Artisanal Goods: Total Rip-Off? (Part I)

“What makes these clothes so special?”

“$60 for a top? Isn't that a little overpriced?”

“Could you make me a custom dress? My Budget is $20?”

“Why is everything so expensive?”

“I could make that for a quarter of the price.”

“Why would I buy this $200 dress when there is an equally cute $40 dress right next to it?”

 

Recently, I was perusing a fellow garment maker's Facebook when I happened upon an article she had posted entitled "Why handmade is 'so expensive'". It struck me that many of her opening comments were similar to ones I have heard since I started on my fashion design career path over 10 years ago. Each time I overhear one of these comments (generally whispered in hushed tones) it stings just a little bit. Ok, sometimes enough to send me to the store in search of some Ben & Jerry's specialty pints (like that one time my Significant Other made one of these very comments, haha- Can you guess which one?)

In the beginning, these questions had me questioning my prices and doubting whether the clothing I was producing had much inherent value.What's worse is I actually sold many items (well before establishing the Untitled Thoughts brand) for WAY less than I am proud to admit. It literally took until the beginning of this year to actually sit down and say "Hey, your time and your employee's time IS worth something and those who understand & appreciate such qualities will find you and invest in your vision."

But really: $138 for one dress?

 Yes, really. I understand some reading this article may still be skeptical. You may still be thinking " OMG this lady is CRAZY if she thinks I am willing to spend X-number of dollars on some clothing." Some of you may simply be curious how I got to such a number. Where could all that money be going? Well friends, I am here to take you through a detailed, behind the scenes, step-by-step process of how I arrived at this particular number for one of my favorite dresses from our Limited Edition Collection: The NATALIE Dress.

 

 

In Part I of this series, I will be taking you through the Design & Creation Process of this particular garment. In Parts II & III I will delve further into the hidden costs of production, marketing, overhead, and wrap it all up in a neat little bow with a break down of where all the money goes for each garment. It's like a DIY project all of its on. Let's get started!

 

DESIGN & DRAFTING

Every artisan is different in their begging processes. Some will tell you that they never sketch and just jump right in. Others may spend hours developing their ideas before picking up any materials. For myself, the design process is a bit of a compilation of all things. I do a little sketching, I touch a lot of fabric, I drape on my trusty mannequin, and I pattern. It honestly depends on the project at hand and where I am personally deriving my inspiration from. For the NATALIE, I had this idea of a cute wrap dress in my head that I wanted to try out on some donated striped shirting fabric, so I dove right in to creating, which for me means I went to my mannequin, Suzie, and started draping my ideas. 

 

This was literally the beginning. Just a few pieces of scrap fabric & a modified table cloth cut up to resemble what I wanted in a dress. Playing around to get this shape took approximately 30- 45 min of my time. I really had an idea of what I wanted so I didn't waste any time. On to patterning this baby!

 

In order to transfer this draped piece into an actual pattern, I marked a few points in red marker directly to the scrap fabric and took t off the mannequin. I then laid my pieces on to some 100% Recycled Kraft paper and traced what I had, straightening lines as I went (cutting on a mannequin can get a little wonky guys. No lie.)

 

 

But I'm not the only one who looks at these patterns. I need them to make sense to whoever is cutting the patterns on our predetermined materials (which I spent time & Money in selecting; More on that in Part II). So I went a little further and marked the size of the garment, the seam allowance, how many pieces needed to be cut, the garment's name, grain line, and any important notches that indicate where things match up. I also trued the pattern (made sure the seams all matched in length and placement) & then graded it from a Small/ Medium into a Medium/ Large size, that way we could make multiple sizes. This took approx. 1 hour & 30min to complete.

 

Can we start sewing yet?

 

Not quite. We haven't even laid out our pattern to cut! That's what we are going to do RIGHT NOW!

Following the marked grains, and laying out our patterns to make sure we waste as little fabric as possible, we then pin everything down and cut out the beginnings of our dress. This is a more time consuming method as we like to use as much of the fabric as we possible can, so with a style such as this, we really can only cut one dress out at a time, maybe two if we have two different fabrics. Let's say this takes between 15-20 minutes.

 Ok, now we can sew, right?!

Yes! Lets begin. But wait! Before we delve in, I want to let you in on something. Did you know that being a business, we actually own multiple machines that all serve different purposes? Yea, we can't just get by with one home machine. That would be insane, and our garments would not look there best or be very durable.How many machines do we own? Well, funny you should ask. In our studio, we actually have 4 conventional sewing machines, one serger, and one coverstitch machine.

What? Why so many? That seems like too many.

Honestly, sometimes this isn't enough! We own so many for a variety of reasons. When everyone is in the studio, we want to make sure each seamstress has a machine to work on- no idle hands here! We also have extra because machines are constantly in need of repair & maintenance. We can't afford to have one machine break and not be able to work for over a week while it is repaired. That's no bueno.

And as I mentioned before, each of our machines serves a different purpose and is used for specific materials. Our coverstitch machine is for hemming knits whereas our serger finishes the insides of our garments and keeps them from fraying. With each of these machines comes expenses, all which are added into the overhead costs of each garment we produce. But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to sewing!

 Sewing the NATALIE involves the following steps:

  1. Pleat the top bodice & Sew securely down
  2. Attach the top bodice to the back bodice
  3. Sew the 3 piece skirt together
  4. Serge the inner seams of the bodice & Skirt
  5. Gather the skirt
  6. Attach the skirt to the bodice
  7. bling hem the skirt & Sleeves (both require a special foot OR sewing the seam in a special manner twice)
  8. Attach the sleeves to the bodice
  9. Sew the waist tie & the smaller ties that keep the dress closed as well as adjustable
  10. Turn those inside out and sew the ends closed
  11. Attach the small ties to the marked positions and tie off ends to keep from unwraveling
  12. Attach all inner tags & garment care labels (as required by law)
  13. Begin twirling in said dress

 

This entire process takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete by an experienced, fast seamstress. The actual time will vary from seamstress to seamstress, but lets keep it at this nice, round-ish number for now. 

 

Natalie in Black

 

Whew! We got the dress done. Sooooo, we are done, right? Unfortunately, we are not. Before I end this segment, let's tally how many hours we have put into this one design: 4 hours & 45 minutes. Not so bad, right? We completed a dress from concept to actual product in less than a day!

 

So, why is it still SOOOOO Expensive? $138 for 1/2 a day's worth of work is just unreasonable...

 

I I understand that all the pieces haven't come together, I mean, if we are paying our seamstresses an average $15/hr (which is above minimum wage), that would mean this dress should only cost $71.25. Where is this extra $66.75 coming from? Don't worry, everything will begin to make more sense as this series progresses. Heck, some of these steps I have taken you through aren't 100% put into the cost of one singular dress. They are divided equally among all of the projected dresses we intend to create. 

 

Wait... WHAT?

 

As to not overwhelm with too much information let me leave you lovelies to digest the information I have provided today. And stay tuned for next week's Part II post where I explain where all of the extra costs are coming from that go in to creating one garment.

 


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