials. Making shoes is our pottery, our canvas. We recognize our products as pieces of art.
5. Making a shoe by hand is a unique and valuable skill. Not everyone can or wants to make a pair of shoes. Yet all of us need them. It is important that the knowledge of making them remains alive.
As far as I know, only one book has been written since the mid-1800s on the process of making a shoe by hand. I have looked! And I’ve read it as well as the older ones (which tend to be missing several pages and use terminology that no longer exists). There is a real threat that we could lose the knowledge all together. If that happens, the machines will know more than we do. They will be the experts. And in a way, we will rely on them to facilitate our needs.
I know shoe making is not something everyone is interested in, but for me I care about it so much that it keeps me up at night thinking about it. My aim, and the aim of Standard Handmade is to deliver your favorite pair of shoes. The pair you can’t stop wearing because they look and feel so good.
Handmade is not a fad. It is essential. Don’t be fooled by the lions in sheep’s clothing. If somebody claims their product is handmade, yet can’t give any tangible evidence or information, be skeptical. I spend a great deal of time laying out and documenting the Standard Handmade process so that you can see what you are purchasing – and you can trust it.
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