Up until recently I was always one to boast about how cheap the items of clothing I had purchased were. I have also obviously gained a bit of a reputation for this as well, as my mum said to me the other day "you would be so proud of how much I paid for this piece of clothing". Meaning it was quite cheap. Previously, I could rarely justify spending over $100 for any one single item of clothing and now looking at clothes in many mainstream women's clothing shops it is in fact quite difficult to buy any single item for less than about $80. But what is the true value of the clothing that you wear?
About 12 years ago I worked in a ski clothing "factory". They imported clothing made in China that they designed here in Australia. The original cost of these items were markedly different to the direct manufacture cost, which I am not sure whether most people are keenly aware of. For example, a beanie that you would pay $20 for, costs the shop only $10 to purchase from the Australian designer. The Australian designer would have only actually paid the manufacturer about $2- 4 for the item, covering the costs of material and manufacture (including labour). To me I can't understand how this price covers a person's wage and all the other bits and pieces required to make the original item in another country.
With the real cost of clothing revealed, are we paying the right people the right amount of money? I believe not. The person that actually physically makes most of the clothing items available in Australian stores are likely to work in poor conditions, be that physical, financial or mental and generally under-valued for their input. Sure these people need employment and these industries employ them but I believe that we in developed nations can make significant contributions to improving their working conditions and the industry as a whole. We as the consumers are a very powerful group of people.
This issue is not a simple one by any stretch of the imagination, but another way to ensure that you are paying the right person for a quality product is to invest in local manufacturers or individuals, as I have discussed in previous posts. If you seek out the right types of clothing, you can ensure that the base materials are appropriately and ethically produced, the clothing is then manufactured in a manner that is environmentally and socially responsible, has a smaller environmental footprint, appropriately priced and has provided the right people with appropriate compensation for their work and goods. They can be produced anywhere in the world (carbon footprint aside) but the fundamentals of a fair price for an ethically and environmentally produced item of clothing is the outcome being sought.
I know this is a bit leap and I certainly haven't made the leap yet with any great success, but I am certainly investigating the alternate options to clothing available in traditional stores. As a result I have found some interesting local designers and manufacturers and fair trade clothing groups sourcing clothing products from developing nations, which provide their workers with ethical working conditions and appropriate compensation.