I hear you. There are certainly times I wonder if bed linen is priced as if it's made for the Queen herself. Why is bedding so expensive? Is certainly a question I always used to ask.
In fact, I still do.
When I started this business the answer didn't become any clearer.
Particularly when I realised I could buy conventional bed sheets for $13 a set. Luxury 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton often doesn't sell for much more, at cost. In fact, I can buy it for significantly less retail from some of the big brands than I can buy it from my own organic, fair trade cotton supply chain.
That doesn't add up.
When I realised that all those people, all of that farming, water, time, labour, effort, was summed up into $13 I surprised myself and actually cried. Because I was in shock, to be frank. I could only think of all the hours of labour, the time, farming, spinning, sewing, that were somehow entirely misrepresented in such a meagre price. Was that really how much all this was worth? And where were the rest of the costs going?
I also cried because it costs us around six or more times to purchase our products. Which is more, and yes, I will be the first to say they are much higher quality to ensure they last, but this isn't so much that it isn't feasible.
Yes, they are organic (we are committed to keeping harmful, toxic crap out of the environment), sustainable (supporting waterways and ecosystems and food security) and fair trade (treats people like people).
This isn't anything fancy. It shouldn't be anything but the norm.
It simply pays living wages and provides safe working conditions, safe buses home, hour long lunch breaks, healthy food, naturally-lit and ventilated workplaces, holiday pay, health insurance for families, schooling scholarships for worker's children, literacy for workers, sustainable farming education and programs to keep GMOs at bay.
It pays to keep toxins out of the waterways and land, away from fish and ecosystems... and to keep devastating toxic chemicals out of food chains and breastmilk. This is something that is destroying the lives of newborns and children and families subjected to it everyday. And not by choice.
It pays everyone who works on our goods, right back to the farm. The people you usually never hear about who are just as important and whose lives count.
Which in Australia - isn't fancy. In fact, it is just kind of sounds the norm.
So why is it OK to not treat people this way just because they live somewhere else? Why is it OK to pretend that if something is (wonderfully!) made in Australia, we don't need to think about the people further back in the supply chain who are almost always somewhere else?
Most of all, why is it OK to have one set of rules for people in our own country, and entirely another set of rules for people living - and working so hard - somewhere else? It isn't.
Then on top of that, we pay more of course for duties and any costs that we have ourselves (like warehousing, websites, donations, certifications, payment costs, shipping, our time or wages, taxes once it comes onshore).
But even at five times, it doesn't cost the world. We can still price everything in line with the market... and just not take nearly so much.
We have people ask us, but how do you know that extra money is going to the workers and farmers? And won't it go down with scale?
No, it won't go down with scale. Our end packaging costs will, but that is a small proportion. And pushing costs down with scale isn't the point. It's part of the problem...
This isn't a game where we keep pushing our weight around to secure lower and lower prices, forced on people who have no other option but to say yes. That is what ended us all in this mess.
And we know because we asked and we saw and we filmed and we chatted. We asked what every worker was paid, we looked at the prices paid for cotton. We compared this to the minimum wages for each grade of work. We compared it to our living costs while in India. We know because we spoke to the workers privately and in case we still questioned it, we have three third parties backing up what we found out - the Global Organic Textiles Standard, Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International.
So it can be done. But yes, it is a bit harder and it means asking uncomfortable questions. And it does mean paying away a lot more and giving away a huge proportion of profits.
In fact, based on the profits of others in the industry, it would be equivalent to us giving away around 50% of our profits. In start-up mode, significantly more (or all and then some). But we don't give it away as profits, because as a business it can be years before you stop just re-investing everything back into the business and actually make a profit. The people we work with don't have the option of waiting that long to be paid. So we pay it upfront. Built into how we run our business, every day.
So we could pay an awful lot less. But for me... that alternative wasn't really an option at all.
I've worked with girls at risk of trafficking, I've spent over 10 years working in sustainability and assessing businesses and I have visited areas where pollution is rife. I've spoken to businesses on the ground - frankly - about why things like child labour persist, despite all regulations otherwise. It starts because people need a living wage. They need access to schools with teachers who are present. They need food and water security. They need to support their families.
One of my favourite moments starting this business was seeing the interviews (a friend did them for me, while I was nursing my newborn) and hearing people say "this business looks after me. It takes care of me, my family. I know that I can support my children and that they an go to school."
It is that simple. Things we take for granted everyday.
I have spent over a year sourcing new products because we need to get it right.
We need to have full transparency, to be able to visit. To know and have access to every step, right down to where our raw materials come from (which, the Australian Fashion Report 2016 noted only 5% of companies can trace.) To look at the waste and water used, what processes are done in which way, what does organic really mean in this instance... and more often than not, we find something that.. we don't like. So we go back to square one. I know there are products that customers are begging us to stock, but until we find the right supplier, we won't.
Worse, often we ask the uncomfortable questions and they are ignored. In reply, we are just asked "What is your order size so we can quote you the best price."
How did it get to this?
How are so many millions of lives, real people who work on farms and in mills and factories or from home, summed up like this? It isn't the fault of the factories. It is the fault of businesses constantly needing to compete and grow and carve margins and focus solely on price and shareholder returns and ROI.
And then there are two questions I (thankfully) get asked all the time: "Your bed linen is amazing, but it isn't expensive at all! How do you do that? I didn't expect it."
Organic, ethical and luxury don't need to break the bank. Products made without harm I believe should be available to as many people as we possibly can.
The second question I (thankfully) get asked all the time is, "Can we resell your product". This is an amazing question to be asked. From hotels and businesses all over the world. From Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Europe and even Mauritius. I love this!! But unfortunately, too often we can't. I would dearly love to. The more we can sell, the more we can truly support workers and families in need. But we don't make 50% on each product (this is the standard wholesale margin), or even anything close to that. So I don't have that margin to give that a way.
So, if you are wondering why conventional bed linen is so expensive, the answer is, I don't know.
But I can tell you where our costs are going. Our organic bedding isn't priced out of reach. And yes, we one day will take something for ourselves, to keep the business alive. But to be honest - that hasn't happened just yet. And if we keep reinvesting in building the business, to support workers and provide the opportunities we want to, we may not for quite a while. This isn't charity. Just how we believe business should be.