I first fell in love with craftmanship when I was a child. I was raised by my grandfather and that was his work. He wasn’t an “artist” but the things he was able to build with his hands were absolutely incredible. I remember rushing back from school to hide in his workshop and use the leftovers of the wood as my toys. Many things we had in our house were handmade by him, including our house, our soap, flour, bread, wine and much more. It was more a necessity because we didn’t have the means to do otherwise.
Funny story: I just remember that I made my vanity bench with leftovers from the wood we used on the walls of my office/brushroom. The bench is far from perfect but has a practical hidden compartment inside for my hair tools and is nicely padded, very comfortable and wide enough for my daughter to sit next to me 😀 I also transformed the very basic changing table from Ikea into the most amazing, safe and useful changing table I have ever seen anywhere 😀 Anyway, it’s just things I love to do and I am happy when I diy (do it myself though…).
When I was 11, I moved to Switzerland to live with my parents, things changed, I blended in and I ended up doing business studies! I worked several years in this field but wasn’t enjoying it much. Instead, I had fun repairing my colleagues’ computers and fixing applications so I decided to do something about it. I started evening classes and later did certifications and diplomas on Information Technology. I worked in IT support first, then jumped to IT engineer and then to IT architect. It was interesting, paid well, and I was lucky to work for the biggest luxury groups in the world. Really fascinating… but still not quite what I wanted to do so I started this blog in parallel. Thanks to this blog I got close to Kumano, the manufactures told me to come see them and that’s when I knew this was exactly what I always wanted to do. I am completely utterly in love with craftsmanship, since always. Today I do my best to promote it and I wish we will never lose it.
I didn’t create my own brushes for the money or the fame, I do sincerely love craftsmanship and working in this field means the world to me. It requires a lot of patience, diplomacy and determination but I always insist on my motivations: artistry, innovation and quality, and I always will.
Some years ago, the audience for handmade make-up brushes was quite small and often already familiar with handmade make-up brushes. This audience has grown a lot in recent years. I am thrilled to see that customers appreciate craftsmanship and understand that art is very valuable. Maybe some of you may not know what materials, criteria or techniques make a brush more efficient, more durable or more expensive. It would take a book to explain everything in detail but today I’ll love to do a brief summary just on durability and costs and talk a bit about machine made vs handmade make-up brushes.
As a blogger highly devoted to make-up brushes, and now an OEM company working with several Japanese manufactures, I am honored to share my experience and thoughts as to what to expect, specially with handmade make-up brushes.
Machine made vs handmade
Machine made brushes, cost vs durability
The measurements done by machines are much more precise and regular, as a result, machine made brushes can be more consistent. The durability will depend on so many factors, for example the quality of all the materials used, the technique to attach the ferrules to the handles, how the bristles are shaped, what bristles are used, etc.
If the bristles are synthetic, those fibers will consistently have the same density, shape, weigth, etc. this facilitates a lot the bundling process and extends the durability. It should have a positive impact on the price because they can easily be mass produced. If the bristles used are natural, they are most of the time cut to shape so factories save a lot of effort and material in the process.
The paints used on the logo and the glues used in the ferrules can be much stronger as they don’t need to be sniffed, handled or touched by a person. Since the materials used are much more robust and less “noble”, stronger glues and paints also don’t need to respect the delicate natural materials used in handmade brushes.
The capacity of production by machines is exponentialy higher compared to handmade production, this already has a huge impact on the production costs, which should consequently be much lower.
With machine made brushes, I have seen everything when it comes to price tags, very cheap and very expensive ones. I own cheap machine made brushes which are solid and efficient and also very expensive ones that are a rip off, not the most expensive brushes are the most efficient or durable. We won’t often know where, how or under which conditions the brushes were made so it will be extremely difficult to estimate the cost of the production. Some high end make-up brands keep a high price tag just to match the brand’s name.
I am not an expert on machine made brushes so I can’t speak in detail about them. I often receive emails from renowned factories to make my brushes machine made with them and the production costs are nowhere near those of a handmade product. I am not speaking about the quality, I am just pointing out that the production costs are a world apart.
The durability of machine made brushes is very variable, it depends on the quality of the materials and how we take care of them. If the bristles are synthetic, they are likely to remain stable as they are very uniform. If the bristles are natural, it depends on the brand, I have seen so many different quality grades.
With regards to the handles, there is nothing that could go very wrong with a plastic or metal handle -again it depends on the quality- but they may not be that noble or sustainable. They are quite stable and durable though.
When it comes to the most common issues I have noticed with machine made brushes with natural bristles, is that they lose their original shape or they become more rough after wash or shed a lot. I also noticed in some brushes that the ferrules lost their original color or coating or occasionally that they got detached from the handles but there are very good quality ones in all the price ranges.
With machine made brushes, the issues are actually often less frequent thanks to the stronger materials used, with more stronger techniques used to attach the ferrules or with stronger glues.
The measurements for the parts are done by the artisans, with tools that may not have the same surgical precision as an industrial machine, this can be a a con and a pro. The machine consistency is lost, each single brush is in some way slightly different from each other, therefore unique.
The paints and glues used by the artisans are more gentle because they are handled by a person and need to respect the natural materials they come into contact with.
Since each natural bristle is different and in this case they are treated with utmost care (they rarely cut the bristles), it’s really difficult to bundle natural brushes, the artisans need to be highly skilled to work in a consistent way. They use some tools in the process but the process involves so many steps that every step affects how the brush will look at the end. Each brush is unique not only because each natural bristle is different but also because of the artisan who shaped it.
With handmade brushes, the production capacity is much lower and the final cost depends on how much work goes into each brush, into the handles, the quality of the bristles, the quality of the ferrule, the uniqueness of the design (how much work went into customizing the shape) and the skills of the artisans. A handmade brush can be as expensive as jewellery.
A high price tag does not mean that the durability is multiplied. In some ways, it’s a bit like a 200$ handbag versus a 2000$ handbag, the 2000$ handbag is probably not 10x more durable but it’s even likely to be more delicate and you’ll need to take more care of it. The expensive handbag may have more hours of work, more precious materials, more people involved in the making and a story behind it which impacts the final price. This applies to bags, shoes, suits, cars and so much more. But if we take good care of them, they will last a very long time.
There are too many variables to consider and I will talk about some of them in the technical deep dive below, this may give you a little idea on what the challenges are and what makes a handmade brush so much more expensive.
It’s nice when you see a high end brand sticking to handmade manufacturing for their make-up brushes and supporting the artisans. Although I understand that sometimes it’s not possible because the brands can’t affort it -or they don’t want to-, or sometimes handmade “mass production” cannot be considered as there are limits with regards to quantities that can be produced by hand on a schedule.
The issues I have seen with handmade brushes depend on the quality of the materials and the work, I am going to mention the possible issues and challenges in the technical deep dive below.
My mission as “Sonia G”
My mission is to create beautiful, unique and luxurious products that marry efficiency and craftsmanship. This is a formula that automatically generates high production costs. However, it has also an impact on the artisans’ mindset and their personal motivation, when they can work on something challenging and different, they truly enjoy it.
Many OEM companies work with one manufacture, I want to work with several of them. This has been one of my conditions since the very start of this adventure. My objective is to bring to you the best of all, create items that haven’t been made before. Today I already work with a few companies on projects to come, with small steps but so exciting for all of us.
So, when a make-up brush is made in Kumano, I have a good idea of know how much of the process it’s actually handmade but keep in mind that the Kumano manufactures work in different ways, with their own techniques and they are quite confidential about them, it is their intellectual property and what makes them stand out from each other.
When the brushes are made somewhere else, I don’t know how much of the process is handmade or made by machines. If a brush has the label “Made in France” (or Italy, or China., etc..), in most cases you don’t have information on how the brush is made, but maybe that’s ok because customers aren’t always interested either. If we don’t have information regarding the manufacturing, whether it’s handmade, machine made, etc, it’s pretty much impossible to estimate the production costs behind the items, we can probably only make estimations based on our personal expertise with make-up brushes.
Technical deep dive on handmade brushes
Each brand and each brush has its own challenges and associated costs. I can only speak about what I know but this is the opportunity for me to share more details about the manufacturing and the challenges of “Sonia G” brushes. I can’t reveal all the details as I have to protect my designs and ideas due to some companies apparently quite eager to copy them. Also, Kumano manufactures are competitors and they don’t want me to share who their providers are, or why and how they achieve such results.
Sonia G handmade brushes
If the shape, ferrule or handle already exist in the manufacture’s portfolio then it’s easier and more affordable. In my case there is nothing quite the same I always go for completely custom brushes. As a result, before the production starts there is quite a lot of work to do per prototype. The ferrules may not be available, some tools may need to be created in order to start a prototype. Once the prototype is done, we may need to tune it and this can actually represent a lot of time and effort. When I design a brush, I know exactly what I want to be able to achieve and won’t compromise until I reach exactly what I want. When it doesn’t work, the prototype goes in stand-by mode until further notice.
Sonia G brushes have different manufactures or providers involved in the background but I am not allowed to disclose details on this topic.
The heads are made with the finest quality goat bristles, they are extremely soft but also more delicate and less durable compared to synthetic or thicker/rougher natural bristles.
The handles are made in Japan with maple wood. Wood lives and moves with temperature, humidity, the making of wooden handles involves calculations and variables that metals or plastics don’t require.
Each handle is handmade, truly handmade. There is a lot of work per handle before we start to layer the lacquer on them. The lacquer process is not a one step process, it takes a unpredictable amount of weeks as it depends on the local weather conditions, temperature, humidity, availability of the artisans, availability of locations where they need to be painted, etc.
The handles I use have a “step” where it connects to the ferrule, they do not have crimps, this is very important because steps make a more beautiful brush, but they are more fragile and more likely to detach from the ferrule compared to the crimped ones. We should for example be careful when tapping the brushes directly against a hard surface to remove excess product, it’s much better to just blow the product off the head.
With the step handle, when the handle is pushed into the ferrule, it “clicks” gently as it is designed to fit nicely, but some “give” has to remain so that the wood can expand and not crack, then glue is necessary in order for the handles to not wiggle and come off.
The ferrules are usually made of aluminium or brass mix, the ones I use are entirely made of brass and are heavier, they look more luxurious but are extremely expensive.
The lacquer on the handles is done with special paints also used on luxurious cars, those paints are more precious and delicate versus regular paints and they don’t like to be cleaned with products that contain ethanol.
The paint used for the logo is hand mixed and the color is completely custom. It doesn’t look very sexy here but that’s the beauty of it.
The beauty of an object is a measure of the work that went into its creation. Adolf Loos
Also devotion and love.
What should drive you towards handmade brushes is the artistry behind them, a more personal, maybe more meaningful product reflecting the skills and hands of the artisans who worked on them.
The effort, time and money invested on the creation of a product is not proportional to its durability. A cheaper machine made product can be more robust and more durable. In both cases, the better we take care of them, the longer they last.
With regards to handmade brushes, due of all the variables and challenges I mentioned above, a small percentage of brushes may show issues after they leave the manufacture, even if they passed quality control. That small ratio of defective brushes are considered unavoidable by the manufacture because of the nature of a handmade product. As a result, it’s normal to expect great customer service with handmade products in case any issues arise.
I think there is a place for both machine and handmade brushes, one certainly does not exclude the other.
The main reason why I prefer to invest on a handmade product is because supporting the artisans helps them to continue their art or craft, generation after generation, even though it evolves over time. Technology makes it possible to replace skilled workers with machines, but it’s important to keep hand-making goods a financially feasible career choice for those who love it and for those of us who appreciate it.