Friday, 4 August 2017

Ripped jeans.

The other day I found myself faced with a philosophical question about ripped jeans  - I was posing myself a question I couldn't answer.

But first I needed to find out how much it cost to make a pair of cheap jeans and I was lucky enough to find the answer in an article in 'The Guardian' last year, which looked into how Lidl's could sell 'Jeggings' priced at £5-99p and a pair of 'Boyfriend' Jeans priced at £7-99.

Here's what they found out - it's relying on a 2013 study but it's unlikely the prices have gone up much;

"The Boyfriend Jeans, at £7.99, appear to be the real thing: four pockets plus that baffling little one inside the front pocket on the right of the body (it is a watch pocket, apparently). There are six belt loops, five rivets, three buttons and a YKK zip. And they are made from 100% cotton, the material being the most expensive element of the production process: in the range of £2.30 to £2.50.

There is thread to pay for too, for the stitching, which might be as much as 19p, and the finished pair will need to be washed, so if we are going to try to put a price on the materials we are probably looking around the £3.90 mark.

Now we need to assemble those materials. Luckily – for the buyer – that is not nearly as expensive.

Most of the workers in Bangladeshi garment factories are women and most are paid at the minimum legal wage of 5,300 takas a month (about £48). That is 23p an hour on an eight-hour, six-day, week. It is a fifth of the £230 a month estimated by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance to be the minimum required for a living wage back in 2013.

To accurately work out the labour cost, you need to know how many pairs of jeans the factory turns out a day. The available figures cover quite a broad range: research in India found workers in one factory averaging 20 pairs a day, while a different study in Tunisia found 33 pairs a day. It all depends on the quality and complexity of the design. In 2010 the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights looked at Bangladesh and found a team of 25 workers turning out 250 pairs of jeans an hour – 10 per worker, or 80 per worker per day.

That means a minimum wage worker would be paid somewhere in a range between 2p and 9p for each pair of jeans they make, which is broadly in line with a 2011 study of Bangladeshi garment manufacture by the US consultancy O’Rourke Group Partners, which priced the labour costs for a polo shirt at 8p.

O’Rourke put the total factory costs per shirt at 41p: Bloomberg calculated its Bangladeshi jeans cost the factory 56p to make, and the factory added on 16p in profit.
Splitting the difference, we are now up to about £4.50. But we still need to ship the jeans, and there are warehouse charges and port fees, so we can stick on another 30p, taking us up to £4.80. And we still need to get them from the port to the store, so that’s another 50p. That gives us £5.30, but there is still VAT to go on top.
The grand total of £6.36 would bust the budget for the jeggings, but they use a little less material, and we have saved a few pennies on the buttons and rivets. That will make them quicker to turn out, so that is a bit off the labour costs. It might just about be possible to bring them in at £5.99 or they may be a loss leader: that happens. The jeans, meanwhile, are showing a profit of £1.63."


So I'm trying to get my head around the fact that there are these thousands of women employed in the Bangladeshi clothing industry and they are being paid 23p an hour to do it if they are lucky and the factory pays minimum wage.

That's not the philosophical question I was thinking about although it would do to start with.

No, I was in the supermarket the other day, sitting in my disabled buggy waiting for Robyn to meet me and I was marvelling at how many women were wearing ripped jeans.

I should say I was a punk once and we started all that a very long time ago. I was actually marvelling at how long a life ripping your jeans has had as a fashion statement.

Except that punks ripped their own rather elderly jeans to show their anger and fury at the world.

My problem is that all these women, comfortably walking around the supermarket doing their shopping, were wearing jeans that had been bought 'ready ripped', as it were.

Even that isn't the philosophical question although, now I think about it, that would do as well.

My philosophical question was what would a Bangladeshi woman, being paid 23p per hour to make jeans, which is just not enough to keep herself and her family properly thinking when the boss comes over and tells her to take the nice new pair of jeans that she could not begin to afford to buy on her wages and to rip the material apart.

I was just wondering.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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