Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Warning: Cold Slimy follows...

Example of how NOT to take a photo.
Lately I've been discouraged.  I'm not sure exactly what it is.  The weather?  The annual onset of holiday stress?  Or just the general pessimism that comes with an economic downturn.  Still, I can pinpoint one the reasons that my enthusiasm has been firmly curbed.

Nearly a full week before Black Friday, my boyfriend and I braved crushing crowds in pursuit of a spice rack at JCPenny's.  On our slow and tedious way towards the escalator, we shuffled past the section devoted to winter accessories.  That's where I found my own personal rain cloud, disguised as sock monkeys, felt eyed frogs and owls, garter stitched pandas and penguins.  Admittedly this particular storm had begun brewing much earlier and across the country.  This is evidenced by a picture I took of some hats in a store along the "boardwalk" at Newport beach on the last day of my visit home.

These adorable hats (click here for more examples) are the latest example as to why I should stop trying to pursue knitting things for others.  Lovely machines churned out these little gems, no doubt in places where the labor regulations are more accommodating for the bottom line of companies like JCPenny (who owns the brand Arizona Jeans; the label these babies are imported under).  As a knitter I notice that not only is the fleece lining sewn in, but the shaping of the crown is done by cutting the knitted fabric and then using a sewing machine; this is basically like watching someone put packets of ketchup on filet mignon.

To add insult to injury, is the reason of WHY these hats are considered cute and chic...  It's because they try to look handmade.  Basically the first stitch a knitter learns is... well, the knit stitch.  After a number of rows of this you have a fabric that has been done in "garter stitch".  This is is the foundation of knitting, just like the foundation of reading are the letters of the alphabet.  Essentially, they want to appeal to the crowd that likes to look at handcrafted items on Etsy, but would prefer to pay less.  But who are you supporting when you pay less?  It's not unreasonable to assume that you could be supporting sweatshop conditions.  According to Green America's Retailer Scorecard which wants to curb sweatshop practices, JCPenny earns the grade of D- (out of a typical A-F grading system) for subcontracting to five companies out of the nine named with documented poor human rights records.

Thank you for letting me share my own personal rain cloud.  I can daydream about trying to make a living doing various things with knitting; but perhaps it should remain just that - a daydream.  There's no way I can compete with the sweatshops.  The cost of materials and shipping alone are typically at the upper limit of what the average American would pay for a knitted accessory.  When I make something I don't expect or hope to get minimum wage for my time, but I'd like to help the household expenses a bit.  The silver lining?  There are a handful of people out there that have been willing to support my daydream.  Moral of the story: if you want something that looks handmade, buy handmade... and the spice rack?  I'll get one elsewhere.

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