Ever have that feeling like your New Year’s resolution (oh, bathing the cat once a year, swearing off cupcakes, not pressing the snooze button for an hour) pales in comparison to others’ loftier goals? Chuck from DownToTheWireDesigns has an inspiring one to share with all of us. Think big, people!
The biggest challenge for me as a jeweler has nothing to do with metal, or stones, or using the tools of a metalsmith. Rather, it is reconciling my political beliefs with my chosen field. In some ways, jewelry is an unlikely profession for me—not just because (where I come from) the very idea of making jewelry as a career is simply unheard of, but also because my values rebel against the very thing that I do.
I am not a big consumer. In fact, I believe that our consumer-driven society is responsible for many of the world’s most pressing problems. Yet here I am making my living making jewelry. Handmade jewelry, true, and hopefully not anything that anyone would buy and then consider disposable, to be thrown out as soon as the next fad and fashion sweeps through, but still a luxury item—something that no one honestly needs. I am sometimes bothered by the fact that, to some extent, I need the very consumer society that I reject in order to do what I enjoy and pay my bills in the process. My political values being what they are, I sometimes feel that I should be doing something more meaningful with my life.
It is in this sense that jewelry chose me. I found jewelry entirely by accident—but it was a happy accident because I found out that I was pretty good at it. It is not a stretch to say that it is the thing I am best at doing. It is hardly a perfect match.
But what fun would the world be without fashion? Adornment has been with human beings for tens of thousands of years, with stone and shell beads among the earliest of found human artifacts and metallurgy—mostly for decorative purposes— one of humankind’s earliest technological advancements. I can hardly stop that tide on principle itself. Luckily I have found ways of using my jewelry skills for the greater good.
Several years ago I was approached by a non-profit, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), about transforming their logo into jewelry pieces that they could sell on their website as a fundraiser. I took on the task thinking that it would probably not amount to much. I designed the pieces for free and then sold them to the group at wholesale prices lower than they had been able to find elsewhere. They placed a small initial order and later requested a few additional pieces to send out to the press to promote their big upcoming week of awareness events. One morning I got a phone call—Dr. Phil had just featured one of the necklaces on his show! It was just a short one minute mention, but already their website was buzzing. They held off on placing an order because the show had not yet aired on the West coast and they had no idea how big the overall response might be. By the next morning they had orders for nearly 300 necklaces! When all was said and done, I had made over 600 of the necklaces to meet the demand created by Dr. Phil’s generosity. I made good money for my time and NEDA had made well over $10,000 to fund their programs. It is an ongoing relationship that provides me with work while supporting an organization whose work I strongly believe in. To date, my work has helped them raise many times that initial amount over a few short years.
Beyond that, I have long donated work to charity auctions—usually a necklace and earring set. It is not a lot, but every donation helps. Having attended a number of these auctions in person, it is fun to see the excitement of those attending as they place their bids and watch the items they are hoping to get. For the organizations putting on the auctions, every individual donation adds up big by the end of the night.
I was recently selling at a show when I was approached by a person soliciting auction donations for a group. In all honesty, I was a bit annoyed at first to be asked in this way. I was busy and this was the only show I do each year—I would have preferred to have been asked in a different setting. But then I considered his dilemma: needing to raise money for an important cause in a tough economy and competing with several other worthy groups in the same situation. I had once dated a woman who was in charge of coordinating one of these auctions for her Public Interest Law group. When they went out to solicit donations, they often found that another group had already canvassed the territory. Businesses were only willing or able to donate so much, so it was a difficult undertaking.
So I reconsidered my thinking, and with a slight change in perspective, I realized that I could easily donate something to one auction a week throughout the year with little hardship to myself. That is 52 donations a year of a necklace and earring set each. The materials cost is minimal, as my biggest expense is my labor—but even that is negligible in the bigger picture. If I invest 1.25 hours in each set (and it would probably be less than that if I include these pieces in my larger workload for the week, with the division of labor reducing the time needed for each piece) that is only 65 hours for the year. But beyond that, the monetary value of these donations is much more than I could ever realistically hope to give as a cash donation. If the average retail price of each donation were $72, the total value of the donations for the year would exceed $3700. While I realize that it is unlikely that each group would get the full $72 value for each set in the auction format, they will make some amount that will be helpful to them both in terms of the money that they raise, and in making their auction a fuller, more exciting event.
What I get out of this is the ability to make the world a slightly better place while doing something I love. I not only get to make jewelry—I get to make a difference.
So this is my New Year’s resolution: I will create pieces to donate to 52 auctions this year. I will donate my time and hopefully do a lot of good in the process. I would love to see other Etsy sellers challenge themselves in similar ways. If you cannot give once a week, how about once every two weeks or once a month? Individually we might not be able to make a big difference, but together the impact could be huge.
Are any of your New Year’s resolutions good deeds? Post in the comments below!