Happy Equal Pay Day: Lolita Edition
Today is Equal Pay Day, a day dedicated to promoting equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. Traditionally, cisgender men are likely to be paid more than cisgender women of the same race when other factors like skill, experience and education are taken into account. While lolita isn’t specific to any particular gender, statistically speaking, cisgender men do not make up the majority of people who follow lolita fashion. And while gender-based pay inequality is something hard to track in the lolita industry, I thought it might be interesting to talk about two of the other issues surrounding pay in lolita fashion, specifically in the western market.
There are several different contexts in lolita where people are asked to volunteer their time and skill. Some of these situations are totally legit: like lolibrary. No one is profiting off of lolibrary, and it’s a totally volunteer driven project for volunteers by volunteers to make the community better. Blogging on your own blog for fun also falls into this category, as does participating in a zine that is being organized by a community member and available for free or at publishing cost. Now, you absolutely can monetize your own content. Absolutely not trying to say people can’t, but you also can just not if you don’t want to. Both of these things are valid.
Other contexts provide a trade in exchange for the work, for example, models in a fashion show at a small scale event like an anime convention get to spend time behind the scenes with the designers, see the latest pieces up close, and sometimes are given thank you gifts by the designers for their time. It’s up to the models to decide if this compensation is enough for the work of modeling.
And then there is straight up freelance work which is unpaid. For example, requests to ghost write books, or to write news posts or blog posts or book chapters which will be sold or used as marketing / promotional materials by a company. If you are being given specs on what to write / draw, a deadline to submit it by, and the end result is being sold by a company, or put on the company’s webshop website to bring traffic to that company… that should be paid freelance work. A good example was I saw calls to write chapters of a book that was being listed as a piece of a set that was already for sale by a business. The inclusion of the book was specifically a selling point of the product, and therefore, the book was a product of the business. This is the type of thing that is frowned upon in the design/writing/web industry because it’s very clearly a freelance project that someone is trying not to pay for.
Paying Indie Designers For Their Skill
One thing that comes up a lot when talking about inexpensive options for lolita is indie / handmade work. Recently, I’ve seen more of a shift towards mentioning overseas indie brands (and the idea that every Chinese indie brand is the same and they are all aimed at a lower price point is a separate issue for another day), but there is still a bit of an undercurrent of indie or handmade pieces not being worth as much as brand. I spoke to an indie designer about how much she specifically pays herself for a dress. She says that she typically pays herself $110-$120 per dress. A few years ago when she calculated out the time, it took about 10 hours for a simple dress, but after 9 years, she says it’s closer to 8 hours per dress, which comes out to about $13.75 / hour. This doesn’t include the time she spends sketching, sourcing her materials, drafting the pattern, making the sample, research time, print design time, ordering and unpacking materials, social media and marketing, photographing samples, packing and processing orders, driving to the post office, etc. Sketching can take a full work day, or 10 minutes depending on inspiration, and pattern making takes a couple more hours for one pattern. Testing patterns on different body shapes takes even more time. She says packing orders takes a lot longer than she ever thinks it’s going to.
She says that she probably works about 16 hours a week on tasks that she doesn’t directly pay herself for. She also is not living off of the wages from her indie brand, she works a day job part time as well.
Earrings and other small things are her saving grace: she can make $20 / hour easily making small accessories, and this makes up for the time sink of making clothing and selling it at comparable prices to brands. But small things are harder to sell online. She relies on in-person events to move her small accessories at volume, and those come with their own costs, and challenges.
While she has been able to raise her prices a little over the last 9 years, she feels like she has to keep her prices about where they are to make sales. She prices her dresses under the average price of a brand dress by a little bit. A simple dress from her brand sells for $190, trying to keep under that $200 price point, while a more complex dress she’s made is $240, which is the lower price end for brands like Angelic Pretty.
All of this is to say, the idea that the work of small indie designers who sew on non-industrial machines should be cheaper than mass-market brand, rather than more expensive, devalues the skill and time of those designers.
What do you think? Are there specific areas in the western lolita community where you feel there are issues with people not being adequately compensated or the expectation of what compensation should be seems too low?