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What Are You Willing To Pay For?

On the morning of the 16th February, I was walking into university with my housemates, Gregor and Grace. We were having a discussion about how much objects are worth, and why people spend what they spend on those objects. I made a comment along the lines of "things being worth what people are willing to pay for them". A bright green Lamborghini happened to pass us, and we discussed why the driver may have bought it. Was it because they wanted a fast car? Probably not, seen as we all have to drive at the same speed anyway. Maybe it was because they wanted to show off? Maybe they just love the car? What caused that person to spend that amount of money on that Lamborghini, thus justifying its worth? It was an interesting discussion, and one that I wish I could remember a bit more of the outcome from.

We arrived at GSA, where we were going to have a presentation from the head of PDE (Product Design Engineering), Craig Whittet. The title of his presentation was "Skilled & Traditional Manufacturing - What Are You Willing To Pay?". Me and Gregor looked at each other. Was our morning conversation pure genius? Quite possibly.

Anyway. Craig's presentation. He flicked to the first slide, and it was an image from the American television show "Sex and the City". This seemed very unlike Craig. Initially, I had no idea where this presentation was going to go. However, he began to explain why we were all sat looking at a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker. One of the key elements of the show was fashion; in particular, shoes. Shoes by Spanish fashion designer Manolo Blahnik were featured a lot in Sex and the City, where they were worn regularly by Sarah Jessica Parker. Her character, Carrie, was known for her love of shoes, and in particular, Manolo Blahniks. As a result, the show popularised the Manolo Blahnik brand, and led to a huge demand for Manolo Blahnik shoes. Manolo Blahnik still remains a really popular brand, and the shoes are still seen as a symbol of luxury and sophistication. I think Craig's point was that, ultimately, people were only willing to pay a huge amount of money for Manolo Blahniks purely because they'd seen them on television. Does a celebrity wearing some shoes make them worth nearly a thousand pounds? For me personally, no. But, it's really not for me to say what things are worth to other people.

Whilst on the topic of shoes, Craig went on to talk about the brand "Trickers". Trickers are a shoe brand who are known for having great customer service. Their shoes are great quality and tend to last an extremely long time. But, if anything does happen to them, you can send them back to Trickers to be repaired. But, the thing that puts people off purchasing them is the high price. Craig's argument was that the high price is actually cheap when you spread it over how long the shoes last you; purchasing one pair of Trickers could actually be cheaper than purchasing the 6 or 7 pairs of cheaper shoes that you may require to last the same period of time. However, I think that the issue lies in the fact that some people are unable to afford the huge upfront cost for shoes like Trickers. It's all well and good saying that its cheaper over time to spend £500 upfront, but it may actually be more affordable for some people to spend 6 cheaper instalments, even if they total to more than £500.

Whilst Craig's talk gave many more examples of things that could be considered worth or not worth their price tag, I'm not going to write a blog post just recalling information from the presentation. The overarching theme of the presentation itself was about that value within skilled manufacturing, and so that's what I'll discuss further.

Craig discussed the economical issues surrounding skilled and traditional manufacturing, as apposed to mass-produced goods. His example was shoemakers, hence his discussion on Manolo Blahnik and Trickers. He mentioned that being a shoemaker is a very low-paid job, and that you could earn more by doing a job that requires a lot less skill, such as working in a call centre. However, I'd argue that I would happily work for less money doing something that I enjoy. Whether it should be the case that shoemakers are paid less than phone operators is a different question, but I definitely know which job I'd pick.

I would also argue that mass-produced goods don't always necessarily lack skilled and traditional manufacturing. Sure, the final process of the production of mass-made items is almost always completely automated these days and use less human input. But, the initial product has to be designed, crafted and developed in order to get to mass-production. Tools and machinery have to be created and processes have to be planned out. I would say that there is still a lot of skill that goes into the production of mass-produced goods.

I guess the main difference is where your money goes. Buying handcrafted goods is definitely going to put more money in the pocket of its crafters than buying something mass-produced. There's no money going to shareholders and investment groups. However, on the contrary, cash-flow into large companies is important for maintaining high rates of corporate tax income for governments (assuming those companies are paying their taxes), as well as allowing the economic ability to innovate and push the boundaries of design and engineering further. I think there are arguments either way here.

Linking back to the other theme of Craig's talk (what are things worth), I think that you have to decide as an individual whether handcrafted objects are worth their price. They are almost always more expensive than mass-produced goods. In an ideal world, we'd all be able to afford these more expensive items and give more money back to those individuals who produced them. However, we unfortunately don't. In a time of economic crisis and rising cost of living, most people can only afford cheaper goods.

Personally, I couldn't say whether I think mass-produced or handcrafted goods are better. I think it completely depends on the product and the situation, and what I feel is worth the money at that particular time. But, what I do know is, Sarah Jessica Parker using a Samsung isn't going to persuade me away from my iPhone.

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