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Updates on Handspun Yarn Pricing Post

I’ve received some terrific comments, in various forms, on my post dealing with the pricing of handspun yarn. I’ve incorporated feedback from these into a revision, now online — just follow the link! But I’m going to take a moment to reply to a few of the comments here.

…you have allowed no time for acquiring the fibres and any preparation before spinning. The costs of production space etc. What is more you have allowed no time for the marketing and distribution time or costs. This includes any advertising, time travelling to outlets, and all the time costs spent on accounting for your business. Unsold stock has a high rent cost. In my experience this is equal to a third of the final price, or 50% more than the amount you have calculated.

This is absolutely true. The example isn’t intended to help someone figure out how to handle all of the retail aspects as well as all the supply chain aspects, but rather simply to give people a starting point for figuring out what their baseline cost is to produce a given handspun yarn, and urge people to consider that it’s unwise to price their wares below their cost, which is something that can plainly be seen happening in many contexts. I find that when a lot of the folks on spinning mailing lists are asking for advice about how to price their yarn, it’s something that they have never considered at all, and where someone else may be asking them to consider selling their goods, without being aware of how labor-intensive handspun yarns can be.

I have revised the original article to explain this more clearly.

I am guessing that if you are charging 5 dollars for a 100 yard skein.. you are talking about singles. I am wondering how you would charge for plied yarn? Takes so much longer.. but does the average yarn consumer recognize that? Or are they just looking at the number of yards?

First, I’m not charging $5 for a 100-yard skein; “about $5” is my baseline cost to produce that skein in the originally-shown scenario (now updated, and featuring a second scenario as well). Baseline cost to produce it could be viewed as the rock-bottom wholesale cost, where if I sell the yarn for less than that, I’m selling it at a loss. About $5 is break-even for production alone; costs of doing business raise that price when we’re talking about bringing it to market. $5 is too cheap for a 100-yard skein produced by a handspinner of even limited skill, in my opinion.

Second, does the average yarn buyer understand the time and skill that goes into handspun yarn production? Probably not, and this is a problem. I firmly believe that when producers of textile goods persist in underpricing them, they allow people to go uninformed about the real value of those goods. I could buy a chair from Target for $19.99, or I could buy one from a master furniture maker for $750. What’s the difference? Both are chairs, right? Should the master furniture maker price her chair at $19.99 because Target can sell chairs for that? Absolutely not; and when someone who’s never seen a chair priced higher than $19.99 looks at the $750 price tag, one of the questions that comes to mind is “Why is it so expensive?” It is then the job of the person selling the handcrafted chair to explain why.

I would never suggest that yarn buyers are only interested in the lowest cost yarns, never interested in true handcrafted quality, simply won’t pay what yarn is worth; but in some cases they may not yet be aware of what those things are worth. That’s okay; I say, don’t price to the lowest common denominator, and be willing to not make a sale if making that sale actually costs you money.

I have to agree with Ian – this is a good start, but for a professional there are many other costs involved. I have a website which involves a lot of maintenance and constant updates, I regularly pay for advertising, I have boxes to pack and ship, I spend time procuring material, I do daily dye pots, and there is constant accounting. I put in well over a 40 hour week – often working 7 days a week to keep my website fresh. I spend a lot of time corresponding with my customers. I do very labor intensive yarns that require a lot of stop and go spinnning. I have energy costs for doing dye pots and spinning out and drying fibers. $10 per hour is barely above minimum wage. I could not live on $5/100yards of yarn produced.

And these are very important things to consider when you’re getting into a business selling your handspun yarn — there are many more costs associated with doing so than simply producing the yarn. Here’s an excerpt from an older post, talking about the hours I try to keep; as you can see, production is actually a small piece of the pie:

For January, leaving aside sick days, I’m figuring on something like this for a division of work:

* Production: 12-24 hours
* Operations: 10-12 hours
* Development: 12-20 hours

Total work hours in a typical week: 32 – 56.

Production is things like dyeing silk, or producing yarn and fiber for sale.

Operations is stuff like packing, shipping, inventory, accounting, routine correspondence.

Development is writing, patterns, product testing, market research, and some correspondence.

Both production and development have strong risks of slopping over into my personal life; in some cases this is acceptable and in other cases, it’s not — but that’s a whole new range of stuff to talk about, best left for another day. For now, suffice it to say I’m figuring a slack week is 30-some-odd hours of work, a busy week maybe as much as 60; with average weeks somewhere in the “around 40 work hours” range. The big tricky issue for me, really, is how to limit time and be focused; I have a tendency to just work nonstop, whatever I’m doing, and that’s what needs controlling most in my life.

I suppose that in my earlier article, I shied away from coming right out and saying this, so here goes:

I believe it’s unethical to pay less than a living wage for handwork. I believe that doing so for textile goods has a long and established history which people simply accept to a much greater degree than they do for other, non-textile goods. And I believe that in large part, this is possible because so many people will sell their textile goods at a loss. It’s my opinion that doing so is not only not a good business practice, but beyond that, actually harmful. Why? Because if you do it, you’re making products available for less than it costs to produce them, contributing to the problem mentioned above where people don’t know the value of a textile good, driving down prices, negatively impacting the market, and exploiting yourself. And that’s just for starters! So really think about your pricing and the market and your impact on it when you get to selling your handmade textile goods, and don’t just let a market of buyers for mass-produced goods talk you into treating yourself like a stereotypical “sweat shop” garment worker.

12 thoughts on “Updates on Handspun Yarn Pricing Post

  1. I believe that doing so for textile goods has a long and established history which people simply accept to a much greater degree than they do for other, non-textile goods.

    Perhaps because textile goods are historically the work of women? Hmmm.

    I’m enjoying this topic. I occasionally do custom sewing for people; right now I’m making a wedding dress for a friend at about 1/3 what I would charge a stranger. My husband, who is a carpenter and woodworker, says I chronically undercharge myself. I find that despite knowing what kind of work goes into the skilled arts, I still shy away from pricing too high, because I’m comparing myself to retail-available goods. But in light of this post, now I’m thinking, a really nice scarf from a higher-end department store goes for $100-$150, depending on materials and designer; a shawl is a good deal more than that. (We won’t even start on the retail cost of a designer wedding dress.) And you and I both know that many retail items are made by subsistence labor and have an obscene markup. But still, people pay those prices, because they want nice things and unusual things. Maybe it will help me to think of my customer base as the same folks who pay big bucks for designer goods. They want the good stuff, after all; they should be willing to pay for it.

    Of course the catch is, rich people are often the tightest with a buck. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when people approach me for custom sewing because they’re trying to get something “cheaper.” I tell those people that I don’t come cheap, right up front.

  2. You know, a lot of this is why I *refuse* to sell anything I make. I just don’t even want to have to deal with the anger and resentment I know I’ll inevitably feel when I quote a price and get the “for THAT?!” *sigh*

    However, I *have* branched out into bartering with other artists. That’s a satisfying step at least 😀

  3. Thanks for the effort you’re putting into this Abby. (Is this development? LOL). It’s appreciated.

  4. Hear, hear! I so often get a blank stare from some of my knitter friends when I lament that they sold their handknit hats for $10 per. When I explain that they’re not just devaluing their own work, they’re devaluing the work of all knitters, their eyes glaze over. We’re all in this together, people. It takes a village!

  5. Fantastic post Abby (as always!). I wholeheartedly agree with you about it being unethical to pay less than a living wage for handwork.

    I suppose part of the problem is that much of the inherent value of handspun or a knitted or woven item is in the work put *into* it, rather than the inherent value of the raw material.

    Jewellery can have huge mark ups (400% maybe) and people don’t seem to mind. Part is the accesibility or “mystique” about working with gold and gems, but i think part is a perception of inherent worth (which is often way off).

  6. Hi Abby – Silly me, but I just cannot find your email address, and I wasn’t sure if I should email you at your livejournal email. Anyway, I have a question about how best to spin your sock blends! Split into strips and go worsted? Despite being blends, the fibers’ preparation seems to encourage worsted spinning, right? Thanks, Kristin K

  7. I believe it’s unethical to pay less than a living wage for handwork.

    Sing it sister!

  8. I’m so glad you said it all so well. It’s something that needed to be heard. Well done.

  9. Thanks so much for this very enlightening info! And yes, I think lots of this underselling mentality is about “women’s work” which has historically been undervalued. Consider the work of the women working in American sweatshops in other countries today.

    Charging less than it costs to produce handspun or handmade anything is undervalueing women & their work. WORK. Work deserves a fair wage, and most especially to skilled & inventive workers. Many of our handspinners are designers as well as spinners, & their product should be viewed as a much valued commodity.

    When a spinner undervalues their handspun & prices it accordingly, they are hurting the entire handmade industry.

    The hobby spinner doesn’t depend on the money from their handspun, but please consider those who do. Paying $5. for 100 yds of handspun isn’t outragious. I’ve spent more than that at the LYS on yarn that was of poor quality – bad dye jobs where the dye stains my knitting needles, underspun that barely holds together as I knit, etc.

    I consider myself fortunate to have an alternative – handspun by skilled spinners who take pride in what they produce.


  10. I posted a long comment on your original post which, I think, pointed out the fallacy of the missed point in the second issue you address above. Kudos for eloquently addressing a difficult issue; valuing our labor is not emphasized in this culture the way it should be (I believe), and talking about money is still a taboo for many of us. Way to open up a discussion! What a nice way for me to discover your blog. (I found it via a post by Amelia Garripoli in the Handspun Luxury & Novelty Yarns group on Yahoo).

  11. I wish there was a black n white copy of what handspun yarns should sell for. Get the industry for handspun standardized. That would give us a guide to go by and refer customers to when they question our pricing.

  12. I was always afraid to price my work at it’s worth because I was afraid of being too “conceited” or some other such nonsense. I attended a lecture on pricing some years ago and a comment the presenter made (I don’t remember who, sorry!), changed it all for me. He said (I’m paraphrasing, it WAS years ago) that when you sell your work for less than a fair living wage you are subsidizing someone else’s lifestyle. If you are living from paycheck to paycheck or robbing the grocery budget to buy art supplies (roving) can you afford to give money to someone richer than you so they can have a better lifestyle than you and buy a high quality handmade item that you, yourself could not afford? Underpricing your wares just to get a sale is doing just that.

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