Monday, August 13, 2012

What it's worth?

A month or so ago, I was coming home from a tiring exam day at the university, and as kind of a relaxation I took a turn in the C&A shop. As I was looking at the items on sale, something caught my eyes. It’s a cardigan, its cotton, its natural colored, its crocheted, it is cheap, it is on sale, lets buy it… but then I started thinking, and one of my pet peeves found its way to my thoughts… and the more I thought about the angrier I got.

If you know me, you know how I like to go on about the work of handwork, and handcrafts. I think it is an absolute shame that it seems to have no value, and in Hungary more so than west from here.

Let’s just take a look at this cardigan. It is crocheted. As much as I like knitting, spinning, or embroidery, you have to know one thing. They can all be done by machines. Crochet on the other hand, not. There is no machine that can do, or can imitate crochet. If you see something that is crocheted it was done by hand. Somebody took the yarn and the hook, and done it loop by loop. No way around it.

Now, that we established that, let’s see just how much a cardigan would really cost if…

We all know that the store must work with at least 30-40% overhead (if not more). They buy it from a wholesaler, that also have overheads. Just be an optimist and take that the factory gets half the retail price. They have to keep the factory, pay for electricity, managers, accountants, packaging and what not. I am not an economist, please do not expect exact amounts, these are just in very general terms, for the sake of my argument.

It needs about 400-500 grams of cotton yarn. If I would start to crochet a cardigan for me just the yarn would cost about that much retail. I know the factories get it wholesale and such…And here let’s not get into the depths of yarn manufacturing…as a spinner myself I do know what it takes to make yarn…even if it is made with machines.

I can knit and crochet fairly fast. Not by industrial measures, I admit, but I knit and crochet since I was six, that is almost forty years of practice. I like to think that for a hobby knitter/crocheter I do OK. So, if I do nothing else, but crochet 10 hours a day, it would take about 3-4 days for me to make something like this. Let’s say that someone who has even more experience and practice can do it twice as fast, than I. OK, let’s say I overestimated my speed, and take that someone can do it in about 15 hours.

If I count all these, I really start to wonder what would the person who actually sits down and crochets the cardigan gets. What kind of hourly wage??? What would it be enough for?

Just for starters if I would have to calculate the fair trade price of this sweater it would look like this:

Yarn (lets’ take half the retail price) 2000 HUF

Work 15 hours (and here just let’s take the minimal wage) 15*500 HUF = 7500 HUF (and this is not an unskilled work, we should acknowledge, but craft, if not art)

If you add to this all the factory/wholesaler/store overhead what should this piece of clothing really cost????

Yes I know. I am not a hypocrite, I do wear adidas shoes, or clothes that were most probably made for similar amount of money. But there is a major difference. I cannot make a pair of shoes. But I can crochet a sweater.

Now, that was the moment, when I put that hanger back on the rack and left the store. How can I expect anyone to value my own handwork if I don’t do the same? Even if it is someone who lives halfway around the world? Even if someone I will never meet, never even know of? Nobody should abuse a worker in my craft on my behalf. If I want a crocheted sweater I will sit down and make one. Even if it costs more, even if it takes more time.

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