Friday, May 30, 2008

Dress for less

As luxury fashion has become more expensive, mainstream apparel has become markedly less so. Today, shoppers pay the same price for a basic Brooks Brothers men’s suit, $598, as they did in 1998. The suggested retail price of a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans, $46, is about $4 less than it was a decade ago.
Dress for less and less confirmed my own observations. We, collectively, have too many clothes because clothes are too cheap. Look at the origin label on your clothes. They are made in faraway places you have never heard of. By the time you go back to the store for another t-shirt or pair of jeans, production will have moved to another country you have never heard of. It is not sustainable and some painful changes are on the way.
“We as a business cannot afford to have a customer take a second look and ask, ‘Do I need this?’ ” said Bud Konheim, the chief executive of Nicole Miller. “That is the kiss of death. We’re finished, because nobody really needs anything we make as a total industry.”

The divergence of price extremes has become so striking that some fashion executives, including Mr. Konheim, are openly asking whether prices have reached both their nadir and apex at the same moment. “As far as bottom costs go, we’re there,” Mr. Konheim said. “I think we’ve exploited all the countries on earth for people who really want to work for nothing."
Donnelly agrees with Kathleen, that producers in the US need to find niches away from basics (she calls them commodities) that change very little and slowly. Those can be produced easily abroad. She believes, as do I, that our domestic industry has to compete on the basis of quality and rapid response to customer needs.
It is becoming harder to compete with price alone, said Stephen Donnelly, the general merchandise manager for women’s apparel at Kmart, where shoppers, he said, are increasingly value minded. They are often more informed and more interested in fashion that is affordable, rather than basics that are cheap, and increasingly, less profitable.

“Just like everyone else,” Mr. Donnelly said, “we’ve definitely had some cost increases and a lot of that has to do with transportation, for getting the goods from the manufacturers to our warehouses and off to the stores, as well as increases in the price of raw materials.
Perhaps the high cost of energy will bring clothing producers and consumers closer geographically. Clothing locavores?

The clothing industry will need to practice arms control.
“Clothing has been incredibly cheap,” said Sarah Maxwell, a professor of marketing at Fordham University and the author of “The Price is Wrong” (Wiley, 2008), which looks at how price affects consumer behavior.

“There is room to move up,” she said. “If the entire market moves up at the same time, there isn’t any problem. It’s when one person moves up that the market notices.”
Who will dare to move first? What if consumers don't play along? Look at my stuff diet, wardrobe refashion, the freegan movement and Crazy Aunt Purl's mid-year resolution not to buy crap. (She defines essential items here.)

Aside:
Dress for Less and Less trots out the consumer price index fraud. The article quotes the official CPI, which says overall prices only moved up 32% between 1998 and 2008. Read Numbers racket: Why the economy is worse than we know by Kevin P. Phillips in the May issue of Harper's. Phillips dissects the CPI, one lie at a time. It's mandatory reading because we will be discussing it at the next tie-dye party/BBQ at our house.

The tie-dye materials from Dharma Trading have arrived. Let's set a playdate in June. Email me with convenient times. If you ordered something, I will email you the cost for your portion of the order.

1 comment:

  1. I found you while I was lurking at Wardrobe Refashion. Thanks for posting! It's a thought-provoking article. I'm glad there is one area in the American economy that is a value, but the end result is I have a closet full of clothes that I'm not crazy about.

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