Thursday, 29 April 2010

A lot is too much

An article in today's NYT's style section discussed the prices of designer clothing and how they are justified. Their example featured a pair of Band of Outsiders' khaki trousers, with the price tag of $550. Basic khakis like that cost less than $50 at Gap. The high price for the designer khakis comes from high production costs: they are made in Manhattan, materials alone cost $54, and the average employee earns $13 an hour (20 people are involved in making a single pair). The designer doubles the production cost in order to profit from making the trousers, and the retailer uses an additional mark-up of about 2.5. End result: well-tailored, American-made, high-quality khakis that cost $550. This got me thinking about my decision to not spend $250 on a pair of clogs recently.

I have mentioned before that I have trouble spending a lot of money on an individual piece of clothing. I often wonder whether I'd feel more comfortable spending if I had a ton of money, but I honestly think I'd still cringe at high prices. I am, however, becoming more and more aware of the hidden costs of cheaply manufactured clothes, such as sweat-shop workforce and use-once-and-throw-away fashion. The immediate answer from the consumer's standpoint, of course, is thrifting. After reading the article in NYT, I started to think about the blatant opportunism of my kind of consumerism.

I appreciate high-quality clothing and shoes, but I don't want to spend money on them. I have a lot of respect for fashion designers' visions on the one hand, and skills of those who hand craft their items with love and care on the other, but essentially, I don't want to support their work financially. I got to thinking whether this standpoint is at all sustainable. As cheap mass production of clothes is becoming more and more popular, shouldn't I be showing my appreciation and respect to the sellers whose standards of creative work align with my values? Wouldn't it be easier to justify spending money on clothes if I knew I was giving something back to the forces behind them and making sure those gifted seamstresses got their $13 an hour?

This opens a huge can of worms. How do I know what the values of a particular designer are, apart from the likes of Stella McCartney? How do I know if I am supporting someone's creative vision, or their market-driven need to sell their product, or are the two just different sides of the same coin? Can I be sure that their employees work for a decent salary? Do I want to spend a lot of money on a high-quality, unique designer piece, knowing that my money will go toward things like marketing expenses of a business? The answer is no. No matter how I twist and turn the issue, I can't see the point of paying $550 for a pair of khakis. I wouldn't buy the ones at Gap either, and yes, you guessed it, I would thrift them instead. At least with thrifting, you are giving back to the environment, and possibly to a charitable organisation, which is certainly more than justifiable. This is not to say I will never buy anything new again, because I am sure I can come up with all sorts of arguments for a piece of clothing if it is something I really, really want. But there is no way that calculating production costs of a business is making me want to spend more money on anything.

Seahorse sweater: second hand / UFF
Skirt: second hand / Salvation Army
Shoes: mom's old Gabor
Tights: Urban Outfitters


FashionTheorist said...

I believe in supporting independent and artisan designers. I believe that the people who make my clothes should be paid a fair, living wage. I loathe the culture of throwaway, sweatshop-produced fast fashion. And there are items I'm willing to pay comparatively high prices for certain items to ensure quality and ethical production (I thrift most of the rest).

But $550 for a pair of khakis still seems a wee bit excessive.

Eline said...

First of all, I love your tights so much! What an awesome print.

Second of all, I disagree. I've known a couple of designers myself and not only can you be pretty damn sure there's talented and passionate people behind the seaming, there's also a passionate designer at work who's not only spent time studying the intricateness of fashion but also given their life and love to every single piece. This might not be true for some designers but I find that you can tell the difference between a piece of clothing tailored with passion and love and a piece just for the money. A designer's work is most certainly not easy. They basically give up their lives to do what they love, and they don't get paid much. Even the big designer names only get money from merchandising, handbags etc. Not the fabulously crafted clothes. I think fashion is an art form and that we should support it. However the case, I can't. I'm a student so I thrift (and occasionally drop into H&M though I try to stay away...).

Someone said...

What you're talking about is exactly why some people (me included) like to buy from designers such as many of those on Etsy for instance. There are other places too.

You can get custom made-to-measure clothing and customized (or simply unique or limited edition) jewelry etc. at VERY reasonable and fair prices - partly because the designers there don't have the huge overhead, large mass-market sized workforce, and the distribution structure with several middlemen that the big name designers need.

I can appreciate a $1000 shoe for sure (like a Stella McCartney), but I don't NEED one. There are enough other things out there that will suit well for a lot less.

Modesty is Pretty said...

or wouldn't it just be wonderful to learn how to make your own clothes? Gosh I wish I could sew anything I wanted and that would definitely guarantee that the item would be perfect for me and I would be doing the work. However I can barely sew and thrift stores are my option because I can help the environment and also other charities. If I could have my way, I would love to learn to sew! Cute outfit! Have you decided what you are going to do with your hair? Cut it? wait? Just wondering =) have a great day.

Teenysparkles said...

Interesting. I had a similar conversation with a friend of mine that pre-children was a real life fashion designer. She was explaining to me what caused the expense..and basically it is as you described. According to her, the retail mark up is normally 100-200% on top of what the designer sells the item as - to the outlet. She says the outlet never loses. Unless the item is stolen.

Camelia Crinoline said...

I find myself in the same predicament. I don't want to support an industry that relies on sweat shop labour to produce low quality throwaway garments yet I cannot and do not want to spend huge amounts of money on clothes. I can to some extent understand paying for beautiful, amazing and original designer clothes but khakis are none of those things. I can't help but feel that you are paying for the exclusivity of the brand when buying designer clothes that are as basic as khakis.

joelle van dyne said...

first off, your outfit is great as usual. the mixing of prints here is impeccable! the skirt jumped out at me first- i love that thing. the tights are just subtle enough, and the print on the sweater is so cute!

while i love designer clothing- the fit, the little details (or sometimes huge crazy details), i can't pay full price for anything. 99% of my stuff is secondhand, so it lets me avoid thinking about all the moral issues behind how the garment was made. i also like 2nd-hand shopping because i'm more drawn to things when there is only one of each thing in the store. somehow it makes me more likely to try something on than if it's hanging on a rack with all it's 10 other identical items.

anyway, i do think that $500 for a pair of khakis is INSANE. i don't really consider band of outsiders to be a small label either (maybe i'm wrong about that). but i do think it's nice at times to spend a little extra to support an independent designer. ~joelle

Dorky Medievalist said...

This is a very thoughtful post. I have been reading your blog for a while now and you have made me think carefully about the impulse to buy. And what is behind that impulse. And what it is I am buying (or coveting).

$500+ for a pair of khakis seems extreme but the justification is even more bizarre to me. Is $13/hr. really that much? Can someone being paid $13/hr. afford the pants they are making? And can they afford to live close to where they work in Manhattan? Do these workers have health care?

I agree that workers should be paid a living wage for their work (no matter what the field) but I doubt that these particular skilled workers are seeing much of the profit from their work. I admire your ability to forego all of this and thrift. And to look fabulous doing so.