Interview with Sukrita Mahon: Pattern Pricing, Financial Accessibility and Inclusivity

Hi Sukrita! Thank you so much for agreeing to sit down and chat with me. I have long been admiring your outspokenness, your thoughts and incredible amount of work you have done to educate people on anti-racism, dismantling white supremacy, and fostering inclusivity in the knitting world.

I will be honest, your last couple posts on Instagram have initially made me uncomfortable, so I sat with my discomfort for a few days, after which I decided to ask you directly about my confusions.

1. With your recent posts, are you saying designers should undervalue and not charge their worth for their work so more people can afford knitting patterns?

No, not at all. Designers work is undervalued and it’s a deep, systemic problem. It's absolutely fair to say designers are not paid their worth. But the issues were around the kind of discussions that were happening, where white women were simply saying "increase your patterns by 100% and people will pay"... Which is extremely insensitive to those who can't afford it. The concerns about affordability are shrugged off in favour of apparently white people making more money! As usual, to be honest. Knitting is already a very insular community that isn't welcoming enough to lower income people. That was the point of my posts.

I would like to see the pricing discussion reflect the diverse customer base, not just focused on rich, white people yet again. That's all.

2. It sounds like you’re saying white = wealthy and non-white = low income. Do I understand you correctly? Could you expand on this a bit more?

I didn’t make up the disparity out of nothing, the evidence for median income according to race and gender is well-documented. This Wikipedia page is a good starting point, as is this census chart.

It should be noted though that the only reason Asian is on top is because Asian men earn significantly more than most people (due to education) -- Asian women still tend to earn less than White or Asian men. See this for reference.

Setting that aside, I’m only pointing out what it looks like to me, especially in the online community, and I know I’m not the only one who sees it. The average white crafter seems to think nothing of spending lots of money on a project bag, or hundreds of dollars on yarn for a single sweater. In most podcasts hosted by white people, the unstated assumption is that this is the norm -- which it is really not. Somehow, the loudest voices in the room end up being (or appearing) rich and white.

3. As for the pattern prices, to be honest, I was in support of the idea of raising prices for patterns, not by 100%, but maybe by 10-20% to better reflect the value of work that goes into publishing a pattern. I have increased the last couple patterns I published by half a dollar and a dollar respectively. I couldn’t imagine raising much higher than that. I agree with you that it’s a privilege to get to design, but I also have trouble with the push to keep pattern prices low even if it means many designers won’t be able to continue doing this work, especially lower income designers. The way I interpreted your words, please correct me if I am wrong, is that designers should get a second job or something so they can keep pattern prices low for people to be able to afford them. If not, they should just give up on designing. While I agree it’s a privilege to get to do what you love doing for a living, I’m wondering if you’re saying people shouldn’t pursue knitwear design as a valid career choice and a valid income source?

I'm not saying that at all. People are free to increase their prices, it's hard to make a living doing anything in fibre arts. You do what you have to do.

But I do have trouble with making spaces more exclusive than they already are. Of course, I support designers, but I have been seeing a lot of really entitled behaviour from white designers specifically.

I firmly believe that creative work should be valued much more than it is -- I am one of those underpaid fibre artists too. That’s why it’s doubly strange to see white people asking to be paid more, as if they’re the only ones struggling to make a living. There seems to be a severe lack of awareness and education around what it even means to be a crafter: its devaluation today has its roots firmly in colonialism and imperialism.

It is deeper than the conversation seems to want to allow space for.

4. So, you’re saying raising prices at the scope Hanna Lisa Haferkamp* suggested is sort of a “quick fix” that won’t do anything good to anyone? How do you envision knitwear designers getting fairly compensated for their work while keeping in mind there are many low income knitters who can’t afford buying patterns at these new prices? You’ve mentioned Aroha Knits and a few other designers trialing “pay what you can” idea... also you mentioned TinCanKnits free** patterns as an example.

My solution, as Aboubakar Fofana says, is impossible. If it’s true equality and fairness we want to achieve as crafters, then it will take a dismantling of systems well beyond the design world.

But we can start with being aware of the effect we have on the world around us.

Instead of seeking personal gain, we can try to build an alternative, inclusive environment that celebrates everything about what we do. I see our power in the ability to inspire each other, and that’s something we can keep doing regardless of our financial situation (hopefully).

Every business is unique and every designer’s vision for what is possible is unique to them. I look forward to seeing innovative ways of addressing the issue. What was possible for Tin Can Knits with their free patterns may not be possible for a one-person team; others may not want to try the ‘pay what you can’ model if they’re not confident in their customer base. Being honest with yourself about what you can do is really important.

5. What do you mean by “relinquishing privilege” when you ask that of designers? What does it look like?

Relinquishing privilege is directed (mainly) at white/middle class designers who have a lot of opportunities that others don't have. There are so many things they can be doing to make the community better and helping other people. I don't see them doing that, so to demand a price rise is absurd.

I don't think it applies to everyone, BIPOC designers have less privilege and I still see them/you doing so much for the community.

6. I saw a post on Instagram asking an interesting question of whether knitters are a community or a market. From what you have said, it sounds like you think it is (or should be) a community. Can’t it be a market at the same time? What considerations (ethical etc) should businesses keep in mind when marketing to knitters on Instagram?

Isn’t it both already?

White people love ethical consumption as long as it doesn’t involve thinking about people or the society we live in. You can’t have ethical businesses that are against inclusivity, or diversity. By focusing their marketing strategy on those who have the most money, businesses are actively being exclusive.

I think most makers know how to cater to the fibre market-community already. It’s an industry based on engagement with the community. I guess my main piece of advice would be to know who your customer base is, and why.

Thank you Sukrita*** for your thoughts. I really appreciate you taking time to explain all this.

* Hanna has since posted an update about switching to “Pay What You Can” pricing model.

**Free patterns are not really free. A lot of hours and resources go into them. Patterns are offered free for many reasons: mainly, to advertise other patterns, increasing customers’ trust and loyalty, to sell featured yarns, etc. If you enjoy the free patterns by your favorite designers, be sure to show your support and appreciation if and when you can.

***If you found this post valuable, you can buy coffee (Ko-Fi) for Sukrita following this link.