We recently received an email from a customer who wrote in with some questions they had about our products, questions like: Why are your clothes priced the way they are? Why are there so many similarities to Indian clothing? The former, is one we’ve heard voiced a few times by customers who are new to our brand, but the latter was a first. Yet as a brand committed to transparency, we wanted to take the time to answer and explain. We decided to share the response on our journal here because, well, perhaps you too have had similar questions in mind:
Thank you so much for taking the time to write in and share your thoughts with us. We strongly believe in being transparent about our values and more importantly conversing about important issues such as what you’ve raised up. I would love to address the questions that you have, please do bear with me as it will take a little while.
Our goal at MATTER has always been about embracing the culture of the region and helping it shine on an international platform. Our intention is to celebrate Asian culture as a whole, using traditional techniques that can be found here and focus on sustaining artisanal livelihoods.
When we set out to do this, many told us that artisanal craft is a sunset industry, that sooner or later mass production would take over as a quick and easy replacement, but we held strong to our beliefs and wanted to change the opinions of people who believed that.
We decided to choose techniques that were globally dispersed and evident in cultures from many different places. To cultivate a network that celebrates Asian technique across platforms and allow a certain recognition and sense of pride in everyone that crosses our path. For example, both block-printing and ikat are found in more than 5 countries and 3 continents.
The reason why we’ve started out in India was a series of many perfect coincidences leading from one to another – our co-founder met individuals in India that were passionate about the craft, people who believed that traditional textile technique deserved a stage of its own, many who come from generational artisan families. We definitely want to expand to other regions and areas, but it has proven to be difficult. We’re continuing to strive for a regional approach however, planning for limited editions of Thai and Vietnamese focused crafts.
Our intention is to keep to the true ideals of the technique, respecting the artisans involved, and still make the final product something that can be worn in any city of the world. We truly believe that if we were to create something “cool” enough for people to pay attention, they will then have the opportunity to learn about the people and craft behind it. This led to us adopting the mindset of collaborative design – working with designers, artisans, and our own team to design everything from prints, styles, and fabric possibilities that we can use.
With that said, we believe in paying tribute to the people, designs, and stories that came before us. To celebrate the India Dhoti, we’ve made it friendlier for everyday wear and more geometrical to give it a new edge. We’ve also redesigned the South East Asian Lunghi, the Japanese Monpe, Vietnamese Ao Dai (which we call the Wideleg), Kepenek from Iran, and we intend to continue on this mission. We know that our mission to celebrate traditional designs has been successful in seeing how many people have kept this style as part of their wardrobe essentials, from a stay at home Australian mother to a traveling Indian Photographer, or a French Tea connoisseur to a Kenyan entrepreneur.
We choose to pay respect to the designs by conducting research and deep understanding of the intention behind the original design, and whenever possible, working with designers of that specific culture.
And when we finally launch the product, the spotlight is shared with the intention and stories of the original culture and they are always mentioned in our journals, social media, and other communications platforms. This belief in sharing the original story is also applied beyond our styles and prints; often naming the prints in the original language that it is most commonly known in, which is why it is most often in Sanskrit.
I hope this sheds some light on the process behind the creation of our products and why they feel so familiar. As this familiarity is intentional and hopefully urges people to find out more about the inspiration and stories behind the product. However, we haven’t had much feedback about designs being similarly replicated to those that are available in India and would love if you could share with us where you see the strong similarities? Especially since many of our styles are from Asia at large and not just India. It would help us reflect on things that we may have missed out on.
Onto the more complicated issue on pricing –
There is a common misconception that artisan fabric is cheaper, although it may seem true in many cases there are many factors that go into determining how much the fabric cost, above labor wages. Materials such as crepe silk and organic cotton are definitely more expensive, the type of conventional cotton that we use, the azo-free dyes that we choose, and the complexity of many of our prints are also part of the consideration. To add on, not only do we adhere to the ideals of sustainability and celebrating provenance, we also want to tackle the issue of fair trade and the freedom of choice of our artisans.
As such, we believe that paying our artisans fairly mean it has to be above the current averages, as what is currently the average has been proven to be unsustainable. The understanding of a “fair wage” to us means enough money for artisans to have the freedom of choice to continue the craft. Many of the generational artisans that we met love and cherish the craft, the reason why they leave it is that it is not financially feasible and viable for the family to survive on it. Traditional textile technique is a laborious and time-consuming, with our scale of production it would take at least 40 days for a single pair of pants to be made, expand this with economies of scale and “mass” production it takes about 4 months of when our orders are placed for the pants to arrive at our doorsteps.
To give you an idea of what that means, we believe that a minimum requirement of 30% of cost should go directly to the artisan, as that significant sum differentiates from what is artisan made and what is embellished with artisan techniques.
Of course, as the complexity of the technique increases, more percentage would attribute to the cost. What we make goes to paying our rent, our expenses, and everyone on our team. All of this contributes to how we price our products. As a company, we make about half of what we sell the product, not even taking into account costs of design and marketing at HQ. We’ve also benchmarked this against others in the transparent industry such as Everlane and Grana who mark up at 2-3x and compare against traditional retailers who markup 6-8x times. We felt that this would be a fair benchmark to determine how to price our product, however, understand that the same rules don’t apply to everyone.
I truly hope that all of this extensive explanation helps you understand where we are coming from and the intention of what we believe in. And if you feel that you have any questions or disagree with anything I’ve said, it would be so helpful for us if you could share it with me so that I too can understand what you believe in.
As a company grounded on provenance and process, we strongly believe in the value of transparency. Having conversations, like this one, holds us accountable to our mission and intentions, and creates opportunities for topics often swept under the rug to be brought to the table. With that said, if you have any questions on our production, partners, or process, just drop us an email. We would love to hear from you.