Let’s talk about the economics of sewing, shall we?
When I was growing up, my Mom sewed to save money. With five girls, and five parochial-school tuitions to be paid on a professor’s salary, there wasn’t much left over for clothing. Mom made all our school and church dresses, which was great for me since I’m the oldest. My younger sisters probably weren’t so thrilled with my hand-me-downs, but we’ll have to ask them about that another day.
Anyway, waaaay back then (it wasn’t all that long ago, I swear), sewing was a great way to save money. Manufactured clothing was expensive, and it was rare that we found something in a store that cost less to purchase than to sew.
These days, due to globalization and the offshoring of fabric manufacturing and garment production, clothing is amazingly inexpensive. You can purchase cute dresses at Target and Old Navy for next to nothing–often for less than what it would cost you to purchase the materials to make a similar garment yourself.
So why do we still sew clothing? And why bother making clothing when you can purchase it for much less? Here’s what I think. And I would love to hear your opinions on this, as well:
1. The pleasure of the process. Personally, I love to make things. I love to sew, and I get great satisfaction from making something with my hands. It’s more than a hobby for me; sewing helps me to calm down, relax, and feel a sense of accomplishment.
2. Creative options. I love to make something that is unlike anything anyone else has. I think the word “unique” is over-used these days. But when you make something by hand and select the pattern, fabric, and trims that are used, it truly is unique. There’s a lot to be said for that, especially in this day of mass-produced products.
3. The inhumanity of the global supply chain. Let’s be honest. If you purchase a dress for $10 at a big retail store, someone somewhere was paid very, very little to make that dress and may have produced it in suboptimal working conditions. This is a dirty secret in the garment industry that the more reputable brands try to address. I’ve worked for companies that employed full-time overseas managers whose sole job was to be a presence in the factories of their suppliers–ensuring humane working conditions for the vendor’s employees. While I applaud these efforts, I still believe that in instances where prices have been pushed so low someone is being treated unjustly. It may be the factory owner who was pressured to reduce prices to a level at which there is no margin profit in order to stay in business, or it might be the line worker. Pricing has become so sensitive and competitive that the big retailers aren’t always playing fair with their suppliers. This is a complicated issue and deserves more consideration than I can give in this venue, but let’s just say that I get a little concerned when I see clothing sold for such low prices. When I sew a garment for my daughter to wear, I know that no one was treated unjustly in the creation of her dress. Unless I poked my finger with a pin or something. Or hollered at the cat when she jumped onto my sewing table while the machine was running….
Those are just three of the reasons why I sew. What about you? I’d love to hear what your motivations are.