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So what exactly makes something “handmade” or “handcrafted”? The word “handmade” is a conjunction of the two words “hand” and “made”, but what we have come to expect in a handmade or handcrafted items is much more than just something made by hand.

Made by (usually) a single person

When we think of something being handmade we visualize a single person or perhaps a team of two sitting at a desk or in a workshop directly creating the item. However, this requirement is not enough to qualify something as handmade. My iPad was assembled by some person in China, but no one would call an iPad handmade.

Maker is the seller
Handcrafted items tend to be sold directly by the maker. It’s also acceptable for handcrafted items to be sold via a single intermediary, such as a local shop selling items by local artisans. What seems to rub people the wrong way is when there are too many steps between maker and seller. For example, a person hired to make something for a company that then sells it to a wholesaler who sells it to a retailer. This additional distance between maker and consumer lowers the handcrafted value of the piece.
Small scale production
The restraints on selling mentioned above naturally result in small scale production. The amount one person can make is smaller than what a group can produce. Without an additional intermediary, such as a distributor, a maker is less likely to be able to reach a wider audience and sell higher quantities. It becomes a repetitive cycle. If demand does become great enough, the maker will have to hire others, and this lessens the perceived handcrafted value in the item. You’ll occasionally see an article about an Etsy seller who has had such success that he or she is only getting 4 hours of sleep a night (or something like that) in order to try and meet demand. Eventually they have to choose between scaling back production or hiring others- which can disqualify them from selling on etsy.
Greater than the sum of it’s pieces
This is, I think, the most vague requirement of handmade or handcrafted items. We expect them to be more than just the sum of their parts. I’ll deal with this more in tomorrow’s post.