This series of blog posts is not intended to make anyone feel bad or shame people on their purchasing habits. It is intended to make you think. And if by making you think I can change your views just a little bit on what you purchase than it is totally worth my time in writing these.
I want to talk about why I do things the way I do, where I source my fabrics from, who manufactures Thomas Pie clothing and to make you aware of how many people are supported when you shop with us. Because the reach is far. It is no longer one Mum at home behind a sewing machine. We have made over 2000 items of clothing in the last 9 months and I couldn't do that solo. In the next post, I am going to talk about what the GOTS certification means for you and why I use only organic fabrics. You will also get to read a little more about the amazing family run business we get our fabrics from.
I have felt the need for a while now to give a bit of a background and insight into Thomas Pie and our processes. There are a few reasons why I feel the need and one of them is definitely because of some feedback I have had about our pricing. I hope that I can give you a little insight into why a tee shirt purchased from us costs $46 not $4.
When I started doing my wine science degree in 2009, the big thing in the industry then was Sustainable Winegrowing. SWNZ was set up to make growers and producers more accountable and more aware of their practices. It was designed to make people stop and think about what they were doing and why instead of just doing something the way it has always been done. Their goal then was to have 98% of the winegrowers and producers in New Zealand signed up to their program of accountability and they succeeded in that goal. You can now trace every single thing used in the manufacture of a bottle of wine right back to the row in the block where the grapes were grown. I think there is a need for a similar program in the fashion industry.
My background in the wine industry has weirdly helped me in this journey with Thomas Pie. From day one I was aware of what I was buying and did my best to source organic fabrics where possible. While I was making my products from home I never thought much about the tags ‘’ethically produced” or “sustainable”. Once I started outsourcing the manufacture of the garments that did become something I was thinking about.
We get applauded for making conscious decisions about our purchases when shouldn’t buying free range/organic/sustainable/ethically produced items be the norm? Shouldn’t caring about the environment in which a product is made be so normal in fact that those tags become redundant?
I am far from perfect with my purchases but there has been a definite shift in the last 2 years for me with how I FEEL about buying something. Buying the $4 tee just no longer sits well with me. Because I know how long it takes just to sew the thing up so I can see that there is something very wrong with the price tag attached to it. If you haven’t already watched it, I highly recommend taking some time out and sitting down to watch The True Cost documentary on Netflix.
One thing that really stuck with me from that documentary was how we have been trained as consumers to think that more stuff = wealthy. That the more we buy the more money we have. If we can go out every Thursday and buy a new outfit to go out in on the Friday, we must be rich. But are we? Fast fashion, as it is called, has a lot to answer for.
I personally think that we all want the same standard of living and opportunities for the people who make our jeans as we do for the ones who teach our children. No human life is of more value than another. But, I am not naive enough to believe that things are going to change quickly. There is a definite place in the market for cheaper clothing and as much as it pains me to say it, the workers in the underdeveloped countries must start somewhere. When you are at the very bottom, there is only one way to go and that is up. But I do think that by making some small changes the ripple effect of those will be far reaching.
We are bombarded with information about how appalling the conditions are in which some of the products we purchase are made and yet because we haven’t seen it first hand, we turn a blind eye. We think it doesn’t directly affect us because it is not in our own backyard, but it does. You save money on that $4 tee shirt because someone else is missing out. Someone else is not making enough money to feed their family and they are working in conditions no human should have to endure. It goes right back to the way the cotton is farmed, not just the factory in which the clothing is made.
The pricing we have become accustomed too – whether for food, clothing, other goods or technology – is based on finding the cheapest manufacturing on the planet. This usually means finding willing manufacturers in underdeveloped countries and taking advantage of the impoverished. At the very start of the supply chain these companies will pay the workers as little as possible, not maintain facilities, nor offer reasonable work hours and this is all in the interest of saving money so they win the contract against the others competing for it.
All of this is necessary to bring us “affordable” products. If you were to force these businesses to account for real wages (or a living wage as we call it in NZ), responsible practices and a respect for the environment, things would look very different.
We have become accustomed to pricing structures that are, quite simply, lies. Large chain stores work their pricing structures to allow for items seemingly always being on sale. We think we are getting a bargain when something is 60% off when in fact we are not. You only have to look at the annual profit of some of these chain stores to see what they are doing. They are training consumers to never want to pay full price for items. That training hurts small business as I can tell you if I was selling things off at 60% off I would be losing money. We keep our margins tight and our RRP as low as possible as it is not all about profit as a bottom line around here.
As small business owners, we need to be the ones to start changing this mentality. Talk about where your products come from. Who makes them. Who benefits when your products are purchased. Lower your RRP and have less sales if you need a high volume of turnover to keep your business going. Or, have enough faith in the product that you are selling that people will buy it without the sale mode all the time.
Without giving away all my secrets, I am trying to be transparent so that the customers who purchase from me feel good when they are doing so. There is a story to tell with our clothing and hopefully that story is what will make you see the value in our product.
It is time to start asking the question ‘Who made my clothes?’
I don’t expect everyone to care about these things. But I do. xx