I am speaking with someone shortly for a story on use of the Amish name to sell products. I’ve found this a topic people react strongly to. Doing anything involving the Amish name to make a buck is obviously exploiting them, after all.
I’ve also found that with reflection some see it differently. There are a number of topics like this, where there is sort of a sanctioned response or accepted belief about the Amish–Amish dislike tourists or Amish avoid technology or Amish love farming being other examples–but which are usually more nuanced in reality.
Reviewing the subject this morning, I decided to take a look back at an old post on the subject, on using the words “Amish Country” on products.
I came across a comment from Kathy Kuderer, who owns a Wisconsin Amish products business, from a few months ago. I thought it would be worth reprinting here. Do you agree with Kathy’s conclusions?
I am replying to all of the above comments about the non Amish labeling products or businesses as Amish or Amish Country. I own a small business in southwestern Wisconsin ”Down A Country Road Amish Gifts and Tours” and although I am not Amish, yes, I do use the name Amish.
I grew up having Amish neighbors, became friends with many Amish families and in 1994 with their encouragement I began a small business to sell their hand crafted products. It was at a time when many Amish families in our community needed to sell their products but did not want to have everyday contact with the English tourists. So after having the Amish build the first of our now 6 gift shops I began the business with the above name.
It has become successful over the past 18 years and we have been able to sell thousands and thousands of dollars worth of products for our local Amish families. While I have certainly not gotten rich, I have enjoyed working with them and having a business right here at home. Now….if I had not used the name Amish in my business title I can all put promise you that I would have failed in the first year.
You might say “too bad…you should because you are exploiting the Amish” but that is certainly not the case. The ones who would have lost out the most are the 45 Amish families who had high hopes of selling their products and having a bit of extra income. I can absolutely promise you without a doubt that they have made a far greater income than I have. If they were feeling exploited I don’t really think that the families would have continued to sell their products here for the past 18 years, nor condone the simple one on one car tours I do to their farms.
The fact is the Amish want tourism as much as the rest of us and they know that it is their name that draws people in. So people can talk all they want about products being authentic and whether or not something is of better quality because it has the Amish name on it…but when it comes right down to it most Amish folks know that they are a tourism draw and they enjoy the profits from it.
(Kathy’s site is downacountryroad.com)
Amish Stuff photo: Rose White/flickr