Monday, February 27, 2012

Is It Handmade or Mass-Produced?

There’s been a tremendous amount of discussion lately about resellers presenting items as ‘handmade.’  What further complicates the issue is that these folks are selling on sites that claim to feature handmade items.  So how does the buyer really know?

First and foremost….  Just because the site says handmade, don’t believe it!  Times are tough and before you part with those hard-earned dollars, check out the site that’s making the claim.  For example, Etsy ( claims to be handmade, vintage and supplies.  In the old days, Etsy was much better at weeding out the resellers trying to pass off their merchandise as handmade.  But the site has grown so large, that they aren’t able to police the way they once did.  Plus, Etsy collects a fee on each listing and each sale…  those resellers are putting money in Etsy’s pocket.  This makes it easier for them to turn a blind eye to the problem.  This is not to say that there are no handmade artisans with shops on Etsy.  There are actually lots of them, but you’re going to have to do some homework to find them.  From what I’ve heard, this goes for Artfire (, too.  The only site I personally know of that is handmade and only handmade is  So how do you spot the handmade item?

1.  How’s the price?  A handmade item is typically more expensive than a mass-produced similar item.  The artisan creating it has design time and production time invested on top of materials.  Typically, a handmade artisan is not buying supplies in bulk quantities large enough to get huge discounts.  Expect the handmade item price to reflect this.

2.  Read the item description carefully!  A handmade artisan will give you details about how they created the item, and lots of them.  They describe the base material; they’ll give you measurements; they’ll give you use and care suggestions; you get the idea.  The mass-produced-masquerading-as-handmade-item’s description will be anemic by comparison, giving bare minimum information.  Since they didn’t make the item, they don’t have the details to share.

3.  Read the seller’s profile.  A handmade artisan will write about a number of things such as how they started doing what they do; how they learned their craft; what their favorite materials are, etc.  They often mention that they are open to custom orders, too.  Resellers don’t mention any of this in their profile for obvious reasons.

4.  Look at the items the seller has sold.  A handmade artisan may recreate a new piece to replace one that’s been sold. But that new piece will not be identical to the one before it, since they are both handmade.  The artisans I know (and I know a bunch!) will usually take new pictures of the newly created item before listing it.  So even though Harriet Handmade has sold 12 pairs of ear-warmers, she’s sold 12 different pairs of ear-warmers – the shop sales screen should reflect this.  Someone using the same, almost stock, photos over and over again, well, the odds are good that they are purchasing completed items (factory made, mass-produced) and passing them off as handmade.

5. Send a message to the seller asking a question that can only be answered by the maker of the item.  I once saw some torso mannequins which were being touted as ‘handmade.’  But there were hundreds of pictures of “different” items that were all exactly the same.  So I emailed the seller and asked what the process was for producing the forms.  The response I got was something to the effect of, “I’ll be happy to make one just right for you…  what did you have in mind.”  Trust me…  a handmade artisan will be thrilled and delighted that you’ve shown an interest in their work and will be more than happy to answer questions about their craft, basically, to talk about themselves!

If you’re looking for handmade, then you’ve already decided to go the extra expense to acquire something that will be an excellent value in the long-run.  With a little due diligence, you’ll find your purchase will meet or exceed your expectations.


  1. Fabulously stated.....and can you believe it, instead of kicking the resellers out, they kicked me out stating my mosaics are not handmade!
    They are (grumble, grumble).....
    just look at my shop, Myeuropeantouch, one can plainly see that my mosaics are handmade.
    Anyway, great points Sandi, thanks for writing this...♥

  2. This whole article is on point! I thank you for writing it and sharing it with us! :)

  3. Nice and informative article, Sandi!

  4. Wow, thanks for sharing this. I knew resellers were a problem, but I'm glad to have these tips to follow. And as an artist, I am definetly goint to go back and re-read my own item descriptions.