Wednesday, 5 August 2009

But is it worth it?

What is value for money? Is it the cheapest? Or is it something that is really going to work for you? I am asking this question as I know that how I spend money had radically changed over the past ten years.

Initially, for example, Mark One was my student grant saviour (that shows my age) then in later years we would all pop into Primark for a fashion top up. Retail therapy seemed so easy. Then a few years back we were asked to question what we were buying on two fronts. How could a £1 t-shirt be sustainable? After a limited life span that t-shirt was not even good enough for the charity shop and landfill sites became clogged up by what was called the 'Primark effect'. At the same time scandals seemed to erupt around Nike, Gap and many others over the use of child labour and appalling standards in factories across Asia.

Since becoming a mother I have become yet more precious. Since learning that up to a cup of chemicals could be on every adult T-shirt, I was horrified by what effect pesticides and other nasties could be having on my newborn's skin. The obvious answer to me seemed that pre-loved clothes and organic vests had to be the way forward.

My way of feeling thrifty with organics was to buy one gorgeously soft organic double sheet from Gossypium and cutting it down and sewing it into a moses basket liner and both flat and fitted sheets for the crib and moses basket. (They now even do sheeting by the meter making it better value.) Another good thrifty tip is washable nappies (yes, I know we all know that) but did you know that many local councils will give you a contribution towards the cost of buying the nappies. We got a very welcome cheque for £30.

There seems to be a careful balance - obviously in an ideal world we would only buy beautiful fairtrade or local, organic produce. However, the world is not that simple! I know that Hannah set up the hugely successful Piccalilly as she was fed up of the limited range of Fairtrade, organic clothes for her kids - that seemed only to be selling by virtue of their ethics as they were very limited on the style front. (Here is a pic of one of her sets available on my website).Similarly, Tammy of Green Cheeky Monkey and Dinorah or Gizmoroo also bemoaned the lack of funky organic t-shirts for their little boys, so again, rather than getting mad they got busy!
Sarita is a very lucky little girl, she has been bought some lovely outfits. So far, top of the list was a Kenzo t-shirt that was such good quality that it lasted two years and countless washes and still looks good enough for best; in fact I can even take back the scorn that I doled out on anyone being foolish enough to buy designer gear for a one year old. An even more clever solution would have been to have bought a designer dress from Soph4Soph that is not only reversible but also designed to last from 3 to 18months, 9months to 3 years, or 4 to 7 years.

So why are designer goods so expensive? Are they worth it? It ranges from a bottle of designer perfume that costs around £1 to make some products that have valid reasons for higher prices (albeit out of my price range). When, many years ago, I worked supplying a range of high street stores it would be standard practice to be 'inspired' by designer goods. The first move was to find affordable fabrics (sometimes this was to the customers' benefit, as who wants dry clean only materials for kids' clothes?) then we looked at other elements of construction and detail. You could make things cheaper by making details smaller or compromising on fit (so a scarf, for example, could be shorter and less voluptuous as well as been made from a cheaper wool blend). Then we would look at the manufacturing process, you would examine how you could cut corners, or just make it neater and more practical for mass production. Once you worked out how to make things for a price you would spend sometimes months going through loops to ensure that it was not a 'dog' and refuse to sell - either this meant that it had to resemble last year's top seller or it should be as commercial as possible (sometimes that meant that the final product selection was a little dull).

I saw the final attempt of UK and European manufacturers trying to compete with cheaper factories in Eastern Europe and the Far East. I saw old family firms go bankrupt or sell up - you may have read about the devastation in a Welsh community when Burberry pulled out of their factory their recently. This is part of the reason why when it came to my own Rockin Hoods line I decided to work with an amazing manufacturing unit in London and compromise only my own margins; I could check their quality, see that it was not a sweat shop and generally feel sure that I could offer my customers a great product.

This leaves us with the critical issue of affordability, which realistically governs most of our buying decisions. We are faced with so many 'essential' items that we need to buy - but what do we really need? Deborah Jackson writes eloquently about this in her book Baby Wisdom when she compares the dramatically expanding list of baby 'essentials' across the centuries.

A 'Mummy' friend once came around to our house and was amazed at how well our girls played together. She said, approvingly, it must have been because we did not put all toys out. Surprise, surprise, we had every toy out - but I never felt the need to buy the latest toy/gadget/whatever that all the Mums rushed out to buy. We tried a Bumbo, a tricycle and an Activity Centre from the toy library and saw how quickly Sarita bored of them. Since then we have inherited a tricycle from a friend (a bit knackered but she loves it now that she is old enough).

The other huge variable is our lifestyles. A case in point would be the pushchair we bought before Sarita was born. When one of the Mums from the antenatal group went into labour early we panicked and rushed out to buy a travel system - we dashed between three of the main kiddy stores in town to compare what was on offer. We spent, what we thought was, a fortune on a Mothercare system with a pushchair, car seat and carry cot. Little did we realise we had bought the Lada of all pushchairs; it was large, heavy and cumbersome (and by comparison to some cheap). Within weeks it had turned me into a confirmed baby carrier. Later I went on to buy an umbrella fold Jane pushchair that I could comfortably carry onto tubes and trains in one hand while I carried my daughter with the other.

This is a bit of a long winded way of saying that no matter how cheap something is (and our Monster travel system was) it is incredibly bad value to buy something if you then never use it! Conversely some more expensive things may be worth saving up for as long term they can save you a packet. Besides the things that make parenting rewarding are all free: love, sleep and the sound of your child's first giggle!

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