Textiles: Perception and Pricing

This post is not to complain or to whine. It is not to get you to buy one if my scarves on Etsy (but if you want to, that would be AWESOME). It is an observation of the public perception of textiles, clothing, pricing and value.

I have just lowered my prices again. I am asking the same or less than Macy’s mass produced scarves for a one of a kind piece. And I am getting the vibe that I am too expensive.

It was not long ago that clothing was included in wills. Fabric was precious and every scrap was used. Clothing was patched. Socks were darned. And this was not so long ago. Textiles for home and for apparel were made in Massachusetts or in North Carolina or Minnesota. The weavers were trained workers who worked hard perfecting their skills. The fabrics they produced lasted a long time. Their colors did not run. Clothing was made to last with finished seams. You wore a classic suit for years.

Then something happened. I don’t know what it was but Americans began to devalue their clothes. The life cycle of a shirt has become months and not years. To respond, the clothing industry has had to offshore weaving, dyeing and sewing. I cannot get silk manufactured in the US anymore. Clothing is made to last a season, if that. I used to get pants at Kohls but I had to stop as the seams came apart in less than 4 wearings.

Apparel has become cheap. And the expectation of consumers is that handcrafted textiles should compare in price to that found in WalMart and Macy’s.

The silks I use for my scarves is only manufactured in China. And they are expensive because they are silk-an agriculture-based product that fluctuates in price with the season. Yarn is expensive, particularly weaving yarn as there are few wholesalers for the handweaver and you need so much of it (thousands of yards at a time). Offshore companies use cheaper materials and mass produce scarves on a huge scale. And I have to price to compete.

Compared to other crafts, textiles don’t get that much respect. I have the same investment in looms as a woodworker in tools. If our material costs are the same and we each spend the same time on a piece, he can charge 2-3 times what I can. Weaving is as time intensive as woodcraft (I did take shop in school so I know how much work it is to plane, cut, sand, sand again, finish and assemble). Weaving involves measuring a warp, putting the warp on the loom, threading each piece of yarn (hundreds of them) one at a time through heddles, threading the reed, tying and tensioning the front beam, winding bobbins, weaving, hem stitching, cutting, washing, dyeing, calendaring, and pressing. It is a lot of work. But the public doesn’t think it has the same value as the woodworkers product.

Knitting, crochet, shibori, felting, spinning and weaving take insane amounts of time. Maybe it is the “I can make that myself” perception or the male verses female crafts thing. But textiles are worthy of the same respect as ceramics, wood and metal craft.

Maybe more.

One thought on “Textiles: Perception and Pricing

  1. You expressed that very well, Joy. I have been a professional seamstress for years,and I have had to contend with the same philosophy with custom work – even with something as simple as a hem. I have had people say, “$6.50? It’s just a simple hem?” But then I have had others who paid me more than $6.50 because they valued that I had a skill that they did not have. That is one of the factors, and an important one. Most of those customers were people whose mothers had sewn, and had sewn well. They had watched what had gone into a garment, a drapery, a slip cover, and they saw the value of it.
    I believe that the Industrial Age began with many of those values still held in high esteem, but as mass production increased – and especially the outsourcing to countries who pay their employees very poorly and value their profits above their workers – the very concept of a trade is all but lost.
    It is up to us – today’s crafters and artisans – to remind the world that what is produced by our hands has a quality to it that none other can match.

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