eating where we defecate

sometime in the last week or so the 'west elm' catalog came.  it was beautiful.  the fierce competition from 'crate and barrel's' jr. company 'cb2' has caused 'west elm' (who's parent company is 'pottery barn') to differentiate themselves--  and have they ever!  they have developed a sort-of rustic modern style that is fairly irresistible. they are still young and funky-- a far cry from the 'pottery barn' parent world-- but they are establishing a new style that bridges the gap between 'ikea' and hand-made that is a perfect pitch for young professionals-- both urban and rural.

flipping through i stopped at page 33 of the catalog-- and boy did i fall in love.  beautiful hand-made-looking pottery bowls, plates and teapot (and in a white glaze!).  and though i rarely order from catalogs (i do own a shop, after all) i looked closer at these products-- and the prices were stunning (literally)-- a 'dip set' (three pieces) for $29?  a teapot (with lid) for $22?  a creamer for $8?  sugar (with lid) also for $8?  

think about those prices for a minute--  1) a retailer typically doubles (some even quadruple-- or more) the price that they paid for a product;  2) (because it doesn't say that the pottery was made in the US) we have to assume that there is some shipping cost associated with this product to get it from the point of production (where it was made) to the warehouse where it is being stored for sale.  'west elm' is even offering their customers 'free' shipping on these products-- which actually means that that cost is included in their price for the item-- because shipping pottery usually costs about 20% of the item itself-- no retailer would lose 20% of their profit to shipping.  

conclusion? there is no way that 'west elm' is paying a fair wage for having these pots made.  i work with potters from all over the world-- mostly local, but some fair trade from south america and asia-- i KNOW that i cannot get these items for these prices.  and that is not because i don't buy in bulk, nor is it because of the cost of a middle-person, and it is not because the people i am buying from are excessive in their prices.  a teapot, in this country, costs between $40 and $80 to make-- and that's the wholesale cost.  think about the lid, the handle, the spout-- all of those pieces have to be made individually and added. 

these prices are a result of the products being made by machines in factories run by slave labor.  there, i said it—slave labor.  if people are being forced to work for as many hours a day as the factory owner wants them to (12-17 hours a day), for as little pay as the factory owner wants to pay, and in working conditions that are inhumane (not enough light, not enough breaks for going to the bathroom or eating meals, not enough air conditioning or heat)—that can be called slave labor.

companies like ‘west elm’ are selling products that look hand-made—artisan designed.  the language in their catalog is written to mislead us into thinking that they are hand-made.  on the page that i fell in love with they write, "our 'flow collection' recreates the organic feel of hand-glazed, hand-thrown pottery....".  a tricky piece of writing.  all the while they are part of the same old, same old—greed-driven economy, profit driven advertising.  they know that our public is becoming more conscious of what they are buying, so they advertise in just the right way to keep the public happy.

and we keep buying, even while we are signing 'moveon.org' petitions to support 
'occupy wall street'.




hlg said...

mary-moore, you've hit it spot on. Thanks for such a clearly written post!

- Hannia

shopgirl said...

thanks hannia! much appreciated.


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