On cheap beads and cheap jewelry

There weren’t many bead stores when I first started making jewelry over twenty years ago. I hadn’t even thought about making my own jewelry until I met someone who did. She took me to a bead store in DuPont circle in Washington DC, near where I was living at the time. When I moved back home to Chattanooga there weren’t many options to get supplies for my new hobby.
There was one bead store, way out in the middle of nowhere, thirty minutes away from my house. It was a rarity for that time. That lady was forward thinking. It was called Fat Jane’s beads, and while the owner was named Jane, she wasn’t fat. It was a joke from when she was pregnant. Her store stocked a lot of beads, but they were all in containers and all the containers were in display cabinets. It was a long drive to get there, and a lot of work to find the beads I wanted while there.
I prefer to look for beads unmolested. I like to study each strand for as long as I want to pick out the exact shade and variety I require without having a shopkeeper stare at me. I also don’t want to have to ask for each box to be pulled out of the cabinet. It is as if she didn’t want to sell the beads at all. Beads were the main focus of the store, not a sideline, but it didn’t feel like that at times.
Another place that sold beads was called the New Moon Gallery. They didn’t have many beads, but at least they left me alone to study them. Beads were not their main source of income. They sold books and clothing and music and jewelry to the New Age crowd. I even sold jewelry to them for a while.
The best place to buy beads was Goodwill. I bought necklaces and tore them apart carefully to learn how to make my own. There weren’t books or classes about how to make jewelry then. I figured it out in my own. Goodwill was the best for beads. Not really for selection, but for price. I could buy a necklace for a quarter and redesign it into a triple stranded bracelet and sell it for $15. Cheap price, huge profit. The ladies at the one I frequented knew me and saved off the good stuff just for me so I’d have first dibs.
Too bad people don’t understand how much beads cost these days. They aren’t cheap at all. Goodwill sells all the really good stuff online now. Plastic junk is all you’ll find when you go into the store. Bead stores are more plentiful, but the prices are much higher. At the price per amount of space in the bag, beads cost way more than I remember pot ever costing.
Back when I first started making jewelry, the two went hand in hand. I’d smoke a bit and bead a bit. Creativity flowed. Now I’m sober, I don’t create with beads near as often. I’m just as likely to write or paint or draw now. But I still like creating jewelry and I still like selling it, but the prices have had to go up because the cost of the beads has gone up.
I can certainly make everything cost $20 or less but it will be watered down. There will be lots of cheap glass filler beads. There will be very little design. Boring. Bland. Blah. People have to understand that they get what they pay for.
Who am I kidding? This is a society that eats food with artificial colors and flavors and chock full of preservatives. They don’t like homemade, organic, good for you. They don’t appreciate individual, artisan work. They don’t get one of a kind. It appears I have two choices – I could lower my standards or just expect people to raise theirs.

Thoughts on jewelry making – price and selling.

It is really hard to price my work. Do I price it based on how much I love it, how much the materials cost, or how much I think I can get for it? Often it is a combination of all of these.
Sometimes I have something I call “the annoyment factor” to deal with. In part that refers to how annoying it was to make. Either it took me a lot of time because the process is fiddly or the materials are hard to work with. Stringing things on Tigertail is easy and cheap. Using the same beads but using copper wire, where I have to hand link is hard. I love making jewelry this way but very few people appreciate the labor involved.
Sometimes the annoying part is the person. The beads might be inexpensive and the process might be easy, but the person might be difficult. Sometimes it costs me a lot of energy to deal with certain people. I want to be reimbursed for that. Sometimes I don’t want to ever deal with that person again and so I put a high price on my work.
Sometimes I have the “don’t blink” price. I’ll have a really high price on something and I know that the people looking at it don’t know what was involved. For instance, I made a bead once that looked like a woman. Because I was working with MAPP gas and not oxy-propane it was even more difficult. I had only 40 minutes to finish it, rather than hours. I could only make it an inch long. There are a lot of limitations working with that medium, but it is a lot safer and cheaper than the other. People tried to bargain down the price I quoted and I didn’t budge. I stood with the price because I knew the amount of effort involved.
I don’t make jewelry as my job. I do it for fun. I’d like to get at least the price of the beads back. I certainly want to get paid for my time and my creativity. I’d also appreciate getting paid for my knowledge too.
I put a lot of energy into making jewelry. I read books about beads and gemstones. I know the hidden meaning and I’m aware of the history and energy behind the beads. I don’t just string beads. I create. I shape. I like to think of it as something like a shaman’s work. When I’m making something for a specific person I match the beads to them not just by color but by intent. For instance, a bead may be black, but it is also made of lava, and as such has deep significance.
One time a guy was asking about the price of some beads I had made. I used to do lampworking, so these were unique beads. He had an assortment of them picked out. I wanted to give him a good price that was fair to both of us. Because I’d made them at work the only investment I had in them was my time and ability. The glass and gas were free to me. I said “How about $23?” He countered with “How about $20? He thought when I said “How about…” that meant that there was wiggle room, but he was wrong. I got very cold and said “How about $25?” That surprised him. I don’t like being insulted about my work. I’d given him a very reasonable price, in fact far too low for the time I’d spent.
I don’t really want to take the time necessary to teach people about beads. I want them to appreciate the value that they have, but they don’t. In order to get the price I’m asking I have to teach them and be patient. I got great prices when I bought necklaces at thrift stores and then redesigned them. A 25¢ necklace could be remade into a $15 necklace with a little time and a few extra beads. But now I’m going to bead shows and getting strands that are imported and sometimes antique, so the prices have to go up. I don’t have a wholesale license, and I really don’t want one. That would take some of the fun out of it.
One person messaged me about a necklace on my Etsy page. She wanted me to either drop the shipping cost or lower the price of the necklace. If the necklace had been full price I would have worked with her, but it was just $5 over the price of the beads as it was. My shopping charge isn’t high. It is the price of the packing material and the average shipping price. I decided that I would rather not sell it at all than feel like I’m being insulted.
Some shops on Etsy offer free shipping but really nothing is free. The cost is always factored in somewhere. I’d rather be honest and charge a fair shipping charge than have to raise my prices to cover it.
Sometimes people want a high price. They think it has more value if it is high. Maybe I should raise all my prices so people value my work. They certainly aren’t buying as is – I might as well get a good price when they do. Perhaps they will take my work seriously if it costs more.
Then sometimes people will want to trade beads for beads. I’ll do this occasionally, but they better be beads I can use. Plastic beads are never considered. Weird shapes, the same. Otherwise I have beads that I can’t use taking up space in my bins.
Consignment is the worst. I understand how it benefits the shop – they don’t have to pay anything for the merchandise until it sells. Too often, I get stuff lost or stolen, and I’m out money. It requires too much effort to keep up with.