Thursday, March 27, 2008

Yarn and Designer Hand Bags

Lately I've been thinking about yarn, consumerism, and desinger hand bags. This may seem odd to many knitters, seeing that knitting is seen as something being very "punk" in that it's totally non-consumerist and against being a clone of some big, evil corporation only concerned with taking your money as well as your individuality. However, in my opinion, kntting as of late has in many ways taken on traits of classic American consumerism.

My first set of evidence can be found in the types of yarns we use. Hand dyed yarns are very popular for their uniqueness and charming variations in every single skein. It is for this reason many knitters want to buy these materials to knit with. The desire to be unique and seen as an individual is strong in the knitting community, while consumerism works best when everyone buys and wears the same things. But on the flipside of that coin, isn't that need somewhat of a commonality between knitters, and therefore is some form of consumerism at hand? In other words, can't marketers use this "need" to push their products as the thing you need to acheive that individuality?

Second, look at the amount of yarn we all have. I believe in living simply, yet my stash is taking over my bedroom as you read this! Frankly, I don't need to knit like I need to eat or drink water everyday. But I do knit because I enjoy it. Still my need to live simply is overwhelmed by my obsession with buying and collecting yarn. I swear to you that lately I've been enjoying going on Ravelry, fantasizing about new projects, and cruising site after site of online yarn sellers MORE than the actually knitting that I'm doing right now. It seems sad, but I think buying yarn is just so gratifying. We're so starved for real mail (because we use e-mail so much) that whenever a chance to receive a package in the mail comes up, we jump right at it. And lets face it, sometimes your fantasies (whether knitting related or otherwise) tend to be a lot more interesting than reality.

And finally, mainstream ideas are entering the knitting industry. Case and point, many yarn companies like Lorna's Laces and Rowan are launching "green" yarn lines for public consumption this year. Now I've been living "green" since Noah was a boy, and there is nothing new under the sun. "Green" is just a new and more hip term for "recycling and living within one's means" something that has been going on for centuries and has recently became in vogue. What I argue is are these yarns necessarily more eco-friendly than other non-organic ones? They may be cultivated from completely organically grown sheep or cotton fields but aren't the finished products shipped in huge, gas guzzling trucks from yarn store to yarn store? And why are they usually more expensive than their conventional counterparts? Is it because the procedures in making the product aren't commonly used and therefore not as cost effective as say, acrylic? Or is it another marketing ploy, disguised as something beneficial to the environment, but really is just another means in which markerters use to separate you from your hard earned cash?

Here's where the designer hand bags come in. Many rich people and celebrities have the leisure and money to shop for days on end. Hand bags (as well as shoes) seem to be the downfall of many women. On average a designer hand bag can run you anywhere from $200 to $5000 or more each. And every season, women across the world clamor and squabble over the latest hand bag.

The reason these bags are so expensive is principally the amount of craftmanship that goes into one. The materials also play a factor, as many high priced designer bags are made out of leather, suede, and other exotic skins like crocodile and snake. Third, you are essentially paying for a trusted brand. That's why you will NEVER see a Louis Vuitton or a Coach bag sold at a WalMart. The clientele for such accessories simply aren't at WalMart. Furthermore, the companies that represent these brands would not want to tarnish it by selling their wares at discount stores anyway.

So the point I'm trying to make is that aren't hand dyed yarns much like designer hand bags? Both are seen as very unique, well made, hand crafted, exclusive and are more expensive than their more frugal, yet just as functional counterparts.

I means lets think about it. Red Heart yarn could work just as fine as Cascade 220 or Sundara Yarns in making an afghan for a baby or as sweater for yourself. However, Red Heart sucks, Cascade 220 is a good value but is not as luxurious as Sundara or for that matter, the venerable Wollmeise yarn.

It's the same with designer bags. Most women carry a bag filled with crap (chapstick, work related items, gum, one of your kids toys, food, etc.) that they feel they need close by. Though a plastic bag would work just fine, it is not very appealing. Buying a mid-priced bag from say Target or even Macy's would be nice but what you really want is the latest Fendi or Burberry bag to carry your most serviceable items as well as garner some compliments from your co-workers and closest friends.

In the end, knitters are much like their non-knitting consumerist counterparts. Yet we hide behind the notion that we are being "punk" or "anti-authoritarian" when it comes to big companies. I mean, don't get me wrong. A hand dyed yarn can't be massed produced like a Abercrombie sweater or Steve Madden boots but the fact that almost every knitter on Ravelry has at least 1 skein of Socks that Rock in their stash makes me think twice about how much we value the "punk" attributes in the knitting community.

Finally, I leave you with this note. In my opinion, yarn is much like money. They are both dangerous in that no matter how much of it you have, you always want more of it. To state it plainly, in the great words of the late great New York Rapper The Notorious BIG, "Mo Money, Mo Problems."


noblinknits said...

oh bums, I have been thinking about this too, although not so much about the designer handbags. I like to support individuals and small businesses, fair trade and organic aswell. I think in the past I have used this as an excuse to bypass the part of me saying but do you really need more? I then transferred the yarn accumulation to buying expensive wooden needles (mmmmmmm, rosewood). Then I had a yarn (what's the opposite of binge?) non accumulation phase as I saw how much I had purchased and posted home from travelling. I don't have a great answer for this as lately I have been accumulating chocolate. Is that better because it will actually be consumed and won't clog up my life? Well, now I try to strike a balance between indulging my I want voice and listening to my I don't need voice.

Valerie said...

Kelly, as usually you make a lot of excellent and provocative points. And I'm not one to talk with my extraordinarily huge stash (which I keep increasing)!

I would agree with what you say about distribution of organic yarn, but I still think it's better for the sheep to be cared for organically, so it's probably still preferable -- just maybe not as much so as priced/advertised.

I'm also not sure about this, but I think acrylic yarn may derive from petrochemicals, meaning it's helping use up the last remaining dinosaur-load of petroleum on the planet. On the other hand, spending money for a high-end product just to wave the name around doesn't appeal to me. I think I want to be somewhere in the middle... I don't need a Versace bag, but if Sundara makes yarn colors that make my heart happy, I might want to buy it (and you can tell from my stash that I sometimes do).

Virtuous said...

You are a great writer Kelly!
I have always noticed and understood the parallelism of knitters, yarn, consumerism, and my freakin' love for handbags! LOL

But love how you took the time to articulate it! Thx Gurl!

Keep breakin' it down like H-2-0! ;o)