Creating a Sustainable Business - Part I - The Emotional Connection

I want to kick off this series of posts on creating a sustainable handmade business by focusing on things other than ways of production, production materials, etc.

Now, these are important things and these are the things that are getting alot of attention these days,

(and I am very glad for that)

but there is a bigger picture and a more complex aspect to sustainability that we can capitalize on as makers with a desire to create sustainable work.

When we were kids my sister had a teddy bear who went everywhere with her for years.

(what ever happened to Timmy, sis?)

Parents know that if their children have too many toys and a constant influx of "new stuff" into their lives that they never really get attached to any one special thing for more than a nanosecond.

I think the same is true for all of us.

As a maker trying to create a sustainable business in a disposable world how can I make my work more sustainable by helping my customers develop an emotional attachment to my stuff?

What is the point of using durable materials, recycling, using environmentally friendly production, fair trade, etc if the buyer doesn't connect with the product in a way that creates a long, useful life for our stuff?

Big brands spend big bucks to do this with their advertising campaigns. A clear identity can create an emotional connection for a product and a hefty price tag doesn't hurt (cheap stuff definitely gets tossed easier than the stuff we have saved our pennies to purchase).

The good news for the handmade movement is that we do not need a big bucks advertising campaign to connect with our customer and connect them to our work in a huge and personal way. There are as many ways to do this as there are makers with imagination out there.

1. Create a story for our work that allows the customer to connect to it in a unique way.

Example - BOB - Bunch of Bolts This cool little necklace comes in different colors and different names - nude BOB is pictured here

(it may be time to get the kids out of the room, folks)

BOB comes with an awesome little guide to 'his-story' which includes the following:

"...shortly after cave men discovered them, early man began using BOBs in cave-drawing advertisements for new flint tools and Dino Dung products (for which they were paid very little - since, of course, they didn’t move thus limiting their ability to protest)...."

I think it's genius (plus the maker/designer is my brother). He creates the most amazing connection with his customers who continue to update him on BOB's adventures once they get to their new homes.

2. Tell the story about ourselves, our processes and our materials and include this with our work -

How wonderful would it be to get a beautiful handmade sweater in the mail (like this gorgeous work by ileaiye) with some information about the maker and how this amazing work came to be - maybe even some tracking information on the wool, etc that went into the piece.

A real history of the item (not to support its eco-footprint although that would be great, too) but just to allow the buyer to connect to the work in a stronger, more personal way.

If I bought a sweater made from alpaca and it came with a picture of the actual alpaca, I would be blown away. I would never want to take that sweater off!

3. Use social media to allow your buyers to get to know you and your work in a more personal way

(yes, this means you probably need a blog and you need to update it once in a while and yes, this is work and sometimes alot of work and something that we are all struggling with as our businesses and our lives get busier and busier)

Giving your buyers and potential buyers a peek into your world can definitely create a more emotional attachment to your work.

(of course, it kind of goes without saying- but maybe I should say it anyway, that if our work falls apart right away when used then none of these things will work)

As we seek to create a sustainable business (on so many levels) - giving our customers the tools they need to attach to our products and connect with the maker of our products is a win-win for everyone!

(and yes, this goes against the current business model of creating things with a short life span that get tossed so that the consumer needs and buys more things and it brings us back to the more traditional model of creating work of quality and this is totally a good and necessary thing for our planet and all of us)

Next week - Creating a Sustainable Business Part II - The Environment

nemo the bear by knitting dreams->


Unni Strand said...

Great post!
I'm struggling to make my designs so cool that they will be bought instead of similar, less eco friendly items. That's my goal.

Have a lovely weekend, Cat!

Anonymous said...

Nice post Cat! I can relate deeply to this strategy, because I realized that my business was going to grow faster than I could handle if I didn't slow down and start focusing on building repeat customers, over gaining new ones, and building a solid product line, over having tons of new products all the time.

Of course we all love gaining new customers, and adding new items to our shops, but there is a level of manageability that goes into it too.

I'm excited to see the next of this series...

Catherine Ivins said...

Great points guys- and yes, the level of manageability is the key with growing something sustainable-that balance thing that is so hard sometimes!

Christine @ Shutters said...

Great Post:

I purchased 2 Bob’s from your brother years ago…here was his witty memorable correspondence:

"BOBs 249 and 561 are in the process of being secured and debriefed. They are very excited about their journey to Rumson and will be jumping on the first available transport on Monday.
They promised to be on their best behavior, so if they act up, just let me know! :)"

***Please let him know…The Bob 249 & 561 are loved.

Catherine Ivins said...

Chrsitine- that is too funny! I will let him know- small world!

softearthart said...

Such cool ideas, thanks, cheers Marie