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Fast Fashion Has Skewed Our Perception of Value and Cost.

factory workers

Fast fashion has been dominating the way we shop since the turn of the millennium and with the rise of shops like Primark, shopping is quick, easy and throwaway. Do we truly understand the cost of clothes that are made for very little, by workers who are taken advantage of? Especially as tonnes of clothing every year goes to landfill, which can take up to five years to degrade (if it was a pair of jeans, for example).

I’m a maker of handmade toys and tie-dye baby clothes, I’ve heard remarks of “How much?!” or “I could make that for less” and even “I wouldn’t pay that” when at a handmade gift fair or independent makers market as a seller, sometimes overheard whispers when someone is at my stall, or comments from well meaning family members concerned that my products won’t sell for the (very fair) price I’ve set for my handmade items. My question is, has the fast fashion industry skewed our perception of cost and value?

What we see vs. what is happening.

Shops like Primark, H&M, Monki, Zara owned by big corporations and supermarket clothes ranges, offer affordable, stylish and easy to order clothing. As a white woman in her late twenties who has always loved shopping and is on an average income, I have and do shop at these companies: this article is not about judgement. From my own experience, I have learnt to shop from charity shops, eBay, etc. and only buy new essentials that I’d rather not buy second hand, like towels or underwear.

Although I could tell you all day about how and why to shop second hand, we’re not here for that. Have you ever had a kindly relative knit you a cardigan or make a soft toy for you as a child? This was my experience growing up with lots of women in our family and lots of useful craft skills, although I never saw the amount of work undertaken to produce that item. it appeared as if by magic, my nan casting a spell with her knitting needles to create this piece of twisted and knotted wool that has somehow made something special to keep me warm and safe.

We walk into shops and are surrounded by a huge selection of clothes, in different colours, and styles modelled by perfect looking humans. Idealism leads us to believe that if we buy these very affordable clothing in bulk we can transform our ordinary selves into our idols. What we don’t see behind the magician’s curtain is the huge, poorly built factories, where garment workers for Primark are forced to work eighty hour weeks for way below minimum wage. This may not be news to you and you may walk out of the high street shop with a big bag of “bargains” and have a slight edge of guilt, but has this changed our perception of the value and cost of a piece of clothing?

The true value and cost of an item. Handmade item vs. cheap shop bought.
As a small business owner and maker, I can tell you that what I make will last longer than what you buy from the high street and my fellow makers would agree with their products too. When I make an item to sell, hours of testing, research and originality go into that piece.

Here’s a breakdown of how much time and money goes into making a product;
I’m soon to launch a new product, a soft toy whale. Behind each hand made product comes hours of research, product development, testing, marketing and that’s mostly unpaid when you’re working for yourself. The only comparison I can make is if you imagine you’re trying to create a new recipe of cake, Imagine how many hours of testing recipes would it take you to create that perfect cake? You might strike it lucky and hit success after two attempts, but it could also take ten attempts. This all takes time, which if you were hired to make this new recipe, you’d be paid for, there's then the cost of equipment and materials which adds up.

Say it takes four weeks to launch a new product, and I’m paying myself an hourly rate of £10 (which is very low considering work experience and education) and I make 20 whales to sell, 1 for CE marking and 10 for development. Here’s how it works out:

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The total figure amount is based on how much the initial costs of launching a brand new product costs, and these figures will vary from designer to designer. To create a soft toy that is original and will be a staple product for future use, I will probably make and sell this product numerous times, and this is a factor when creating something new, but this is not a guarantee.

80 hours is needed to create a brand new product from drawing up the sewing pattern with paper, pencil and my trusty compass. You can of course buy a sewing pattern to create products to make, but not always to sell, the fact that your product is unique is the unique selling point.

Any small business maker will tell you, there’s nights and weekends where you will dedicate to your small business and work unpaid. It takes a lot of sacrifice, funds, time and dedication to build a business and what you don’t see at the market stalls is exactly that. We love what we do, and understand what it takes to create a handmade business, it is very rewarding and when you see that post on instagram saying we do a jig every time we get a sale, it’s the honest truth.

Every sale is a reaffirmation that all that time and work has paid off and someone believes in you and your business. I hope this article has convinced you to vote with your money, buy just one product from an independent maker and you may not see it, but just know that you’ve put a huge smile on their face and bought a quality product with bounds of originality.

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Thank you to The Everyday Magazine for posting the original article and supporting artists like myself.


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