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The Softer Value of Threads

A couple of months ago I made some garments to sell. Since sustainability is important to me, I bought high quality organic fabrics and put a lot of work into cutting, sewing and screen-printing. Every detail received care and attention as I put myself in a peaceful, loving state of mind, hoping the garments would store this energy and affect the wearer in a positive way. 

My next step was to calculate a price, which is always difficult. What would be an adequate price for the time I had spent? Did a peaceful, loving mind, without any rush, add any value? As I summed up material costs and a reasonable price for the time I had spent, I realized that the garments would be too expensive. I tried a different method, where I set a price that seemed ok and went on to deduct taxes and material costs. Needless to say, not much was left. 

Those who liked the garments still thought they were expensive. 

Maybe I could have compromised and chosen cheaper fabrics? I might even have found a seamstress that would accept a low wage. But if I had to fit into the common system of garment manufacturing, where cheap is the golden rule - where you cut corners, don’t care about the environment nor wages large enough to pay for food and housing for workers - I’d rather skip the idea of selling garments altogether.

In a speech last year, pope Franciskus urged people to avoid buying products that had been made by what he called the slaves of modern times

”As consumers we have a social responsibility and should be aware that a purchase is also a moral act.”

Even though many don’t seem to be aware of this, it is true. We need to stop closing our eyes to the fact that a cheap garment means that somebody else has paid the price. We have the power to change the system.

It’s really intriguing why textile craft is no longer valued. It wasn’t always like this. Textiles were seen as treasures in the past. In Japan the woven cloth for a kimono still costs a small fortune.

Did softer values, and the value of threads, get lost as industrialization took over? Or, is this a gender issue? 

Textile is traditionally seen as a feminine area, while hard materials, like wood and metal, are seen as masculine. The hourly wages of different craftsmen seem to imply that this is really about gender. A carpenter, a bricklayer or metal worker has an hourly wage of around 52 € or $ 60 in Sweden. If you are specialized it is higher. A textile worker might get 31 € or $ 35. I know some very advanced weavers with a wage of 18 € or $ 20. 

Is the mastery of textile craft less valued because sewing, knitting and weaving is quite common knowledge? On the other hand, most men (and women) can also use a saw and a hammer. A carpenter is still more highly valued than a textile artisan. 

I refuse to be a part of this system. Unless I find a sustainable manufacturer of clothes who has good values and is open for a joint venture, I will hold back the garment collections that are so vivid in my mind…

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