Plastic Fashion/’Unruly’ Prices

A few months ago, I attended a panel with my Knit and Crochet Club discussing the effects of plastic fibers in the fashion industry. It was an eye-opening presentation. Previously, if I had given any though to the matter of plastic clothes, my assumption would be that the speaker was talking about Polyester, a by-product of the 70’s-80’s Disco-tech fad. I never though about the yarn that I bought, household names such as Caron or Red Heart. Coincidentally, I was knitting during the presentation, and out of curiosity, I looked down at the label of the yarn I was using. 100% Acrylic.

Isn’t that the stuff used in fake nails?

Now, I may not have a science degree, but I’m no new kid around the block. I know chemicals can have different forms and uses depending on how its processed/mixed. But the fact remained that this yarn was a plastic, and as thus, could potentially one day end up in a landfill.

The presenter went on to explain that every piece of polyester that was ever made was still hanging around on this planet. Since most plastics take a while to degrade, I could only assume that nylon and acrylics held similar fates. I learned about the contributions the fashion industry had in the rampant spread of micro-plastics in our soil, water and food. The stress that it places in the environments and populace of countries where we outsource the manufacturing. And how fast fashion has changed how we view clothes as a society.

I left that panel feeling conflicted about my past purchases, both in yarns and clothing. I’m no shopaholic; in fact, I usually detest the activity. But was there purchases I’ve made in the past that weren’t necessary? I resolved then not to make any more clothing or yarn purchases unless it was absolutely needed.

After that decision, a friend and member of the club decided to bring me and another friend to a local yarn shop near our university, Have Ewe Any Wool. This friend was a self professed yarn snob, and she regularly extolled the value of using cotton and wool yarns over plastics. The visit was enlightening.

The first thing that immediately stood out to me was the quality of the yarn. The material was soft, pliable. I compared this to the sensation of acrylics, which often feel ‘squeaky’ and tough against my fingers and hook/needles. The colors of the yarn seemed duller to me initially; I was used to that nearly metallic shine acrylics and nylons gave off. On closer inspection though, the dyes used to blend the yarn were rich in color and tone. Some yarns were dyed with multiple shades, giving a new dimension to the yarn. The strands spun together to make the thread were also more uniform and together. The yarn screamed ‘High Quality’.

I was scared to venture towards the higher priced yarns on my first go, so my friend suggested starting off with cotton. I found this beautiful cerulean blue skein to work with, and decided to buy two to work on a matching hat and glove set.

The service in the shop was also something to marvel at. We walked in when they were having a knitting session, the conversation and clicking of needles creating a pleasant background noise during our browsing. The lady at the front desk of the shop was very knowledgeable; I learned about the yardage needed for different projects, and she recommended me several books on shaping sweaters.

I left the shop feeling more knowledgeable, but also more contemplative…

See, I’ve gotten into arguments before about selling knitted/crocheted items, specifically on how to price them. My argument usually ran the gamut of explaining how much time is typically spent on the item, the cost of the material, etc. People would usually get such hang-ups over the final cost though; I’ve had people tell me that they’d rather just buy the same item for cheap at the department store. An item that very well may have been produced with plastic yarns. But that shopping trip really put things into perspective.

How much would you spend on a cashmere sweater? You could easily drop a hundred clams. That cashmere sweater may very well have been knitted by a machine. But the cost of acquiring and using that specific yarn alone already warranted the cost. Now, you’re requesting someone to make you a sweater. This sweater will be designed to your exact measurements, to make sure it looks good on you. Maybe you wanted a particular stitch, style or color scheme. How many skeins do you think it takes to make a sweater? For a kid? For an adult? The knitter/crocheter in question now has to buy the yarn and get it to fit your specifications and size. So I’d say a price point above $100 is definitely warranted. I used to feel guilt for my asking prices, but now that I’ve started my journey on natural fibers, I fully realize that knitting and crochet wares should be classified as designer/luxury goods.

I don’t have a clean ending for this piece. I just wanted to point out the dichotomies between cheap/plastic fashion and clothes with so called ‘unruly’ prices. But I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

For newbies to the craft, the next time you go out to buy yarn, I want you to take note of the material. Is it a plastic? How does it feel in your hands? Does the color truly make you happy?

And for my fellow crafters out there, don’t let anybody devalue the pieces you make or the work you put in. After all, not everyone can master the skills you have, and for that, you should take great pride.

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