Can we beat the imports in a struggling economy?

Teri says “With the economy struggling it seems like everyone is feeling the crunch, but I would love to hear you opinion about something I read on-line yesterday. It was concerning the future of glass work in general, and how people are leaning more toward buying imported goods now. This person felt that stained glass work has declined so quickly because of it and even went as far to say that lampwork would decline even faster. I would love to hear your ideas on this.”

First let me start by stating all of my comments about imports are geared toward warehouse, mass produced imported beads, not Self Representing Artists, whom are literally all over the world.

Imports from China in the lampworking world can be a hot topic.  I usually stay out of the debates, preferring to just keep my head down and keep working. However, I do have a few thoughts on it, so I will share with you here.

It’s true the stained glass industry has been taken over by imports.  Hubby Greg use to do stained glass back in the days before he found lampworking.  Stained glass is a very expensive hobby and cost a lot to do.  He was never able to make a profit doing it, especially because he wanted to make, what he wanted to make, when he wanted to make it.  He was never thrilled with commissions, although he did a handful.

The biggest problem I see with that market is the cost.  An average window back then cost hundreds of dollars.  Most average folks just don’t have that kind of money to spend on glass windows.  That is true for lamps as well, which is where the imports have really taken over.  I’ve seen those lamps from China and Mexico.  They look pretty darn good don’t they and for less than a hundred bucks?  Hard to compete with that.

Of course there is still a market for custom stained glass windows.  That is the high end market though, and pretty small I would imagine.

So, how does this relate to lampworking?  I am not an expert, but I have some thoughts on it.

First off, there is a push to educate our buying public on what lampwork is and what it means to buy from a Self Representing Artist.  Education is the most important thing.  Buying from a SRA means just that, you are buying from the artist themselves, not a sweat shop, or mass produced.  Of course all lampwork beads are still handmade.  Even mass produced ones.  There isn’t a way to make lampwork beads in or on a machine.

The problem with mass produced beads is, we really don’t know if those mass produced ones are annealed.  Most of us tend to think not, considering the rate of breakage that occurs.  Of course it could be argued  you really don’t know if your SRA of choice is annealing either, but your chances are much better.

So besides the annealing issue, whats the problem?  Personally I don’t have a problem with mass produced beads.  There really is a market for everything.  I think of it as the difference between Walmart and Nordstrom or other higher end stores.  I am not going to buy art for my walls or my kitchen table at Walmart, though I could.  They just don’t offer what I want.  I want cool original art and a fancy table I can only get at an artsy furniture shop downtown.  I am willing to pay for for those things, because they have value to me.

I just don’t see the mass imports taking that market right now.  Though they could I guess, if they started annealing and coming up with original bead designs.  So far I have only seen them making basic styles.  That could change and we need to be ready for it.

If a person is a production bead artist and only focuses on their production work, there is the chance their work will be massed produced eventually.  We all have to continue to grow and expand as artists.  Keep moving ahead and finding original designs and I think you will be just fine.  With that said there is absolutely nothing wrong with production work.  I do a great deal of it myself.  It pays the bills.  But I am also always trying to expand my skill set.  I can make quite a bit more things other than just floral beads.  If the market drops out on them, I have other things I can move to.

I also see a shift in people gravitating toward handmade items.  Just look at the artist websites Etsy and DaWanda in Europe.  Selling sites completely devoted to artists selling their handmade work.

Lets not forget the collector side of lampwork.  There are people out there who do just collect beads from various artists.  Those people certainly are not going to be collecting mass produced items.  Think about making original bead art, like Loco, JC Herrell, Fay Katherine, NCL Beads, The Boogers, and many many others.

Don’t forget the marble market.  There is a market for contemporary handmade marbles also.  Trust me when I say these folks are NOT interested in knock offs of contemporary handmades.  They buy the marbles for the beauty of handmade and to get a little piece of the artist.

My last thought on the mass imports effecting beads the way it has stained glass, is that beads are still pretty affordable.  Most people can afford to buy a set of beads or a focal without too much thought.  The economics of the two just aren’t in the same ball park.  So yes the economy is having an effect of those of us selling items that are extras in life.  But remember this, lip stick sales went up during the Great Depression.  People wanted a pick me up.  Beads can be the same thing, if you find the right pricing point and market.

Good Luck, keep torching, and keep growing.

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3 thoughts on “Can we beat the imports in a struggling economy?

  1. I ‘m glad you joined the debate on this one.
    I appreciate your ideas and energy that you put into your response. I found this very helpful.
    Teri

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