In Saturday’s Times, there was an article by Hilary Rose on the price limits she sets herself when buying new clothes:
“Obviously we all earn different amounts and place different emphases on how much our clothes should cost, but on my salary (rubbish), with my fondness for clothes (big), and living the life I do (corporate), these are my figures. I’m not saying this is what you have to spend, it’s the top end of what I’ll spend…
“So shoe prices can start with a three or a four, or even, if my life will be incomplete without them, a low five, but £600 or anything close is too much, unless they’re boots in which case anything up to £850 is bearable. A skirt or trousers can never be more than £250, or at the absolute outside £300. A cashmere sweater can be up to £250, coats up to £800 and dresses no more than £400.”
My budget is very different to Hilary’s (I tend to pay around 10-20% of these prices!) but the principles are similar for me, even when the numbers are scaled back so far. What she doesn’t mention in the article is a minimum price for clothing: I will not buy any item that is being sold so cheaply that I have reason to supect the person who made it must have been unfairly paid. For this reason I avoid items with lots of sequins on – I know from experience how long it takes to sew embellishments on to a garment.
My father used to work in fashion, and from that I learned that retail shops mark up garments by around 50-60%. So if they buy a dress for £30, they will sell it for £60. This means if you see a dress for £20, you know the shop will have paid around £10 for it, and that cost must include the cost of the materials and the transportation (often from somewhere far away), not to mention design and other branding costs.
But it’s not safe to assume that simply because a garment is expensive, those who worked on its construction have been fairly compensated. There are plenty of stories around about workers producing clothes for very expensive luxury brands in sweatshops. One website I’ve found helpful in this respect is the Ethical Trading Initiative:
“The Ethical Trading Initiative is a ground-breaking alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. We work in partnership to improve the working lives of people across the globe who make or grow consumer goods – everything from tea to T-shirts, from flowers to footballs.”
It’s interesting to see which companies make up the list of members – and also which names are missing from that list. Not that you can rely on it absolutely, of course – companies may have their own schemes to ensure their workers are cared for, and companies who are on the list could still make mistakes. And then there’s the American Apparel question: “The company doesn’t use sweatshops – but its owner allegedly sexually harasses his employees.” It’s a minefield…