Hand Made And Underpaid: The real price of cheap clothing

The video below was something I came across on YouTube. Posted by Journeyman Pictures its a stark reminder of the real cost of cheap clothing.

What worries me most is that we seem to be trapped in the expectation that we are entitled to buy goods at very low prices.

Its very hard at least for me, to remember a time when clothing was a ‘normal price’ my early memories of the highstreet are those of the cheap stores we are still familiar with today. In the beginning those stores were seen as rather down market and clothing was not good quality. Now they are top brands and rated in fashion magazines and online. What happened?

Without naming names, high street stores have been gearing our spending habits towards the very little for quite some time. We have struggled in this country with a serious downturn in the economy, a recession. That was and is a pretty rubbish time for all those involved. It made people have less expendable income, that meant people couldn’t buy as much stuff. That meant that these stores weren’t earning as much so they were letting off their staff because they couln’t afford them. That meant people had even less money, even less to spend, the stores earned even less. The world was spiralling.

To recover, many stores adopted and adapted their economy brands. That way people could afford to go and buy the things they wanted and the stores were happy because folks were spending their money again, things picked up.

But HOW did the stores manage to bring the prices of their goods down?

If you’ve watched the video you’ll see that these big powerful companies were demanding unreasonable and unfair prices for the garments they wanted made. The retail industry was suffocating its suppliers. The factories rely on those large orders to maintain their business, they did what they could to meet the price demands.

This however results in a major problem in terms of how to make those garments at the price of the retailers demands. So the workers are forced to work for little, forced to work in conditions that are unsafe and have NO ALTERNATIVE. The people that make our clothes are either earning what little they can from these factories or are starving to death with no work at all.

This video talks alot about transparency, that there is no transparency at the factories but what about at the end of the consumer line, with us, the customer? Now we have little labels stitched into our clothes saying “made in Bangladesh” but does this really give us knowledge that this is an ethical product? All it does is give us an option to not buy it. But to boycott the industry in its entirity I imagine would be even more detrimental to those poor workers at the other end.

I don’t know what the solution is. But I find it increasingly difficult to excuse my want for cheap disposable clothing, and am hoping to find some sort of remedy for this painful and disgusting conduct we find in the products we buy.

As a person who makes things I have come to understand the value of something that is made by hand. Cheap products we assume are being made by machines but clothes are stitched, and details sewn and fastened by the hands of a real person. It is our duty as fellow human beings that the treatment of the person who made the things we buy is fair and that they are able to live a life with the basics at least to survive. Ideally, with more than that.

It seems unimaginable that I would come to make say, a plate and only earn a few pence for me to have spent the time to make it. Regardless of me sourcing the materials, the sheer effort of making the thing is worth more.

I hope that there is a way we can find a solution of being able to afford these people the wages they deserve. I hope our greed and insatiable appetite for cheap products diminishes and I hope that the large companies forcing these conditions onto their suppliers start to reconsider what value actually is.

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