cost and value

Recently I have been mulling over the vexed business of costs. However, I have long had strong views on the subject of value. I was prompted to post about this by an article in the Observer which has been niggling away in my mind since I read it. The author of the article is Lucy Siegle and the content relates to her book called To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

Siegle cites a lot of statistics which characterise the “average” consumer of fashion in the UK, and I can state right away that I am not the average. I have never been the average. Even as a teenager I never bought very many clothes, and nowadays I find that much of my wardrobe is not a lot younger than the students I teach! OK, I admit that’s a bit scary, but I have very particular likes and dislikes in clothes, and if I can’t get what I want then I just don’t buy anything at all. So I don’t feel particularly empathetic toward this average person who is buying 104 items a year. And just think of the person at the other end of the scale who is balancing out the likes of me…

But besides feeling as though I may come from a different planet, I also get really really angry about cheap clothing.

Everyone in the UK knows about that big name store that sells cardigans for £4 and t-shirts for even less. The minimum wage in this country is £5.93 per hour. What on earth makes us think that we should be able to buy any garment, with its raw material costs, the costs of processing those materials into yarn and then into cloth, the cost of making up that cloth into a design, the cost of transporting it from the Far East – because we know fine that’s where it was made – and the cost of retailing it on our high street, all for less than 45 minutes of our own labour?

It seems to me to show an extraordinarily distorted sense of the value of resources and the value of the labour of others relative to ourselves.

I could go on to talk about Slow Cloth, or the Arts and Crafts movement, or how our college textile courses are all going off track or any of a number of things. But I won’t do that. I will just show you how I have been (belatedly) finishing up the pink warp, with a little bit of turquoise slubby stuff and some more blocks:

cost and value” was posted by Cally on 16 May 2011 at

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16 Responses

  1. Laura
    | Reply

    I hear you about price/value. One of my bugabears is that NA hand weavers selling their textiles try to compete – in terms of price – with the cheap offshore textiles. If we don’t ‘value’ our labour, why should the customer?

  2. Julia
    | Reply

    Oh, feel free to go on (and on)! You’re speaking to a sympathetic audience. This is why education about what we do is so important. Although there will always be those who look for the cheapest alternative possible, there is a growing population who wants mindfully and thoughtfully constructed textiles.

  3. Meg in Nelson
    | Reply

    I remembering being told by the gallery shop manager of our National Museum my fine cashmere pieces had to be lowered to compete with NZ (at that time) factory made possum garments; one decision I never regret is not to have my stuff there.

    But an annual average of 104 items? Really? Boy, someone is doing A LOT of shopping on my behalf, too! 104!! I wonder if they count a pair of socks as 2!

    • Meg in Nelson
      | Reply

      I didn’t finish the Observer article, but I think many people start to not buy as much/often as one gets older. And I have to chime in about the cheap imports – I’m glad they are here now, because honestly, there are families in New Zealand just now who would truly suffer without them. I’ve been buying cheap children’s’ clothes from time to time and chucking them in charity bins for a while. I honestly shudder to think if everything were NZ-made and properly made, never mind handmade…

      • Cally
        | Reply

        This is why I make the comparison with the minimum wage though. I know those who have less income may struggle to make ends meet. But in my opinion that should be addressed as a problem of too little income rather than as a problem of too expensive goods – when those goods are so grossly undervalued that the poverty is simply being passed on to the people who produce them. What is happening here is that middle income people are buying the cheap goods, but in huge quantities, which is not doing anybody any good.

        • Meg in Nelson
          | Reply

          I agree with your point about the middle income folks. Our current right-wing government isn’t interested in low income, though; they’ve already raised the sales (VAT) tax and reduced the high income bracket’s tax rate… And assume more to come – tomorrow, in fact, is our annual Budget announcement.

  4. Sheila in Kelowna
    | Reply

    I’m with you that the problem is that minimum wages are too low, not the cost of the goods too high. And like you and the others here I can’t begin to imagine buying two articles of clothing a week! I still have clothing (that I actually wear) that is 20+ years old. I am boggled by the “carbon footprint” of all that wasteful production and shipping of goods all over the world. Thanks for pointing out this article.

  5. Evelyn
    | Reply

    Lots of shopping going on for me also and cannot imagine buying that many clothes. I prefer quality over quantity and don’t care to keep up with the current fashion trends. I wonder about the people making the cheap textiles – slave labour?

  6. neki rivera
    | Reply

    excellent post Cally!!

  7. Trapunto
    | Reply

    I clearly come from the same same different planet.

    It’s not just clothes. My feeling when I am forced to shop for something new is bewildered frustration. “Where are the expensive ones? Show me the expensive ones!” It isn’t expensive I want, just not objects that are already on their way to a landfill, and I am willing to pay what it costs to buy those things even if it means not buying other things I would like to have. When I do find more expensive goods for sale new, they are designed to APPEAR of better manufacture, without really being so. I don’t want to buy a pliers / electric fan / can opener / doormat / curtain rod / dustpan—or whatever–that I am clearly going to have to replace in a few years, when my grandmother’s have lasted her 60. Actually, she has some of *her* grandmother’s pans and housekeeping things, so more like 100 years sometimes. I take my chances in thrift shops a lot.

  8. Geodyne
    | Reply

    That’s two items of clothing, every single week. Boggling. I might buy a dozen items each year, counting underwear.

    I was going to ask where these people find the money from to do such a thing, but then I remembered that these are the cheap items of clothing. I’ve never set foot in a store of the chain you mention, because they sell nothing I’d want to wear. I tend to invest in quality items that last…but have you noticed, that’s getting harder these days?

    Like Trapunto, I go out of my way to buy old housewares too. One of my most treasured and daily-used possessions is a 90-year-old cast-iron frypan from a Welsh miner’s cottage.

  9. Cally
    | Reply

    My bugbear is expensive electrical goods that last for a week longer than the one year warranty – what is that about? (OK, I know what it’s about but it is still inexcusable.)

    We had a vacuum cleaner given to us as a wedding present and it lasted about ten years before the cost of parts and repairs began to exceed the cost of replacing it. We decided it had worked hard enough and went to buy a new one. In the box there was a little card to fill out to register for the warranty which asked you how long you expected the thing to last. There were boxes for “up to 1 year”, “1-2 years”, “3-5 years” and so on but I was left thinking, “where’s the box that says at least ten years like the last one and preferably twenty?”

    Sadly that was 12 years ago and we’ve had at least two more vacuum cleaners since then… However I am pleased to say that the dustpan (also a wedding present – we have some very practical friends!) is still going strong.

    • Geodyne
      | Reply

      I’m with you on that one! Planned obsolescence of any form frustrates me. I do, however, love the practicality of your friends!

      Our refrigerator died two weeks before I moved out here. I wasn’t upset by that, the fridge was Mr G’s, over 20 years old and had had a hard life. The motor outlasted most of the shelves. I’ve had to repurchase most of the large electricals here (there seemed no point in moving those) and I do wonder how long they’ll last.

      On the other hand, I’ve had to buy four espresso machines in the last 10 years. Not because of unreliability, but because I keep moving overseas and leaving them behind with partners!

    • Trapunto
      | Reply

      I too must congratulate you on your dustpan and dustpan-gifting friends! This post and the comments have been strangely comforting. I wonder if the odd polarity has something to do with thinking (or being conditioned to think) of shopping for a new ____ as a treat, or as a chore. There is always something I would rather be doing than shopping–unless it is for pottery and yarn and other handmade pretties!

  10. Trapunto
    | Reply

    and antiques.

  11. Trapunto
    | Reply

    and nursery trees. The ultimate long lasting purchase.

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