Every now and then I get asked the same question. It goes something like this… “Oh Chris! I love your bears! Why don’t you make more of them? You’d be rich!” Wrong! Whilst not actually timing myself, I can gauge the four bears that I have made this week in television shows. Three movies, 10 episodes of a Swedish cop drama. Three seasons of a sit com, a ray Harry Hausen documentory and assorted Dr Who re-runs. I’m guessing about 35 hours of eye fodder. Being both heavily medicated and a bit poorly , I have probably been slowed down a bit so let’s say 7 hours a bear. That includes finding and marking the grain of the fabric, placing and marking the pieces, cutting out, trimming the edges, trimming the muzzle, pinning, tacking, sewing, pinning, tacking, sewing again, placing joints, placing eyes, stuffing, embroidering the nose, sewing on ears, fixing joints, stuffing the belly and doing the closure stitching. So even at below living wage that’s £49, plus materials of say £20 (it’s often much more). So before we have even thought about needing to add a shop mark up, that’s £70 for a small bear. Heaven forbid what it would be if I made it an outfit too. Now please remember, this is based on minimum wage. Theoretically, as a trained and experienced artist, I should be charging at least £20 per hour which would bring the figure up to £160 for a small bear. Do I charge that? Of course I don’t! I don’t know anyone with that kind of money to burn. A little bear in Chris world will cost you £30 – £50. Which is why I never attempt to make a living from them. So why do I do it? I guess that’s the obvious question, and the equally obvious answer is this, “Because I like doing it.” It is a little more complicated though. Many years ago I trained to be a textile designer and subsequently work for a while designing and making knitwear and accessories for the higher end of the fashion industry. I was bloody good at it an’ all and had a reputation for making stuff that nobody else could wrap their brains around how it was put together. Anyway, it was a big deal for me to get to university, it was a big deal for me to get into the fashion industry, but when I got there I instantly wished I hadn’t. The first thing I realised was that the sort of people who could afford what we were making were the sort of people who couldn’t stand being caught wearing the same thing twice. So I was effectively making high quality things out of the finest materials that were regarded as disposable by their buyers. Then, once the rot had set in, the final straw was my trip to London fashion week. It’s really not what you think it is (unless you think it’s a trade fair for selling shit that is). Behind all the supermodels and celebrities it is just a trade fair. I can pinpoint my falling out of love with fashion to the exact second that I unzipped my flies in the lavatory and looked down, the water was blue, it was a chemical toilet! Oh the glamour! Anyway, to cut a long story short, I left the fashion industry but I like to use the pattern cutting skills I picked up to make my own teddy bear designs. Using similar making processes but to create something that, with luck, becomes a family heirloom rather than something that ends up in a charity shop. The disposable nature of fashion has become much, much, worse now than it was fifteen years ago. First with the rise of Primark, Peacocks and H&M where the clothing became so cheap that everyday folk could practice the crass art of throw away fashion. I think the obscenity factor has hit overload in the last couple of years though with the growing popularity of the Christmas jumper. This article more than any other represents the wastefulness of the western world. These sweaters, most often made of the most synthetic of materials seem to be everywhere I look. Whilst I realise that I have ‘form’ when in comes to kicking off, about well… pretty much everything, I feel with this one I am on a winner. Knowing as much as I do about the making of knitwear, it may be made on a machine but there always has to be some poor sod casting on, setting up the rib pattern, adding the extra yarns to make the hideous reindeer pattern or whatever, someone sewing or linking the seams, steaming, labelling… Many people, many hours work, all to produce what? A terrible garment in a sweatshop on the other side of the planet for at best two week’s wear. It would be as easy to making something in cotton or wool in an ethically sourced manner that would provide years of wear for the same time and energy expended. It would be even better if we paid people proper wages. There is a level of exploitation in what I do but the person I am exploiting is me as I like putting nice stuff into the world even when I barely break even. It is my choice, a luxury someone in extreme poverty in a regime even more corrupt than Britain (Well, for the moment anyway) simply doesn’t have. If you would like to know more about my bears look at the page thingy in my header up top in other stuff or check out my Facebook page here. Oh! And by the way, Happy Christmas! Xxx
The bear faced truth about Christmas.