Thursday, September 25, 2008

Knitting and The Economy

This afternoon I spent a very nice hour or so in the car with my dad, whom I rarely get to spend time with these days, as he was driving me to pick up my car from the shop, which happens to be located a few cities over. My dad is a business man. Very practical and reasonable and I've always respected his opinion on business type things. In my mind, that includes anything having to do with money or, well, anything non-domestic. Very gender stereotypical, I know, but hes just good at that sort of thing. And so when I get the chance to chat with him, one on one, for an extended period of time I always value hearing his perspective on things. So we got to talking and, of course, the economy came up. For those of you outside of the US you may or may not know whats going on over here, but basically our economy is going to hell in a handbasket rather quickly. The government is trying to fix things, and hopefully they will, but I think its going to be a while before most Americans feel comfortable economically. So it got me thinking, how is knitting affected by economic crisis? My dad and I have a very interesting conversation about it and basically came to the conclusion that (and this is just our theory) when the economy gets kind of scary people start thinking about their money more. Instead of just spending it thoughtlessly, they start to actually think about what they are spending it on, and whether they are making good purchasing decisions or not. People stop buying some things that don't seem like good choices. Either they are too expensive, or they seem wasteful. Some things are fun but short lived, so its hard to feel like you are getting your moneys worth. But knitting seems to me like a pretty good choice. No, not because knitting a sweater or a pair of socks saves you money because then you don't have to buy new socks. Everyone knows that, with a few exceptions, knitting is not cheaper than just buying a pair of socks, or whatever. Knitting, and spending money on knitting supplies, is a good choice because a) you get a lot of hobby time for your money, b) your time is spent in a productive way and c) you can make sure that the money you spend goes to a good place. Knitting takes a while, especially if you are working on a complicated (for you) pattern. A single skein of laceweight yarn ($15-$30) can give you hours and hours and hours and hours of knitting. I can't think of anything else that gives you that much active hobby time for any less. Though knitting isn't cheaper than buying, it still counts as a productive use of your time. Usually the finished result of knitting is something useful in some way. The "use" can include practical things like keeping your feet warm, or slightly less pragmatic things like showing off your skills, showing your friends and family that you love them, making you feel good about yourself, making cancer patients feel good about themselves or embarassing your dog. But the point is, the value of your knitting tends to extend past the actual time spent knitting. And even the time spent knitting is productive: knitting has been shown to be good for your mental and emotional health. My third point was that you can make sure your money goes to a good place. Where our money goes after it leaves our wallets is something we should all be aware of regardless of the state of the economy, but when the economy is bad I, for one, tend to be more aware of my spending. I believe to be a responsible consumer you have to think about the consequences of the purchases you make. Not just how it affects you, but greater ranging effects as well. If I buy my groceries at Harris Teeter thats ok. I don't feel bad about that, I also don't feel good about it but you know, I need groceries. But, when I go to the farmers market and buy my groceries from local farmers I get two benefits. I get the food I need, usually at a comparable price to the grocery store, AND I know that the money I just spent is helping to support local farmers and, in turn, support the local economy. Because I've learned about our local farming culture I know that most of our local farmers are environmentally conscious and try to support the local economy in their own purchases. So my money is supporting their efforts in those directions as well. This applies to knitting in a couple of ways. If you shop at your LYS, you are supporting a small business owned by a member of your community. Your money is reinvested in your community and you are helping a positive part of your community stay in business. When that LYS goes to pay their taxes, and there are LOTS of taxes with any business, much of that tax money stays in your community. Most online yarn shops, though not local to you necessarily, are small businesses too. That means that you know your money is helping to support individuals who do what they do because they love it, not to get rich (if any of you out there are getting rich selling yarn, please let me know because I want your secret). Your money is staying within the country, not travelling to sweatshops in Asia or the wallets of CEOs and bankers. The product itself--knitting yarn and patterns- can also be a responsable purchasing decision if you carefully consider before you buy. Buying patterns from independent designers and yarn from artisian handdyers has all the same benefits of shopping at a LYS/online yarn shop. You are supporting a small business run by people with a passion for their work. And by supporting the artists (dyers, designers, stitch marker makers, knitting bag sewers etc) whose work your admire, you are encouraging and allowing them to keep doing what they do. So your purchases will help create new patterns and colorways and beautiful knitting accessories. And thats a pretty good way to spend your money. Feeding your family and paying the mortgage is better, but once you've got those necessities out of the way and its time to decide what to do with the remaining money, I think you can feel pretty good about spending it on yarn. But thats just what I think. What do you think? Has the decline in the economy changed the way that you buy yarn, or how you think about your purchases? Do you knit more when the economy gets bad, or less? I think that different people are going to feel differently about this, and I look forward to hearing (reading) your opinion. 


Mary in VA said...

First, I love when I get a chance for a dad-talk. He tends to just automatically pass the phone to my mom when I call, so one-on-one time is precious.

Second, I'm not in the business in anyway, but I do know the owner of my LYS fairly well and sense that there has been a downturn in knitting's popularity for the last year or so. I think crafts in general have cycles, and there are people who do whatever is most popular. There are always the hard-core knitters, but I think some of the fringe is drifting off.

Pair that will a faltering economy, and I do worry about my favorite small businesses (you would be among them) weathering the storm. I wonder how many LYS will make it through also.

So I guess its really the timing of the two trends together that worries me.

Adriana said...

That was very interesting and definitely gave me something to think about. I'm in Canada and our economy seems to be in a slightly better state but we're so closely linked to the US that we are definitely affected by what's going on with you.
I certainly hope that the government or whoever is able to sort things out and soon. It's scary scary stuff.

Turtle said...

You expressed it so well. We were having a similar conversation the other night, but work related. i work in a day spa, andas many clients that i do have that need services for health reasons, more are just for maintenance and pampering. I have a feeling i will be doing a lot more knitting this winter vs previous winters as i am afraid i will have a lot more time on my hands at work. i second your thoughts on knitting vs the economy. in the long run it is a very economical hobby with something useful as an end result!

Marti J. said...

I've long been a believer in making gifts as opposed to purchasing them, and when the economy crisis hit me early on, I started using the yarn stash to provide Christmas & birthday gifts. It meant using more of my time, but I enjoyed all the knitting I was doing, and the recipients enjoyed all the gifts they received. And, I'm very pleased that when I had extra money and the economy was stronger, I built up the stash in the first place, because now on my reduced retirement income, having that stash to fall back on means that I'm still able to share my "wealth", and not have to cut back on gift-giving.

Andrea Tappe said...

Australia (touch wood!) seems to be missing the recession so far. What we do have is a very slight slow down - for the first time in years, people have weekends and leisure time! Which is proving to be good for wool shops, as people are looking for things to do to fill up that spare time.

The other thing is, with the price of petrol approaching $2/litre, more people are using public transport than ever before - and they are finding that knitting and crochet are sooooo much more interesting than standing on a station platform and waiting!

Cheers, Andrea