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  • Carol Alayne

The credit crunch, suits, and a pricing conundrum

With the current financial turmoil that surrounds us it seems appropriate to talk about price of goods, but on this occasion I intend to do it from the ‘makers’ standpoint. The reason is that I have been more than slightly surprised recently by some of the prices claimed for ‘high quality, custom, hand made’ suits.

Here in the City you are either accosted en-route across London Bridge during the morning rush hour by ‘banker look-alikes’ handing out vouchers for commodity-priced bespoke items, or by low price deals for hand-made suits in the evening papers. I find this intriguing. Now that the true definition of the term bespoke has become clouded by a recent Advertising Standards Authority ruling, perhaps there is a lingering hope for clarity in the term ‘hand-made’. It seems like a good premise until you start to look at the price breakdown.

Let’s take for example an offer for a ‘custom hand-made’ suit I saw the other day. £179 was the asking price. leaving to one side the acutal ‘fit’ of the garment let’s look at the maths.

First get rid of the VAT; about £15 in round figures. That leaves us with £164.

For a 2-piece suit length – recently I saw at the cheaper end of the scale adequate worsted wools around the £30 mark. (I realise that the supermarket chain Asda were creating economies in scale for its £15 mass-produced suit by buying cloth by the mile! But according to the Metro ‘it probably made your hair stand on end’) Take this away and it leaves you with £134.

Every business has to cover its operating costs and make a profit so lets be generous to the customer and leave this at around 60% (£80).

This means that you have remaining approximately £54 pounds to split between the cutter and the tailor, that is assuming they are separate entities. Bearing in mind that a hand-made suit takes on average 40 hours, excluding fittings, this means that the two craftspeople have to split between them £1.35 per hour.

If the garments are made within the EU, this is much less than the minimum wage. If made elsewhere in the world, which also implies less for the makers because of transport costs, how does it fit with the current concerns about ‘fair trade’. There was a case highlighted in the press recently about the plight of Philippino tailors in Romania.

So this raises the question, does ‘hand-made’ actually mean hand-made, or is it in fact closer to the Asda mass production scenario. Somehow the maths don’t seem to add up.

Any thoughts?

Photos: Thanks to and Boston Globe

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