I’ve been involved in the fashion industry all my life. My father had his own label and I would spend hours around him while he designed and negotiated with his supply line, and then as a boutique owner within the middle market designer sector. The subject of pricing has always been a common talking point both within the industry and between clients, especially over the last few years.
Since the recession hit in 2008, shopping habits have changed and the surge in shopping in budget stores where dresses can cost £10, and winter coats as little as £20, has been well documented. I remember 5 or 6 years ago when people never admitted to shopping in bargain stores and now, the tables have fully turned and it can feel like a bragging ritual to tell how little was spent on any item.
I believe saving money is great, but I cannot help but feel a little exasperated when in a frenzied desire for ever cheaper and faster fashion, the same people then get openly repulsed and angered by the sub-standard conditions in the very factories who supply some of these budget stores.
“I wonder if in our desire to have more, when it comes to our ethics, is it a case of out of sight, out of mind?”
When videos are shared like wildfire of angora rabbits being plucked raw and abused for their fur, or when burned down factories crammed with row upon row of sewing machines and racking are shown with fire escapes blocked, why do they not stop and consider for a moment that it’s that same desire for cheap yet ‘luxury’ fabrics that forces the supply chain over time to squeeze margins so hard they must find a way to source the same fabrics and teams of seamstresses at less and less cost – some then resorting to using factories that don’t have the same procedures and safety standards that our comfortable first-world way of life feels comfortable with.
For example, when harvested properly, angora is shed naturally over the course of four months and is then collected, or in some cases, sheared – as you can imagine, this takes time and ultimately money – neither of which is conducive to producing a £25 jumper and therefore the factories providing the more humanely harvested fibres or seamstress teams who can take more time and care in the production process of their garments charge a price that reflects their methods and therefore supplies the higher end of the fashion market.
When I select ranges from these middle market designers, at first it surprised me to learn that every sample garment on their rails could cost thousands
of pounds. When you stop and think about all the processes each garment goes through before it hits the shops – the designer who first puts their imagination on the page, the selection of fabrics & colours that make it come to life, the dressmaker who puts the initial sample together, the fit model they employ to ensure the proportions of the garment are correct, the photo shoot it goes on with the relevant hair and make up teams, photographers and stylists, through to the marketing team who ensure the brand is positioned in the places that make us want it more – all these elements and more contribute to the prices we pay on the shop floor. I’m not talking about high end here – I’m thinking brands where jeans come in at £75, jumpers around £60 and coats up to £200. When you consider all this, how then can stores charge £2 for a tee shirt?
Now I am not suggesting that shopping in bargain stores is completely wrong – what I am suggesting is there could be an imbalance between our lust for material things and the price we can afford to pay. I feel like we need to readdress the balance between what is realistic and what is unethical.
I was raised with a shopping ethic of less is more. I would much rather have less clothing in my wardrobe of a higher quality where the supply chain is transparent and will last a longer time, than a whole load of disposable items that will only last a few months that may be from more questionable sources.