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was about transparency. I overheard a discussion about how large retailers are taking steps to remove the walls that stand between them and their customers. By posting videos and photos of buyers and designers working with overseas vendors and manufacturers, they think the likes of you and I will view their products as more handmade. I just don’t know if this will work. In theory, it should. If I watched a video of a Kate Spade designer talking to an employee in an Indian or Chinese workroom, the product being made wouldn’t seem so mass manufactured; because an actual person is making it, that product will acquire a handmade connotation. But when I compare this product to a pair of  Ohhh Lulu undies or a Blooming Leopold dress, the handmade guise that the Kate Spade product acquired for a brief moment is stripped away. Companies such as Megan Nielsen, By Hand London, and Blooming Leopold – that’s true handmade. When a customer emails them, Megan, Charlotte, Elisalex, or Lauren responds, not an automated message. As I’ve been getting more into the concept of handmade, this transparency between customer and vendor is important to me and with this, I’ve developed a better appreciation for objects in general, whether they be garments, houseware, shoes, or handbags. Handmade objects have a story and a soul that comes from their maker. No mass manufacturer can duplicate that.

What about you? Do you think a retailer like Can Cole Haan or Gap could ever be considered handmade?


  1. Reply


    I’m sorry, but “even though he or she is Chinese”? What does that have to do with how “handmade” the finished hand-made garment is?!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I apologize, I didn’t mean it offensively. I used it to stress that items that are made overseas – in China, in India, in Sri Lanka, have a mass manufactured connotation, whereas products that are manufactured domestically, don’t (or they don’t as much). So that I don’t upset others, I removed the sentence.

      • Reply


        Thank you, no offence taken and apologies on my part for appearing to take offence so easily (the way you originally had it in that sentence made it seem for a moment like a qualifier for “actual person” – I realise now what you meant).

        While I still don’t agree that there is necessarily a West = high-quality artisanal vs. East = low-quality mass-manufactured dichotomy (yet) in terms of cultural association, the point you raise about global corporations being influenced in practice by the ‘hand’-making practices of individual designers and craftspeople is incredibly interesting. I think some retailers – like Anthropologie – ‘do’ this aesthetic better than others. I would love to know more about the different processes (machine and/or hand) that go into making a ‘mass-manufactured’ garment for different companies.

        • Reply

          Maddie Flanigan

          I think the fact that global companies are interested in acquiring a more “handmade” connotation is interesting too, mostly because it shows that they’re realizing a cultural shift – society nowadays really thinks about and cares where their product are coming from and who is making them.

  2. Reply


    Well, mass manufactured items are still technically handmade, in that they process to make them isn’t entirely by machine. But I think that “handmade feel” is more of the knowing that there are only a few of this object or it was made by the person who designed it. It becomes more special that way. There’s more emotion and artistry in it somehow (not that there isn’t artistry in designing something that is to be mass manufactured…)

    For me it has nothing to do with location. It could be made in China, but if it’s handmade by a woman who does needle felting then it has that handmade feel. Or it could be made in the US but a mass produced garment, then it wouldn’t have that handmade feel.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      You’re right that products made in China and in other countries are still handmade. I hope I didn’t come across as prejudice when I wrote that. Handmade really is about the circumstances under which an item is made – I want to know the story of that product.

  3. Reply


    I don’t think mass retailers like the gap could ever compare to someone like Blooming liopold. It is just so much more personal, almost like you are getting a product from a friend!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Like getting a product (or present) from a friend – I like that way of looking at it.

  4. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    Well there is starting to be a bit of backlash against fast fashion and the impact it has and consumers are starting to crave handmade/handcrafted. Retailers aren’t idiots they’ll provide whatever you want to buy and the first step is to show you the handmade components of what they currently have. They might cause a 5% increase in sales which is excellent.

    Anthropologie’s stores have always gone to an effort to make it feel like you’re in a paris flea market buying vintage finds. Really you not and you aren’t but you feel that way. So its not about what things are but what you feel about them.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      How you feel about a product – that’s a good point. Anthropologie does a fantastic job at evoking an emotional response from their customer, which in turn creates a very loyal customer. Their stores are intimate and like you said, they make you feel like you’re shopping in a Parisian flea market. Granted, the store’s team does build the displays themselves using upcycled materials and I give them credit for being handmade in that department, but in a nutshell, it’s all an illusion. The products are still made in China! There’s nothing wrong with mass manufactured clothing, hell, my wardrobe is a testament to that (even though I’m acquiring more handmade items), I just thought it was interesting the measures retailers were taken and whether they would actually work.

      • Reply

        Natasha Estrada

        True. Stores use marketing and image as a value added service to make their mass produced products “worth more” than if we purchased them elsewhere. Urban Outfitters make us feel what we purchase from there is “cooler”

        Using those two stores as a common frame of reference but you can also look at how JCrew upsells certain aspects of their product.

        The downside is all these companies have doubled and tripled their prices in the last few years. I used to shop at Anthro and JCrew a lot but I think the last thing I got from antro was a bowl 4 years ago and maybe a pair of shoes in a sale online.

        But I bet both companies are more profitable.

        For me when I finally get to launch my handmade shoe line I want to emphasis that the person making them (me) had thoughts and dreams and wishes while I worked.

        Don’t steal my marketing strategy y’all (I’m looking at you big box mart)

          • Maddie Flanigan

            Ha! What a great video!! I laughed – for real.

            You’ll do great as an indie shoe designer and people will buy your products for the work and passion that was put into then.

  5. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    Also think about it as a consumer. Your craving for more handmade clothing if you’re not responsible for it will cause more exploitation of foreign labor. What’s so GD wrong with machines. We like the internet don’t we.

    I think sometimes in the search for handcrafted we really want small owner operated business but we confuse the method with the business structure.

  6. Reply

    Carlee McTavish

    For me, handmade = fair wages + an appropriate amount of time spent on the making of the item, in addition to having a face to a name (re: By Hand London, Ohhh Lulu). I just don’t think that any of the larger retailers will ever be able to get to that point without their prices reflecting that.

  7. Reply


    Love the photos as usual! And fantastic springboard for discussion. I could probably write pages about my thoughts on transparency, and our current cultural need to feel involved with the process of everything. I’ve been watching some of my artist friends, particularly musicians and some painters, struggle with how much to let others in on their process. Art is so much about process now, that there is an pressure now to let others in on your crafting process, to be “transparent”, Twitter, allow fans into your studio, etc. People really need to feel like they are intimately involved! Even fundraising avenues like Kickstarter encourage this. But what about those creatives who prefer to make in private, then produce finished art or a product without a lot of backstory?

    But you’re onto something here! Sometimes our vision of “handmadeness” can be a bit arbitrary. How big does it have to get, or impersonal, before it stops being “true” or “real”, or even art? I love artisanal culture but also see it is a effort to stay authentically connected in a world full of options and overwhelming information.

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