Multiple TikTokers have accused Target of potentially underpaying employees after discovering the department store was selling a crochet sweater for $35. Crochet, the TikTokers argued, can only be stitched by hand.
One user, who goes by @SeaTrick on the platform, previously worked as a costume designer and still shares sewing videos on their account. Thanks to another TikTok user’s math, @SeaTrick was able to break down the possible hourly pay someone hand-making the sweater would have earned.
“To get it at that $35, they would have to be paying $1.40 per hour,” @SeaTrick claimed. “I’m going to take that a step further because that is the final sale price [at $28]. That number is actually much lower because they aren’t just paying for labor and materials.”
A representative for Target told In The Know, “At Target, we place high priority on requiring that everything we source is produced ethically and in accordance with all applicable laws, international standards and our policies, including holding ourselves and our partners to a high standard of respect for human rights. We can confirm that the crochet sweater was produced at a location that is in accordance with our high standards and in accordance with wage requirements.”
@SeaTrick’s basis for hourly wage came from Matt Rose’s (@mattrose1312) video where they timed themselves crocheting a single square and then estimated the cost of materials.
“It’s hand-crocheted — they even say it is — and it’s $35,” Rose said. “It’s suspiciously cheap. So I thought, for a fun little experiment, I would figure out what I would charge for it.”
In the caption, Rose said they’d been crocheting for almost five years. To crochet a single square in one color, Rose said it took 25 minutes and that there are 50 to 60 squares, and multiple colors, for a small sweater.
“Based on my estimate … It would take 17.7 hours [to make a sweater],” Rose claimed. “That is accounting for sewing it all together with a machine and using a machine to knit the edges.”
Rose then calculated how much someone would have to pay per hour of labor to make the sweater be as close to the Target price as possible.
“You would be paying $2 an hour,” they said. “Now Target obviously needs to make a profit off of this, and they are paying for materials, which means they are paying employees [$1.40] an hour.”
People in the comments were shocked at the cost breakdown, with some pointing out that the Target site does not actually advertise the sweater as handmade — which is where @SeaTrick came in.
“It’s a decently well-known fact that, in the yarn world, there are not machines that can replicate crochet — it is one of the few things that machines just can’t do,” they explained in their TikTok. “It’s pretty safe to assume that this was made by hand.”
Unlike knitting or sewing, which machines can replicate, crochet stitches are too complicated. According to museologist Cary Karp’s blog, which is dedicated to “information about the histories of … looped fabric,” the closest stitch machines can make to crochet is called “warp knitting.” Warp knitting can replicate chain stitches that look like the chains seen in crochet stitches, but they are not identical.
A 2019 research paper published in the scientific journal Melliand International also confirmed that “crocheting is one of the very few hand-crafting techniques that are not yet possible by machine.”
@SeaTrick also argued that the final hourly wage might even be lower than what Rose estimated, as Target also has to pay for non-labor and materials costs like shipping and store employees.
“There is no humanly wage that can cover the price of this,” @SeaTrick concluded. “I don’t see how this sweater could possibly be ethically made.”
While Target does not list “handmade” in the product description, a commenter identified as “Target staff support” wrote, “This sweater was made by hand crochet. It can’t be machine knit.”
“[It’s] very likely that these sweaters were made in sweatshops,” @SeaTrick alleged. “We’ve gotten so used to these minimal prices that we barely even think about them anymore, but the reality is people are exploited to get clothing that’s this affordable.”
“Fast fashion is not actually fast,” they said. “There’s a good chance [Target] has figured out some way where it doesn’t take 17 hours to make this [sweater]. But if you look at those numbers, no matter how you crunch it, somebody is still getting underpaid.”
@SeaTrick added that even if a machine could make this sweater, selling it for $35 still isn’t enough money for the person who had to operate the machine.
In addition to fast fashion brands exploiting their workers with low wages, the fast fashion industry negatively impacts the environment — with both its dependence on synthetic fibers made from heavily processed fossil fuels and the amount of waste it produces.
Within the last 25 years, the fashion industry has failed to lower its negative impact, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) reported in January 2022.
In June 2021, Target launched Target Forward, the brand’s plan to “co-create an equitable and regenerative future” by “designing and elevating sustainable brands and innovating to eliminate waste.” According to the press release, Target Forward was “building on [Target’s] legacy of supporting people and [the] planet.”