I bought a new bag today! Here it is.
Take a good look at it. Observe the lovely printed cotton, good quality and strong. I just love that sweet 1930s style print.
It's got a smart magnetic fastener and the edge is prettily self-faced to look good from all angles.
The finishing is nicely done, wth neat double stitching around the top edge, which is a lovely curvy shape.
The mitred bottom is sturdy and well-made, and looks great too.
Even the inside seams have been bound with a tough cotton/synthetic mix fabric to stop them splitting or pulling.
In short, a good deal of work has gone into the making of this lovely bag, from the weaving and printing of that gorgeous sunny fabric, to the cutting, piecing, stitching and making up. Not forgetting, either, the work of the designers who worked on the pattern for the fabric and chose the colours, and thought up those lovely curves and double stitching.
Now then, let's see if you can guess what I paid for it. Being a maker of bags myself, I know that it would take me probably about an hour to make a bag like this. There's about a half metre of fabric in it, plus the thread and notions. I'm not quite sure what this fabric would cost to buy wholesale, but it's lovely quality and I certainly wouldn't be able to get it for less than about £5 a metre if I was very, very lucky. If I sold it for £10 I might cover the materials and my time, but I wouldn't make any profit. And that's assuming I got the fabric at a significant discount.
Tesco were selling this bag today for £2.50.
I find it difficult to express how angry I feel about this. The bag, as you might expect, is made in China. This means it's also had to be brought halfway across the world on a container ship, burning fuel and polluting the oceans. Not to mention the badly paid workers who've slaved away at it, working long hours on heavy machinery to make something that cost me less than my bag of breakfast muesli.
I don't just feel angry for those exploited Chinese workers, either. I feel angry for myself, for all of us who make things by hand, ethically and well, with love and dedication, caring about where we buy our fabric, how we produce and package things, how much we throw away afterwards. How on earth can we compete with a price like this for a product that is worth four, five or six times as much?
I would be proud to have made this bag. I love the fabric and it's a well-designed shape, which, I'm afraid, makes me still more suspicious. I will be careful what I say here, but last week a highly esteemed designer and craft blogger posted about how one of her own distinctive pieces had been copied outright and mass-produced by a British supermarket chain this Easter. We were all shocked and outraged. It would not surprise me in the least if this sweetly designed bag had been copied in a similar way.
Well, what can we do about this? Stop shopping at Tesco? I'd like to do so, but I'm human, they are less than a mile away, and I am not rich. Even if we are able to make that choice personally, they remain our competitors. Apart from one or two members of my family, nobody has bought one of my bags as a simple act of generosity. None of us has money to throw away. We make positive choices when we can, but when nice bags are offered at cut-down prices, people will buy them.
I don't have any answers to offer, just a lot of confusion and anger and frustration and a huge sense of injustice and helplessness. And I haven't decided what to do with that bag yet...