(ahh....the Log Lady. Wasn't she fabulous? Probably time for a Twin Peaks viewing again.)
People often say to me - you should totally just make stuff and sell it at markets (awww shucks!). Believe me, this is something I would love to be doing, unless National Geographic calls me up tomorrow and asks me to be their permanent travel writer...and saving the planet from imminent destruction etc. And you know, it's something that might start happening as the funds run a little dry between contracts and the desire to remain freelance and be the ultimate two for the price of one parent remains. But there are things to think about and these things need to be thought about by me as well as the rest of the people. Thinking about sewing for a living really made me think about how we consume and the choices we need to make if we can.
This is a quilt I made. As you can see, it is very large, and there are a lot of pieces of fabric in it which had to be cut and then sewn together. Those fabric pieces come from a fabric collection that spans decades as well as countries. In addition, that's approx 8.5 metres of bias binding that has been hand stitched on one side. That took a very long time and made my hand go all seized up and cramped. It's also a one of a kind. There is not now and I highly doubt will ever be another one of its kind in the whole world. Ever. It's special. Look, let's be honest - it's a freaking work of art. So - if quilts like this were your thing, how much would you pay for it? $200? $300 - the going price for a mass produced mid-range-ish quilt set at David Jones? $500 cos it's a bit more special? I reckon that $750 would be pushing it, right?
How about if I told you that it took me approximately at a conservative guess, the equivalent of a working week to make? OK. So, how much does the average Australian earn in a week? The average income for Australians for the last quarter of 2015 was around the AUD1500 mark according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Given that it seems fair that I might like to earn the average wage, would someone pay $1500 for it? Probably not, right? They might look at it and think, yeah, nice but totally overpriced and might go off to a department store or Target and get something for their bed for under $100, and it would look nice and colourful and their friends might compliment them on their bargain shopping nouse.
Fair enough, you might think. Everyone has a budget. I know that. Mine always leans a little too far into the red. So there we are. But we are not. For a start, our friend gets paid, we hope, a reasonable wage for what he or she does, right? Why not all of us? We might want to mention to our friend that according to Bloomberg, 2013, a Chinese seamstress earns around USD235 a month. That's a lot less than the average monthly wage in China as well, which was about USD4755 a year in 2012 according to CNN. I am guessing that they are probably not earning what they deserve for making that cheapie colourful quilt cover either. I am not picking on Target in particular, it's just an example that came to mind first off. They did however report a EBITDA of AUD119 million in Australian at the second half of last year. Nice.
So - what is my point? I am not an economist nor a social commentator, so my a+b=c is a bit simplistic, I know. However, my point is that something is a little rotten in the state of Denmark and we as consumers, and that does include me, I am as guilty as anyone, need to think about how we purchase. I have been reading the autobiography of Martin Luther King recently (what a man...) and a couple of things he said come to mind - although it makes me sad that 50 years on, not much has changed:
"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of your past and present policies."
"A true revolution of values will look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."
"We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society."
My quilt tells me that we could all begin with how we consume. I am not saying go out and buy the most expensive things you can find. I am saying that we need to think about whether we need the things we want to buy. And if we do, are we buying them in a way to encourage a fair wage and situation for the person who made them? Are my purchases benefitting society? Can I buy one beautiful, handmade top instead of half a dozen cheapies from H&M? Or if I can't find it made in a fair way new, can I get it secondhand and at least make some contribution to a charity or recycling? How can I change the way I consume so that it doesn't just benefit ME or big fat profit machines?
And, for the record if you do like my quilt, you can order one. They cost AUD1500.
Disclaimer: This is what you think about when you are alone surrounded by little coloured pieces of fabric for extended periods of time. I do have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth. Please note that I am not having a go at the kind friends who commission pieces from me. I love you all dearly and appreciate you as well. You also have excellent taste. It's more of a general musing about the price of fish/state of the world, so to speak.