Monday, 2 December 2013

Costing for Selling

A few day ago, I talked about costing a project.

At the end, it was pretty clear that it would be a very expensive product to buy. Once costs for labour are included, we're looking at £75.00 bunting. No-one would buy £75.00 bunting, including me.

What does that mean?

Well, in costing this project it wasn't my intention to sell it for profit. It was made as a gift - that's some lux bunting there! You'd be hard pressed to find 8m of handmade fabric bunting on the market. Which is part of the awesomeness of making your own stuff. So what would I do differently if I wanted to make a product for sale?

The first thing to consider is that most people don't really have much of a concept of how much work goes into handmade items. People who make stuff do - but then they're often more likely to want to buy the fabric to make things for themselves!

We live in an economic situation which makes unrealistic prices the norm. People expect clothing and other textile goods to come cheaply. This is because for many years, the work has been outsourced to countries where people are paid very little for their labour. It means we can buy things cheaply, but it has a long term negative impact on us - small businesses cannot survive if they are obliged to pay a working wage to workers in their own country, while competing with large companies who do not pay real working wages. It puts a downward pressure on everyone's wages because of the knock-on effect of industries (textile and others) being outsourced. We could also talk about national debt, but I'm not going to go into that right now. It means the rise of the mega-chain - since high volume means lower costs . I know I can buy the same dress in three different parts of my nearest shopping mall. For the exact same price. Or I can buy it online. (it doesn't fit me regardless).

Despite all that, in what can only be regarded as a sign that there is hope, some people are actively seeking something different. The rise of etsy tells the story - yes, people want convenience and the ability to shop online in our pajamas at 3am if we so choose. But they are also seeking something a bit different. Hurrah!

I'm never going to pay my bills making bunting. But I might be able to use it to support my fabric addiction. Or I might want to make things for sale as a way to raise funds for a cause (effectively donating my time). So what would I do?

Start with the price of the product in mind.
Before I started buying materials to make my product, I would need to think and do a bit of research as to what is already out there. What are people paying for similar products? What could make mine unique or different? I would want to make a sample and decide whether it was likely I would be able to make it within a reasonable price range. People will pay a bit more for handmade, unique things, but how much more? Ask friends and family what they would expect it to cost.

Shop differently for materials.
I purchased from the latest range of designer Christmas prints from a boutique style patchwork store - in November. There was no way I was going to get a bargain on that fabric! But if I was really serious about sewing for cash, I would consider a few different options.
1) Buy Christmas fabric in January. 50% saving right there.
2) Buy beyond / outside the latest range. Yes, the latest range will have some very on-trend stuff, which might grab buyers attention. But you don't need to use all on-trend designs to make really appealing products. Look for simpler designs you can mix in to make the 'special' fabric stand out.
3) Consider using reclaimed materials. Recycling and 'up-cycling' have a lot of market appeal too!
4) Look beyond the obvious. I used plain fabric for the backing. But it was still retail price quilting fabric. If I was going to make lots bunting for sale, I would consider buying an inexpensive single bed sheet in a plain colour.

Change the design.
My bunting had flags right next to each other. But most bunting on the market doesn't have flags that close - generally there is a bit of space between each flag. I could experiment with spacing out my flags, which would reduce costs and time.
I could use a one sided flag rather than a backed flag - hemming them instead of backing them would halve my fabric requirement.
I could reduce the length of the bunting. Going by a bit of an online search, 2 - 3 meters is pretty usual length for fabric bunting. That's plenty for hanging on a table, above a doorway or over a child's bed. That would make a product in a more modest price range!

Use more efficient methods of construction.
If you are making lots of something, it's possible to get more efficient methods of construction going by batching jobs. There are plenty of other tricks which can come in handy too - like flagging:
Where you just keep rolling them through. Here my thread is about 1cm at the start and end of each piece, and it's faster too. Rotary cutters and mats would enable fast and accurate cutting through multiple layers.
Yeah, I know all the quilters out there probably knew this stuff.

But in making the prototype, you might find a few other time-saving ideas. I would probably put a notch at the top of mine next time, to prevent err, this....

Are you really, really serious about this?
Could you buy fabric at a wholesale rate? Could you invest in an industrial machine. They are FAST, and would considerably cut down on your sewing time.

Don't undersell your stuff.
Please. It just means you're making it harder for others to sell theirs. Ask yourself - would I be happy to make it again for this profit?

Have FUN with it. 
The best thing about selling your stuff is the experience. You may not make a whole lot of money, but it is really lovely if someone comes up and says 'Oh wow!' about something you've made. If you make a wad of cash, even better. ;)


  1. Great post.
    I have had limited success in making and selling occasion dresses (OK, it was just 1). I took costing seriously and accounted for everything but I had to strike a balance on what it is really worth and what people would pay. My hourly rate took a hit to get the dresses to an acceptable price. And then I didn't account for a fitting, fabric for making the toile....It was good experience and I set up an Etsy shop. I haven't received any orders via that but it's a nice vibe when somebody favours your item. I learnt that I was never going to live off dressmaking and that I probably would get fed up of making things for others and not earning much. So all efforts are going into my wardrobe and I won't be giving up the day job!

    1. No, the sewing side of things won't make a decent living. It's a shame really. But by contrast if you looked at the value of clothing pre-industrial revolution when everything was handmade and hand woven most people only had one set of clothes, and they were probably 4th or 5th hand! Somewhere between those extremes is a balance we've yet to strike. I've also come to the conclusion that sewing my own stuff is the best part anyway. Although I do think it's also good to share my skills - if only so that friends will appreciate a handmade gift more! Ahh the difference between understanding handmade socks as socks v's hours of love. :)

  2. Great post Zoe
    I tell my students to count their hours, charge themselves their casual wage per hour to calculate their time in $. Then I ask them to add up costs etc... They get a real wake up call, particularly with the time it takes to sew something. I then tell them roughly how much a textiles work got paid for the DAY and how long it probably took them to sew that garment. If anyone asks me to sew something for them I tell them that I charge $70.00 per hour, generally they don’t ask again (which I am happy about as I am pretty much a selfish sewer) I am happy to teach people to sew for free (so far, might change in the future) but I want them to understand how valuable my time is, as well as my associated costs for machinery, maintenance and my skill level.
    What I think is disgusting is that jeans 20 years ago that I bought as a teenager were expensive for me $50 was hugely expensive and top of the line, so I saved and bought the $20.00 ones as that was all I could afford. These cheaper jeans are now $10, how is this possible? At the expense of another humans wellbeing and I think many in society just ignore or are ignorant to the plight of the textiles worker. I now try to buy Australian Made and have been buying from local designers lately.
    The other issue is the magazines, you have multiple looks, every month and the waste associated with the clothing that people don’t want is also disgusting. As they are happy to throw it away or maybe take it to the op shop we have an over abundance of unwanted clothing and much of it is poor quality fabric that doesn’t last as the textile manufacturers are using lower quality fabric.
    Anyway I could rant on more and more. One Doco I show my students is China Blue it really gets the point across to them, but the main thing that they see is not only her work conditions but that she is the same age as them!!

    1. Yeah, I was thinking about that. We've created more efficient methods of making, but instead of meaning we have better made clothes it's just put the fashion cycle on fast forward, and created even more insatiable demand. And for what?
      Thanks so much for the references there - I've been looking for China Blue.

    2. Oh we have this thing called enhance tv, they do all the recording of free to air tv in oz (librarians need no more tape TV shows for schools), they have a six yr catalogue so far, chain blue is on it, I am not sure how much it costs but it is a god send, never having to tape a show again. I have found heaps of designer shows like the masters of Australian fashion. I will FB u re china blue.

    3. Awesome! Thanks Merle!

  3. The deflation in the cost of clothing over the last 20 years is crazy. Just as it says in the above response, I would seriously think about buying a pair of jeans and maybe spending £30 - £40. That would be my only clothing purchase of the month. 20 years ago that was 1/3 of my weekly take home pay!

    1. Crazy isn't it? I was reading some fascinating stuff a while ago (which I now can not find - grr) where a magazine did a survey of college students (women) in the 50's and asked them what was in their wardrobe. I got the impression they knew every item - and you know it was so carefully planned. It would have been a huge investment!