How Long Does It Take to Make Clothes?

Sewing machine and a piece of denim

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Knowing how many hours go into every shirt or pair of jeans should influence shoppers' opinion of the price tag.

A price tag is one of the first things a person looks at when shopping for new clothes. It indicates affordability, and hints at the garment's quality, although this must be confirmed by further detective work -- a peek at the label, a good caress of the fabric, a look at the seams, and trying it on.

Price tags, however, are usually thought of in relation to the buyer only, and whether they fit the bill for what he or she is looking for. But it shouldn't stop at that. Price tags should also be evaluated in terms of how they relate to the maker of the clothes. In other words, does a garment cost enough that the maker would have been paid properly for their labor?

For someone who is unfamiliar with sewing their own clothes, such an assessment is difficult to make. Personally, I have no clue how long it takes to make clothes, which is why I am fascinated by this project, titled "Timed Making," by Sacha Holub. Holub is a design school graduate based in London who sews expertly and has made 31 out of the 64 pieces currently in her wardrobe.

Think About the Time Invested Per Piece

Holub wants people to start thinking about the amount of time that goes into making garments, so she has broken down the process into carefully measured increments. Thinking about the time invested in garment-making, Holub hopes, will encourage people to pay a fair price to ensure garment workers earn a living wage. She writes:

"If I was paid the minimum UK wage (£7.05 since I'm still in the 21-24 age bracket) for the time taken to construct my pink denim jacket for example, it would cost £44.90. This combined with the specific project material costs ((£8.90 a metre x 0.85m) + £1.85 topstitching thread = £9.42) makes £54.32. I'm not including any waste of materials or time in this calculation here. If I follow the lead of this Elizabeth Suzann article, who has a 66% gross profit margin on their Artist Smock... that would give my pink denim jacket a retail price of £90.17.

Consider Where Fast-Fashion Cuts Costs

For the sake of comparison, a global fast-fashion brand [would] sell a similar pink denim jacket (albeit with a frayed hem) for £34.99. How can that price be so proportionally low? Someone somewhere else is paying for fast fashion -- with long hours spent working in poor conditions for low wages."

Holub provides a detailed breakdown for four pieces -- a pink denim jacket, a dungaree dress, an eyelet sleeveless top, and a button-up shirt. The button-up takes by far the longest to make, clocking 10 hours, 19 minutes. The quickest is the dungaree dress, at 2 hours, 14 minutes.

It's eye-opening and thought-provoking to see the steps described in such detail. Garments are the sum of numerous minute tasks, all of which have required the skill and time of a single maker. Keep this in mind the next time you look at a piece of clothing. Take a moment to think about its construction, and whether that effort is reflected in the price tag. Of course, it's not always that simple; high fashion brands will mark up pieces astronomically while paying their makers very little, but knowing this may inspire you to invest in ethically-made clothes, paying more but buying better.