When my mom and I first came up with the idea to design & create clothing that we loved and were proud of producing, neither of us had any experience in the garment industry outside of being the committed bargain-hunters that we were. It wasn’t until a few months later, in the middle of one of the largest trade shows in the industry’s (MAGIC) showroom floor, when it hit us that my great-grandfather (my mother’s grandfather) had helped see a west Tennessee cotton mill through the Great Depression, and that we had unintentionally stumbled into a family legacy. For many reasons, but particularly this one, we were feeling highly motivated and affirmed despite our lack of industry experience. Though we saw clearly what we were up against, we chose to proceed with only the highest standards and expectations.
We want to explain a bit about the implications of sticking to those standards. To start, for anyone who isn’t aware of the human exploitation and environmental destruction in the current fashion industry, we recommend that you begin by watching The True Cost documentary (available on Netflix) – an inspiring and engaging depiction of not only the problem at hand but how we can begin to tackle it. There is also information on our website to help you understand different aspects of the issues. Click on Our Poison Closets, Fashion Revolution Week 2018 or Slow Fashion At-a-Glance for some additional insights.
We want our clothing to reflect the nature of their source, the fibers themselves. As Lady Farmers, we realize that in highlighting clothing as an agricultural product, it helps frame a lot of the issues within the industry. If we are learning as a culture to be more conscious of our food sourcing, it becomes easier to cultivate the same discernment for what we put on our bodies as what we put in them. Our clothing, like our food, is one of our most basic needs, which ultimately starts as a seed in the ground.
So back to our trade show, where we enter bright-eyed and ready to change the world, asking where we might find the “Made in America” section, particularly domestically made and organically grown linens…only to be met with blank stares. Turns out that domestically grown woven fabrics (linen, etc.) are rare or non-existent, and any other organic domestic apparel fabrics are few and far between. In this moment we became starkly aware of two things: 1) the problems with sourcing were much bigger and even more complex than we could have known when we started and 2) we were going to be met with many obstacles, but our commitment was to doing the very best we could under the circumstances. We knew that in telling our story transparently, we would have an opportunity to educate where the gaps were while creating an alternative.
Despite our lack of choice when it comes to sourcing organic (sometimes the only option is “Made in China”) there are some areas where there is simply no compromise. All parts of each piece we design and produce must be made of natural materials. We do not use any polyester, even the recycled kind (a discussion for another day). We do not use zippers, plastic buttons, elastic, or any type of notion that might compromise the circular life cycle of the garment we hope to produce. The well-being of the human who forged the buckles, wove the fibers, spun the thread, then ultimately sewed the garment together are of the utmost concern to us, and where we have direct say over those workers’ wages (our USA-based sewists), we offer fair market value in exchange for labor.
During our very first call with a New England based manufacturer, we were asked about our design ideas as well as our ideal price point. At that point, we really didn’t have a frame of reference for the true cost of producing these items. We threw out a number that we thought was “a good price” and quickly realized what we were up against, wanting to create something so clean and good for so little money. Knowing what we know now we’re reminded of all of the gaps – the information gaps, the sourcing gaps, the opportunity gaps, the challenge of no elastic, the predicament of designing a pair of overalls with no buttons or pants with no zippers–but eventually we did it (for what we understand now to be a completely fair and “good” price), and we feel more affirmed than ever in our goals and designs.
Yes, the price on our garments might be more that what the average consumer is accustomed to paying in this world of cheap, disposable fashion, but here’s something to consider: What if “a good price” meant that the cost of the item actually reflected its true value all the way down the line, from the manufacturer to the supply chain to the producer of the raw materials? What if “a good price” meant a decent wage for every human being involved in the production and the enforcement of responsible environmental and health standards? What if we all thought of these things when looking at a price tag with the goal not being to spend as little as possible, but to exchange our own resources for something with meaning and integrity?
The higher cost for a better alternative is an ongoing discussion in our community, yet we are encouraged that there are other ways to refuse participation in fast fashion. Thrift and consignment stores, clothing swaps, wardrobe repair and “upcycling” are all ways of rejecting the prevailing system with minimal cost. Increasing awareness of personal lifestyle and consumer habits are powerful tools in shifting personal patterns. Individuals can quickly learn that a sense of well- being is not necessarily compromised by consuming less, but can in fact be enhanced by such reevaluation. We support and encourage all of these efforts.
In the spirit of full transparency, we are excited to offer you a pricing breakdown of one of our own garments – the beloved Brigit Overalls. We think it’s important that consumers are fully aware of what things cost, and that they know where their money is going when they make purchases! Because exact numbers are constantly changing due to fluctuating material costs, etc, we’ve chosen to break down our pricing via pie chart, the sections are as follows:
Materials: The materials we’ve committed to using (natural, non-toxic, responsibly grown) are in lower demand and are therefore more expensive to produce, leading to longer lead times. The more consumer demand there is for these types of materials, the easier it will be to get them and economy of scale will encourage the prices to come down a bit.
Labor: Local labor at fair market price is much higher here than overseas, where most of the clothing we wear has been sewn. In many cases, the garment workers making our $10 jeans and $5 tank tops have been paid well below poverty level, if at all.
Operating/Administrative Costs: Website infrastructure, shipping and shipping materials, non-production related labor and wages, taxes, etc.
Net Profit: What will go back into the company for new designs and production, sourcing, planning events (conferences and workshops), creating content around education and awareness which serves to increase demand and lower costs, networking, investing in future regenerative fiber material, training future Lady Fiber Farmers, etc.
We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve made. We believe that each garment, born of a passion to heal what is broken, has the potential to tell a story that will shift a paradigm. We’re excited to share more about what makes them so special, and why we believe we are left with no other option than to vote with our dollars and to spread the message that as consumers, we have the power to truly change the world.
Thanks for following along,
Emma (& Mary)