In the early days of HairBoutique.com the word "Internet" when used to describe any type of business was a bad word in many industries.
Since my chosen industries included fashion, accessories, beauty and hair products, I struggled with getting manufacturers, wholesalers, jobbers and third party reps to take HairBoutique.com's Marketplace seriously. Afterall, were selling on the "Internet".
Back in the early days of HairBoutique.com (circa 1996 - 1997) the Internet was as foreign a concept as the current Web 2.0 movement.
Businesses did not take Web selling seriously and thought it was a temporary flash in the business pan that would eventually all go away.
In the early days of the business I was limited in my options to what I could either afford to buy for resell (some companies require huge opening order amounts) or the willingness of some brands to sell to me for resell on the Web. Therefore my first few offerings in our Marketplace were from either very small companies who wanted new customers or from other Internet companies selling wholesale.
I was also able to break into the hair accessory market by buying from cottage industry designers who created hand-made hair accessories such as hairsticks, hand beaded ponytail ornaments and hand made hair flowers.
Although a hair accessory is "hand made" it doesn't necessarily mean it will be inexpensive. In fact, hand made items, especially when hand made in the USA, are often much more expensive than similar items made in China, Brazil or Central America.
Often, hand made items are personally created, hand crafted and finished by the individual accessory designer. Their time is obviously worth more (when they are in the USA) than when the item is "hand made" by piece workers in Third World Countries who get paid in certified sweat shop wages.
Also, hand made items have different levels of "finishing" applied to the ultimate designs.
A hand made flower made by a hair accessory designer in California, as an simple example, may not look nearly as high end or couture as a hand crafted flower made in New York. Why? The hand crafted designer in California (or anywhere for that matter) may use a different type of glue to affix crystals or use a lesser quality of base fabric than a full blown accessory workroom in New York City.
Why am I using New York as an example? They are famous for their many high end fashion manufacturing plants where "hand made" items are routinely pumped out.
Note: Please don't email me that I hate California. I actually love the state and all the people who create amazing products there. I am just using it as a general example.
There are a wide range of components that go into the creation of something as simple as a hair flower.
These components can and do include the base flower - is it made from silk flower grade or from high end fashion fabrics? Is the flower pre-made or made from a custom die?
There are also options regarding any crystals placed on the flower. Are they authentic Swarovski or lower grade Austrian Crystal? Is the glue used to affix the crystals a craft glue or a high end fashion glue used on the highest grade of couture fashions? Are the crystals carefully laid out in a computer aided design (CAD) pattern that is duplicated every time or placed with close approximation by the piece workers?
As you can see, the same exact hand made hair orchid can have a vast difference in creation while still being hand created in the USA. The price will always reflect the type of components used, the amount of time it takes to hand craft and hand finish the item and will also include the designer's name, recommendation and current coolness factor.
I have personally seen a popular hair flower that is very similar in size, color and overall look be created by a range of hair accessory designers on both coasts and the cost not only varies widely but the finished product, although very similar, is vastly different in detail and ultimate cost.
A hand made product can be hand made but still range in quality. Also, when a hair accessory is hand crafted, there will almost always be flaws in the finished piece. Even when the hair accessory is finished by the high end hair accessory manufacturers (and I probably know all of them), there may still be flaws.
Why? Because the very act of creating a hand made piece will result in a small glue splash here, a crooked crystal there, a tiny spot on a leaf (which was probably already in the base flower's material) or other anomolies that occur when the item is hand crafted.
Which brings me to the customer nightmare part. Some buyers of "hand crafted" hair accessories clearly understand that regardless of the hand finishing process which created the item, there will be a uniqueness factor to every accessory created. Other customers freak out over a microscopic speck of glue, a teeny tiny scratch or a small spot.
Do I believe customers should be happy with their purchases? Of course. It is an issue I constantly worry about and address. However, customers often want to have their cake and eat it too.
What do I mean? They want to buy something that is hand made in the USA but they also want to get a bargain. So they buy a hand made item for a lesser price and then get upset if they spot a tiny bit of glue or a slightly askew crystal. Although we try hard to warn our customers that each hand made item is "unique" and will sometimes have a tiny mark of handcrafting, they demand an absolute perfect piece.
When it comes to hand crafted, unless you are looking at the primo top of the line items hand finished in New York with a master craftsperson, perfection is very hard to find at a bargain price.
I had some hard lessons in the early days of HairBoutique.com with crafts people that work out of their homes. I had to leave those types of products alone because of the various problems with customer expectations versus costs of goods. However, I do strive to find and support hair accessory designers who do hand made in the USA products at affordable prices and have actual workrooms rather than working in their kitchens.
No, I am not against hand crafted items made in kitchens or living rooms. I personally believe they are lovely. However, as a large on-line retailer who acts as a filter for a wide range of designers and manufacturers, I can not afford to sell below a certain market.
Bottom line - the old saying - you get what you pay for, is very true when it comes to hand made products. While we do our very best to always set our customer's expectations by providing the highest level of e-store images and descriptions, it is virtually impossible to please all the people all of the time.
Many people understand that the ultimate beauty of a hand-made item is due to the love and time spent by the person making it. They also understand that perfection is a very rare quality, especially at $19.99. Even at $99.99 you may still find the smallest of flaws.While I will continue to strive to provide my customer's with the very best, I also know that in today's economy they want options so that they can enjoy beautiful things on a budget. However, it is helpful to both retailers and customers that they come together to respect each other's ultimate limitations.
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