Allison Wiffen Logo

Why bother making a handmade product in Britain today?

Sometimes I find myself explaining to someone that my product is handmade and then I stop and think – so what? What does that actually mean? That there are faults in it – the cufflinks might actually be a slightly different size, shape, thickness from each other... why would that be an advantage? Am I a luddite? Am I swimming against the tide by using archaic methods, out of date practices? Have I failed to move with the times? Am I just plain inefficient?

And I suppose the answer to all of these is yes. I am woefully inefficient, I make an imperfect product and hope the world will find it in its heart to forgive this. We live in a world where so much is perfect, and we are under so much pressure to be perfect ourselves. We are not allowed hair on our bodies anymore, we really shouldn’t grow old but stay eternally beautiful, we should be clever and witty and successful. . . . so much striving for perfection, so much anxiety at our inevitable failure to manage this.

So making a handmade product is in some ways a quiet act of defiance, a refusal to do the sensible thing, a decision to do what you want to do rather than what you ought. And the outcome is something just a little bit special, something of beauty, integrity and originality. Not everyone will see this, or agree with it but that doesn’t matter, some people will see it and be delighted by it and that is enough. My colleague Louisa Taylor at Cockpit Arts makes wheel- thrown porcelain mugs that make drinking my tea from them an infinitely more beautiful experience. And every experience in life should be as full and beautiful as it can be. For the price of a mug from Louisa I can buy many dull but perfect and perfectly functioning mugs – and I will confess that I do buy mass produced products too. However if when I open the cupboard door one of Louisa’s mugs is in there I will always choose it in preference to anything else.

So long live outmoded practices, inefficiency and perhaps even the occasional imperfection. And long live the beautiful, the original, the wonderful stupidity of people who make things by hand.

Subscribe to my newsletter