These days, most common products are mass manufactured with the help of automated equipment and long assembly lines. There are advantages to this, such as much lower costs and higher production volume. However, there are also some major downsides.
In fact, handmade goods are often better in quality. But why is this the case? And how should you approach buying handmade goods?
First, we need to understand the different motivations that drive people making handmade crafts and people starting businesses designed to mass manufacture similar goods.
Let’s say an individual opens a store where they sell handmade leather goods. This person probably has leather working skills and a genuine passion for making leather products. They’re obviously incentivized to make money, but they’re also incentivized to use their skills and make their customers as happy as possible. This encourages them to make the best quality products possible so that each sale results in a happy customer and new referrals.
Now let’s say a group of individuals starts a business that mass manufactures leather goods. These people may not be intimately familiar with leather processing and they probably don’t have a passion for making leather products. Instead, they’re almost exclusively motivated by profitability.
This has a few different effects. For starters, mass manufacturers are incentivized to cut costs wherever possible to maximize the profit margin for each individual product. Customer satisfaction is somewhat important, but profit margins are even more important; as a result, mass manufacturing businesses are more likely to cut corners.
Additionally, these companies have virtually no incentive to prioritize durability or longevity of their products. In fact, in some cases, they’re incentivized to engineer products that break down quickly so customers are motivated to buy new products on a regular basis.
As an incidental result of these motivations, handmade goods are typically higher quality.
It’s possible to create machines that can produce decent quality goods at incredibly high volumes, but when it comes to certain types of crafts, there’s no machine that can fully replicate the nuanced precision of human touch. No matter how much you attempt to optimize your machinery, it’s never going to be as good as a skilled craftsman with decades of experience.
This principle applies to a wide variety of different industries, though in all fairness, some types of products can be produced by machines just as effectively as they can be produced by humans. Even so, a person spending years or decades honing a craft is incredibly skilled at what they do and is capable of making truly beautiful masterpieces.
Personalized Attention and QC
When making something by hand, the person doing the crafting is practically required to dedicate their full attention to the product being made. They’re intimately involved with the creation of this product, from the initial assemblage of raw materials to the final polish.
Accordingly, if they make a mistake, they know it, and they can correct it. If they’re not satisfied with their work, they can scrap it and start over. If they’re not happy with a certain raw material, they can find a better replacement. It’s a natural quality control process that all but guarantees that only the best products ever make it to store shelves.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have factories and mass manufacturing operations. While these operations typically have some level of quality assurance or quality control, it pales in comparison to the levels available to people making things by hand. In these types of environments, it may be the responsibility of only one or two people to sift through thousands of products per day; accordingly, they can only catch the most obvious or glaring issues.
Room for Creativity and Expression
Crafting items by hand lends at least some room for creativity and expression, even if there is a standard template that the craftsman must follow. Instead of engineering products that can be perfectly replicated and produced by machines, craftsmen can produce any type of product that their skills allow – and they can make each individual product a little different.
In line with this, it’s practically impossible to purchase a unique item if it’s mass manufactured. In some contexts, this is an advantage; for example, it pays to have auto parts that can be universally swapped out. However, when it comes to fashion, musical instruments, or pieces of art, people crave uniqueness – and only handmade goods are truly unique.
There’s nothing wrong with buying mass-manufactured products, especially if it means saving money at a minimal loss of quality. But if you want the best products that money can buy, it’s often better to go with people who create those products by hand, from scratch.