Wrestling with Wholesaling – Thinking Out Loud

2 March 2009 at 9:08 am 5 comments

I’ve had two wholesale inquiries from galleries in the past week!  Exciting, yet also worrisome when I start to figure out what I’ll send for orders.  Wholesaling items that are originals, made one at a time, is a difficult problem for artists who’d like to pay themselves a working wage. If I work 50 hours, I may turn out six scarves in a week.  Taking into consideration the cost of materials, how much profit am I actually making per piece?

For six scarves, materials costs will range from $8 to $25 per piece.   There’s a wide variance in the cost of materials for each scarf, depending on the size of piece, the amount of dye, gutta, fixative, thread and embellishments used, the quantity and quality of fabric, whether or not the piece is lined, etc.  I can find an 8″ x 54″  silk habotai scarf blank for $5 . Sand-washed crêpe, flat crêpe, crêpe de chine, satin, charmeuse or chiffon can be two-three times that amount.  Rayon and cotton blanks are less, but take at least twice as much dye.

As with materials, there’s a large variance is the amount of time each piece takes to make. *  Each scarf must be prewashed and ironed.  Once the design is planned and drawn, the silk is stretched on a frame and resist lines are laid down.  Wait an hour or so to dry.  Make chemical water and mix dye colors (the dyes only last a few days once the chemicals are mixed in).   Then comes the good part:  painting!  Wait a day or so for paint to dry and set, roll in paper, wrap in foil, steam for colorfastness 1-3 hours, iron, rinse out resist lines, wash with synthrapol, rinse with Milsoft, dry, iron, photograph, tag, inventory.  I figure an average of eight hours per scarf.  Then, of course, there’s the step of marketing:  listing each piece in my online shops, Flickr, blogging, applying for a craft fairs, contacting galleries.  Artists are advised to spend 50% of their time marketing.  (This figure gives me the willies.)

* Some fabrics are more difficult to work with and thus take more time.  (It’s an effort for someone my age to see the resist lines once they dry on certain fabrics.  Sewing on chiffon involves pinning strips of tissue paper to each side of the seam, then carefully tearing away the paper.)

Materials + Time = Money 
I sell my smaller (8″ x 54″) habotai scarves for $50.  A 12″ x 60″ charmeuse scarf sells for $75.  An embellished 16″ x 70″ chiffon is $110.  

Let’s say that in one week I make six 8″ x 54″ silk crêpe serti scarves that retail for $60 each, I would bring in $360 gross.  Materials costs for this size silk crêpe + dyes, etc., are about $10 per scarf, so $300 per week.  If I wholesale these six scarves at 50%, I’ll gross $150 — hardly a working wage. 

On the other hand:  I don’t have to sit in a soul cage 50 hours per week.  Spreading my work around gets my name out to the world, both by getting my work seen and having it worn.   I’ve met some terrific people on my various on-line forums.  I can work in my jammies.  I can go out for lunch.   And the very best of all, I get into my studio every day!   


Entry filed under: All Posts, art and artists, processes in silk painting / surface design. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. julie  |  27 March 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Enjoying your blog, thanks. As for pricing work… well I can appreciate all your difficulties. hope you find a figure that pays respect to your work and is workable in the marketplace. Good luck 🙂

  • 2. onawhimsey  |  2 March 2009 at 11:51 am

    Wholesale? But then your items are totally original, one of a kind so how can they be wholesale or have I missed the point? Sorry!

    Your scarves are beautiful and boutique (at the very least!) quality! Hand painted for goodness sake!

    Sorry, rant over!! Good luck, I think they are fabby!!

  • 3. altheap  |  2 March 2009 at 10:51 am

    Kate just sent me a link to a great short story on this very subject: http://academics.triton.edu/uc/traven.html

  • 4. Rose  |  2 March 2009 at 10:50 am

    Wholesale is a challenge isn’t it. It only works for me if I can do it assembly line style and hire my family to help (they work for peanuts!).

  • 5. Kate  |  2 March 2009 at 9:56 am

    You’d probably make more money as a greeter at WalMart !!
    But then you’d go crazy and have to spend all your money on a shrink!


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