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What You See is Not What You Get

A few weeks ago, I was browsing a downtown boutique at lunchtime, when I saw it.

There, on a low table by the door – tucked into a cluttered display – was my next purchase: a perfectly imperfect hand-thrown mug. It was beautiful and one of a kind. The irregular shape and uneven glaze gave it just the character and charm I love in a funky coffee mug.

And to top it all off, this mug was the work of a local artist.

It was a find, for sure.

Or at least that’s what I thought until I got back to the office and hand washed it in the kitchen sink. I peeled the price tag off the bottom of mug, expecting to see the artist’s initials carved in the rough surface. What I found instead was a printed brand logo above a “made in” location.

And to top it all off, this location was decidedly nonlocal.

My one-of-a-kind mug was a scam. Just another mass-produced piece designed to look like an original.

Hey, I get it. Manufacturers are shrewd about consumer preferences. They know that people care more these days about where and how products are made. And many of us want to support our local artists and communities. It’s easy to see why a company would mass produce goods to look unique and handmade.

How can we avoid being deceived? Here’s what I learned about being a savvy shopper:
1. Shop at art galleries, arts and crafts fairs, and farmers markets – where you can meet the artists themselves.
2. Buy online at reputable websites for local shops, galleries, and artists.
3. Ask questions about the origin of a piece, so you know exactly what you’re getting before you buy.

In case you’re wondering, I do use the mug once in a while. Though not handmade, it’s still totally functional.

But I swear my coffee just doesn’t taste the same.



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