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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.

HUGE Marble sale and 99 Cent Tuesday!

For a few day only, we are running a kick off marble sale in our Etsy Marble store.  All marbles are 25% to 35% off, already marked down and FREE SHIPPING of course.  Go check it out.

Also it is 99 cent Tuesday again!  Pretty wings.  :-)

Lampworking, still a great unknown to the masses

I always have a difficult time explaining what I do to strangers. If I were to say, “I am a lampworker,” I am most likely rewarded with a confused or blank stare. Flameworker and torchworker gets pretty much the same response. If I say, I make glass beads, that doesn’t really cover it either. It gets closer, but the world at large is highly uneducated about this particular craft. So my latest explanation goes something like this: “I work with hot glass on a torch, making glass beads, mostly for jewelry designers.”

The usual response is along the lines of “Oh, you are a glass blower?”

Me: “The same idea, but we are not actually blowing glass (usually), we are making solid pieces on a much smaller scale, using a torch instead of a furnace.”

Then there are the other people. Those who are somewhat familiar with lampwork, but not beads or marbles. The latest encounter I had was just the other day. My car broke down and I had to call the tow company to get it to the shop. It was a 100 degree day and even though my house was less than a mile from the breakdown spot, the driver decided to take pity on me and give me lift. On the way we chatted about what I did for a living.

Me: “I work in glass, making beads and marbles.”

Him: “Oh, like those people on that HBO reality tv show that make glass sex toys?”

Me: “HBO has a reality TV show about sex toys?” I don’t have HBO and I never heard of that. Where have I been?

Him: “Oh ya, and they do VERY well, the owners have a yacht and host all kinds of parties promoting their toys.”

Me: “Really? huh. Ya, kinda like that but we don’t make sex toys. Though I know a few people who do.”

Him: “Ya, they go on and on about how they are the toys of choice and very durable, never wear out.”

Me: “Good to know.”

Now I am thinking, yachts? I could make sex toys, if I switched the glass I use. I even have a big enough torch. I can just see it. Someone asks my mom or dad how their daughter, the glass artist is doing. Answer, “Oh Deanna, she is very successful, you know she makes sex toys now.” Maybe not. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)

How about the time we pulled the rv into a campground in Colorado Springs? We got into a conversation about what we did for a living while checking in for our month long stay.

Us, with the usual: “We make glass beads and marbles on a torch.”

Him: “Oh, do you make bowls? I have a friend who does.”

Us: “Oh a few times with our fusing kiln, but that isn’t what we normally make.”

Him: “I’d love to see them. There is a huge market for bowls and spoons around here.”

Us, now we get it: “Oh, we don’t make pipes. Just beads and marbles.” We have actually made a few bowls, as in a candy dish type bowl.

Him: “Oh, too bad.”

Then there was the time we traveled up to Victoria, Canada from the Olympic Peninsula. Getting through customs was kinda tricky.

Customs: “Why are you here?”

Us: “To visit friends.”

Customs: “How long?”

Us: “Overnight.”

Customs reading our Texas licence plate: “You’re a long way from home.”

Us: “Not really, we live in an RV and it is parked in Washington.”

Customs: “You live in an RV?”

Us: Nodding

Customs: “Occupation?”

Us: “Glass artists.”

Customs: “Self employeed?”

Us: “Yes.”

Customs: “Did you bring any work with you?”

Us: “Yes.”

Customs: “Pipes?”

Us: “No, we make beads and marbles.”

Customs: “Do you plan to sell any work here.”

Us: “No, just to show to our friends.” Which was true.

Customs: “Do you own a home in the states?”

Us: “No.”

Customs: “Any ties at all to anything in the states?”

Us, finally getting the picture. “Oh ya, family.”

Customs: “Okay. Pull over to the side please.”

We did and waited an hour and half while the inspectors went over the VW bus with a fine tooth comb and ran background checks on us. The agent asked to see our work, then kept asking where the pipes were. I swear he asked Greg four times. I admit, we probably looked questionable with the 71 VW bus, both of us having long hair, and the fact we were vagabond glass artists. Finally we were cleared and drove off, laughing our butts off. A sense of humor is a good thing.

So why is it called lampworking you might ask. The answer, back before they days of mixed surface oxygen torches, bead makers made beads on oil lamps, using glass that was soft enough to melt in those low temperature flames. So now you know. :-)

A Dirty Little Secret

Go here to read about my dirty little secret.

Artist Interview

Good evening.  I just got done torching for the day and settled down to read emails and forums and found this has been posted today.  It is an artist interview of Moi and Hubby Greg.  John on the Glass Addiction board was kind enough to feature us as the  lasted glass artist to be interviewed.  Enjoy!

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