We previously ran through a high-level of the clothing industry from fast fashion to luxury. In this post we address a common question from customers new to designer and specialty brands -- why are they so expensive and why should I spend the money?
To really answer that question we have to backtrack a bit and explain what goes into designing, specifying, manufacturing, finishing, and delivering an article of clothing.
How Clothing is Made
To most people that hold up a shirt or a pair of pants it is just a rag -- cloth sewn together. It may not have the clear intrinsic value of other goods such as an iPad or a car. However there is quite a lot of thought, planning, logistics, and labor that goes into a finished product. Let's go through a quick overview of the steps needed to go from an idea to a delivered product.
- A designer takes an idea to the sketchbook and then goes through the prototyping process which is skipped or rushed in the fast fashion world: 1) Pattern-making 2) First Prototype 3) Fitting with the models 4) Corrections to patterns after fitting 5) Second fitting and approval
- Grading -- the process of creating individual patterns for each size. This is a complex process now done with the help of CAD software.
- Fabrics and notions are specified and sought out that will make the concept a reality.
- A completed specification of the article is sent to the manufacturer with the block, grading, fabrics, and notions to be used to manufacture each size and color variation.
- The sourced fabrics are milled and delivered to the manufacturer along with all the other parts needed to finish the item.
- The garment fabric is cut into patterns for each size, then assembled together, laundered, finished, tagged, packaged, and shipped out to a warehouse.
All of that can be done ethically with fair labor practices and in an ecologically responsible manner, but it can also be done cheaply. When cheap clothing is purchased, the true cost is paid earlier on in the supply chain in terms of cheap labor, inexpensive materials, and in production and manufacturing methods that are environmentally damaging (for example cotton production). Inexpensive items typically have a short lifespan and quickly end up disposed in a landfill.
So Why is Clothing Expensive?
Consumers have come to expect cheap clothing as a result of the fast fashion industry which manufactures and sells low quality and inexpensive garments. In comparison, designer and specialty brands are certainly expensive. It is important to remember that you get what you pay for -- fast fashion is not well-made and does not last, does not always fit well, and is commonly made with poor labor and ecological accountability.
Reputable brands are careful about their supply chains -- they source quality fabrics and have their garments manufactured in quality facilities that provide good jobs to skilled craftspeople. There are many people involved in the process, and everyone needs to make a living!
- The design house - the people that take a concept from sketch to ready-to-manufacture specifications.
- The fabric and notions suppliers - everyone from the people who work at a fabric mill that produces, prints and finishes the cloth as well as the buttons, zippers, trim, lining, collars, tags, thread, and much more!
- The manufacturer - this is the main step where people cut patterns from the cloth, prepare it for assembly, sew garments together, attach notions, finish, launder, and package the clothing for shipment.
- The warehouse pickers - these are the folks that unload bulk delivered styles from the manufacturer and also pick styles for delivery to retailers and also for direct consumer delivery.
- The retailers - these are brick and mortar and online shops that display and sell the finished garments! That's us! We need to pay the rent, the invoices for all that clothing, utilities, payroll for employees and buyers, and get some lunch too!
There are nowadays large scale profit-driven businesses that seek to flood the market with cheap goods, but this is simply a race to the bottom. You might save a few bucks but it results in poor labor practices and low-paying jobs. Everybody gets squeezed to create an inexpensive product that still has a profit margin built in to the price.
Alternately, there are great jobs and sustainable business practices that are supported by responsible clothing consumers! There are ecologically-sustainable methods to grow cotton and bamboo, to harvest wool and cashmere, and to create synthetic fabrics. There are thoughtful textile mills that manufacture cloth and dye it. And there the safe and careful manufacturing facilities worldwide with many hard-working employees that cut, sew, and assemble your clothing. Many brands and businesses make responsible choices and we hope you will appreciate their efforts and patronize them!
Interested in learning more? One organization driving awareness is called Fashion Revolution