Everything is handmade

Artisanal companies are fooling you daily

By Aidan Mouellic, Staff Writer

I’m guilty of falling for the romantic appeal of handmade North American goods crafted by skilled craftspeople. The hipster-fuelled, artisanal, handmade revolution has swallowed me whole and I feel ashamed that these companies’ slick marketing prowess has conquered me.

Buying locally made things has never been cooler and I love that; supporting our fellow community members is important, because it keeps jobs around and boosts the economic prosperity of the region. But within the organic artisanal marketplace—whether it’s fancy chocolate or vegan fair trade handbags—there’s an extreme overuse of the term “handmade.”

Whenever I see something labelled as handmade, I cringe. Chances are the item was handmade, but I cringe because though it’s a true statement, it’s still misleading. The label suggests that the product is special—more so than whatever else is available. For example, certain shoemakers love to boast that their products are made by hand and that it’s so special that an Amish artisan massaged the shoe for who knows how long before it was shipped to the stores. You know what other shoes are handmade? Air Jordans and the rest of the Nike lineup. Every pair of Nike shoes is made by hand, every pair of Adidas shoes is made by hand, and all other shoes on the planet are made by hand.

The difference lies in the fact that one worker makes pennies, while the other worker makes a fistful of dollars. The reason Nike is not plastering all its shoe boxes with “proudly handmade” labels is perhaps because the craftspeople who make them can’t afford to wear them, or perhaps because sweatshops are less cool than small, picturesque workshops.

When you think about it, nearly everything that we don’t associate with “handmade” is handmade. The car you drive was made by humans with assistance from some robotic hands, the clothing you wear was all individually crafted by someone operating a sewing machine in a garments factory, and the electronic devices you use daily were all put together, one by one, by a human.

Practically everything is handmade, but a company’s decision to boast about it will likely depend on whose hands built it. If the item you’re using was made in Canada or in the States by someone with a beard, clean hands, and knowledge of what EDM stands for (electrical discharge machining), then chances are it will be labelled “handmade”; but if the product was made overseas by a poor labourer, then it will not be labelled as such.

There are certainly some exceptions to my rudimentary guideline. Tourist knick-knacks that can be found near your all-inclusive resort will often be handmade by local artisans, but instead of your basket being woven in a small moonlit hut, it was likely made in a giant knick-knack factory. It’s still handmade by a local dude, but just not as romantically as previously imagined; most things aren’t.

Do I sound cynical yet? I’m not trying to be, but our judgment can easily be skewed by mere words on packaging. That pleases me—being fooled into thinking positive thoughts through some simple wordplay is great. Perhaps professors can change the name of “final examination week” into “personal growth and exploration period.” If being fooled by a little wordplay can make me optimistic, then I’m all for being mildly deceived.

I urge you all to think a bit more critically about your buying habits. Self-awareness is key to becoming a better educated person and a smarter shopper. Don’t be fooled into buying something that is really just overpriced Hershey’s. Then again, if we believe everything the label tells us, is the placebo effect worth it?