Friday, October 19, 2012

You're not charging enough!

After browsing Facebook pages and seeing statements like, "Bracelets starting at just $5," I lost it.  I posted a minor rant on my Facebook page letting people know that this type of underpricing damages the livelihoods of other artists and the craft.

I've been making jewelry full-time for over two years.  Making things is the only thing I want to do.  When I see people undercut their prices, I get a bit furious.  I tend to be a live and let live sort of person, except with things that affect other people.  Undercharging hurts everyone.

If you make chainmaille for fun and think that's a great way of getting extra money for rings to play with, I get that.  But as soon as you start charging sweatshop-made prices on your pieces, you are telling everyone that a) your time and handiwork is not valuable and b) the particular medium you're working is not valuable.

I see this with chainmaille ALL THE TIME.  Chainmaille is the red-headed step-child of the metals world in a lot of ways, and this type of underpricing just perpetuates the idea that chainmaille doesn't deserve the respect of traditional metalsmithing.

As someone who has poured hundreds of hours into making couture chainmaille clothing pieces, I can tell you that this is a load of garbage.  The two require a different type of monomania, but they are both labor-intensive and often tedious.  And not everyone can do it right.

For a time I had a wholesale rep and on three separate occasions she told me to raise my prices.  I'm thankful I did.  If I didn't charge the prices I charge I would be working 60+ hours a week just to have an income under the poverty level after all my business expenses.  Think about that.

If you think the race to the bottom is a good business model, let's look at the current Walmart controversy.  According to recent reports, Walmart employees comprise the largest recipient of food stamps.  So guess what?  You're subsidizing all that cheap crap with your tax dollars; even if you don't shop there, you're paying.

Now that I've gotten that rant off my chest, let me pass along some advice.  I offer up a simple formula for figuring out how much you should charge.  Mind you, there are lots of formulas, this should be seen as a starting point.

(Supplies * 2) + (Hourly wage * (minutes to make piece/60) = wholesale price

Firstly, you need to figure out your hourly wage.  This must be the hardest thing for artisans to do because I see so many pieces with only material costs in mind.  I will save the feminist rant mostly for now, but I see women crafters devaluing their work more often than I see men do it.  Women already only make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes.  Let's try to make things equitable in the craft world, okay?

When determining your hourly wage, keep a few things in mind.  You have to be mindful of how long it takes to make the piece, yes, but there are other incidental things that you also have to be mindful of.  From adding price tags to pieces, to ordering supplies--anything related to creating your piece is something that you should build into the price.  If you don't, all those unpaid minutes add up to A LOT OF UNPAID MONEY.  These are costs you're taking on.  Amateur crafters might not care.  Again, if you do, you're screwing over those whose ability to pay for food is dependent on consumers taking on these costs.  And believe me, you are paying for these costs and more with anything you purchase in a retail store.

You might ask,  "Why is the supply cost doubled?"  Well, this allows for fluctuations in the price of your components (especially for people working in silver or gold right now, yikes) and more importantly, it allows you to reinvest in your business.  If you only add the supply cost once, you've only covered the materials used in the piece.  What if you want to expand your business?  That little bit of extra money will help you make that investment to purchase more supplies.  It's also probably wise to add another 15% on top of this to make sure you've taken care of any incidental costs (like shipping costs of getting supplies from your suppliers).

And yes, all of this is only the wholesale price.  There are lots of artists who only charge wholesale prices in their Etsy and Artfire shops.  Pricing things at wholesale rates will only hurt you.  Say you make really cool things and are approached by a store.  This store will expect to purchase items at at least half of your retail prices.  Stores typically do a markup of 2.2-2.5 on their wholesale prices so that they can make money.  Divide your price by 2.2  Are you comfortable earning only that much on your work?

I see wholesale prices on work at art fairs and that makes no sense considering the overhead.  I charge full retail at shows.  Say I sell $4,000 of jewelry at a show.  Sounds nice, right?  Well, at $2,000 I've covered the cost of making all of the jewelry that sold--time and materials.  From the remaining $2,000 I have to deduct expenses such as booth fee (typically $300-$700), hotel fees ($200-$500), food costs, and my time for setting up the booth and standing around all weekend (at least 20 hours of work to upwards of 40).  In terms of pure profit, I'm only seeing a couple hundred dollars.  And most of that money goes to additional supplies anyway.

I'm running out of steam, so I'll leave you with this final thought.  Lots of artists are scared to charge more because they think that people won't spend the higher price.  I sell more now than I ever did at my cheap prices.  Why?  I've found the people who value handcrafted jewelry.  I don't compete with Lia Sophia or any other mass produced jewelry.  That's not who I am and not what I want to do.

Rant over.  Thanks for reading.

Vanessa Walilko
Handcrafted jewelry
Aluminum chainmaille jewelry

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crochet crazy

A couple weeks ago, I was pretty stressed out.  Chainmaille wasn't cutting it anymore in terms of distracting me from stressful things, so I decided to teach myself crochet.  And let me tell you, I love it! Crochet is one of those things that I just couldn't do for a long time--it made no sense.  But now I've found a love for making knots with a hook.

I even made a hat!  Yes, that is an octopus.  I crocheted that too.  (It's detachable.)

So, in between working on the chainmaille wedding dress and inventory for my last show of the summer, I've started crocheting.  Clean up for a ball of yarn falling on the floor is a lot easier than picking up a spilled bag of rings.  For that alone, it's the best craft to travel with.

I'll be posting more crochet instructions in the near future, but here's the one that helped me get started:


Chainmaille jewelry
Handcrafted jewelry

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy

Purpose Fairy shows us how to let things go to be happy.  Number 15 is the guideline that's served me best in the past few years.

Vanessa Walilko
Chainmaille jewelry
Handmade jewelry

Monday, April 30, 2012

Out with the old

As I mentioned on my Kali Butterfly Facebook page, I'm waiting on 100,000 rings for my chainmaille wedding dress. Because of that, I took it upon myself to get rid of lots of things I don't need and don't use to make room for things that I want and will enjoy.

The first thing I chose to tackle, for sheer numbers alone, was my Magic: The Gathering card collection. Since the only thing it was gathering was dust, I decided to box up my commons and uncommons (and some rares) in a giant flat-rate box.

One fixed-price auction on eBay and they were gone.  Over 5,000 Magic cards and 26 pounds of dead weight out the door.  I'm still selling off my rare cards piecemeal... but chances are those will be in a lot when I get tired of selling everything one at a time.

Click here for a guide to getting rid of your junk. I just watch Hoarders to get motivated, but some people like lists.

Vanessa Walilko

Handmade jewelry
Aluminum chainmail jewelry

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Private Tumblr

I just learned something, so I thought I would share.  While figuring out how to share the updates on my chainmaille wedding dress, I found out that it's possible to make a private Tumblr. The heavens rejoice! Now I don't need to worry about updating contact information for nearly 75 people or making all of those kind folks sign up for yet another site. 

If you need to create a site with private access, click here to find out more. It is tremendously easy to make this happen.

Vanessa Walilko

Handmade jewelry
Chainmail jewelry

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Kickstarter Experience

I consider myself tremendously lucky in many ways.  I make jewelry for a living.  People love my chainmaille clothing.  I'm making costumes and props for a Full House murder musical.  My personal life has never been more fun and interesting.  And now--to top it all off--I'm even more affirmed in my belief that people are awesome: my Kickstarter project was 150% funded.

Thanks to the generosity of my friends, family, and strangers I reached my goal and now will be making an epic chainmaille wedding dress.  Fellow chainmaillers donated portions of their sales to my cause, producing some of the coolest cross-promotion ideas I've been a part of.  I'm thrilled.

For those of you unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it's a really neat site.  Creative types can propose clear-cut creative projects (with definite end goals) and hope that people will fund them.  Everything from video games to albums to my own chainmaille wedding dress are up on the website.  And people from around the world can find you and help pledge support if you're able to entice them with interesting rewards.  It's pretty amazing.  In exchange for this service, Kickstarter take 5% of whatever you raise, and then takes another 5% to process credit cards payments.

Last night the funds were deposited into my account, and I just placed an order for 100,000 rings and waiting to hear back from an Etsy seller to purchase a bulk order of glass pearls and aluminum flowers.  I am so excited to start working on this project.  What a weird and awesome life I have.

To those of you who pledged support, I'll be contacting you about your rewards in the next few days.  I'm most excited about the exclusive newsletter that will detail the creation of this piece.  It'll make me document my progress--which was tremendously fun when I did that for my chainmaille flapper dress.

Vanessa Walilko

Handmade jewelry
Chainmail jewelry

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kickstarter, Kickstarter, make me a match

For those of you who don't follow my Facebook page, I've started a Kickstarter campaign for my latest epic chainmaille idea: a chainmaille wedding dress.

The idea came from a friend's husband, and it was too cool of an idea for me to pass up. Of course, supplies for this piece are going to be pricey, more than I can justify for something I'm making for fun. (I realize how crazy that sounds. How does anyone link 100,000 metal rings together "for fun"?)

The project has been up for just over a week, and the response has already been, well, awesome. Family, friends, and strangers have been willing to invest their hard-earned money in my artistic vision. And it warms my heart to know that people are willing to help each other out. It's pretty cool. Of course, I still need to raise another $900 by April 13 or I get nothing. Those are the Kickstarter rules.

My plan is to submit this to the World of Wearable Art Competition. I hoping they'll consider this work epic enough to include in the show. If you could help donate so that I make this dress and submit it to the competition, that would be amazing.

Here's the video I put together for the project.

Vanessa Walilko
Chainmaille jewelry
Handmade chain mail jewelry

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Staying productive with mini-risks

I just read an interesting article on mini-risks. The idea is that when we take little risks through the day, we can eliminate doubts about our work and accomplish bigger and better things.

I certainly was able to boost my confidence when I was taking improv classes. Those little successes sure can help someone feel like global domination is possible.

Of course, I generally feel like global domination is possible.

Vanessa Walilko
Handcrafted Chainmail Jewelry
Chainmaille Jewelry

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Business advice: Lean on a friend

I try to do as much as possible on my own. I don't know if that's a result of being a control freak or an only child, but it's my first impulse. The problem with that, as I experience yesterday, is that it's really easy to get overwhelmed, stressed, and potentially sick.

Example: in the past 72 hours I've been confirmed for a second fashion show in March (the first one, put together by the awesome and talented Ladie K Mraz. I also submitted a proposal to Kickstarter that was accepted yesterday. This means that I'll soon be asking for support for my most epic chainmaille project yet.

Thinking about all I have to do (making more designs, writing a compelling project/shooting a video for Kickstarter), sent me right into panic mode. This plus the crazy Chicago weather (cold and damp in February) meant that my allergies were going haywire and I wasn't feeling particularly well.

In the midst of my panic, I made plans to get coffee with a friend of mine. She and I just sat and talked for three hours and it was the best thing I could have done. I feel healthy, re-energized, and excited about everything coming up, not panicked. It's awesome.

Moral of the story: when you're stressed, spend time with a good friend. They'll help you more than you can imagine.

Vanessa Walilko
Handcrafted chainmail jewelry
Chain maille jewelry

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter torpor

I don't know what it is about winter, I just can't get motivated. Yes, this is a slightly ridiculous thing to say since I've been plugging away at my chainmail flapper dress, I've finished a chainmail coif and I'm working on costumes for an upcoming show. Nevertheless, I still have a ton of business things I need to do--updating my website, working on wholesale catalogs, taking photos for tutorials--that I haven't been able to bring myself to do.

Distraction at its coolest...

What's an entrepreneur to do? One thing I've learned is that I have to forgive myself if I'm not constantly working on my business. All work and no play make Jack Nicholson's character in the Shining a crazy person. Sometimes I wake up wanting to make a pillow shaped like lips. And that's okay. As long as the tutorials are written, the catalogs and updated, and the website is overhauled at some point in the near future, it's all okay. Some days you just have to sit around and sew.

Vanessa Walilko
Bold chainmail jewelry
Handcrafted chain maille jewelry

Monday, January 9, 2012

The value of professionalism

Ever since I put my aluminum chainmail jewelry and armor up on Model Mayhem, I've gotten a lot of requests from photographers, stylists, and the like to use my pieces in photo shoots.

This past weekend, I loaned out my pieces to Megan Sontag, a.k.a The Shutterblade. I can't stress what a delight it's been to work with her, and I absolutely love the photos from the photo shoot. You can take a look at them by clicking here.

I'm looking forward to working with her again. Chicago fashion jewelry and fashion designers take note--if you want to work with someone prompt, professional and downright awesome, Megan is the lady to contact.

Vanessa Walilko
Aluminum Chainmail Jewelry
Handmade chain mail jewelry

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

This morning I thought about all of the things that I have to do this year... and my head nearly exploded. It turns out that Kat Wisniewski of Elemental Art Jewelry wrote a great overview of what she needs to do over the next few months and it inspired me to write an overview for my work in the next year. Here's a list of things I have to do in no particular order.

1) Prepare my wholesale booth for an upcoming wholesale show
2) Build inventory for upcoming summer shows
3) List new items and ship Etsy orders for both my chainmaille supply Etsy shop and my handmade aluminum chainmail jewelry Etsy shop
4) Maintain relationships with stores and ship out wholesale orders
5) Maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts
6) Photograph step-by-step photos and write directions for chainmail and beaded jewelry tutorials
7) Keep track of supply inventory so that I can make all orders in a timely fashion.
8) Photograph entry for the upcoming Bead Dreams competition.
9) Work on new clothing pieces for upcoming competitions, shows
10) Apply to juried exhibitions (gotta stay current in the art world...)
11) Keep sending out applications for 2012 summer shows. I have multiple deadlines coming up this week.

Speaking of deadlines, I'd better work on those show applications. In fact, I need to step away from this to-do list (just the first things that came to mind, mind you, not an exhaustive list) before my head explodes again.

Vanessa Walilko
Handmade aluminum chainmail jewelry
Bold aluminum chain mail jewelry designs