PAYING THE PRICE
The past 12 months have flown by. It’s hard to believe Seeker x Retriever was merely a twinkle in our eyes at the start of 2016—and now we’ve just released Remain in Light, our third collection! The growth has been amazing, but not always easy, and we appreciate your patience as we learn and strive to improve. We’re a small, tight-knit team, and we’ve had to deal with regular production obstacles (managing the QC of small batches, reducing wait times and other quirks of working in Southeast Asia). In honor of Fashion Revolution Week this past 24th-30th April, there are many of aspects of our production and pricing process we wish to share with you.
One thing we really want to touch on is pricing. That is, how we price our clothes and how that compares with the garment industry as a whole. We’re talking about the “t” word: transparency. We want to challenge customers to really think about the relationships they have with the businesses and brands they choose to buy from. Pricing is something we, Seeker x Retriever, take very seriously. Just because clothes are cheap doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden costs. We love to be as up front as possible and want to share everything we’re doing with our customers.
'The True Cost,' a 2015 documentary examining the real price behind fast fashion
COUNTING THE COST
In the past 20 years, the prices of clothing have plummeted severely. While even back in the ‘90s, high price tags attached to clothing were typically viewed as a sort of status symbol, we’re now seeing more deal-savvy customers looking for affordable choices. This results in more mass-produced items at even lower prices. Indeed, while the cost of clothing is generally dropping, the cost of other consumer goods, whether it’s electronic goods or cosmetics, continues to rise.
As fast-fashion giants continue to push each other to offer increasingly lower prices, we’re left with a skewed perspective of the industry—and an ever-declining perceived value of clothing that’s frankly unsustainable. High-low collaborations from the likes of H&M and Uniqlo also serve paint clothing as something that’s cheap and disposable.
Screenshot from 'Sweatshop,' a 2016 documentary that digs into the working conditions of sweatshops in Cambodia
We’re here to fight the perception that clothing is disposable. We’re not alone, of course. Seeker x Retriever finds inspiration in a multitude of sources touting greater transparency, whether it’s fashion start-up retailers like Everlane, icons of sustainable fashion like Stella McCartney, documentaries like True Cost and An Inconvenient Truth, or even conscientious celebs like Emma Watson and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Cheap clothes exist for a multitude of reasons—more often than not, scary reasons—from cheap fabrics produced under unfair (and dangerous) conditions and exploitation of labour, to the use of unnatural (and dangerous) chemicals. More exploitation and more environmental damage, basically. As you’re reading this on the Seeker x Retriever website, chances are you’re aware of the vicious cycle sustained by fast fashion--and you want to help break it.
Seeker x Retriever - 'Remain in Light'
This conversation is particularly vital when discussing prices for products like ours. Fast fashion has set up a flawed view of what’s “normal.” It may seem somewhat obvious, but we want to explain why a pair of $175 Seeker trousers, for example, is a lot different from your typical $10 mass-produced trousers. Simply put, there are a few major factors at play:
- All our pieces are made from handwoven cotton from Northern Thailand, which costs more than cheaply produced fabrics like rayon or polyester
- We use only natural dyes from seasonal plants that are native to this area for example, our grey colour comes from the leaves of the local Takian tree while our mango colour comes from actual mango leaves! There are no chemicals or synthetic fabrics, whatsoever.
Seeker x Retriever - 'Remain in Light'
Our garments are made using traditional techniques which take more time and material, and therefore increase costs.
The production process starts by discussing with the artisans about what they have in season. Availability changes throughout the year, so this is a true collaboration and we work with what raw materials we can get our hands on.
All our pieces are produced in small batches, minimizing waste and ensuring fair compensation for talent and labor.
The artisans determine the price of their own creations
We don’t sew garments in an assembly-line style, we work with only a couple self-employed tailors who sew each piece from start to finish. This process may take longer, but it ensures better craftsmanship, better pay rates and no unreasonable production demands.
BREAKING IT DOWN
So what does all that mean for our prices? Here’s how it breaks down for one of our most popular items, the Leisure Dress in Neutral Stripes.
A look at the color dyeing process: the fruits of the Ebony Tree are slowly cooked and steeped to create dye for our Neutral Stripes fabric
- We use 100% handwoven cotton produced in Thailand using traditional techniques to produce an exclusive Neutral Stripes print. The Leisure Dress uses 5 meters of fabrics per piece, coming out at a cost of 11.60AUD/per meter. So the overall fabric cost in total is 58AUD.
- The buttons are imported Japanese mother of pearl, priced at 0.80AUD/per button. The total cost for the Leisure Dress is 2.40AUD
- The neck tag is 2AUD/per piece.
- That makes the total material cost of the Leisure Dress in Neutral Stripes to be 62.40AUD.
Our tailors, Aunty Duang and her niece, who recently joined her business
- Our Bangkok-based tailors get paid on a commission basis. In the case of the Leisure Dress, the price averages out at 20AUD per piece. (This does not include the cost of the new pattern, which in this case was 20AUD.) For a more complicated item such as the Anywhere Jacket, the price per piece increase to 27AUD and the pattern cost to 25AUD.
That brings the total direct cost to producing a Leisure Dress in Neutral Stripes to at least 82.40AUD. (This does not account for additional costs like internal shipping, pattern production [see above], wages for team members not directly involved in the construction process.)
Additional expenses like software and website fees, product photoshoots, shipping expenses, taxes and fees prove there’s a lot more to pricing than materials and labour. For instance, we only use premium shipping services such as DHL, at costs ranging from 35AUD up to 70AUD per shipping one package—costs that typically far exceed the shipping price marked on our website.
With a retail price of 210AUD, that leaves us with a markup of less than 3 times the direct production cost. Compare that to traditional retail brands who charge upwards of 5 times the production cost, often complete with dubious ethics that don’t match the lofty price tags (false origin or poor quality of fabric, improper treatment of workers, etc.).
Seeker x Retriever: Nan Tohch (creative director), Park Jong (head designer), Carl Dixon (co-designer)