Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Price-War in my Head

Let me introduce you to my favourite coat. I bought it about 3 years ago in a little boutique store in a little boutique town about an hour from here. It was $160 down to $40. And even then I had to think twice about buying it. You see, my husband Tim and I met as students. We were (and still are) part of a small Christian community that held to the ideals of 'simplicity, integrity, community' (a derivative of the Franciscan 'poverty, chastity, obedience'). Holding to the goal of simplicity, combined with not having much money anyway, meant we didn't spend much on clothes. We bought what we needed and didn't care much about how we looked. (Or maybe, at least, I thought I shouldn't.)
My funky red coat started to change all that...

Tim and I 'back in the day'.
After I had Tully 4 years ago, I stopped buying clothes from op (thrift) shops and started buying from cheap department stores. Have a baby attached to me almost permanently, and living a short walk from the shops, it was easier, and a nice outing, to get my baby clothes and my own, and a few groceries, all in the same trip. And the prices were competitive with our local 2nd hand stores so I didn't think much about my change in habit.
But soon, and you've probably experienced this, my t-shirts were a funny fit after only a few washes, and those shorts I bought, only because they were on special, stayed in my drawer permanently.

Tully and Evie wear the clothes I make for them several times a week.

 Enter Tickle & Hide. When I started making clothes, it was purely creative expression bursting out of a tired mum. Selling them was fun and paid for my new hobby, but I did have niggling doubts as to whether making boutique kids clothes fit into my longings for a simple life. I sold them at a price I couldn't afford, but that didn't make me any profit. And I struggled to justify making clothes for my own kids because we had so many hand-me-downs and gifts. When I did make clothes for them, however, they wore them all the time. The clothes I made were my style, not that of their grandparents, or friends whose older girls loved pink and fairies. My handmade clothes were beautiful and different and worn. Not worn out, but worn in.

I recently read an article on grist.org called, "Cheap clothing hurts the planet, the economy, and your style" about the book Overdressed. Pop over and read it when you're done reading this. The title alone spoke to me. I was concerned about the planet and the economy, of course. I am a left-leaning educated woman with 2 young children. But it was the combination of the three: environment, money and fashion, which lit a fire in my brain and encompassed everything I'd been wrestling with since starting my business.

Funky pink zebra print. Argh! I get butterflies thinking about making this into pinnies!
Here's what I realised:

Buying cheap, deparment store clothes doesn't fit with my values.
The wear and satisfaction I've got from my funky red coat made it a worthwhile purchase at the original price, compared with the clothes in my wardrobe I've never worn, which add up to way more. I'm much closer to realising my goal of simplicity when I buy less, but allow what I need to be also what I love. Living simply isn't incompatible with being myself or enjoying beauty.

Making clothes does fit.
For myself, my children and for others. Making clothes and quilts that will be enjoyed and treasured, as an alternative to poor quality clothes made in terrible conditions, is a wonderful thing, not an extravagant or selfish thing.

Price matters.
And here's the one that challenges my confidence the most. We have become used to not paying the actual cost of clothing, or most goods. In the above article, the journalist wrote, "Going back to the ‘50s and ‘60s, you could still walk into a department store and almost everything would be mid-priced, meaning you would find things — and this is adjusted for inflation — that were between $60 and $300. That’s what people were used to paying for ready-made clothes off the rack." Since manufacturing has moved overseas, so too has the cost been passed on, to poor communities, to quality and to the environment. I've come to think it's really important that those of us who make don't undervalue our work, our skill and our individual creativity by setting our prices to compete with the bulk-manufactured goods. I think it's actually our job to train our customers to understand the true value in what we're making. Pricing my goods according to what I think people are willing to pay doesn't communicate confidence in my product or value in my worth as a person.

Circles for Linny Pinnies, each cut by hand, with love and a cuppa.
I'm changing my buying habits to 2nd hand and handmade, including making time to make my own and for my family. What are your thoughts? Please share this if it rings true with you. If you sell you wares, how do you set your prices? And if you buy, what do you think of as value for money? Do you think you get it in the way you spend?

I'd love to hear from you,
Jodi. xx


  1. Jodi...SOOO true. I always undersell myself. I enjoy the work, but the time that some things take don't add up.
    I want to shake all the quilters out there for selling quilts at Walmart prices and scream when I see an embroidered item selling for less than it's worth. Time is money. As humans, we have very little time. So I want my VALUABLE time to be recognized as such!

    As for the thrift store/2nd hand...I will NEVER be so brave! But I do tend to get more mileage out of my mid-price clothing store finds over my $5 Old Navy t-shirt! ;)

  2. I really admire and agree entirely with what you just said! It has shone a light on what I am doing for my family, and makes me ashamed to realise I have been living the overloaded wardrobe life, full of cheap 'bargains' that are rarely worn, and never cherished. Thanks!!

  3. Really enjoyed reading this post - made me think. Have you come across Pink Ronnie? Have a look at her post http://pinkronnie.com/2012/07/the-happy-closet/ on her "happy closet" - I think it would resonate with you. With a 17th month old, I'm lucky to have friends who love to hand over big garbage bags of clothes but I have a strong aesthetic (so much so that it always came up in those bio metric tests in employment management tests!) so I am not a big fan of the glittery lolly pink ruffled clothes that are so beloved of so many. They also don't seem to wash very well or last. I really don't like waste. We have a very small house and I've been very guilty of not throwing anything away and then having nests of clothing in my room because I can't fit it all in. Luckily my brother and I share similar tastes. Between us we have three kidlets and although we live in different states, we pass small bundles of clothes back and forth and every shirt, onesie, dress and pant are still going strong and will for babies yet to come. Etsy and madeit.com are wonderful because I'm crap at sewing but I've been able to put my birthday money towards items that I know my kids will have forever and I'm glad I'm able to support people with their work. I am amazed sometimes that their work is not costing thousands of dollars considering the time and expertise but am so so grateful. I've been able to acquire a couple of pieces that have been made with a lot of love - it makes the world feel that little bit smaller and lovelier. A nice sentiment for my girl to grow up with.

  4. Jodi - a thoughtful and well written post! I went to school for textiles, made clothes, and worked in retail so I have seen many sides of this. When asked why I don't sell clothes it is because people don't pay what it is worth! Here in the US especially with stores like Walmart etc. I feel über guilty buying from higher end stores that I KNOW have better quality...but when I see a pair of jeans worn by daughter 1, then 2, then 3 I am glad I spent the extra $30! Family members think I'm a snob for wanting quality...but I want my kids well dressed and don't mind paying for it when it counts. If I had time I'd go the handmade route for them... After all, the drawstring linen pants I made for myself 12 years ago Still rock compared to a lot of crap in my wardrobe over the years... You've inspired me to get back to handmade, not just for me but for my girls too.

  5. I am not good enough to make my own clothes and sometimes find it more pricey, but I don't really shop at second hand stores anymore. I may buy one pricer top, instead of 3 cheap tops, knowing that the pricer top will last me a lot longer and fit better. If I want quality clothes I will spend. My daughter is 14 months, she does not get pricy clothes and I have no problem putting her in cheaper, clearance clothing, she will continue to grow, where I know I can wear something over and over, year after year as long as it holds up. I have made myself a skirt recently so that is something new. I love to save money when I can and will shop clearance at a quality store, but have given up on buying cheap clothes that will mis-shape after a wash.

  6. I really, really want to read that book and I'm saving up for my own copy. Now that I think about, maybe I should be checking my library for a copy! I've been thinking a lot about this very issue lately. I rarely buy clothing for myself, but when I do I don't have the money to buy anything more expensive than Old Navy prices. I'm hoping to start making more of my own clothes after my new baby arrives.

  7. Jodi this is so beautifully written and I agree with you completely. I tend to buy 2nd hand clothes for myself and thankfully friends and family have given us lots of clothes for the little ones. I would love to try making both me and them clothes and it's on my list!
    Oh and I really do love that coat :)

  8. A very interesting post.
    I still have clothes I bought many years ago. They still fit and are in good condition and I didn't break the bank to buy them at the time either.
    I'll say the majority of my money has been spent on sewing. I hope to open a shop soon to sell the things I've made and hopefully see some profit from them.
    When I research prices I make sure to look at the item closely and often think is it really worth that price. I saw some simple plain floor cushions in a book and they were priced at £99/ $154.
    I find it hard to work out prices, but hope when I do start I'm not ripping myself off in a sense =D

  9. What a timely post, Jodi. The community you live in sounds like a dream. Here in the States I feel like one of the few Christians who believe less is not only "more" it's what we're called to.

    But, anyways, about clothes. I studied fashion and worked high end retail for awhile. It sickened me with all that waste. I've also sold maternity clothes at EuphoriaMaternity.com that are in a price range I don't shop at. Since having kids, I basically don't shop for myself. Now that my wardrobe is really needing restocking, I'm picking up nicer pieces (mid range) or trying to make my own. I don't buy hardly any kids clothes - my mom gets them all for us second hand at great prices. Then my kids ruin them cause we live on a farm!

    But, I'm thinking about pricing my merch for the show and I'm really struggling. I'm honestly not planning on charging what things are worth, but instead what I think people will pay. I'm in a unique position to do this and it's really not fair to the rest of the handmade industry. But, it's for "fun" for me and only once a year. I don't know how I feel about it.

  10. Thank you for your interesting post, truly. I have struggled with what to price goods at as well. When a friend asks how much for me to make X, I tell them $Y and they don't understand at all. When I break it down for them (cost of materials alone) and show them how I would be taking a lost to make an item at the price they think is reasonable. They might understand better, but they still are not going to buy. I am not sure what the solution is to be honest. I still haven't set up a store or put my items up for sale. I am still stuck on what to charge.

    If you have figured out how to value an item, please share! How do you look at an item and determine what it is worth? Some would say its worth whatever people pay for it...Thanks again for sharing!

  11. I think a bit differently; I look at quality and not so much at the price. Good quality pays out in the end and saves a lot of resources. Buy less and have more is my motto.
    You should take good prices for your work; it will be cherished all the more. You'll see!

  12. Well said, Jodi.

    With my background, you know I understand what you're saying!!

    I was almost consumed with guilt when I spent over $100 on a pair of well cut jeans a few years ago! I actually felt sick and told Nathan I would take them back but he asked me how often I thought I would wear them, and whether it would actually be a worthwhile investment. He was right! Unlike the less flattering jeans I used to have, these get worn for about 180 days of the year (in sunny QLD).

    It's true in general, that the clothes that wear quickly and are less flattering end up being left in the cupboard while I wear my faves over and over again. Quality over quantity, hey? I think that is a good policy to adopt and I'll try to think that way more.

    It's so true that we don't expect to pay appropriately for the skill and craftsmanship that has to go in to clothes-making. The couple of times I've had a go at sewing have made me realise the expense (in good fabric), time and effort required.

    You know, Jod, the pinny I bought from you for Maisie is my absolute favourite. I spent more on it than I have on any other baby clothes before, but she has also worn it more than any other baby clothes, and I take delight in dressing her in it every time! BARGAIN, I say!

  13. P.S. That IS a gorgeous red jacket!


I so love your comments! I read all of them and reply when I can. If you don't hear back, I'm lost under a mound of scraps or outside jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Jodi. xx