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The real cost of American-made swimwear.

Posted by Mel Wells on

The real cost of American-made swimwear.

Mel here, with some real talk about the price of Beefcake swimsuits.

Honestly, I would love to make these swimsuits within the price range for every single person who wants one. My intention for Beefcake Swimwear has never been to start a luxury brand: I want to provide high-quality, American-made swimsuits that are also affordable. 

I have also learned an ugly truth: our idea of "affordable" clothing is full of costs that we as consumers are not paying, but someone pays. We usually just don't hear about it.

When I began researching how to set retail prices, I discovered that very few companies will admit how much it costs to produce their clothes. The only company practicing this "radical transparency" was Everlane, and I was stunned when they said most retailers mark up their clothes between five and six times the cost of manufacturing. This means a $35 swimsuit probably costs between $1.10 and $2.19 to produce, and that number includes raw materials AND labor. No matter what country you live in, there's no way a person getting paid less than $2.19 to sew a swimsuit is making a living wage. 

I highly recommend watching True Cost (currently on Netflix). It's an incredible documentary about what our clothes actually cost, in terms of humans and the environment, and the damage "fast fashion" is wreaking on our fellow humans and our environment.

It feels like this issue is starting to get on folks' radar, with articles like Newsweek's Fast Fashion is Creating an Environmental Crisis, Forbes' Fast Fashion is a Disaster for Women and the Environment, and wide coverage of the 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,130 employees. 

As I learned about all of this, I decided that Beefcake Swimwear will never be a part of the harm and waste of "fast fashion" retail practices, even if that means we cannot compete on price with retail companies who make thousands of suits in factories abroad. Instead, we are doing small batches at a woman-owned manufacturer in the USA, and we believe this approach is worth higher costs.

Speaking of transparency, as of this post, I haven't paid myself a cent, and I've been working on Beefcake Swimwear since 2015. I'm lucky to have a day job which provides a living wage and health insurance while I figure out how to make this company sustainable. Almost 50% of startups don't make it past the first four years, so we're still in the danger zone.

Also, I am not marking up these swimsuits as much as I "should" because I think that pricing things as high as "the market will bear" is predatory and ethically wrong. I do not view Beefcake Swimsuit customers as consumers--you are my fellow humans, as are the people printing and sewing these suits. I'm committed to growing Beefcake Swimwear sustainably, and I immensely appreciate folks who not only understand how rare and challenging it is to be an LGBTQ and woman-owned business making clothes in the USA, but who support us. This is a pretty wild endeavor, and we're so glad to have you along for the ride.

TL; DR I realize our swimsuits are more expensive than big-box stores, and I still think doing small-batch, American-made swimwear at a woman-owned factory is worth it. And please watch The True Cost


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