Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Crafting and Fair Prices (again), part III

read the start of this series

I'm now going to wander a bit - but I'm still staying the same problem range. Because the question that will come up eventually when talking about crafts and pricing - especially textile crafts - is... why? Why is it so hard to ask realistic prices? Why does textile have to be so cheap?

The problem we have now is that what most potential customers deem a "fair price" is a price not too far from the cheap, store-bought, drenched-with-child-worker-sweat-and-blood stuff.
I recently saw a shop offering t-shirts for adults for 2.50 Euros apiece.
How can a t-shirt be sold for 2.50 Euros? How can that bring profit all along the chain - the shop, the transport, the spinning and knitting or weaving process, the dyeing, the planting and harvesting of the fibres? For 2.50 Euros end-user price, somebody has to lose somewhere out there. If not more somebodies.

And the end-user prices that are so low also affect the view of hand-crafted textiles. If next to no money is charged for something store-bought that is fashionable, new and about perfect, people ask themselves why they should fork out more money for a rustic handmade garment or textile? After all, Granny used to knit, and she just gave her stuff away like that. And you can buy an item like that in store Y for so much less money!

The thing that gets forgotten in this chain of thought? If you can buy a textile item or garment really cheap, somebody always loses. In one case, it's the crafter who loses money, time and self-esteem. In the other case, it's the farmers and workers in third-world countries. Farming cotton, the number one vegetable fibre today, is still mostly done with manual labor - and with a waste of resources that is nauseating. Oh, and let's throw in some bondage and slavery while we're at it, plus a lot of pesticides because cotton is really quite a finicky plant.

White Gold - the true cost of cotton from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

If you are a textile crafter and buy ultra-cheap clothing, you help making those farmers lose. And you lose as well - because every single garment sold because it's so cheap will make the great chain stores want to sell more garments at that cheap price (or even cheaper). And this reinforces the communal impression that textiles are not worth much - or anything.

If you are a textile crafter and buy textile things at a price under value, you undervalue your own line of work. Your own set of skills. Your own use of time.

It's your own choice whether to do that or not.

continue with part IV of this series

1 comment:

Machteld said...

Oh difficult subject... I'm always amazed between the way the economy in the Middle Ages seemed to be organized and way the economy is organized now. Back then, it seems that people didn't think in wages per hour, whereas today we do/ we have to... I have the impression that back then, production costs (“human hands” ) were very low, wheres today they're either cheap (made by Chinese hands, made by machines) or very expensive (made by European craftspeople). I can't really back this up with sources, but I'd love to read more about it.

I think that contemporary craftspeople in Europe simply have to diversify. Don't rely on selling your products alone, give workshops, lectures, sell kits, dvds, do research, … I think that's the only way to make a decent living. And I totally agree with you: don't even try to compete with cheap products!!