It may sound a bit unusual to any non-crafters out there, but sometimes the "what kind of glue do you use?" question can be a tough one for makers to answer.
I'm part of many online crafting communities (weird brag, I know!) Every few weeks, a professional maker of one craft or another posts a vent/rant about a customer who messaged them to ask what kind of glue/fastener/finish they use.
This can be a taboo question for some makers. Sometimes the asker isn't sure why they receive a slightly resentful refusal (or even a telling off!) instead of a simple product recommendation.
I empathize with both parties. The customer has cleverly decided not to waste their time or money testing out a bunch of similar products. Why not ask someone who has already done the legwork? Seems logical. I've certainly wasted a ton of money over the years on bad supplies!
From the maker's perspective, I do understand wanting to be protective of designs, intellectual properties, and workflow, to a degree. You've worked hard for that knowledge. It has probably cost you quite a bit of time and money to learn; so why should you give it away for free? Your skills and knowledge are your bread and butter, after all. If everyone learns all the things that you know, they could... start doing what you do! They could rip you off! Compete with your business! Steal your designs! 💸
That's seems to be the subtext, anyway. I think the escalation into the fear/scarcity mindset is where everything starts to go downhill. It's pretty common, and pretty easily nipped in the bud if/when you can recognize it.
This article from the Guardian about the difference between "Ask" culture and "Guess" culture is amazing. Until I understood this, navigating the space between "well they can just say no, can't they?" and "how dare they even ask?" has been much easier.
If you are operating from scarcity, you're not seeing the asker as a potential client who considers you to be an approachable expert in your craft. You see them as a potential rival.
Once you see this person as a competitor, are you focused on keeping them as a client? If you're unkind in your response, that news certainly travels. (And also, we need less unkindness in the world, generally.)
And here's the vulnerable part... in order to not feel this way anymore, you have to ask yourself...
Why do I feel that my work is so valueless that any random internet stranger can do it?
It's not a fun question to consider. Unless you are so uniquely talented in the arts that your work is actually impossible to replicate, I have news for you. Yes. Someone could look at something you have made and copy it. It has happened to me, and it sucks, but the only surefire way to prevent it is to stop making things. 🤷♀️ (I'm not prepared to do that, are you?)
Anyone can make a merkin, pasties, a body-cage or a hair-flower. If they want, they can simply copy every last detail, skipping over the pesky design/testing phases entirely.
The project that took you a week to develop and think through can get knocked off in a day. As a small maker, you can definitely be undercut on price. There is always, always someone who will do it for less. Often, especially in burlesque, there is someone who will even do it for free/praise. (The historical phenomenon of women devaluing their own work and performing free labour is a huge factor in this.)
DIY-people are not your competition.
You lose actual nothing by sharing your knowledge. DIY-inclined clients use maker photos for inspiration to create amazing pieces for themselves. That's okay. You can't make pasties for everyone!
Most people just want to create a couple of items for themselves or their troupe, and learn a new craft in the process. They have other interests and careers. They want to save money, not spend it. And that's valid! Not everyone can afford a bespoke costume. And honestly, nor should everyone. What a boring, exclusionary industry we'd be in if everyone was hiring out all of their costuming work!
Also, most people, believe it or not, are not lining up to micro-focus on tiny details of handmade objects for long hours and to learn to market them to a very narrow niche market. It takes a special kind of weirdo to want to do this work. 😉
Even on the off-chance that the asker wants to make exactly what you make, and create a business out of it, no one can ever build exactly what you've built. The photocopy is always a little paler than the original.
Being copied is not likely enough for me to worry about. (I worry about a lot of things, so when there's a chance to skip worry by changing my perspective, I jump on it!)
People buy things from makers for a huge variety of reasons, but none of those reasons are "because they won't tell me what kind of glue they use", so I have to buy from them.
For the record, I use E6000 Fabri-Fuse almost exclusively*, and I love it so much that I carry it in the online shop! This way, I know I won't run out, and also if someone asks me what kind of glue I use, I don't have to send them all over town looking for it.
Lemons into lemonade! 🍋 And if product sales isn't your jam, it's remarkably easy to set up a Patreon to share your knowledge for a fee. Or teach a class instead, if that is your preferred method.
You could choose a couple of elements to be your trade secrets, and share the rest of your process freely, openly, and with curiosity and interest to see what the people will make.
Whatever your particular craft is, find others who are doing the same thing, and follow the heck out of them. Enjoy their art, use it to inspire you to make other cool stuff. See these people as your peers, not your competition. You have things in common already! Like and share their content, interact with them, and refer clients to them. You can't help everyone. If someone is asking for a project that isn't your cup of tea, refer them to someone who specializes in it. People want to be helped, and they remember when you help them.
This often requires a reframing of conscious thought, over and over. But I have found it to be the best solution for me; I prefer to find ways to not be upset by things I can't control. People will always ask for help, and if I can provide it, I will.
Becoming an expert in your field means people will ask questions. It is inevitable. Find a way to answer those questions that feels right for you, and doesn't leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Why get annoyed, if there is another option available?
And on the other side of things, if you want to ask a maker a question, remember that they are using their precious work time to assist you. Being genuinely appreciative, and paying them for their time when appropriate, makes a big difference.
Whew! Long blog post today! I hope you like it; tell me what YOU think! Continue the conversation below! ⬇️
*For some hard surfaces I might use an epoxy instead.