Why does it cost more to sew your own clothing?
There’s a common misconception that sewing your own clothes is somehow cheap. It’s not and even on a budget, it’s very rarely cheaper than buying your clothing in a store. If you sew, there’s a high chance that you’ve been asked by someone you know to sew something for them generally them trying to avoid paying anything close to the actual production cost, that they are doing you a kindness because sewing is fun for you, or trying to argue that it can’t cost much because they can get it for $20 off Shein or Amazon. I am constantly amused at people’s shock when I explain how much sewing your own clothing can cost which is what inspired the following post.
So why do we think sewing your own clothing is cheap? Simply, we have been spoilt over time by fast fashion and we have forgotten the value of textiles and saving our clothing to make it last as long as possible. Sewing, mending and garment maintenance used to be taught in schools, every house had a sewing machine and governments put out “make do and mend” initiatives to educate people how to make their garments last as long as possible. In today’s world, we have been blinded and ignorant to the use (and abuse) of third world countries who make our clothing for abysmal pay. The clothes we buy in large department stores are cheap enough to be worn a few times and then replaced which creates a mental cycle of clothes being something cheap, consumable and easy to replace. From this, we get a skewed idea of the real cost of garments and the many misconceptions that come with it.
We have also been thrust into an idea that consumerism will make us happy, stores no longer have two or four seasons a year but 52 micro-seasons constantly turning out thousands of new garments daily. The popular fast fashion website Shein boasts that it released over 4000 new garments a day on it’s website so customers always have access to the latest micro trends. In a world that strives to be unique and individual, the appeal of having a brand new wardrobe within a week is appealing and overshadows the true cost of our garments and how we used to treasure our clothing. We now live in a world where we must share our consumerism to stay ‘relevant’ with online clothing hauls gaining popularity on sharing platforms such as youtube, TikTok and Instagram. It’s also well known that some fashion influences are rarely seen online wearing the same outfit twice. Even I myself have had comments from my followers they had seen a dress I was wearing before in a different post and it baffles me that people expect me to wear something new every day. The way our society has changed into this consumerism driven, ‘more is more’ monster has all but changed the way we very garments and textiles.
Note; its certainly worth saying that although fast fashion is harmful to our environment, many people don’t have a choice but to use it for their shopping habits due to budget constraints. We cannot eliminate fast fashion completely as many people will suffer especially as the economy is unstable right now and the price of everything is going up. With this aside, we can all make a conscious effort to make choice suitable for our personal budgets and only shop when we need to, not when another trend appears in a weeks time.
With our clothing mostly being made overseas, product costs are kept low so when garments are made in Australia or even America, their costs are higher to cover fair wages and company running costs such as electricity, rent and water. If we were to make a dress for example, making the dress in Australia would cost a lot more than getting the dress made in China or India.
Looking at my own sewing projects recently, I thought I’d have a look at the estimated cost of a few garments.
I recently made a dress using a Simplicity X Cynthia Rowley pattern (full blog on that here).
The pattern (if I were to buy it online) costs around $18 and $5 shipping so $23 all up.
I used 4 yards of cotton fabric which cost me $17 per yard and about $8 shipping (split over the whole order) so thats another $76.
I also needed a zip; $4.50
Lining: 2 meters at $5 a meter for a total of $10
and the dress took me around 8 and a half hours to complete, if I pay myself the AUS minimum wage $21.38 per hour for a total of $181.73
and then there’s electricity, lighting, machine maintenance costs, money for drinks and snacks so lets add on about $15 for all of that.
So a dress I made myself “just for fun” in a day cost me around $321.23.
Let’s look at another recent example; I recently made which was the true vintage pattern McCalls 5142 (full blog on that here).
As the pattern came from a specialist true vintage pattern store, it cost $36.23 plus $25.35 for shipping for a total of $61.58
I used 4 meters at 13.99 pounds which turns out to about $24.05 AUD per meter totalling $96.20
Zip cost me $4.50
Thread cost me about $6
and the dress took me about 9 hours to complete; with the minimum wage same as above that equals about $192.42
And don’t forget of course electricity, lighting, food breaks for another $15.
So the total of this sewing project equals about $375.70.
With all those numbers above, it’s worth nothing that if I were an actual business I could get some things at bulk cost and tax deductable but I still need to make a profit to continue running my business but the example still shows how expensive sewing can be. Most garment companies streamline their production to cut time and increase efficiency but it’s worth remembering all the small businesses doing it all themselves. Yes you can cut your budget and use your coin wisely (I have recently shared some budget tips for sewing enthusiasts here) but overall, textiles are not cheap and depending on what you sew, the cost can go up and up. This is also not factoring pattern design times and costs plus that of education needed to create the pattern, patent it and adjust it for various sizes. The above examples can clearly show how an Aussie small business making a garment needs to charge $400 for a dress but a big company using overseas labour can get away with charging $40 for a similar garment.
If you sew for yourself, you are also in charge of collecting all your own materials which means spending time and possibly car wear and tear going to stores looking for the perfect fabrics, buttons, threads etc. Yes you can order things cheaply online sometimes but then you still need to remember shipping costs and allow time for things to arrive.
So is sewing your own garments worth it? It is if you love it and it brings you joy. As much as I try to budget my sewing and keep costs down, this is not a hobby for everyone and it can be quite a slow and laborious process to make a simple top. I recently taught my friend how to sew a basic tunic and even though the design was very straight forward, he was still baffled at how long it took him to complete and just how high fabric can cost.
If you sew your own clothing, there’s a immense sense of freedom as you can be limitless in your design and are only held back by your own skills. I love being able to make my skirts longer and fuller, add sleeves or buttons to make garments uniquely mine. This brings me a lot of joy and makes this hobby worth it.
Personally I also find sewing a good stress release and a way to be creative and get inspired. I love the freedom of being able to shut myself in my sewing room and tinker away at a dress for a few hours as I listen to audiobooks, drink tea and watch my cat drive into the fabric I laid neatly on the floor. This is all very personal but even if it brings me joy, I appreciate the work I put into a garment which is often diminished when someone asks me to make them a cinderella gown for $100 max. I cannot even buy the material for that cost.
Are there benefits to making your own garments? Absolutely. By making your own garments, you are in control of the quality, the finish of the garment, the sizing and it’s a chance to invest in yourself with a new skill and an opportunity to support small and local businesses. As I continue on with my sewing journey, I am excited to start trying small and indie pattern brands to support artists creating incredible patterns that aren’t always seen as widely as big patter companies.
At the end of the day, it’s your choice if you think a garment is worth the price you pay. It’s factoring what we expect a garment to cost verses what it actually does. By understanding where we get our beliefs and values about clothing from that can impact how we choose to shop and create with textiles. We should all strive to have a greater appreciation for our clothing, avoid over consuming for the sake of micor-trends, and try to support small businesses whenever we can.
Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way. There are no affiliate links and I do not benefit from any link clicks or purchases made.