The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Losing Skills

As many of the artisans, designers and manufactures have lamented these past decades, the skills that it takes to make are being lost little by little.

Generation Y losing skills

NOTE:  Claire is on her soapbox again, so just be patient while she vents!!!

This doesn’t seem all that alarming or disruptive, except after the loss of these skills, there’s something that follows, that can be radically difficult to deal with:  not only the loss of the skill but the loss of the knowledge of the smallest part of the skill.

For example, what does it take to fix a leaky faucet?

  • If someone comes in and say, yes, I can fix this for you but it’s going to require me 4 weeks of work, and your floor will have to come up and we will have to replace your sewage line, how are you to know if that’s the truth or not, or
  • If someone advises that all you have to do is turn the knob a little tighter and that will fix the problem.

How are you to know?  Who do you believe?

This is the sad state that our knowledge and therefore our power of how clothing is made is in.  When you purchase a top for $7.98, what do you expect to get out of it – really?…when you are purchasing it do you think, “Gee, even if I don’t wear it, it’s only $7.98!” or do you think: “Hmmm, this goes with a lot of things in my closet and at this price, it should last for 5 years!”

Which response most often enters your mind?

Which one would be more realistic?

Most of us when we buy something cheap like this, really do expect it to be made well.  We just can’t believe that something would be sold otherwise. I mean we have all these consumer safeguards to protect us from the worst of the caveat emptor right?!!!

But how would we really know for sure whether it’s made well or not?

How would we really know if it’s quality is worth the price?

The sad comment is that because we have lost not only the skill, but the knowledge that knowing that skill provides – we don’t know the difference.  As a result, we are being duped, swindled and otherwise gypped into believing that what we are buying is quality.  What’s more, not only are we being sucked into believing that these cheaply made garments are quality and will last, we are also living under a delusional belief that cheap = quality.  It never has and it never will.

Even finding that quality-made garment is hard.  It’s not only not at most major stores, but it’s being drummed out of existence, even in the most high-end stores.  Why?  Because the practice of offering slip-shod workmanship on inferior materials has become so pervasive and extensive throughout the industry (it’s really hard for even a high-end store to compete with the unreasonably-low price garment), that the high-end boutiques can not afford not to participate in the same practice of substandard workmanship with sleazy materials..

So even if you wanted to go find a garment that would last for more than a couple of months – say a coat that would last for 10 years – you would have a hard time finding something like that.  More likely you would find a coast that was in the $250 to $500 range that would last for 2 or so years at the most.

Recently I had a good friend tell me that she would readily pay $1,000 for an upholstered piece of furniture, but wouldn’t pay more than $150 for a garment.  That’s the sort of unreasonable and unsustainable price points reflective of most domestic consumers.  Yes, you can do that for a while, but finally the quality of the material and the workmanship become so inferior that the garment is literally a figment of its former self.

That’s the worth and value placed on clothing.

That’s what is at the crux of this.  After decades of nothing but shoddily assembled clothing with sub-standard materials is all that is offered to today’s marketplace, the fact is that folks don’t place much value on clothing.

The idea that clothing should cost even 50% of what you would pay for a piece of furniture is folly in most consumers’ and most manufacturers’ and retailers’ minds.

Here’s the facts.  Most consumers would pay $1,000 for that upholstered piece of furniture, because guess what?  It would last for 30 years – that breaks down to $30/year.  Who wouldn’t pay $30/year to have a nice piece of furniture in their home.

But if you do the exact same thing with clothing?…..purchase a piece of clothing – say a coat – that cost $1,000 and have it last for 30 years at a price of $30/year?….folks would say that’s a misuse of their good money.  Instead they would rather spend $80 every year for a total of  $2,400 over 30 years for that outer garment that you wear to keep you warm during cold weather.  The real reality is that the cheap garment is costly us over twice as much as the more expensive garment.

The folly of this reasoning has been so warped as to cause most consumers to believe that it’s cheaper to purchase cheap clothing when it actually far more expensive.

Today, there’s only one place you could purchase a coat like this – that is to make it yourself, or to have it made for you.

It’s hard to know where that “event horizon” is – when the cheap fashion costs are so high that the consumer if forced to think of other options, but it is coming.

What will you do?

Where would that price point for you be?  Would you pay $250?…$500?….or more for a garment that only lasted a year, maybe a few months more?

Where is that point for you?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that quality clothing is worth the money, but one challenge is that a lot of clothing sold today is advertised as “high- quality,” with that quality price tag, even if it’s made the same way as an item from H&M or some other bargain store. I do make a lot of my own clothing, but time constraints prohibit me from creating all of it. I purchased what appeared to be a lovely coat for hundreds of dollars two years ago only to find it disintegrating within just a few months. I finally pulled it apart to discover that there was nothing between the lining and outer wool. No interfacing, no underlining – nothing! No wonder it didn’t last. Now, I’ll spend the summer creating a high quality coat that will be ready for the fall. But I still hear so many people talking about saving up money to purchase from this particular store that is basically H&M quality at nearly designer prices – they believe that Higher Price = Higher Quality. That’s just not true in so many cases. Because I sew I am usually able to determine quality, but I was fooled with that coat. Can you offer tips on spotting these high-priced, low-quality garments?

    • Yeah Kris, there’s a mindset that if it’s more expensive – maybe twice as much – then it’s worth it. When in reality the retail cost is probably more like 10 times as much to get to the quality of what you have to make to match that 10 X retail garment. That’s just how much it costs in today’s realistic market to bring to retail a finely-made garment. What a lot of retailers are doing is doing the less complicated garment at it is selling for a lot more, but they are still made in third-world countries, but the employees are getting “living wages” instead of slave-labor wages and the companies are taking profit margin down, but they are selling a more humane item.

      The problem is that the consumer’s attitude about that cost is so warped, that even this “more humane” garment is seen as a waste of money for the consumer. The quality is the same, and about all they are pay for, for that extra 25% cost is the fact that they are buying something more humanely made.

      You’re lucky because you knew how to go in and look and see what a rip off garment you got with your coat. Here’s the thing I do not think you are prepared for. The coat you are investing in this summer will last you wa-a-a-a-ay longer than you even dream….I’ve had some of mine from the 70’s still with me today and wear them a lot (particularly this last winter that was like from some sort of North Pole factory!)

    • Yeah, it’s amazing that we kick the tires and wouldn’t dream of buying a car without looking “under the hood”. I buy used cars and take them to my car expert to have him check them out first. Or when we buy a new fridge or new appliance for the kitchen, we either want to check it out (Consumers Reports) or have a guarantee. Seems a shame that we can’t ask the store how the garment was made and what’s in the inside of the garment! Actually if you know about sewing you know enough to feel in there and can feel what’s inside and will have a pretty good idea. That’s usually all it takes. Believe me you can tell the difference between that and a cheapy coat at the big box fast fashion store.

  2. I her you, Claire – but even for high priced items, I’m suspicious that some are made with cost-savings in mind. For example, my husband tried on a very nice Marc Jacobs coat a few months back. It looked great, and more importantly, it felt sturdy. I thought I could feel some structural layers beneath the surface, but how can I know for sure? I’ve seen videos on how gorgeous Hermes handbags are assembled, and it’s clear that they are worth their price, given the artistry involved. But Marc Jacobs doesn’t open his workshop to show his process. If I’m considering spending $2,000 on a lovely coat that my husband can wear for several decades, I want to look beneath the hood!

  3. Claire, you put into the exact right words my feeling about fast fashion and how people don’t even know what quality is or good fit any more. A whole re-education is required here. At least I do see some sense of ecological morality on the part of many young sewists who would rather refashion than buy more “junk”. Now to just get them all to understand what a quality garment is.

    I am so glad I made that cashmere coat this past winter. It cost a few hundred to put together, fits like a dream and will probably last into the nether world. I tried to explain about cost per wear to a young woman I work with who had just purchased a cute looking but totally rumply, awfully sewn 50 dollar coat from Walmart. She just didn’t get it. She knows her coat will only last a year, two the most, but to her it was a fifty dollar bargain. It is so frustrating. You explained it much better in this post than I ever could. I should print this out and keep it in my wallet!

  4. I think another reason that so many are willing to go with clothing that won’t last more than a season or two is that fashion changes. How many people do you know who would wear the same coat for 30 years? I would, but I am the exception. I lean towards classic styles while most people go for fads. Just another excuse to buy new clothes every year – worn out and out of style.

    • In the 60’s and 70’s, we had changing fashion. What we did was bring in one new ensemble or pieces to “update” our wardrobe. There wasn’t the need to change everything or change every two weeks. The inventory in most of the fast/cheap fashion stores changes that often. That’s like needing to change your furniture every month. It would only last that long before it would break and you’d have to buy a new piece. Maybe it only cost $80, but it would only last for a couple of weeks. Folks wouldn’t dream of doing that and can see the huge waste of money and time having to buy and shop or furniture all the time. But we do this with clothing like it’s normal.

      This isn’t normal. Fashion is one thing, but a constant buying to keep up with fashion is not normal. It’s not practical and it’s certainly not needed to stay fashionable. There’s a certain grounding and practicality that’s lost on today’s consumer – like the baby thrown out with the bath water. When the consumer is convinced that a constant spending of resources (time and money) is the only way to shop for clothing, then the pendulum has swung way far to the wrong way.

      Unfortunately, I’m not sure what it takes for the average consumer to understand the waste of resources – and that’s not only the waste of the consumers’ time and money but also the waste of the materials used to make up the garments. Instead of using those materials to make up fewer, better-made garments that last longer, use up less resources and in the long run are cheaper, we are wasting these resources and materials on garbage products.

      Amazingly enough what originally drove me to sewing was fashion. I couldn’t find what I wanted – a simple red dress. So I came to sewing to be more fashionable – in my own sense, not what some store buyer bought from the designer or what some designer thought and particularly not what some market research group thought I would like. Here we are today thinking we’re in fashion, but instead it’s a constant drug of clothing that is really anything but fashionable. It doesn’t fit properly. It doesn’t work for very long. It doesn’t really fulfill very much of our needs, but it’s what we’re told is fashionable.

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