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The price of fashion March 22, 2011

Filed under: Fashion,Shopping — lauravw @ 8:44 pm

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…

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2 Responses to “The price of fashion”

  1. PinkCat Says:

    That sounds like a really interesting article. The mark ups and the way people are treated in factories are treated so badly.

    I looked up the list and pleased to see some of my favourite stores on it. Perhaps this is an excuse to go shopping in Boden more? x

  2. Rachel Smith Says:

    The thing is, though, when you go into Forever 21 (or H&M or wherever) the prices are so cheap that the suffering involved is obvious. But when you go into J. Crew (Banana Republic, Nordstrom, etc.), it doesn’t seem as obvious, but the likelihood is that the cost paid for labor was probably roughly equal, and certainly not much more if any at all. Forever 21 may pay $2.50 (and I’m not exaggerating here) for a pair of jeans from a factory, but J. Crew is still probably paying less than $4, and as low as they can get it.

    It’s sad, but it isn’t just the el cheapo clothing that’s getting the sweatshop treatment. I really like Alicia Silverstone’s strategy, which is to not buy excessively, and to buy as much used as possible, then ethically made, then finally buy ‘regular’ only what you can’t get the other ways.

    And regarding the American Apparel conundrum – I’ve posted this on Jezebel a couple times, but as non-PC as it is to rank suffering, I think that the suffering of sweatshop workers is far greater and far more inescapable than the few, privileged (society-wise) women working for American Apparel. I’m absolutely not okay with their practices or ads, and I will continue to speak out against them, but the sad truth is that the latter group has more options and resources for help and to escape than the former.


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