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Akamai Money | Business

Aspiring pro crafters should start small and build inventory


Question: How does one become a professional crafter, to pursue an outlet for creativity and lawfully supplement household income?

Answer: I just had a GE (general excise tax) license before, but what had happened was, my partner, since she wasn’t working, I guess I decided to incorporate (in 2007) so she could be part of the business … also the reason I did it was for tax purposes and security (legal liability) reasons.

I was actually a music major in college, and in my freshman year I was in the Royal Hawaiian Band. That was my full-time job for five years. (She plays the clarinet.) I went to the university but didn’t graduate because the schedule didn’t work out — I also played for the Honolulu Symphony part time, for at least 20 years, as an extra. I went to Northwestern (School of Music) to study with Robert Marcellus, and when I was up there I took art classes. That’s when I started making jewelry. When I came back I decided to do it full time and quit my band job (circa 1984).

Q: Given the state Department of Taxation’s crackdown on the "cashless economy" including craft fairs and farmers’ markets last year, it is obvious that one needs at least a GE license, but maybe not everybody needs to incorporate, is that right?

A: I would probably say "start small," just get a GE license and do the small school fairs. A lot of the (larger) fairs now are very expensive (to get into, as a vendor).

Start maybe at Christmastime. It’s quite competitive these days. I would say maybe gear up for Christmas. Build your inventory, and choose half a dozen fairs from October to December, and go from there. From the beginning of the year, the Handcrafters and Artisans Alliance has many events at Kapiolani Park.

Q: What about bookkeeping? Should you hire someone?

A: My mom helped me (in the early days) and now my sister’s doing the bookkeeping work for me.

Q: Since many, if not most, crafters are already employed at something else and do crafting on the side, does one need a business plan?

A: I had no business plan. Maybe I’m not a good example. (laughs) I followed the advice of my tax man.

I guess for what I was doing (making ceramic jewelry, at the time), I didn’t really have overhead. I worked out of my parents’ home, and my supplies, back then — a bag of clay was maybe $10 and you could stretch that bag of clay a long way for jewelry. My costs were very little. I bought a kiln for less than $400, maybe around $350, and I still have that kiln. (She now makes fused, dichroic glass jewelry.)

Q: Should a crafter set aside specific times to produce items, to increase their inventory?

A: I’ve heard this before, but for me, I’m not disciplined in that way at all, I’m such a bad example. (laughs) I have to be in the mood. If I have things to make (for an order) or if my inventory is very low, I know I need to really sit down and work, but my rule is, after dinner I don’t work. Some crafters work through the night, but my hours are … between 8 (a.m.) and 6 (p.m.).

Q: What type of handcrafted item has the largest profit margin?

A: I guess jewelry would have the biggest profit.

Q: How do you decide what to charge for your items?

A: I have no exact calculation. Of course, the time that goes into it — the materials I use and — "what can I sell it for at retail and what can I sell it for at wholesale?" Wholesale is half of retail.

Somebody said the cost (of your materials) times three. I kind of look at my piece and say, "I think I can sell it for this much." I’m sure people have other ways.

I know the ones who don’t do craft fairs for their livelihood probably don’t make enough, for their time. They’re giving it away. Given the time it takes to make a Hawaiian quilt (they should charge more), but maybe they enjoy doing that.

Q: Is it important to join a crafters’ organization right away?

A: The Handcrafters & Artisans Alliance is a pretty good organization. It’s $75 a year, but then you get to participate in all their events. You need to have enough inventory. If you’re just beginning, maybe you don’t want to pay $75 and not do a show.

I have to fill accounts, so I’m busy all year instead of just at Christmas … but the alliance has shows in the beginning of the year. January and February are good months because of a lot of tourists that come in from Canada, but in the summertime sales are tapering off and then it picks up during Christmas.

Interviewed by Erika Engle,

Editor’s note: "Akamai Money" seeks out local experts to answer questions about business in Hawaii. If you have an issue you’d like us to tackle, please e-mail it to and put "Akamai Money" in the subject line.

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