I’ve been thinking a lot about my pricing lately. When I think about the amount of effort that goes into finalizing a style, the time spent in tailoring, and the expense in experimenting with different colours and fabrics, I think my prices are too low. But then, I never wanted my brand to be in that high-end and almost unaffordable league, so I guess it’s up to me to be smart about my fabric and tailoring choices to deliver a unique product that’s still affordable.
The definition of affordable, however, varies from person to person and from income to income. I understand that completely- we all have different reference points after all- but what does upset me is when people cannot imagine why my garments would cost as much as they do (my prices range from Rs 800 to Rs 2,600). This post is my attempt to explain why a well-tailored garment made from handwoven, natural fabric cannot be sold for cheap. Well, at least not be yesteryear's standards of cheap.
Most designers follow a simple equation to help them price a garment. There are more complicated ways of doing this by taking into account hidden costs such as rent, sales staff salaries, etc, and some designers have a wholesale price and a retail price but at its basic level, this is the standard equation.
Cost * Profit Margin = Price
Usually, only direct costs are taken into account. This includes the cost of fabric, notions (buttons, thread, zips), and tailoring charges. Let’s take a look at each of these direct costs.
Fabric: It’s no secret that natural fabrics are more expensive than synthetic fabrics. Add to that the process of small scale yarn dyeing, and weaving- that’s a lot of skilled labour right there! Many people seem to be under the impression that labour in India is still really cheap and that handwoven fabric should not be that expensive. The farmers and weavers who work for cheap can’t survive with today’s standard of living; has no one read the news stories about farmers and weavers in Andhra committing suicide? Just so that everyone is on the same page (and in the same decade), here are some figures to get you up to speed on what quality labour costs these days.
One metre of handwoven cotton can cost anything between Rs 80 to as much as Rs 450 per metre. This is dependent on the quality of yarn, the amount of yarn, and the tie-dying work done on the yarn (ikat is obviously more expensive because of the labour involved before the weaving itself). Additional textile crafts like extra weft (jamdaani) weaving add to the cost.
If the cotton is real khadi (and by real khadi, I mean the yarn should have been spun by hand) and handwoven, then it can cost anything between Rs 150 to Rs 350 per metre. I know, it’s such a steal it’s not even funny.
Handwoven silk can cost anything between Rs 200 to Rs 800 per metre. This is dependent on the weight of silk, the quality and type of silk, and special weaving techniques like jamdani or ikat.
Tailoring cost: A really good tailor can cost anything between Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 per month. A good tailor has control over a sewing machine, can give you a good finish with concealed zips, darts, and French seams, and he knows how to change the machine tension according the fabric so that you don’t have a beautiful satin silk garment puckering at every seam.
Oh, and even a good tailor can take up to half a day to tailor one garment if that garment has a lot of darts and pin-tucks or pleats.
A good pattern maker (and it is the pattern maker, not the tailor who decides the fit of the garment) can cost anything between Rs 12,000 to Rs 30,000 per month. I’ll say less about this because clearly there are pattern makers and there are pattern makers. This cost really depends on what kind of garments you want to make and how much time and effort the designer spends explaining her vision, concept and style.
A good cutter (whose job, literally, is to cut out fabric in the shape of paper patterns that the pattern maker generates) can cost anything between Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000 per month.
Notions: Invisible YKK zips cost anything between Rs 35 to Rs 90 per zip, depending on the length. Shell buttons cost anything between Rs 3 to Rs 20 per button, depending on the type and size.
Now that’s a lot of information to help anyone figure out how much it costs to make a range of garments in cotton and silk. And these are only the costs for the direct input into each garment, mind you. Not factored into the direct costs are the time spent finalizing a pattern from sketch to final product, the time spent grading patterns to different sizes, the production manager’s time spent making sure everything gets done in time and without tailoring errors, sales staff salaries, rent, electricity, phone, and of course the cost of machinery.
Yeah, don’t even get me started on the hidden costs of running a business.