On occasion, I have people who decide to try to verify my pricing by doing layperson google searches for fabric. I have long discouraged this not for any nefarious reason on my part, but because of how many websites, both small and large, misrepresent what they’re selling. Something I spend a lot of time doing is checking various public and wholesale websites and ordering swatches to verify what they’re selling. In 2016, I ordered eight lengths of fabric that were supposed to be silk that all ended up being polyester. I had a feeling they might, but how amazing would it be to find embroidered silk velvet for $16/yd? Unfortunately, it was indeed too good to be true. But those false listings make my pricing appear artificially high.
Now there is a reason I am writing about this right now, the that reason is the currently-live Joann Fabrics listing for Simple Luxuries-100% Silk Yoryu Black & White Packed Dot Fabric (note September 16, 2017: Joann Fabrics finally removed the link. It’s a good thing, then, that I had it archived.) It’s a lovely-looking black silk dotted fabric, also known as dotted swiss. Now silk dotted swiss isn’t a cheap fabric. I got some on clearance for $45 per yard. Ah, now it seems like I overpaid when that listing on one of the nation’s largest fabric store’s website says it’s $30. Right?
No, I did not. There are two things to keep in mind.
First, the quality of fabrics varies tremendously. I’ve seen silk duchess satins what would make you weep for the sheer luxury of them, and I’ve seen some that would make you cry for feeling ripped off by the shameful quality. I’ve seen sandwashed silk charmeuse that would make you want to get naked and rub that gloriousness all over your skin, and some that’s an insult to silk. This affects price. Sometimes the lower quality stuff has a use. The Goblin Queen gown I’m working on is one such time when a lower quality silk is the better one to use. The ultra-slubbiness of the silk dupioni is perfect for this, and it was still $24 per yard. But more often than not, a better quality is desired, and that means a higher cost.
The second reason is this. Look back at that listing. Here, I’ll show it to you:
Ah, nice! Yes, yes! 100% silk, just $30 a yard! What a savings, especially when that’s the regular price and I paid $45 on sale! But…BUT! Let’s scroll on down.
Do you see what I see? Look again. Read it all. Don’t be blinded by the sequins in your eyes (Chicago-reference FTW) on that bargain price of $30 for silk dotted fabric. Brush it out and look closer. Here:
Do you see it yet?
Bingo. For a brief moment, I was excited to think I may have found a new source for silk dotted fabric, but it’s my job to look closer, and there, the catch. That 100% silk is really 100% polyester. Now you can see how that $45 I paid on sale per yard isn’t a rip-off. I got silk. $30 for that polyester. Joann’s, at least, bothered to mention it somewhere. Many websites claiming to sell silk aren’t selling silk. Some do sell real silk. I don’t deny that at all. Some absolutely are selling what they claim. But many aren’t. My job includes figuring out which is which. When I give pricing, I give that pricing with the experience of someone who makes it my business to know what sites are honest, and which are lying in their titles and burying the truth further down the page, if they bother disclosing the truth at all.
Another issue with silk is all the art silk saris out of India. Lovely things, all that art silk. Perfect for artists! It wouldn’t be art silk if it wasn’t intended for artists, right? Too bad there should be a period. It’s art. silk. Suddenly it looks different. Hm, what is it, if not artistic silks for artists? Artificial. It’s artificial silk. It’s usually polyester. Disappointingly, those $20-silk saris are usually polyester. Silk saris, REAL silk saris, can easily cost $80-$150 or more. Each. Even the vintage ones. There’s a large market around the world for real silk saris, even at $150. For real, zardosi silk, that’s a bargain since more saris are about five yards. $30 a yard for that silk. That’s an incredible deal.
Since I want my clients to get what they pay for, I don’t play the plausible deniability game that I see go on on Etsy. I’ve seen gowns made from Joann Fabric’s Silky Solid Silkessence (it even says “silk” in the title, twice!) being passed off as silk. The sellers either don’t know the difference, of they’re going to claim that, well, the end of the bolt called it “silk essence” (it’s often written as two words on the bolt), so it MUST be silk. Their low prices are quite often based on what they think is unbelievably cheap silk, when it’s really anything from polyester to rayon to acetate. By comparison, my prices can seem high, but my prices aren’t artificially high. My prices accurately reflect real, true, genuine silk.
To make sure you get what you order, I spend a lot of money throughout the year, that I do NOT work into my pricing for my clients, buying fabrics from suppliers around the entire world, on every continent but Antarctica, searching and buying and verifying, then, when I find good silk, checking again later to make sure the quality is consistent. I call this fabric-hunting. Fabric-shopping is when I place an order with a trusted supplier. Sometimes the hunt turns up something great, and sometimes…
…sometimes that silk/cotton blend ends up being…
…polyester. That is a burn-test to check the fiber content. $16/yd for embroidered cotton/silk velvet was indeed too good to be true. I know this because I’ve laid out the money to research. Eight times in 2016 alone I got something other than silk. This is part of my job, and I take it seriously to make sure that you are getting real silk, real wool, real cotton, and if you want a synthetic, the best of the synthetics. I’ve got 18 years of experience doing this as a business.
So this is why I prefer my clients to not try to verify my fabric pricing. There are too many fraudulent listings out there (again, Joann Fabrics, one of the largest fabric stores in the world, has one such listing live on their website as of this very moment, but then admits the truth further down than most people will read), and too much tricky language. No one cringes at the price of fabric more than I do. I’m the one who has to break it to people that that dream gown will take $1500 in just fabrics when th budget is $1200. I’m the one who risks people thinking I’m making it up. Quite often, I personally eat some of the cost because I feel bad that good fabric costs so much, but I want to add that gown to my portfolio, or someone is so sweet that I really want to make it happen. I often worry about who will think I’m making up fabric pricing, which more and more often has resulted in me making nothing for my labor by the time all is said and done.
Too bad the ones making things up are far more likely to be the fabric-sellers themselves, from small operations out of China to large stores in America. Let the buyer beware, but let this buyer–me–be the one to take the risks.
An addition to this post:
Just to make some of you choke, here is what I paid for 100% mulberry silk velvet, at the only place I was able to find the right shade of green that wasn’t too olive, too emerald, or too bright. I bought 15 yards. $2,550 for just the velvet for the outside of a McGonagall robe. Most silk velvets online are actually blends with as little as 10% silk, and many velvets claiming to be 100% silk have a 100% silk ground (the back), but a rayon pile, making their actual silk content closer to 30% total. All I can figure for why that’s done so much, aside from charging more for the claim of 100% silk, is that they’re measuring the part that’s silk, so maybe that justifies calling it 100% silk to them? This bottle-green passed the burn test for silk, and comes from a store I trust, one that has since drastically shrunk its silk section. The pile is silk as well, and that price is actually a great price for mulberry silk.