Yesterday, I was having tea with my friend Tanya, an artist, photographer, fashion designer and all around creative person who moved to my neighborhood not long after I did. She spoke so eloquently about why she no longer sells her work, neither her photographs nor her clothing line. Tanya feels that the act of selling and creating a market for craft necessarily devalues it. When she was designing children’s clothes, she says she made sure that every step of the process—from her use of organic materials to the fair wages she paid to her pattern makers and sewers—had integrity. But, at the same time, she wanted a product that was affordable, not cheap, but accessible by most people. The only way for her to do this was basically to not pay herself for her time. How “fair” is that?

Tanya mentioned a book she’s reading called The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde. Tanya says that in the book the author argues that while selling art may devalue it, giving it away actually adds to its value. It’s a theme that resonates with me. I’m going to check the book out and report back with a review.

Talk of making a living seems to be percolating through many of the conversations I’m having and observing lately among my creative friends. Annie Modesitt has put out a call to arms for needlework designers to organize in order to demand fairer wages and terms (She argues that designers today make the same as she did in 1986, which, adjusted for inflation is really a huge pay cut); Crochet designer Kim Guzman has written an eloquent post on her blog this week about what she really makes in a year, and the impact of copyright infringement on her small business.

When I look at the designers like Annie and Cat Bordhi, Lucy Neatby—those who truly make a living doing what they do, one thing is clear: they’re running a business as much as they are being creative. They are self-publishers, public speakers, teachers, DVD producers and more. They run their own schedules, do billing, ship boxes of books, do graphic design and layout, they can make anything happen. These women are inspiring, but their work is daunting and more than a full time job. Although I don’t mind running a business, not everyone who designs wants to do that. Is that the only way to make a living as a designer?

Several solutions are being hatched, taking advantage of the Internet to allow designers to more easily connect directly to crocheters and knitters. For instance, Ravelry is developing a new pattern store, which will allow designers to offer direct sales off the site. Interweave is now selling “out of print” patterns on their web site, and giving designers a piece of the pie. Of course, that means we have to be even more careful when negotiating magazine rights to make sure that we take future online use of our work into consideration. (Now I’m starting to sound like a striking screen writer!)

I’m hopeful that all this talk will lead to more awareness among designers about how to get a fair shake and more awareness from the public about the state of the industry. But I wonder if publishers will try and hide behind the umbrella of economic downturn in order to avoid dealing with the issue.

A Fair Trade