Sometimes people ask me, why do dreads cost so much? The short answer is… I pay myself a fair wage for the skilled work I do, otherwise I simply couldn’t afford to do it.
A Brief History
Zaahn Dreads started back in 2003, working frankly ridiculous hours out of my bedroom. At the age of 15 I hadn’t even started my first supermarket job, was still in school and had no idea of the value of my labour, I just loved doing what I was doing.
Over the next 13 years crafting synthetic dreads purely for the love of the work, I began to understand that my time was a precious commodity. I wouldn’t work for nothing at my various other jobs over the years, and after finishing my degree and gaining a family, I realised I would either have to make this a viable business or set it aside in order to survive.
I studied Decorative Arts at University specialising in jewellery, a course very much geared towards making a living from my work, and set up my own business selling my jewellery in retail shops and events across the UK. I realised that as a maker I would never question the value of my jewellery products, so what was so different about my dreads?
The long answer can be broken down into two sections, or in other words, why dreads cost more to make than you might expect, and why that isn’t a bad thing.
Market Expectations Are Unrealistic
Back in 2003 you could pick up a set of 50DEs for £50. In 2016 the average price for a set of 40DEs is £120.
That’s not nearly enough to be in line with inflation, the cost of living and wage increases over such a long period of time. The only reason I can continue to charge so little for my work is that I’ve been doing this a long time, with a lot of trial and error. I have significantly cut down on the time it takes to make a set of dreads, cut material costs and have invested in better equipment. I also run multiple businesses out of the same studio to save on overheads.
The majority of dread makers turn very little profit from their work, sometimes paying themselves less than minimum wage for the hours they put in. It would be illegal to employ someone for less than the national minimum wage and that applies to small businesses as well, even if you only employ yourself. With so many people undercharging for their work, it’s not surprising that it can be difficult to make a living from making dreads alone.
So what should a set of dreads cost?
From this you would expect prices to be a lot higher and a lot more diverse, depending on how skilled the maker is, whether they only sell dreads directly or from retail stores as well, and the cost of their overheads and materials.
Low Perceived Value
I believe that you can’t understand the value of something unless you know how much work goes into making it. That lack of awareness on the part of consumers contributes heavily to the perceived value of a product, and dreads are no different.
It takes many hours to create a quality set of dreads. The work itself is actually quite physically strenuous. I have constant blisters/peeling skin/callouses on my index fingers and thumbs, plus all the usual symptoms of RSI along with steam burns and cuts. I never work for more than 5 hours a day on dreads to avoid injuries that might affect my ability to work throughout the week, but I still have the scars from times I’ve push myself a little too hard.
The availability of other cheap, mass produced alternatives on the market also devalues craftsmanship. We live in a society of instant gratification, built in obsolescence and throw away consumerism, where quality and durability is assigned less importance than low price points.
So Is There A Solution?
Possibly, as long as we start to value quality over the convenience of low-cost, substandard goods.
As the world works towards decreasing the damage done by cheap labour, mass production and material greed, we could see some changes in the way people shop. More and more of us are becoming conscientious of our purchasing power, opting for local and handmade items, taking an interest in how things are made and where they come from. This would go a long way to helping us understand that the value of what we buy is not dictated by how little it costs. Less isn’t always more.
And as a community of makers, if we could better regulate our own market and stop underselling ourselves, attitudes would continue to change. By not believing in ourselves or the quality of our work we’re perpetuating the idea that it isn’t worth the cost. If we instead had confidence in our abilities, our products and our skills then maybe it wouldn’t be a question of why do dreads cost so much, and more a question of why have they cost so little until now?