Once again, this article is rant style. And once again I will start with I believe that all people have a right to do with their resources as they choose. Whether its time, money, products, or creative energy we can all choose if we want to sit still, donate it, sell it, or even destroy it. The issue of the day comes with donating face masks and ear savers.
I recently started selling ear savers to bridge this pay gap I have due to Covid-19. I made one for myself and after feeling the tremendous difference it makes, I decided to start producing them for others. These work by wrapping around your neck and attaching the bands from the mask to the nubs on the ear saver instead of your ears. I’ve been able to sell close to around what I can produce and still make a decent profit. Although I like what I am doing and the response has been mostly positive I’ve actually had someone comment that I should be giving them all away. Here’s my thoughts on this:
Time, material, and creative energy have value. If I’m using my time, my material, and my creative energy for the benefit of others I should receive some benefit for it. My time has many demands. I have 4 kids, this blog, multiple jobs (at times), and my landlord responsibilities. I also have an Animal Crossing island that needs attention, lol. My time is not free nor in endless supply. My material costs money. $23 per roll of PETG plastic. My machine cost money, $615 after taxes. It also takes skilled creative energy to put everything together and optimize printing. So production has a cost and although a machine is doing the work it is still labor intensive and requires a lot of attention.
The majority of people who need a mask or ear saver would gladly pay for them. If you are working 8 – 12 hour shifts wearing a mask and your ears hurt, $1 to $2 for an ear saver that can last weeks is well worth the expense. Even if I was still making minimum wage I would buy one of these in a heartbeat.
More masks and ear savers will be produced if there is profit to be made. If people are all striving to earn some sort of profit, then more people will enter the market and more ear savers will be made. No one will go out and buy a $600 printer to make masks to give away for free, but if there is a profit to be made, that changes the amount of upfront money people are willing to invest and more people will enter the market.
For example, with my current printer I can print 50 ear savers per day. At a profit of 50 cents per ear saver, I can earn $25 per day or $750 per month, this is of course if I make sure to remove the prints and start a new print about every 70 minutes, all day long, every day and have no errors. IF I can continue to make this profit, then after about a month I can buy another printer, and double my production. If I were just giving every ear saver away I would always have a max capacity of 50 per day. With no profits I could not re-invest and expand. Selling them and earning 50 cents each, I can buy 1 printer at the end of month 1 and 2 more at the end of month 2. Now I can make 200 per day. That’s 73,000 ear savers per year, from my living room!
At this point I could give away 25% what was originally my entire production of 50 units per day, AND sell 150, making a profit of $75 per day or $2,250 per month. The amount of labor needed to tend 1 machine is not much different than that of 4, but because I was making a profit I could afford to reinvest my money and eventually donate a greater amount. (Note: I currently have one machine, I just started making these a little over 2 weeks ago and I am in negotiations with Mrs. C. for living room real estate for a 2nd printer.)
Now if these things are being given away, people who don’t really need them will pick them up. The community college near me was giving away 4 per vehicle recently and gave away over 1,000 ear savers. This is not the most efficient distribution method. Many people will pick these up who only wear a mask an hour or two a week, while the people who really need them are wearing a mask 40 to 100 hours a week (and can’t stop by the college in the middle of the day to pick them up.). Those people who rarely wear a mask but will pick them up because they are free would not spend $1 to $2 each on them. The people who need them would. The ear savers being sold on the open market ensures the ear savers go to the people who actually need them.
There will be people who need masks and ear savers that cost MAY be a barrier for. It’s totally OK to donate masks and ear savers to these people. It’s also totally OK to donate them to hospitals and other front line establishments. (It’s also OK to not make masks or ear savers, or to make them and burn them because its your stuff, do what you want!)
I strongly believe that the hospital and other employers should be buying these masks and ear savers for their employees from the people making them. Or government funds earmarked for Covid-19 response should be used to purchase these masks and ear savers. Or the people actually wearing them at their jobs would pay for them. This would both reward people for their efforts and encourage more production.
I’m listening to a Pechakucha presentation and the presenter just mentioned some advice he had received in college “Never do anything for free, make sure you are being paid for your work!” I see several very talented seamstresses putting these amazing masks together that they are donating, when the organisations that they are donating to by and large have funding that they should be using to purchase the masks, or at the very least donate back to them for materials, equipment, etc. Buying masks and ear savers should be a number 1 priority for any business or organization that is open right now to protect their employees. These talented people making masks are often spending several hours a day every day to make them. You can do something that is good for society AND make money at the same time. Those ideas are not mutually exclusive, in fact you making money off your masks is better than not making money, since it will lead to more production and will also allow you to buy more goods and services with your earnings.
I was originally tempted to donate a bunch of these to my local hospital, however they charged me $2,500 for 4 stitches and an X-ray, so I’m pretty sure me donating $100 worth of product to them isn’t going to tip the scales. If they really wanted this product they have the funds to buy it. I did donate some to other front line workers who are in my circle.
Once again, I want to be clear. I am NOT attacking people who are making masks and ear savers and giving them away for free. There is nothing wrong with doing so, I’m giving some away as well. My commentary is that donating 100% of production is not the best economic use of their time and is not the best way to maximize total production or to maximize utility of these masks and ear savers. When something is in high demand the economic response should not be that the good or service should be free.
On another note, if you are wearing masks to keep yourself and others from catching/transmitting Covid-19 and find masks to be uncomfortable after wearing for some time, please order a set of ear savers today! I’m getting the kids involved in production and fulfillment and teaching them the ins and outs of e-commerce. I’ve always struggled with the idea of coming up with a perfect side hustle, but so far this one is working very well for me. My ear savers are made of PTEG plastic instead of PLA, making them more flexible than the average ear savers out there.
Ok, that’s it for my rant and my shameless plug! What are your thoughts?