Friday, March 30, 2012

Confession: I ALMOST bought a Cardigan

This was not supposed to happen.
But in the interests of honesty, I feel the need to confess.
I bought a ready-to-wear cardigan.
It was 80% lambswool, 20% nylon.  It was in the sale at John Lewis website.  It wasWhite Stuff brand.

It was yellow.
The stitch pattern was similar to Bettie's Pullover.
It would have taken me at least three months to knit at a similar cost.

And I convinced myself that I couldn't wait three months for a summery alternative to Audrey in Unst / my navy blue Boden boyfriend cardigan.  My old Gap teal cardigan has an unmendable ladder up the sleeve and is now consigned to gardening duty.  I don't think owning three fit-for-work cardigans is excessive.

BUT... when it arrived, I subjected it to close examination.  I wanted to be sure I was breaking my handmade pledge in a good cause.

The first thing I noticed was a cardboard swing ticket which said "I am prone to pilling".  How incredibly honest!  I turned the ticket over and it explained that because the garment was made of soft wool, it would bobble when worn and must be washed in cool water with extreme care... but not to worry because this was "normal".  Now, I DO understand that this is a property of soft fluffy wool, but my cynical brain told me that what this REALLY meant was I would have no grounds to complain if my cardigan fell apart after a few weeks of wear - I had been warned that it was delicate!

I checked the inside label, and it was "Made in China".  Of course it was.  It led me to check the Corporate Social Responsibility section of their website, to see if they had a commitment to fairwages / working conditions in their factories.  And for all the fluffy words, I am none the wiser.  Here is what the website says:

being white stuff

(or creating) ‘happiness in every stitch’

The vision - what we believe:  By being different, and making a difference, we’ll make the world a little happier.

The vision - how does it all add up?  By being different, (with our unique product and personality)
and making a difference, (by being good neighbours to our people & the planet) we’ll make the world a little happier.

(creating ‘happiness in every stitch’)

The mission - how will we get there?

We will dress lovely people and their homes with all things bright and beautiful.

Our irreverent sense of humour can be found in everything we do and say - that’s because we want
to make people smile.

We value people above all else - our customers, our staff and anyone who works with us. We want to make people proud to be part of the White Stuff family.

We also want to make a difference in our local communities and across the wider planet. We want to give something back. Together, we’ll make the world a little happier.

Our promise - how will we deliver our brand?

We promise to 'stand out up close’ every time we deliver our brand.
Our product, our shops, our service and our people should all ‘stand out up close’.

Our DNA - what is our brand made of?
We don’t think there's any point in doing something in life if it doesn't make you happy.

Another way of saying we don’t do ‘the usual’.
We go out of our way to make people smile.

We don’t make suits, we don’t wear suits and we don’t act like suits. You shouldn't have to either.

We always go the distance to make something special. When it comes to details, we are bothered.

We treat people the way we want to be treated ourselves.

Does anyone know what any of that really means?  I would like to interpret all that as meaning they are a fairtrade, fairwage, organically-grown company, but they don't come right out and say so - and don't you think they would if they were?  I could write to the company and ask them - but it shouldn't be necessary.  Plain English please, people!

The only concrete evidence of  ethical business practices I can find is their commitment to give 1% of their profits to their "Foundation", which is described in as follows:
 The Foundation supports disadvantaged children and young people in our local communities. All White Stuff shops are partnered with their own local charity. The Foundation gives regular grants to these charities, in addition to funds raised by our staff and customers

And that's great!  There are more details on the site.  But is this 1% gesture sufficient for me to break my pledge to eschew the High Street?

Back to the garment itself:  I liked the stitch pattern.  I liked the colour.  I would have had to replace the buttons as they looked as if the dog has been chewing them (they were kind of wooden with texture).  But my main problem with the garment was the unfinished neck edge.  It stretched out a little further every time I tried it on (about three times).  I would have had to back it with ribbon or bias tape to give it stability.  The sleeves were a bit too short to be long and too long to be 3/4 length.  The side seams were sewn inside out, presumably as a design feature to emphasise the squareness of the body.

In summary?  It wasn't perfect.  If I had made it myself I wouldn't have done it that way.  I would have chosen stronger yarn.  It would have had an i-cord bind off at the neck, longer sleeves, vintage buttons all the way down, and some waist shaping.  The original price of this cardigan was £47.50.  I bought it as  a "sale" item for £29.  I would never have considered paying the original price.  The reduced price was probably reasonable. BUT...

I sent it back for a refund.

Do you understand why?


Alison said...

Hi, I have never commented before but have been following for a while. I am also boycotting the highstreet and only buying ethical or second hand and personally I have avoided White Stuff so totally understand why you returned it!

Have you heard of The Good Shopping Guide? It is a brilliant resource for ethical shopping.


prttynpnk said...

Good for you!

mumasu said...

I have sent stuff back in the past for all these reasons. They look great on the website, it is a bargain if it turns out to be great but sometimes the product is less than great and back it goes.

On the up, I got a Dash dress this morning at the British Heart Foundation for a tenner which is the most I have ever paid in a charity shop for something before but is is lined and felt lovely as soon as I put it on.

Gail said...

Really excellent points all around. I had many similar experiences with my favorite US retailer - prices too high and quality too low, less-ethical business practices. Buying and then returning several items that weren't up to snuff really pushed me even more to create a self-made wardrobe.

Rachel-Lou said...

Seriously, reading all that tosh will make me avoid them in the future (not that I had even heard of them before!)

Surely if they were really interested in making the world a happier place they would shout from the rooftops they they use ethically and environmentally sound materials, and pay their workers a pair wage to work in a safe working environment.

To me, it sounds like they are trying to cash in on those that are trying to be conciencious consumers without actually providing an ethical product.

Sigrid said...

That fluffy mission statement drivel is enough reason to return the cardigan. White Stuff seems to be hoping you are lacking in grey matter.

Kestrel said...

Hmmm, interesting. Like you I normally shun shop bought knits but I seriously need to replace a few threadbare cardis. It is a dilemma isn't it, because I don't like to put the pressure on myself to knit or sew as then it can become not fun. Also, what a lot of White Stuff waffle!

Lizzi said...

What a load of guff their mission statement is - I couldn't understand a word - that alone would have made me want to send it back - that and the stretchy neckline

Doobee said...

Exactly what I would have done!!!

Diana said...

You did the right thing. I also admire how you've questioned their ethical practices statement: if they were fair trade/fair wage/organic company, they'd be tooting it from their rooftop. It's fluffy enough to hide the real truth.

Scruffybadger said...

Ra ra! Well done! At least you went through the process though, so now you can sniff & sneer at the thought of owning it, instead of waiting for any further reductions. My desperation for cardigans led me to the charity shop.... & to patch the elbows on a much loved favorite :-)
I would have preferred not to buy at all, but charity shops were kind of OK, until my wardrobe of self knitted items expands!

feresaknit said...

I don't think you'd have worn it anyway.

I'm glad they want everybody to be happy but it would be nice to know whether it included the workers in the Chinese factory it was made in.

Bundana said...

Getting a straight answer out of John Lewis about their ethics is as hard as with any other retailer it seems. Keywords. As of the definition recognition of equality means that you practice it! Hmmm.

Great blog by the way. I too, am a sewing NUT (ginger nut at that)!

Take care


Linda said...

what a load of corporate twaddle. And disappointing, because I am about to buy some clothes for myself after about 10 years of only buying necessary things like knickers, and I liked the look of White Stuff. What to do, if you can't (due to ineptitude) make your own clothes??

Sølvi said...

Impressive amount of nothing that white Stuff managed to produce! I love how you handled it. Nicely done! :-)

Christine Laennec said...

That 'mission statement' is so highly insulting to the people around the world who are exploited in manufacturing clothing - not to mention to their customers! Good for you to return the cardigan.

New Consumer magazine used to be a good source of information about ethical shopping, but since the Third World shop closed in Aberdeen I haven't seen a copy.

Clare said...

I can see why you bought the cardigan but can also see why you sent it back. The 'mission statement' has also put me off White Stuff, it's just irritating.
Have a lovely holiday - looks amazing where you are.

Annie @ knitsofacto said...

Yes, oh yes. To be honest I think few companies can match the ethicalness (is that a word?) and ecofriendliness of making your own clothes from well sourced yarn and cloth. Few I can afford anyway. Except Gudrun Sjoden, and oh how I love those clothes :D