For the last few years I've been selling my woolly hats that I make from bits of left over wool from larger projects. I was charging £40 for them and a friend was surprised "£40??!! I can buy one like that for a £5 in the shops" and indeed you can but you'd actually be paying a lot more than £5.
We spend a lot of time at the moment talking about saving the planet, the environmental impact of plastic waste and carbon emissions. We have abandoned drinking straws, bought tote shopping bags and shampoo bars, some even take our empty bottles to one of those shops that fill them up for us with eco friendly washing up liquid. All of this is fantastic and a move in the right direction but what if I said, don't buy any more high street clothing? Don't go into that big High Street Store and get your holiday wardrobe for £50, invest in slow fashion....... would you?
The Environmental Audit Committee reported that here in the UK we buy more clothes than any other country in Europe. The average Brit buys about enough clothes each year to fill a large suitcase (approx 26.7kg ). We throw away about £12.5 billion of clothes each year of which 300,000 tonnes end up in landfill, to put that in some perspective that's about the weight of the Empire State Building, every year!!!
Our preference is for cheap, disposable fashion that is worn once and that comes at an extra price, cheap clothing in the main is made in China and India where workers are paid less than a living wage and work in terrible conditions, untreated water from the manufacturing process is pumped straight into the water supply often containing toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic and lead. Cotton itself is about as far removed as an eco friendly fibre as you can get, 1kg of cotton takes 20,000 litres of water to produce and the environmental impact of that in a country like India where 100 million people don't have access to drinking water, is shocking.
Once we have bought our item and have got it home, each time we wash synthetic fibres micro fibres are released into the water supply where they ultimately end up in the food chain. So yes, your £5 hat, your £10 jumper may not hurt your purse but it's cost is far greater than my woolly hat.
So lets break the costings down . When you buy a knitted garment from someone locally you are ultimately supporting independent crafts people, we are not big corporates and we don't rely on cheap labour, so its an ethical transaction. I have a skill that's taken years to learn, your garment will be carefully made not banged out on a machine so it will be better quality and last longer. Traditional knits tend to be timeless - this Marius sweater is a Norwegian design that has been going strong since 1953 and never dates. I source my wool from either local producers or places where I know that it's been dyed in countries that abide by strict environmental policies. Wool in itself is a highly eco friendly fibre, it is made by sheep who eat plant based food, it is completely bio degradeable , it needs washing less frequently than other fibres as it's naturally resistant to stains and when you do wash it you do so at a very low temperature so all in all it's very good for the environment.
When you adopt slow fashion and buy pieces from crafters or hand knitters, you aren't just buying a sweater or a scarf, it is a piece of art, a piece of history. The socks on the left have been hand dyed with natural food colourings, they are a complete one off. The pattern is unchanged since my ancestors would have made them 200 years ago - the heel designed for heavy wear and durability, the rib pattern designed for warmth and the wool fibre designed to draw the sweat from the skin and keep the feet cool.
So going back to my hats, yes they were £40. They took maybe 3 evenings to knit, say 8 hours in total. That doesn't include time taken to design the pattern but at a minimum wage it's £65.68 and that doesn't include the price of the wool. With high streets churning out knitted hats at under £10 it doesn't take a genius to work out that these will be made by exploited workers with cheap materials, they aren't made to last and they aren't made to be treasured. Maybe I should put my prices up but sadly the other impact of fast fashion is it also devalues the work of skilled craftspeople, the tailors, dressmakers, sewing machinists, knitters and crocheters, lace makers, embroiderers. One thing I do know is my knitted hat will still be keeping ears warm whilst it's cheaply made counterpart is lying in landfill. Is it expensive? not when you look at the bigger picture.