The problem of price

Thank you to everyone who said lovely things about my nylon leggings blog. It is so encouraging. There was one unnameable person who ventured to comfort me by saying, “you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Everyone does it.”


This entry is a little dense so needs a little more endurance to get through.

It covers:

  1. Why you shouldn’t be too angry at poor retailers
  2. A few things to consider when looking at the price of a garment
  3. And why I am probably never going to be able to pay myself minimum wage.

Firstly, I will set the scene…

I wandered in to buy some ballet flats in David Jones a few months ago and the only plain black ones I could find were Giorgio Armani and were $500.


It is such a tricky question.

What is a “bargain”? When are you paying more than the object is worth?

Material costs vary. Supply and demand play a big part. Mass production leads to cheaper items. We all know this, but when it is in front of us in a store it all becomes very confusing.

An $80 shirt is suddenly on sale for $50 – wait! $20!

Another shirt is selling for $180 (They’re both cotton…)

Then suddenly an Alexander Wang singlet top is selling for $325 and a Zucca blouse is $998.

There is a limit to the quality of fabric you will be getting and there is a limit to the craftsmanship (unless we’re talking POA Haute Couture – and seriously, who buys couture?! Brides excepted)

Retailers usually double the price of garments to make profits. This makes it cheaper to shop online, but one cannot blame them. The last figures I heard on Little Collins St were of somewhere between $1000 and $1600 per square meter for rent.

Think that would obviously be per month?

Think again. Per week.

Even Brunswick St stores are around $700+/week (although that is the shop and not per square metre)

To pay for rent and outgoings and give the customer the opportunity to try things on, retail has to charge margins in order to profit. They usually double the wholesale price. They can then have sales of up to 50% off without losing money. Retailers recently have been slammed for “ripping off customers” but most small retailers are struggling to make any sort of profit. I’ve heard that shopping centres are offering rent-free periods simply to keep their centres open.

The designer must also take a margin on each garment in order to consider it a career.

For me this means that I must take into account a few things:

Material – organics cost more and, as I am only doing a few items at a time, it is a lot more expensive per metre. Fabrics usually cost between $6 and $30 (some are hundreds or thousands of dollars, but they are not usually for RTW fashion) depending on the fibre content (the famers get barely any of that). Most garments use around 1.5m of fabric. Some only 80cm, some over 3m.

Transport – Materials that are woven come from overseas. Most fabrics come from overseas. I would like to try and calculate and off-set transport carbon eventually as well. These costs must be taken into account.

Trimmings – lace, fusing, buttons zips (and, again, the transport)

Manufacturing – Paying someone $35 – $40/hour. Until a sample is made one can only guess about time costs. Let’s say a little under an hour per shirt?

Let’s calculate the shirt:

Material = 1.4m x $9.50 = $13.3

Trimmings = 11 buttons @ $0.20 + $0.10 fusing = $2.30

Transport = $6.00 (carbon offset not included)

Manufacturing = $30

To make the garment therefore costs $51.60.

Add on a 45% margin to the designer (who also has to pay start up costs for the patternmaking, fabric sourcing and sampling as well as studio costs and supplies)

The wholesale price is now $74.82.

The retail price is $149.64 (or $150 for those with a fear of decimal places)

The designer (me) is getting around $23/garment which means that I need to sell at least 1332 garments in a year in order to pay myself minimum wage.

Sound easy?

26 garments a week.

That’s a fair bit of selling.

I could raise my margin?

But would you pay $180 for the shirt?


Ethically made and environmentally friendly are one thing, but there are bargains.

Would you pay $250 for a shirt if there was one for $20 sitting right near it?

Would you think “bargain! I am an awesome shopper!” as you swiftly took your new shirt to the counter. Or would you consider the cost and work out that the $20 shirt was either unethical or damaging to the environment?

Would you buy the $20 shirt even though you liked it less and probably wouldn’t wear it often? Simply because it was cheap? Would you then throw it out in a wear or two and increase the environmental impact of it?

19th century writer and craftsman William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

I need to learn from this. I am a self confessed hoarder of useless things that I don’t particularly need. I am on a quest to buy less, buy better and buy beautiful.

(…hopefully I will also be making these)

A painting by one of my favourite Australian artists, Brett Whiteley.


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