Saturday, 8 February 2014

Transparent Pricing: Snow White Chemise

When it came to pricing the Madame Tây pieces, offering a fair and affordable price was really important to us.  So often ethically produced goods are priced so high that only a small privileged strata of society are able to access them. For us, an ethical clothing project meant not only having an ethical production process where our tailors are being paid a fair wage, but also offering a fair price for our consumers at the other end. 

I am strongly convinced that there is a  place for something like Madame Tây - we want to create the pieces that you want to buy because they are beautiful and can buy because they are affordable, but are simultaneously assured that each piece is ethically produced. And so Madame Tây has served as an experiment of sorts - because something like Madame Tây can only work in the long run if it is sustainable and it can only be sustainable if it is financially viable.  

And here lies the balance that we are trying to find - determining a selling price for our clothes which is on the one hand fair and affordable for consumers and on the other hand financially viable for Madame Tây.

Inspired by the concept of radical transparency advocated by Everlane, we decided to break-down and show you our production costs so that when you buy the Snow White Chemise you know exactly how much it cost to make and where that money went. We have questioned whether this is the right thing to do - after all would people still want to buy a shirt at $40 if they knew that the raw production cost of the shirt is less than $15? In the end, we decided to do this for two reasons. Firstly, we constantly emphasise that we are more interested in the process than the final product. Throughout the project we have been keenly aware that there are many things which we could (and should) do better - one example is using more sustainable and ethical fabrics. The whole project has been an important process of learning - and we believe that by seeking out, documenting and sharing that information - we (and maybe even others) can learn from it and improve our work in the future. Secondly the issue of transparency lies very close to me - afterall I work for an organisation called Transparency International in Vietnam. Everyday I operate on the premise that transparency is critical - because knowledge is transformative whether it be in the struggle against corruption or in building a safer clothing and garment industry.

For the Snow White Chemise you see that there is a mark-up of 2.7 times the cost of production. What is important to keep in mind is that this is the raw production cost associated with producing this item. What the $14.75 does not include is all the time Sarah, Cara, Christina and I have poured into sampling clothes; sourcing fabrics, buttons and zips; bi-weekly visits to the tailors to oversee production and quality; testing out sizing; ironing and tagging each piece individually. And those were a lot of hours - let me tell you! It also doesn't include any of the costs of bringing the clothes to you - designing and building our website or the cost of market stall (not to mention the hours spent staffing the stall). It doesn't cover the invaluable contributions of many friends and family who volunteered  their time, bodies and skills to build and host our website (thanks Matt!), photograph our clothes (thanks Lisa), model and test sample sizing, help with make-up, provide production and financial advice, the list goes on and on. To be completely honest, if we were to factor in and cost all this time, the first production lot of Madame Tây is not financially viable - not by a long shot. But this first production lot is small - only around 175 pieces in total and as we emphasise time and time again, we have learnt so much though the process. If we were to do this again at a slightly larger scale - say double or triple the production size, now that we have found trusted tailors, a better understanding and eye for fabrics (and also leads on where to source more sustainable fabrics) and a website created, I see that Madame Tây has the potentially to become self-sustaining in the future.     

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