Let me tell you a little bit about the Holle Long Sleeve top we have in W19's 'All Tomorrow's Parties'. It features heavily in the lookbook, paired with our statement canvas pieces and underneath wool wraps, and is the first thing I put on most mornings. The buttery-soft bamboo knit needs to be felt to be believed, and the dove grey silk/tencel blend version is just as cosy. I can't wait to wear it all winter, and through to the warmer months as a no-fuss easy basic.
A quick google search for 'V-neck black top bamboo' will return you a thousand very similar looking garments, starting at as low as $16NZD, and you're probably going to get a pretty serviceable top for that I suppose, but I'd like to break down for you where the differences lie when we compare supposed apples with apples.
Each season, we work with fabric wholesalers and merchants to source the best available fabrics at a price that allows production to stay on-shore. Sometimes I'm able to pick up a certain meterage of deadstock at a clearance price that gives a little bit of wiggle-room in pricing (I'll tell you more about how that works in THE MARK-UPS), but this bamboo is an example of paying a premium to secure fabric that could be delivered in the right condition, at the right time. It was $18pm and in this case makes up the majority of the cost of each individual garment.
This bamboo was sent over from an Australian wholesaler, but unfortunately I'm not able to confirm where or under what conditions this particular mill operates. Wholesalers and mills are often hesitant to part with this info lest you leap-frog them and go directly to the source (which would mean the middle-men lose their cut), but as mill minimum orders can run into the tens of thousands of metres and I can only handle tens of metres at a time at this point in production I don't think there's much danger of that! Some will also withhold information or deliberately mislead the buyer if they know their production practices are less than stellar. Subsequently, I always try to source fabrics that have been defined as deadstock (not enough available to sell on at full price), because the nifty thing about being a small label is that we can do a lot with not much fabric and I believe this is an easy way to practice sustainability in sourcing.
Once the bamboo made it on-shore, it was delivered to our Newtown studio where it went through wash tests (which determines the best care practices to give the finished garments a long a happy life), and was cut into Holle tops, along with story-mates the Lena slip dresses and Unna camis. We keep all of our outsourced production localized to Wellington, in order to keep a reign on how many more miles are added onto the garment's journey before it reaches you.
Once cut they head 6km away to Hataitai to our outworker Marilyn, who sews from home overlooking her beautiful rose garden and the (mostly) peaceful waters of Evans Bay. Marilyn has a long history of garment production, is quick and skillful, and offers me a price per garment to make each piece in the story according to how long she knows they will take her to make. She has already forgotten more than most people will ever know about sewing (except that's not true, I don't think she ever forgets anything!) We usually chat for a bit about the kids, who's looking for work in the industry, the weather, our respective bad knees, her upcoming holiday. I accept her price, and a few weeks later I go back up the hill to collect the hundred or so garments she's packed up ready for me. They come back to Newtown (and sometimes to my living room) to be individually checked for quality, pressed and labelled for delivery.
Here's where it gets more maths-y. I have a series of formulas that work out the base cost of a garment, the wholesale price of the garment, and the recommended retail price.
The cost price of each Holle Top is $34.25, and this includes all of the raw materials and labour processes involved to make one single top.
The wholesale price of each is the cost x 2.1 ($71.93 rounded down to $71 to look nicer), a fairly standard mark-up, and this is what I sell to stockists at. So each garment bought by a store to sell on to you is bought at $71, which when we take out the cost that I paid to have them made means I make $36.75 per garment sold. Out of this profit margin comes my utilities like studio rent, power and internet, marketing costs, photo shoots, machinery servicing, insurance, website hosting and general office supplies. Of course we can't forget the $4 per garment donation to Breast Cancer Foundation NZ!
The recommended retail price allows for a x 2.3 mark up from wholesale to retail, meaning that when you buy a Holle top in store, you will pay $169 and the store will keep $98 of that. Out of that $98 come staff wages, power, security systems, packaging, insurance, advertising, tax and a whole host of other costs associated with retail stores. I still only see my original $36.75, unless the garment is purchased through the online store in which case I get to keep both my wholesale markup AND the retail mark up (minus the added costs associated with postage and online transactions through a hosted website).
Is it more expensive to know #whomademyclothes? Yes. Absolutely. At present, shopping with integrity and fairness is a rich man's game, one that many of us cannot afford to play. But the difference between the $16 black top and the $169 black top is that all parties are paid fairly, all processes are monitored to ensure a reduction in waste, all queries are answered by the person who oversaw its creation and wears it and loves it at the same time as you. Because being fair means being transparent. The $16 MIGHT be above board in these respects, but you're never going to know. When we know better, we can do better, and by agitating for change we can show this industry that mistreating workers and the environment in the name of fast fashion is not going to fly any more. All clothing is hand-made - how were the hands that made the $16 version being treated?
I care. I care that YOU care. I hope this look into how New Zealand made garments are priced provides some answers, and if you still have questions I'm only ever an email, a DM or a visit away.