What’s It Worth To You?

What’s It Worth To You?

Lately, I’ve had a whole slew of folks telling me my product is “so much nicer than the one I saw at the big-box store, I’d certainly pay $10 more for this!”

This is flattering, but it is more than $10 more. Often they are disappointed.

digitally printed hemp electronic envelope
“Find” tablet envelope

But it’s progress. People are at least starting to be able to discern that there is a difference between handmade using quality products and the petroleum-based mass manufactured cheap stuff. We have so long wanted things for “free” that I think I should be glad they think it’s worth paying anything at all!

And then, the other day, I had the tables turned on me. I am so tired of hunting down any particular tool I need in my sewing space that I have finally sat down and sketched out a plan for a storage solution that makes sense for my space and will help me organize – and stay that way! (This may be a magic storage solution.  I’ll let you know.) A couple of years ago I was going into my space at the Chase Street Park Warehouses and there was a plumbing truck that was backed up to the loading dock, and I got a good peek inside. It was cleaner than my kitchen. There was a drawer for everything and everything was in its place. All wood and brass and gleaming and just beautiful. I got the name of the carpenter responsible for this bit of wonderful work and the other day I gave him a call.  I described what I wanted and he started telling me that he couldn’t make it for me because of the cost! And he never once asked me what I was willing to pay. He automatically assumed that his time was worth more than I thought. Surprised me a little, and made me a little sad. Because, really, at this point I am willing to pay probably what he would consider a lot to have exactly what I want.

I have to do better than this!
I have to do better than this!

How many wonderful artisans and craftspeople have given up making what they love, and at what they excel, because they are tired of defending their costs? Their time, expertise, tool investment. Classes they’ve taken. Prototypes made and tested out. Time spent planning, sketching, measuring, shopping for the right raw materials. This all counts! And if we don’t support it, it’s going to become impossible to get anything that doesn’t come out of the back of the UPS truck in a cardboard box.

I’m not exactly sure how to begin the conversation, but I’d like to call that young man back and somehow get to what he thinks would be a fair price for what I want. We may both be pleasantly surprised.

Behind the Curtain

Knowledge. Now everyone knew exactly what went into every single garment. Material costs. Skill set. What kind of labor. And more importantly, how many hours. Hours and hours and hours.

Behind the Curtain

I’ve been a very big fan of Natalie Chanin since she began Project Alabama in 2000 (and of which she is no longer a part).  I can’t remember now how exactly I found out about her, but it was probably in a magazine article.  She is now the force of nature behind Alabama Chanin.

My Alabama Chanin DIY poncho
My Alabama Chanin DIY poncho

With Alabama Chanin, in developing her line and her marketing stragegy, Ms. Chanin has given everyone involved, from designer to maker to client, an incredible gift – one that keeps giving back. The gift of information.  She has resurrected the educated clothing consumer.

Alabama Chanin is beautiful, distinctive clothing and home dec made from organic American grown cotton.  Fabric is dyed in small lots, patterns individually cut, stencilled, hand embellished, hand sewn.  This work is performed by people close enough to the Alabama Chanin studio, located in a retired t-shirt factory in Florence, Alabama, to drive in, pick it up, and take it home to finish, as it is quite time consuming.

Perhaps increasingly frustrated by the comments on how expensive her clothing is – everyone I know who makes anything by hand hears these rather constantly! – Ms. Chanin began to educate.  Today it is entirely possible to purchase her patterns, her stencils, her fabrics, her paints.  She sells the thread.  She has published four books elucidating exactly how one would go about the process of making any given item in her line.  I suppose some people thought she was giving it away.

But exactly the opposite of what you’d think would happen did happen – her line began to sell even more.  Sales increased in both her custom and DIY lines.  Ms. Chanin now has factory tours, makers’ days, workshops.  She teaches an absolutely incredibly in-depth Craftsy class (I signed up!).  Her workshops and tours are so popular they have even added a factory eatery and evening events including speakers.

Exactly what happened here?  And how does this directly benefit you and me?

Knowledge.  Now everyone knew exactly what went into every single garment.  Material costs.  Skill set.  What kind of labor.  And more importantly, how many hours.  Hours and hours and hours.

No more instant disposable clothing that “magically” appears in stores!  And there aren’t rows and rows of identical items – most everything is made to order.

And even Chanel and Dior are beginning to open the doors to their previously guarded back rooms.  Perhaps they too are feeling the need to educate a little?

[The shawl in the photo was purchased as a DIY kit from the Alabama Chanin website and completed from the pattern in her book.  It took me about 6 weeks of working on it 3-4 hours at night.  My ASG guild in Atlanta, CityWide Couture, was very complimentary but when I told them how long it took me there was a collective sigh.  It was then that I realized they had probably not made many quilts!  I love this and wear it a lot.  Totally worth the money and effort.]

Let’s Be On Good Terms

Let’s Be On Good Terms

For a quiet hour
For a quiet hour

Organic.  Environmentally friendly.  Responsibly made.  These words show up a lot these days, and sometimes I see them used in ways that seem diametrically opposed.  What do they really mean, exactly?

Dictionary.com defines organic as  “noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.”  The word “organic” is thrown around a lot these days, especially when it comes to food, only for me to discover it doesn’t always mean as “natural” as “organic” is in my mind.  “Environmentally friendly” is another term I’ve learned to mistrust and investigate further, especially when it comes to fibers, as the term often can refer to only one of the many processes involved to bring plant to textile.  And “responsibly made”?  How far down the chain does one need to go to be “responsible”?

When I started this venture, I really wanted to use fibers that don’t use up a lot of water, or deplete the soil, or make the people who grow, harvest, or process the fibers unhealthy.  My family farmed cotton for at least 3 generations, and pesticides are not good for anyone: farmer, neighbor, animal life.  As a child I remember seeing people in the fields when the crop dusters would fly over, poisoning them along with the crops.  A lot of cotton now is even grown with the poison inserted into the seed, so that it is actually part of the fiber itself – there is no separating it or washing it out.

Finding these “environmentally friendly” fibers is not as easy as one would think!  That’s why I chose hemp for my first product.  Hemp is not presently grown in the US, which is another story, but it is grown without the use of pesticides or even a lot of fertilizers, simply because there is no need.  It’s rarely irrigated.  Once grown, the stalks are cut and laid in the fields for several days, turned and left to dry in the sun, during which time the fibers fall away from the woody central stem.  They are then collected, put into the ditches and ponds in the fields, and left for several weeks to separate further.  They don’t need chemicals to break them down further to be spun into thread which is then woven into cloth, unlike wood or bamboo rayon, which both use a lot of chemicals and are terrible for the water supply (which is also why they aren’t produced in the US, by the way).  Hemp is very strong, silky, long-lasting, and has a beautiful natural color.  My hemp is undyed and unbleached, just the color the sun and rain made it.

I am committed to finding fibers that are grown without the use of pesticides or industrial fertilizers that accumulate in our water supplies, minimally processed, and printed using low-impact dyes that also don’t contribute to runoff into our water.  It’s more difficult that I imagined, and I upped the difficulty level by wanting to use fibers grown, milled, spun, woven and printed in the USA.

So.  The hemp I use in the electronic envelopes is grown in Romania, without chemicals or pesticides, and brought over by sea to minimize the carbon footprint.  It’s digitally printed in North Carolina, using fiber reactive dyes that cut waste and water usage to the bare minimum.  It’s cut, sewn and finished in Athens, GA, using a lot of human power (which is, contrary to what we tell each other some days in the studio, completely renewable).  The closures are aluminum, die stamped in Minnesota using a minimum of 30% recycled material.  The artists are paid for the fine work that they do, receiving a percentage of sales as well.  The sewists are paid a living wage, too, and I’m proud to call them my friends.  We ship in 100% recycled polyester envelopes, to keep the products clean and dry, made in the USA, and using a minimum of packing materials.  This is the best I can do to be “responsible.”

I am always on the lookout for great fibers and textiles that are home-grown, milled and dyed in the US, and any suggestions you have will be explored.  But I just wanted to be sure that we understand each other when we use these words that are increasingly used more for marketing than truthtelling.  Because it’s important to me that you know exactly what you’re getting when you buy from Cambridge Lane.