I am a huge fan of Bullet Journaling.
I absolutely credit keeping a bullet journal with keeping my usually scattered brain on task and on time for everything I do. More over, it is another creative outlet for me, and I am always in awe of the gorgeous designs my fellow BuJo-ers (as we’re known) can come up with, which is why I’ve been a member of several bullet journal communities for a couple of years now.
But no longer.
Today, I quit.
No I’m still bullet journaling, but today, I quit the Facebook communities that had become a second Internet family for me for these past two years.
Recently, the majority of posts ending up in my Facebook stream have been about getting supplies for one’s BuJo as cheaply as possible, and as someone who calls themselves a conscientious consumer, I have finally decided to walk away, to agree to disagree, to open my eyes to the fact that these ladies are not my tribe.
The hard truth is: things cost money.
Look, I get it. I cannot always afford the things I want. Sometimes, I have to save for months to get something as simple as a pair of jeans from Uniqlo. Sometimes, I have to wear the same ratty-ass bras for years after other women would have thrown them away because I simply cannot afford to get a new one. Rice and beans dinner? Yep, been there, done that. Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to Financial Peace? Yep, I’m working on those. Hell, I’ve read the book!,
I get it. It sucks. It sucks to see things you want but cannot have.
But the hard truth is that things have a cost. Materials cost money. Labor costs money. Marketing costs money. That nice Scribbles That Matter dot grid bullet journal didn’t materialize out of thin air any more than the shirt on your back or the sandwich on your plate.
As part of my #ParsonsxTeenVogue assignment for this lesson, I had to design an accessory and go through the steps of constructing a mock-up of my design and creating a spreadsheet showing the cost of bringing my design to market. So, let’s see what a simple drawstring backpack designed to fit a Bullet Journal and a couple of pencil cases and washi tape would cost you.
First, the design:
This is not a super complex design, because I was trying to make my accessory as utilitarian as possible, to keep down on the manufacturing costs. Of course, I want good quality–way too many people post about wanting their cheap thing to be good quality:
So, I decided to do a simple square shape that would be closed with a simple drawstring at the top, like those backpacks that are often given away for free as part of marketing campaigns. Initially, I considered making the drawstrings do double duty as straps, but having recently pinched a nerve while making myself a pot of coffee (true story) I know that straps on a backpack are NOT something you want to skimp on, so I changed my mind and decided on some wide leather straps.
I went back and forth on the name for my signature bag for some time, and then I looked at the colors, the inspiration from the ocean and my favorite video game (Bioshock), the sharp angles in the design, and I decided there was obvious.
Meet the Rapture Bag
Much like how fashion designers use muslin to make patterns for clothing before making a sample garment to be mass produced, accessory designers use supplies like card stock and oaktag to make a prototype of their accessory, which is called a mock up.
Using 12×12 heavy-weight paper (to make determining the amount of fabric I’d need to use for the project in the next step easier) I created a simple rectangular bag, with thin strips of paper standing in for the drawstring and the straps. It took several attempts to get the backpack straps where I wanted them, and get them to the correct length, but eventually, what I came up with was simple, yet would hold all the supplies I determined I would want it to hold in my initial concept:
Here’s something that probably should not shock anyone: I am a Project Runway junky. Long have I dreamed of the day that I would hear Tim Gunn himself call me a designer and tell me to, “Make it work!”
True fact: I have written “Make it work!” in my bullet journal on numerous occasions, to keep me moving when a particular task or assignment felt impossible to complete.
So, when it came time to scout the fabrics I would need to make, there was only one website I looked at…
“Designers, welcome to Mood!”
The outside of my bag would need to keep with the ocean color scheme I’d designed in my signature print, but also be sturdy enough to make into a backpack, so I went with a “bright aqua reptile-print ombre cotton canvas” that was also listed as water resistant, to keep your BuJo supplies safe.
Inside, I chose a polyester satin in my signature color, indigo, and added some black drawcord for the drawstring top and found a gorgous, dark turquoise leather strap that would be wide enough to evenly distribute the weight of a backpack carrying a hardcover notebook and large selections of pen and tape. Finally, I chose a matching heavy-duty thread, and I was ready to see the cost.
The Cost Analysis
I did not pick the most expensive fabrics from Mood. In fact, while there were other fabrics I thought would be quite nice, but were in the $37/yard, I went with fabrics that were economical. You cannot argue I’m over-inflating prices to make a point when your local Jo-Ann Fabrics has fabric that costs a good deal more.
Since I was not making a sample of the item for this project, I didn’t know exactly how long it would take to sew the final item, but I was able to guess based on the blouse I’d sewn for a previous project. Thirty minutes might be more than enough time for a very experienced seamstress, but I have never worked with leather before, so I wanted to make sure there was enough of a time buffer in case sewing leather is more time consuming than I think it is.
I also put my worker’s wages at $15 per hour, which is what many economic studies consider to be the minimum living wage. I hasten to point out that, assuming we’re all on the Buy American train and keeping jobs in America, most garment workers live in either Las Angeles or New York City. In the latter city, “the annual cost of living for one adult with no children is more than $43,000,” which is almost $12,000 more than the gross (before taxes) annual income of someone making $15 per hour: $31,200!
But hey, “the annual cost of living alone in Memphis with no children…is about $27,000,” so let’s move the factory to Tennessee and call $15 per hour good, okay?
Of course, we have to talk profit: mine and the retail store selling my product. I figured I would want about 20% profit from each bag sold, so that I would only need to sell 4,729 alone bags in order to continue living in Boulder, Colorado, where the cost of living for a single adult is approximately $35,461 per year.
Finally, those sales that the BuJo and extreme couponers love to game? They only work if MSRP (manufacture’s suggested retail value) gives the company enough wiggle room to put the item on sale and still make a profit. Sure, they can sell it at cost or below their cost they’re using the item as a loss leader (like those $19.99 leather riding boots that Macy’s had as a Black Friday doorbuster in 2013) — but that’s a move the store will need to contend with. in the meantime, I’m calculating a 20% markup over cost to the store to create my Rapture Bag’s MSRP.
A simple bag and a retail value of $44.00.
But couldn’t you make it cheaper?
Could I use cheaper materials?
Sure, but then the bag would fall apart and you would have to buy them more frequently–a lesson one BuJo-er learned the hard way:
Plus, cheaper materials usually come at the cost of the environment–if a fabric is $0.99 per yard, the dyes may have poisoned the factory workers who dyed it (hello, Radium Girls) or it may be poisoning those who drink the water into which the waste water is dumped.
Could I pay the workers less?
I suppose I could, and plenty of manufacturers and designers still do use sweatshop labor in underdeveloped and developing (and sometimes even first-world) countries. But, as Ivanka Trump learned last year, people will find out if you’re using sweatshop labor in a a foreign country, and you can not only lose your customers, but you can lose your retail distributors as well!
As Tim Marshall said in the introduction to the Understanding Fashion Production lesson for this course, “being ignorant of [manufacturing and labor issues], pleading ignorance after the fact, saying it wasn’t your fault, really does not fly in the internet age.”
And it’s not just bad PR and inevitable consumer backlash that means I would not want to pay child in India pennies a day to make my bag. There is a real cost, a human cost, involved in manufacturing cheap shit–people die.
Besides, if we truly want to “make America great again,” we need to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States and pay the employees a living wage so they can work for our domestic manufacturer their entire lives and retire comfortably at a reasonable age, like they used to do in Motor City, right?
Remember, it was NOT paying his immigrant work force a living wage that got Dov Charney thrown out of American Apparel–it was sexual harassment in a pre-#metoo era.
Couldn’t I sell direct and then cut out that whole MSRP thing?
Sure, but selling on your own isn’t free.
The domain hosting this website: $9.99 for the annual registration and $13.99 per month for hosting the site, assuming low traffic, through the incredible DreamHost. (As opposed to the cheaper but sleazy, sexist Web Hosting and Domain Registration company that wants you to call it Daddy while it fucks you in the ass.) The more people visit my site, the more bandwidth I use, the higher the cost to my webhost to keep my site running.
I’m currently using a free WordPress theme for this blog, but should you go to elizabethwilliamsberg.com, you’ll notice the design is nice, clean, and professional, as is my logo.
That web design? $65 total. That logo? $50 from an Etsy vender–and I’m currently working with a much more expensive designer to make something that better fits my brand.
Oh, and I will need a program to take and process orders. WooCommerce, one of the most popular CRM programs that works with the (free) WordPress web platform starts at $149.
I will need to shoot product photographs to put up on my WooCommerce/Wordpress page. I could shoot them with my iPhone, but I want to truly showcase what my product looks like, so instead of a cheap shoot and burn photographer, I hire a professional to shoot my images. That can run into the thousands.
Oh, and unless I want to get paid in cash, I better figure out how to process credit cards. I can go through PayPal, which takes a percentage of the total amount sold, so I’ll subtract the 20% MSRP but add back in 3-5% just to be able to take a debit or credit card payment.
Even Etsy charges a listing fee and takes a percentage of your sales as commission.
There really are no free lunches, folks.
And none of that is calculated into those cost of living figures you find online for various cities and states–that $35,461 annual cost of living to live in Boulder, Colorado is for food, shelter, utilities, and very little else–there is no wiggle room in that number for the costs associated with running my own business. Even a computer (which should be considered a necessity in this day and age) isn’t included.
At the end of the day, when I talked to a CPA and a friend with an MBA, I’ve been told that the recommendation for solo business entrepreneurs who intend to sell on their own is to take the raw cost of goods (in my case, $23.38) and multiply it by four for an internet-only business and by five if you intend to sell through a boutique retail location–which includes paying yourself enough to live on.
So, to cut out MSRP, I would have to RAISE my price from $44 to $93.52.
That’s a great idea.
Couldn’t you not pay yourself a profit?
Dude, what Charles Dickens wet dream, socialist utopia are you living in? Because you definitely aren’t living in the United States!
Look, at the end of the day, I need to eat. I need to have a warm place to live (did I mention I live in Boulder? The winters are damn cold here!) The love and gratitude of adoring fans of my designs does not put food in my belly nor connect my computer to the internet to communicate with the company manufacturing my design and the retail stores selling it. Shockingly, we do not have universal internet access (we can’t even get universal health care, for crying out loud) and computers aren’t being given away for free. Cell phones — or even, dare I say it? (Dare! Dare!) Land lines! — aren’t gratis either! And I cannot even imagine what my supply chain would say if I showed up to meetings naked because I have no money for clothing!
Everything has a price, and if I don’t make a profit, I cannot pay for any of it.
It’s kind of how this whole economy thing works–if I don’t have money to spend on even necessities, then the stores I would have otherwise shopped in have no money to pay their employees, who now are out of work and have no money to spend in stores, which means those stores have to cut wages, hours, or employees, and we spiral further out of control. Spending is the building block of our economy–if I have no money to spend, I cannot pump that money into the economy.
Even if I wanted to design handbags just for shits and giggles, and keep my day job, designing the bag takes time. Making the mock up took time. Researching the fabrications and notions took time. Putting together a budget took time. Then, there will be meetings with production teams, tweeking prototypes, taking my designs to present in front of buyers for department stores, working with a marketing department, and other factors that are a part of the production cycle–none of which was even accounted for in that bare-bones spreadsheet that calculated my bag’s MSRP.
A human being needs eight hours of sleep. Just in case you didn’t know.
The amount of time it would take to get this bag from idea to handbag shelf at Nordie’s would be maybe 20-30 hours. That’s for one product. Fashion designers, even accessory designers, don’t just make one product and hope for the best. They make entire collections, which change with each season, and those seasons are no longer limited to two per year. In the modern world of fast fashion, the customer demands that an idea seen in Milan on Monday is available for purchase on Friday; what Kim K wears tomorrow needs to be knocked off before she finishes posting to Instagram.
There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to work a job that pays a living wage, work a second job as a fashion designer that will take more than forty hours per week, and still have time to sleep, let alone eat, exercise, or enjoy the company of others.
In the sage words of the eminent philosophers Jagger and Richards, “You can’t always get what you want.”
We are a culture that wants it all. Like Principal Skinner’s mother, Agnes, in The Simpsons, who wants all of her groceries in one bag but does not what the bag to be heavy, we want it all. As women, we’re told we can have it all too. But, as the bag boy told Agnes, that is not possible.
Yes, I am the Possible Police, and I’m hear to hand you your reality check to go with your heavy-ass bags.
You cannot get something that is high-quality, made in the United States by employees who are guaranteed a job for life that will pay all of their necessary bills if you pay pennies for it. The money has to come from somewhere. Sorry, to break this to you, but I’m the Possible Police, and lady, there is no Giving Tree. If something is cheap, someone, somewhere, is being exploited. Period.
The only way we are going to make anything in this world great again is to pay what it is worth, to be conscientious consumers who understand the value of our goods and services. Until we stop being fixated on wanting to Have It All and understanding that there is a person behind every pair of shoes, we will see workers dying in factories, we will see rivers polluted with industrial waste, we will see the costs of our cheapness. Like Scrooge, we will find that beneath that $5 tee-shirt at Forever 21 are only two children named Greed and Want.
Tangible things have tangible costs–if you aren’t paying those costs with money, be assured that someone else is paying those costs with things much more precious, including their lives.