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Why is Australian clothing so expensive?

My Nokia, the South African one, bleeps to announce the arrival of another SMS.

My heart sinks: another update from FNB, chirpily informing me of how much I’ve just spent on my Clicks Clubcard. I will have to be employed in Australia for at least three months before the banks will even consider approving a credit card, so in the meantime, I must continue to use my South African plastic; and, because I am keeping my MTN phone active until the contract is up in a month or so, the SMSs come through as they have always done.

They say you shouldn’t convert to rands, but the SMSs make it impossible. The gravity of every purchase, from tomatoes to transport, is reflected in the pixels on the unforgiving and impassive screen. R504,34 on a few groceries. R110,53 on a bottle of water and a smallish box of chocolates, a gift for the hostess of a dinner party. R246,27 for a fleece throw and some $2 bargain-basement lipsticks
(for my paintings — I seldom use lipstick for the purpose for which it was originally intended) from Target.

And R767,23 on some cheap Chinese clothes, mostly thin polo-necks and a couple of jerseys suitable for wearing to work. I can’t afford an entire wardrobe of good quality stuff, so I try to mix and match: a Jenni Button trench-coat — the most extravagant item I own — with Woolworths trousers and cheap basics. I’m glad I stocked up in South Africa; a half decent pair of women’s pants at a store like Myer will set you back around $70 or R540 — and almost everything, from the cheapest to the priciest, is manufactured in China.

That’s what I really don’t understand. Sure, you can expect to pay more for groceries because the input costs are more. Labour is expensive, after all. But why should clothing of the same sort of quality one would find in Mr Price cost almost double — and that’s with much of it heavily discounted because right now, every retailer is having a sale? Surely, Chinese clothing in Australia should not cost so much more than Chinese clothing in South Africa — especially when you consider that it has to be shipped so much further?

I don’t have an explanation. Not just yet. In the meantime, I carry on whacking everything onto the credit card and planning on how spend all the ClubCard points when I visit South Africa in six months’ time or so. All of those thousands of rands, dutifully reported via my phone, have to be good for something.


  • Sarah Britten

    During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.