Monday 13 December 2010

Faux furs

Finding ways of lowering prices is an ongoing project in my shop. Whilst I don't always get the actual items right (looking back, for example, I seem to have gone through a phase of undue appreciation for the smooth, shiny look of lamination), the biggest problem I have is with price. Bear collectors are a different kettle of fish, but in terms of the general public it often seems that people do like my bears - but certainly not at that price!

Part of this is due to the fact that they're hand-made and so take longer to make - although I'm sure I could be quicker about it if I really thought industrial.

With the teddy bears though, the most significant factor in the pricing is probably the cost of the materials. Mohair costs between £25 and £125 per metre - and occasionally more than that. I have only once ever calculated the cost of making a bear properly. I was making a big, 19" bear - for which I usually charge £250. Calculating the time it took at minimum wage rates, then adding the cost of the materials, it came to almost exactly £250.

I don't sell a lot of big bears though, and with smaller bears - although the materials cost less - the time it takes to make them doesn't decrease proportionally. I'm reluctant to work out the costs exactly (and burst my own bubble), but I have a sneaking suspicion that smaller bears pay far less than minimum wage.

Anyway, all this is not by way of complaint (it's a lovely job - such as it is); I'm just trying to figure out how to make it work.

I read something a while ago about bear-makers using faux fur. In my [limited] experience, faux fur often comes on a knitted backing - which makes it far too stretchy for bear-making - and tends to shed like crazy. However, this - so I'm told - is a mistaken impression. You do apparently get very high quality faux furs, with a woven backing. In fact, faux fur can sometimes be more expensive than mohair (gulp!). You can get good quality faux fur for considerably lower prices too though.

I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, anything that lowers prices must be a good thing; on the other, going synthetic seems to be just one more nail in the coffin of good quality, hand-made, sustainable, eco-friendly teddy bears - the making of which has always seemed to have something old-fashioned about it, to me.

Another problem with lowering prices in this way is related to my 'not suitable for children' policy. As I have discovered, I can't make teddy bears for children because the costs of having them safety tested are astronomical. With the teddy bears I do sell, I am required by law to make it absolutely clear that they are not for children - and a sign/label to that effect is not necessarily sufficient. Apparently, even if they have such a label, if they look like they were intended to appeal to children, it may be considered that you are selling them as toys.

Given this, one of the factors which I think makes it clear that my bears are not toys, is the price. A teddy bear priced at £250 appears more as a collectible than as a toy.

If I make the bears in faux fur - and thus, reduce costs considerably - the price tag will be less of a deterrent to people looking to buy a teddy bear for a small child.

Perhaps I am being too pessimistic - or too optimistic about the degree to which the use of faux fur will cut costs. A 19" bear made in faux fur might cost considerably less than his mohair equivalent - but the price may still be between £100 and £150, which is still expensive for a toy.

Another difficulty (I am indeed being pessimistic) is how I would explain the difference between the price of a mohair bear and that of a synthetic bear, where they were of similar size. I do explain everything in great detail on the label, but people don't always read these.

I could put the faux fur bears altogether under a big sign saying 'cheap synthetic bears', I suppose! That's really mean - but it illustrates the problem exactly: how to point out the reason for the price differential without making the faux fur bears sound 'cheap and nasty'.

Maybe I could be a lot more subtle about it. (Subtle - moi?) Maybe it's not necessary to say anything relating the price to the fabric. If I were to make the faux fur bears slightly different from the mohair bears - in some aspect other than the fabric - then I could market them as a new and distinct range. Customers may then accept the idea of a less costly range of bears without the necessity for insulting signs/labels.

Okay, I have talked myself into it. Thanks for listening(!) I will order some faux fur swatches, and take it from there.

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