Seen in the wild

On buying beautiful goods

Tweeted* by Knitgrrl Shannon Okey – this article on the political economics of knitting.
I don’t fully embrace the argument that knitting is an anti-consumerist protest (although of course it can be used in protest, like any other art or craft form). I think it’s far too easy to forget that (a) knitters tend to have stash habits – nothing anti-consumerist about buying more yarn than you can expect to use in a lifetime; and (b) our tools and fibre have to be produced by someone too, and more often than not, at least some of that involves factory production at some point. It is of course possible to knit only using handmade needles, from yarn you have spun yourself, on a handmade spindle or wheel, using fibre bought directly from the farmer and naturally dyed… but few manage that level of purity.
However, Erin Solaro does at least address the issue of production, and she expresses her ethos elegantly, in terms that resonate:
“You can insist on buying from artisans at the only moral price there is: one that ensures a living wage for themselves and their families, who in turn attempt to buy at that moral price from producers of the fibers they spin and the dyes they use. Of course, there is another, also deeply moral reason, to never, ever, ever buy cheap yarn or yarn you do not only enjoy looking at, but also touching. You are going to be working with that yarn for a long time…”
“I do this not to save money: I don’t. I do it to make beautiful clothing for myself that fits while buying the beautiful goods (I mean that word morally as well as productively) from artisans I admire…
all of us can contribute to the daily maintenance of our own lives and in so doing reject a cheapness that is degrading.”
I don’t want to co-opt Solaro’s arguments and lay claim to noble political aims that I am not in fact pursuing. And while she makes a persuasive point, I still think it is a very privileged position to take an ethical stand against buying cheap goods – so the politics remain murky. But I do wholeheartedly embrace her claim that “beauty and civilization are the point here. Beauty and civilization are not the point of cheap.” And I do, as you probably know, feel passionately about the joy and value of using quality handmade materials, created by people who love what they do and what they make. It’s good to be reminded that I’m far from the only one who feels that this stuff matters.
I am very privileged to be running a business in this very special market: the world of knitters. This privilege is not just that I get to surround myself with beautiful yarn and needles, the raw materials of my chosen form of creativity. It’s also, even more excitingly, that my customers and my suppliers share my passion. We all share a delight in making something wonderful out of something beautifully simple; and that common pleasure, that common understanding of the special magic of yarn crafts, builds a wonderful sense of community. I feel supported and encouraged by both the people I buy from, and those who buy from me. I am very, very conscious of what a wonderful thing this is. And what makes it even better is that I have chosen to focus on the loveliest things one can use – not the cheapest – but the most beautiful, and wherever possible, the ones most closely connected to their makers. Which means that my customers, the people who choose to join me here – you – share the belief that this matters. And that you, and I, and the makers of these beautiful tools and yarns, are sharing a simple pleasure, a hobby, a passion, that in some small way, makes the world a better place.
I love you all.
* You can find me on Twitter as woollythinker. Although I’m pretty new to the service and not sure how much I’ll be using it.

One thought on “On buying beautiful goods

  1. *sniff* I love you too. That’s beautiful man.
    But also, not beauty for beauty’s sake but really useful bags and stuff that works well and lasts well. I really like my namaste handbag although I tend to put too much in it and it needs hoovering.

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