Fair Trade vs Living Wage

I bumped into someone yesterday who had been looking through my blog and Etsy shop. They wanted one of the Little Crochet dolls but didn’t want to learn to crochet. He asked the question I fear the most, how much?

How do I respond?

As a doll collector I have no problems paying for the doll I want, within reason. Mary Shortle, my local doll shop allows you to pay bit by bit for the doll you want, so I am able to save without too much fuss. But many people who like my dolls are not collectors and I worry how they’d react when I tell them the cost.

I could be the bold artist type, who has no worries putting a £400 price tag on a small painting. But I’m not bold, not that bold anyway.

Many people say you should charge £20 an hour for your work plus materials, well, a doll could take me 2 days work. That’s £20 x 16 hours. £320 for a doll. Even I would refuse to pay that and paying myself £10 an hour is £160, a better price but still £10 more than I have ever paid for a doll and that was a porcelain, silkstone Barbie that’s more of an investment than a play doll.

The result therefore, is a sheepish seller who feels like I’m risking humiliation by asking for £70. Is that alright? I know it’s a lot, it takes a lot of work though… and the worrying goes on. Why oh why can’t I be bold?

Why can’t I say proudly that a doll is £70. It may seem like a lot, but it’s hand made, one-of-a-kind. Just for you. Where else can you buy a doll and choose it’s hair colour and clothing? So, from now on I’m going to give it a go. If you ask me how much a doll would cost I’m going to stand up straight, chin up, hands on hips and in a loud voice say, “My dolls are £70”.

So, now I come to another problem.

As a member of The Salvation Army, I should be buying Fair Trade where ever possible. I think it’s a great idea, and believe that people who work hard to earn a living should be paid for the work they do. But often Fair Trade means African farmers, Indian cloth makers. I don’t want to take that away from them, not at all.

I would like more of it. I too, would like to be paid for the work I do. It seems in the UK at least, we grumble at the thought of paying for handmade items.

Back in the days when I had my market stall I would make my Star Wars characters and put a £12 price tag on them. They take around one and a half hours each, so I was looking at £8 an hour. That seemed far too high for most people so I dropped my price to £10, working at £6 (ish) an hour. Still many people grumbled at the price. Towards the end of the stall, when I realised people just wouldn’t pay I dropped the price to £8 (£5 an hour) below the minimum wage. And yet… I had one guy who really wanted one, but when I told him the price he threw it onto the counter, grumbled something unrepeatable at me and stormed off.

That wouldn’t be so bad, but at the time there were Star Wars characters made in Hong Kong, in a factory the same size as mine, but less detail and selling for more than I was asking.

Not only that, Cath Kidson was at the time selling a small crochet bear, a very simple plain pattern, for £8 and people seem to flock to buy them. They’re not made by Cath Kidson, she might have come up with the idea, but I doubt she has even put her hands on the ones your about t0 hand cash over for, so you’re paying just for a label.

It seems Fair Trade only works when it involves other countries, or when the maker/artist has the cash or support to get a name. I don’t begrudge them, people should pay for quality. But far too often people think handmade things should be cheap while happily paying over the odds for often poorly over manufactured items made quickly in factories by machines, not humans.


Okay, deep breath…

So, after my rant I have one thing to say…

Head heald high, hands on hips, looking you straight in the eye with no guilt. Dolls are £70.

Now that’s said, quietly lowering my head, cap in hand, whispering sheepishly, which means I’m working for £4.30 an hour, if that’s ok?



Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

2 thoughts on “Fair Trade vs Living Wage

  1. I know this was written a while ago but it sounds identical to what I was saying myself at the time. I do feel things are a little different now. People actually just pay what I ask for (when I’m selling, I don’t sell often) with out complaining or try to haggle with me. But being bold is something I’ve been striving for for many many years.


  2. Such a good post, and I’m sure many if us crafters battle with the very same issue. I know it is just ignorance, and our society is so used to ridiculously low prices for clothes and toys etc nowadays, but it really challenges me when someone asks “how much?”


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