Nathalie here, owner and founder of Fringe and Free. I want to share about an experience I had recently. It left me questioning why it is important to buy goods and gifts that are made in America.
I found a new shop I wanted to go to in person. It's a store where vendors pay to have a room or stall, and you can shop from many stores within one store. Fringe and Free has never tried this model of selling goods, but it is a nice way for entrepreneurs to get started in a brick and mortar store without the substantial overhead of an entire place.
Saturday Shopping at a Vendor Mall
This particular store was rustic-themed and it had a mix of painted furniture, clothes, and accessories. Though they did make some of their own furniture, most of the goods were typical of ones found in most stores. They are items that were made abroad, purchased wholesale, and were being sold retail. These items have substantial profit margins, along the lines of 75%. So to oversimplify things, if a strand of table decor glass beads was sold for the ticket price of $64, the storefront may get up to 50% of that sale, and 25% would go to the vendor (25% to the wholesaler). These are all estimations, but this is about average.
Where Can Makers Sell Their Handmade Gifts?
Shops like these are just not ideal in the Maker Movement. By Maker Movement, I'm referring to a broad genesis of makers in America who have begun selling their goods in the marketplace. Think local pop-up markets and platforms like Etsy. For those of us who hand-make things in the USA, it is very difficult to fit into the 75% profit margin model. If we quadrupled the price for our products, we are going to be out-priced (though you would be surprised, even handmade brands like us have competitively-priced goods, just check out our under $40 collection to see what I mean).
It's one thing for a luxury brand to charge top-dollar for a product, but local makers with little to no reputation? They are also making their goods in low-cost places. They too have this steep margin to spend money on powerful marketing. They also have the longevity of the name to stand on and celebrities are their influencers. (We may share more about influencer marketing soon, let us know if you would like a transparent view of our experience with it.)
So what are we makers to do? Should we even try? Is it worth making and finding an alternative model to sell our goods in person? What about online? Etsy and Amazon Handmade are the two dominators in this sector, what if working with them actually repulses you?
Maybe I'm Being Too Nostalgic...
After looking around the retail shop, my husband could see my mind was is another place. We really just went to the shop for a fun outing, but he could see my mind was turning. He asked what I was thinking, and though I knew my heart was being stirred, I didn't have the words to articulate anything yet. I knew part of it was disappointment. It was a cute shop, I began to consider it for Fringe and Free, but it wouldn't work for us. There was also just overall disappointment for how high the barrier to entry is for made in the USA makers.
Maybe I'm getting too nostalgic here, but my heart longs for buying high-quality goods, made by my neighbors. To be fair, I picture a quaint main street with cobblestone roads, people are wearing personally tailored linen clothes, locally grown food is served at local restaurants, the coffee shop sweetens with local honey, and locally made furniture and goods. I see how far-fetched this is. But why does my heart long for this? Is it me longing for the new Jerusalem? There has to be a reason why this is engrained on my heart. Why buy in the USA? (Why buy locally?) The cost is so much higher. Why not just buy similar items from other countries, ship them across the ocean, mark them up, and sell them here? Really ... why?
Photo: large USA flag
Is There Such a Thing as Good Business? Foundationally Good?
A few days later, I was reading in Deuteronomy.
And a little backstory, when I read my Bible, I'm constantly searching for how to live life. In the Hebrew understanding of the word "life", it (life) can only be true when it is infused with Godliness. So I'm always searching wholeheartedly for how to live, how to act in a Godly manner. In terms of Fringe and Free, how to run and operate a Godly business.
When I read the following verses, I felt clarity in my heart's desire for locally made and sold goods.
"The Egyptians treated us badly, afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us. Then we cried ... and Adonai listened to our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. Then Adonai brought us out from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land—a land flowing with milk and honey." Deuteronomy 26:6-9 (TLV)
When I read these verses, it was clear that life and work in Egypt was bad for the Israelites. And the definition of bad in this context was being treated badly, being afflicted, and working hard labor. In juxtaposition, good working conditions in the land flowing with milk and honey did not involve those tribulations. It even included a commanded day of no work, the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), and many commanded festivals of no work. There is one festival where it was commanded to be joyful.
These verses helped me see why I, as a seller, am having trouble with the import-model of goods sold. It was because I was out of touch with the production line. This is in terms of me personally, as a small business owner, I was out of touch with the people who are making the goods. It's very difficult to know what work conditions are like. It's usually not possible, feasible, or would make sense expense-wise to make an international trip to verify working conditions. And what if you sell multiple products? How to go about verifying all that information?
I'm left with questions like these: Are the people making these products crying out to God for another means of work? Are they given time to rest? Are they being compensated fairly? My conclusion was since I can't verify any of these crucial factors. I don't want to touch this model if I have another option. Sadly it's not that cut and dry, particularly where raw materials are concerned, but there certainly are obviously better options.
Love Thy Neighbor
This is the beauty of buying domestically made. Dare I even say, buying from my neighbor. I can actually know the people, they set their own rates, there is open communication, and many times, they openly share their work process online on social media. I really can control and sign-off on so many more things when I actually know the people I'm doing business with. I can check-in with the makers and actually ask them, are you happy with the way things are? Are you doing ok in business? Do you want to bounce ideas off each other? (Let me know if you want to know more about the small business support group I have and what it has meant for my business.)
Going back to how this is not as cut and dry as it seems, I openly share that buying made in the USA is one thing, and sourcing domestic raw materials is another. It's also quite difficult, sometimes impossible due to many factors. But if demands increases, that could change, one business at a time. I'm hopeful of that.
So after all these considerations, I'm left with a choice. And I'm choosing to stay true to my heart, and will continue to bend and flex and try to build a prosperous, good business. For me, that means working domestically as much as possible and doing all in my power to ensure the people I work with are doing what echoes within their hearts, living their calling, and hopefully crying out to Adonai "thank You for this land flowing with milk and honey".
And to be Real with You ...
I find myself saying this motto in my head lately: "Love thy neighbor and buy their goods." Do you know anyone with a USA made gifts small business? I'd like to share some easy reminders of ways you can support them (and the domestic goods model):
- purchasing their products 🛍
- sharing and engage with them on social media
- forward their emails to those who would love their products
- leaving reviews of their products
- leaving a review on their FB page
- leaving a review on their Google Business listing
- leaving a review on their Yelp Business listing
- leave comments on blogs they write 🧡
If you have other good ideas for ways to support, leave them in the comments and I will update this blog to include them!
And I just have to share this trending audio on IG right now. It says (and I whole HEARTEDLY agree):
"y'all really need to start supporting your friends businesses like you support the celebrities that don't even know you exist" 😂🥴😢
Picture credits: Amber Andersson, Ilona Jade, The Gadbury Co.
Very well done post! I love that you made an effort to shine light on local businesses and communities.
Excellent post with great tips. I really enjoyed reading. Thank you for sharing. 🤗
Pastor Natalie (ExamineThisMoment)
Great read! I am all about shopping local/shopping small business! Loved your final comments on celebrities…great point!
Absolutely! I always buy Australian because that’s where I’m from because I want to support local business and it’s bad for climate change for goods to be travelling so far. The covid pandemic has really shown us how vulnerable we can be too if we’re reliant on global supply chains and they get disrupted.
Love this! I’m in Canada, not the USA, but it still applies everywhere. Your post has so much info and really makes a person think. Well done! I love how you ended with the celebrity bit!!! That was perfect.
Love this so much because it’s so great to help local businesses and communities! These are really good ideas! And I love commenting on yelp or reviews because it helps grow their businesss. Thanks for sharing these ideas!
This is interesting, I don’t shop a lot but when you shop from a friend or next house who trying to sell something making a living.
Love the site. Thanks for sharing :)
Very well written. I don’t live in the US but I can definitely apply these principles in the UK
Great post. Your ending quote is fantastic! My family owns a small business – this is such an important statement!
Great article. It is so hard to manufacture products here, at home. I have been self-employed and in the manufacturing industry for 25 years, and it is getting worse and worse. So many fees are imposed on us, and yet we allow products to come in and pay the tiniest fraction of fees ever. Good luck and keep pushing forward.
Amen! This is so good, Nathalie! I’m learning so much from you, and I wholeheartedly agree!
I loved your text and I agree with your point of view. I have the same understanding of work and entrepreneurship. I pray that the Lord our God will continue to help you and prosper you.
Your last quote is SO true. It’s astounding how many people will idolize and appreciate celebrities for their superficial feats and not really appreciate true art when it’s right in their face.
This has been on my heart so much lately! I am thankful you are speaking to this subject. I can tell by your tone here that you have a true yearning for your community, and that’s something that I feel deep in my soul as well. Being real and honest, building those relationships for the sake of the relationship over the sale, and just committing to supporting each other however we can, I think, will change our country little by little.