06 March, 2015

Yeah... I'm back from market, so why am I so depressed?

3/6/2015 12:37:00 AM
Fashion Critic @Large: Price versus quality

Lauren Woltman
Kudos columnist

There is a saying in China that "if you want to know what colors are currently in fashion all you need to do is look at the rivers."

Women love clothes, and young women especially tend to think of the fashion industry as glamorous, and beautiful and I don't know what... so when I tell people I'm a buyer for women's clothing, the immediate response is usually: "Wow!" "Awesome!" "Lucky..."

Today I am reporting to you fresh off a major buying trip. And although I love what I do, it's not all good. I pride myself on sourcing better quality at the best price. And, yet, year after year I see the marketplace shifting toward buying trends I cannot support. 

In today's column I bring you an industry fashion insider's perspective. I have been "lucky" enough to attend many a trade show over the past two decades. Most of these shows are segregated by quality and price point, but not entirely. Not quite fashion week, but you get to see major slices of the spectrum of clothing being offered. There are miles and miles and thousands upon thousands of brands - at every price point. From designer labels to celebrity lines, nationally branded to indie labels, up and coming foreign and domestic designs - but most of all you can find loads of cheaply made fashion.

There is even a huge show dedicated to "Off Price" merchandise, which offers a majority of overproduced, mostly cheaply imported, often slightly defective or irregular fashions that are touted as "Guaranteed" to provide retailers with enormous profit margins that the American mass consumer gobbles up - like hot dogs and apple pie. And if price is your king, you probably have much of that show hanging in your closet. 

I think consumers need to be more aware of profit margins and quality vs. quantity. Ask yourself, why is this stuff so cheap? Where was it made? What is it made of? How much could a worker have been paid to make it? While at market I picked up a cute dress, and it looked like something I might desire to own and wear. It was unbelievably priced at $9 wholesale with a minimum of six units. As I examined the construction and details I was appalled. It looked like it would unravel before I ever wore it. The fabric content appeared misspelled, when truthfully it was a trick to sound real when it was a synthetic fabric manufactured to look like linen. And, it was as far from linen as linen can get. It also said "Dry Clean Only." The final straw was a hang tag with a warning label instructing to: "Wash garment BEFORE wearing"! The foreign salesman interjected, "This best seller! You can mark way up! Cut tag off once you buy."

I walked away sad and seriously wondering if this business I love will be able to provide me with any financial stability in my future. I just can't buy into this culture of crap. Now let me ask you, how often do you wash a garment before you wear it? I haven't pre-washed anything since the Levi's shrink-to-fit days.

You see, there is a breed of consumer - someone who grew up on Claire's and Forever 21. They want more and more for less and less, and they don't care where it's made or how, so long as it's cheap and trendy. What's more disheartening is the fact that the industry is kow-towing to this woman, supporting disposable trends, and unethical manufacturing simply to meet the demands of debt-ridden consumers whom either don't know any better, or don't care. But it's cute? That dress you're purchasing at a bargain price was made by small hands paid next to nothing in faraway places, of cheap or synthetic fabric, dyed with hazardous chemicals and some (illegal in this country) pesticides were thrown in for good shipment. But it looks OK to you?

Furthermore, consumers, you're not actually saving on anything. Here's a little fashion industry secret... YOU'RE BEING SWINDLED BY BARGAIN PRICED CRAP! Retailers know what prices you're used to, what prices you're immune to, and what you consider a "deal." The less they pay for the goods, the more they make off of you. Think they're passing savings onto you? Absolutely not. The "savings" are built into their profit margins, not passed on to the consumer. In other words, the less they pay, the more they profit. They're simply buying a dress for $10 pricing it at a 5.0 margin (WELL above industry standards). They then mark the dress at 50 percent off and you're thinking, "Wow, I'm getting such a great deal." In reality, they're profiting off of your trust and making more than they would on a higher-priced, quality garment sold at full MSRP. 

There is no bargain, my friends. The sale price was a farce and that pretty dress will most likely fall apart in a few months unless you actually care for it like you paid $300. How likely is that? That just opens up a whole other can of worms... false economy, consumer culture, mass waste, environmental impact.

And how was your week?

Lauren Woltman is the owner of Hop Sing Trading Co. in the Bashford Courts, 130 W. Gurley St.

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