December 20, 2014

Paying the Price

There's been an article floating around social media by The Guardian titled "Luxury brands: higher standards or just a higher mark-up?"  Check out the article for yourself here.

The first time I came across this article, I did not even think of responding to it on my blog. But when my friend sent me the link, I realized perhaps this was a topic worth discussing. In the article, Tansy Hoskins disproves the assumption that luxury clothing demands higher prices because workers are being paid higher, ethical wages.

First of all, I want to clear things up.  What assumption is this?  I've followed fashion for 8 years, and not once has it ever occurred to me that higher luxury prices are due to ethical wages. Right off the bat, Hoskins' article began with an assumption I have never heard of. To my understanding, luxury clothing comes with higher price tags because it requires higher labour hours and higher material costs. Luxury clothing generally has a more complex production process, meaning it takes longer to make - but just because it takes longer to make does not mean workers are receiving fair wages. Even for someone like me, who loves and appreciates high fashion, I am not so disillusioned to think luxury products are made in cozy cottages with middle-class workers. The idea of luxury has always been in design and high quality materials, and at least to me, not in ethical wages.

Hoskins does, however, end with a statement I agree with.

"With high-end brands, further insult is added to the injury of low wages, as workers sew and sell items that they have no chance of ever affording. Luxury it seems has more respect for their merchandise than for people."

This is entirely true, but not something I find to be all that shocking. Think of any luxury product. Is it ever marketed on the basis of ethical production? Very rarely. It's all about customer experience, not worker experience. I am fully aware luxury, for the most part, is not about respect for its people.

But I say all of this not because I am dismissing Hoskins' article, but because the issue of ethical production is something we all need to address. And not just high-end retailers; low wages and poor working conditions exist across all industries. Nonetheless, in order for there to be any progress, we have to realize we, as the consumer, are the ones driving wages down. Certainly income disparity between those at the top of the corporate ladder and those at the bottom adds a layer of complexity to the issue, but if you were to truly think of all the hands that have a part in the production process, you come to quite a hefty price tag. Yet have you seen the disdain the average shopper has for luxury products?  The way they scoff, furrow their brow, and chastise high-end brands for having such high prices (all while piling their shopping basket with cheap Forever 21 clothes)?  It seems to me the average shopper is not willing to pay the price for ethical labour, and the reality is, if you aren't willing to pay the price, then neither are retailers.

Image Source: Photo 1, 2


  1. Haven't heard of that basis far as I know, these clothing are now made by computers, sewn by computers, it's all programmed with the way they produce bigger brands internationally. To weave a fabric alone takes forever and yes I do believe that it is expensive, you remembered "The Oregon Weaver"? She does everything alone, weaves her fabric and sews them without computers, and sells one robe at least $1,000. That I will say it is worth the price. It is also competitive to the top designers. I am a proud owner of one of her pieces! This new article is actually intriguing to me. I would believe that prices are more based on the name that's been established than based on who does the work for the company.

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one! I questioned whether I was just ignorant, but I truly have never come across such an assumption. I am not surprised The Oregon Weaver prices her robes for $1,000+. That amount appropriately represents that labour that goes into making such garments, and I'm glad we're able to see that.