I really love the opportunity to meet people who buy Nine56 in person. It is so fun for me to see strangers loving my clothing and giving me real time feedback. In the spring, I have the chance to be a part of markets where I can share my label and mission alongside other small businesses. Each garment that I have hanging on a my rack is my pride and joy. Every style has had so much time and energy into it deciding the design and fabric, and getting the fit just right. Each piece is hand cut by me and hand sewn by Abby in her home with adorable baby Hellen snuggled into her chest. When people see the value in my clothing, it is the best thing.
Unfortunately, so much more goes into a garment than the average consumer realizes. It breaks my heart to see someone love a piece and then wrinkle their nose when they see the price tag. There is still such a large gap in consumer education about what it costs to make the clothing we wear every day.
So, I am going to get really transparent here about the cost that goes into making a Nine56 piece. Keep in mind that I am a small batch label so that makes my costs higher than a company that produces larger runs. My method of making clothing is definitely not perfect but I wanted to share with you the labor of love that goes into producing our clothing.
I am not currently making a salary because I want all of the money I make to go into building this label. I am fortunate enough to be able to do this because my sweet husband believes in my dreams and is financially (and emotionally) supporting me. As the designer, pattern maker and sample maker, the cost of my time should really go into each garment but it currently doesn’t.
After I get the design of what I want to make on paper, I usually transfer it into my computer to make a technical flat which is a more technical drawing of how the garment will go together. Then I head over to my pattern/cut table, unroll my pattern paper and build the pattern, by hand, with a pencil onto pattern paper. After creating the initial pattern, I sew a prototype. Then I meet with my technical designer (who I am also currently not paying, she spends time with me every week because she shares my dream of a more ethical/sustainable fashion industry-and because she is a rockstar). We look at the fit of the garment on our lovely fit model, who's generosity with her time also makes it possible for this thing to work. We make changes to the pattern based on how the garment is fitting and then we repeat the whole process an average of four times until we get the fit perfectly and I sew a final sample. That happens for every style we produce.
Once we have the final sample, we are ready to move into production. Because I use natural fabrics from ethical factories and because we only make 10-15 garments per style our cost per yard for fabric ranges between $8 and $15 dollars (our silk is $20 a yard). Every style is different but takes on average two yards of fabric. So we are looking at $16 to $30 just in fabric costs. The fact that fast fashion brands can sell clothing for the same price or less than just the cost of my fabric means that they are using fabric that was made as cheaply as possible (this undoubtably involves unsafe working conditions and a lot of pollution, especially water pollution).
I grade all of the patterns to get our different sizes, again by hand, and use these patterns to cut out the styles. I then bundle up everything else that is needed to sew the garment (including thread, notions, labels, tags) and drop them off to Abby. I pay Abby $20 an hour to sew for me. It takes so much skill and attention to detail to sew a garment from start to finish and it is a trade that has largely been lost in the US. I value the work that Abby does for me so highly because she is passionate about quality and helps me make every single piece the best that it can be. Every garment takes an hour or two (on average) to sew.
To understand the total cost that goes into a garment, we also have to factor in overhead costs which include things like the subscription to my website, cost of shipping, cost to be in markets, cost of supplies, and all of the pre-production costs that I mentioned.
The following equation breaks down the costs that go into making one garment.
($20 of fabric costs + $30 of labor) x 2 for overhead costs = $100 to make one garment.
Every single person has different circumstances and different priorities when it comes to what they are spending on clothing. My dream is that the priorities of consumers will shift away from having more, cheap and trendy clothing, towards having fewer pieces that they LOVE (because of how each piece serves them and for how it served the people and planet who made it).
It is definitely not easy to be a sustainable clothing start up but I heard something recently from the founder of The Shine Project, Ashley Lemieux who said (and I am paraphrasing here):
I believed so much in the potential of what I was creating that I pushed past the all of the fears I had about creating it.
And that right there, spoke to me so much because the potential that simple living has to positively transform our lives and our world, LIGHTS ME UP! Our clothing is such a great place to start to think about our purchases differently. When we see quality > quantity winning in our closets, we start to understand how less can be more.