“fashion is so readily available at next to nothing prices we have forgotten the skill of garment making”
A couple of days ago in the beauticians I was getting my eyebrows tinted and as I was lying there eyes closed, my mind (as it often does in these situations) started to wander. I thought to myself, this is so worth £12. I started to imagine the carnage that would ensue if I tried to do this to myself and thought I am so very happy to pay this professional to do the job for me.
That then got me thinking about other situations where we are happy to part with our money if someone is providing us with a quality service or product that we couldn’t have without them. In a restaurant for example, many of us would pay £20 for a good meal without too much thought. But of course! It’s been made by a chef, a professional with far much more skill in the area than we have. Again with coffee, we could make coffee at home but we often prefer to buy one made by a barista. And we happily pay £3 odd for the privilege. I think homeware is similar too, a lot of people will spend money on investment pieces for their home that they know will last them years. Eve if it involves saying up people will wait and strive for quality.
And then I thought to myself, how sad that the same thought process isn’t applied to clothing. I was thinking aloud a bit later that day I ran this thought past my boyfriend. He suggested that quite possibly people will assume that clothing, like many mass produced products, is made mostly by machine. When clothing just appears in shops on the high street it can be hard to remember that these items have already been a on huge journey, often through many hands and countries in order to manufacture them.
I have a background in fashion manufacture, I was lucky that the University I studied fashion at (LJMU) puts a massive focus on students understanding of how clothing is made. They believed that unless you fully understand how clothes are put together you can’t really design them well. I totally agree. Before going to uni I really had no idea of the complexity of making clothes and my eyes were opened to a world of technical skill. I spent 3 years learning to pattern cut and sew. There are so many processes to learn in sewing, this alongside mastering a range of machinery and a need for careful attention to detail. Sometimes just one or two stitches out can affect how a garment hangs. I learnt a lot in my 3 years but still I wouldn’t have called it a professional standard of making. My sewing was not as neat as the clothes you find in stores. After graduating I worked for a clothing manufacturer, we made everything in their UK studio, which is very rare these days. Here I developed my manufacturing skills to a much higher, professional standard.
This is when I fully began to understand, in the factory every item had to be cut and printed on, and sewed and overlocked and hemmed and trimmed and pressed and packaged and posted. All these things add into what into that cost of manufacturing an item of clothing. They all require a human being to make it happen. If that wasn’t enough before any of this happens someone has to weave the fabric and before that someone had to grow the cotton, pick it and spin it into yarn. There are so many unseen procedures that go into making our clothes and they all require a level of skill.
When we take all of this into consideration and really break down all the various stages of production it begs the question, how can fashion retailers pay everyone in the supply chains fairly and still charge £5 or £10 for a top? Especially when we know many of these companies make millions of pound of profit every year, something doesn’t quite add up. They will tell you it is their business model that allows for this. But the truth is that almost all manufacturing is outsourced to countries where the manufacturing is the cheapest in the world. It is made in countries where workers do not have the same rights as they do here and are vulnerable to exploitation. Bangladesh’s main export is clothing made for the western market, but the average garment workers there earns roughly $3 a day. I read the other day that minimum wage for workers in Bangladesh is only 60% of the cost of living in a slum. Think about that, 60% of living in a SLUM. Retailers are fully aware of this but continuously put their own profit margins above workers rights. From spending years learning to make clothes I believe it is a valuable skill that should be respected, it is a skill worth more than minimum wage, whichever country you are living in. If a top costs less than £25, then honestly I would question the circumstance it has been made in. Be warned though, there are companies who charge far more than this and still exploit their workers. Expensive clothes doesn’t always mean fairer production.
It is not a basic human right to have a continuous supply of cheap, disposable, fast fashion. Until the 50’s we made a lot of our clothes. In those days people had a better understanding of the skill of clothing manufacture because they had to do it themselves. Due to this, there was a completely different attitude towards fashion. People knew the value of their clothes, they had a select amount which was made to last and it would be treasured. Historically, if and when people bought clothing it would be made to measure and made by a skilled seamstress. Now that fashion is so readily available at next to nothing prices we have forgotten the skill of garment making. I think this is why we are so unwilling to pay a fair price. We have forgotten about the people behind our clothes.