I just ran across an interesting post on the Etsy blog. Karen Brown took a look at what it takes to source and produce a coat locally, and ended up tracking down all the materials and people she would need to do so. Her result: A gorgeous $900 alpaca coat.
One huge thing that strikes me about this article: much as we don’t have to pay the full price of gas, we also rarely pay the full price of the clothing we wear. This is something that’s definitely been on my mind as I learn more about the process and economics of clothing production.
Karen Brown tells us that her coat cost her $900 to produce, but it’s a quality coat that will last her for years. Think about how many coats you’ve bought over the last few years. I’m a total coat addict, and I’m sure if I’d bought my coats retail rather than making them (or if I calculated my labor in making them), I’d have paid plenty more than $900.
We’re a culture of variety and choice. We think it’s our Right to have cheap, plentiful clothing.
(As an aside, we seem to have a lot of deleterious Rights as Americans. Besides having the Right to cheap gas and clothes, we also have a Right to free shipping [ask my boss about that one some time] and free parking.)
We have a Right to own 10 pairs of $30-50 jeans from big box stores, rather than buying a single pair of jeans at a fair price from a local manufacturer paying American wages to American workers. We have a Right to update our wardrobes with the seasons, and to match our shoes to our purses.
But wouldn’t all walk around naked if we had to pay the actual price of our garments? Who could afford to dress themselves?
A hundred years ago, people paid what the garment was worth. They didn’t walk around naked, they simply owned less. They bought a nice coat, or received a hand-me-down one from a relative, and that was that. If it got a hole in the pocket, they fixed it. If they lost or gained weight, they took it to a tailor, because it was worth too much to simply throw out when the fashion magazines said it was no longer in style.
Most people will say that they think shopping local is a good idea, that they’re upset to see their local neighborhood businesses dying. But still they’ll buy their books on Amazon to save a few dollars, rather than dropping by the local bookstore.
I grew up poor, so I know what it’s like to be constantly comparing prices and trying to make the money last, but I want to challenge myself to look at thriftiness differently. It shouldn’t be about getting the cheapest deal, it should be about making the wisest decision about where I spend my money. One good pair of shoes that goes with anything, or 6 cheap pairs of shoes that go with one outfit each? A handful of quality tops that I can style differently and wear for a month, or a drawer stuffed with mass-produced crap with popped seams and poor fit?
What are clothes really worth, anyway?
(For an interesting take on American-made vs. outsourced clothing manufacturing, check out this post from Nona Varnado.)