Friday, May 30, 2008

In case you needed another reason to shop...

A story in the New York Times' style section has confirmed what we've all sensed... that while every damn thing is going up, including food, fashion at least is becoming more affordable than ever.

At least at one end of the market.

At the mainstream, 'fast fashion' end of the market, clothes are cheaper than they were a decade ago, especially when adjusted for inflation.

NY Times reports:
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. A three-pack of Calvin Klein men’s briefs costs $21.50, only $3.50 more than in 1998. Which is the better buy?

Factoring for inflation, each of these examples is actually less expensive today. In current dollars, the 1998 suit would cost $788, the jeans would be $66 and the underwear would be nearly $24. As consumers adjust to soaring prices for gasoline, food, education and medical care, just about the only thing that seems a bargain today is clothes — mainstream clothes, anyway.

Clothing is one of the few categories in the federal Consumer Price Index in which overall prices have declined — about 10 percent — since 1998.

Fast fashion chains like Forever21 and Target in the US, H&M internationally (or as me and a good friend used to call it at uni 'Old Faithful'), Top Shop and Primark in the UK  are driving this trend, with their incredibly quick turnaround and the ability to replicate almost exactly (but not TOO exactly) the hottest trends straight off the runway at a bargain price.

To be honest, even in the Caribbean where clothing is traditionally so expensive that we turn to the US for semi-annual shopping trips to get our whole wardrobe, I have noticed that prices are coming down. A few years ago it was rare that I would buy any of my clothing here at home. It was only for special occasions and unavoidable instances that I would buy clothing here and it was usually stuff like dresses or tops. Work clothes, jeans and bags were definitely out, as were shoes unless absolutely unavoidable. Otherwise I would wait until I got my vacation and travelled to the US or UK and buy up my whole stock one time.

But the times, they are a-changing. True, many merchants here still juck out our eyes for absolutely no reason. Really, I mean ABSOLUTELY NONE- I know someone who owns a popular small boutique and if they buy say a shirt for US$5 or $10, they will come home and sell it for US$30 or $35! They told me most matter-of-factly that their average mark-up is to at least quadruple the price. And it ain't because of taxes since we know most small merchandisers and the big ones too find various loopholes and grease various palms to pay little or no taxes. Moreover, some of the people that are raping your wallet for clothes are selling ON THE STREET - now why de hell I going to buy a bag for US$50 from a yute on the street that has literally no overhead when I know good and well he got it for US$10? Why?

Anyhow I digress... like I said, while there are still eye-juckists, prices are going down. Trinidad for instance, has long been a bastion of good clothing prices and stiff competition from the Trini clothing stores (who are so confident as to advertise aggressively in the rest of the Eastern Caribbean - especially near to holiday weekends) and perhaps it is the combination of that and the realisation that many people will simply never buy from local merchants because they are too rapacious, that has brought prices down.

Just this week I went shopping at a biggish store which in recent years has gained a reputation for majorly cheap prices and a rapid turnover of items. I got a lovely white and brown A-line cotton work skirt there for US$10- same as I would find in Brooklyn! On Tuesday, I got a pair of cute push-in sneakers with a funky black, red and white argyle and skull-print (it sounds weird I know but it's really nice) for US$5! And a cute navy blue flowered top for US$10!

At these prices, who needs to shop in foreign?

However, at the other end of the market, the luxury end, they have consumers in a chokehold. From the NY Times again:
But at fashion’s high end, it may be consumers who think they are being exploited. Of the name-brand items that Thursday Styles ran a 10-year comparative price check for, the highest gain, 104 percent, was for the Speedy bag, followed by a $1,900 Lady Dior bag (73 percent higher) and a $325 Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress (71 percent higher). These prices were not adjusted for inflation, which has run 32 percent cumulatively since 1998:

Need I say more? Imagine if they had adjusted them for inflation! No wonder people go to Canal Street for the knock-offs. *suck teeth*

Moreover, the decreasing price of fashion has these folks shook.
While fashion deflation may be good news for consumers, it is not necessarily so for stores. Such prices at the low end and, conversely, such high prices at the luxury end, where $1,300 handbags are piled up like tomatoes at Saks Fifth Avenue, are beginning to cause concern among retailers and analysts, because they are having a profound impact on the way people shop.

“Everything we pick up today has to pass a test,” said Candace Corlett, the president of WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting group. During a survey of shoppers in November, 60 percent of the respondents said they had recently begun to stop and reconsider clothing purchases before buying. “To me, that is the scariest thing for retail going forward, because that is a new habit,” Ms. Corlett said. “It’s not like in 2000, when we were just buying so much stuff. We are learning now what we call the cautious pause.”

The fashion and retail industry fear that the appeal of price, for consumers of both mass and luxury goods, is becoming a more important factor in decisions about what to buy than desire, which has been the driving mechanism behind the growth of fashion and luxury for decades.

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.” 

Wha de ass? People stopping to consider whether they actually need a hideously expensive bag is scary. Well, well, well. Especially when you consider an article in the same NYT last week, about where high-end designers buy their clothing and how much it actually costs them. A quick quote:
DEPENDING on the complexity of a style (last year Mr. Jacobs had a pants style with 15 zippers), Mr. Capolupo may charge around $50 for a pair of trousers that could sell at retail for $800.

And another:

I wondered about the difference between the money Mr. Capolupo gets for a pair of pants and the price the stores charge.

“Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren do pay a lot to produce their garments,” Mr. Hefner said. “They use high-quality fabrics.”

He touched a pair of navy pants on his table, by Mr. Lauren. “This is cotton from Japan,” he said. “This part is silk. The thread is German. It’s expensive. If it costs a designer $75 in total to make a garment, they charge the stores $150. The stores sell it for $300.”

“But a pair of designer pants costs twice that,” I said.

“A lot of it is branding,” Mr. Hefner said. “Some customers want to buy expensive stuff. Also, it cost a lot to run a fashion company. The staff, the rents, the shows. Every time you open a magazine, you see a Ralph Lauren ad. That costs money. People pay for the marketing when they buy the magazine, plus when they buy the garment. But they live the life of wearing those clothes. It’s worth it to them.”

I asked Mr. Hefner if it made him cynical.

“No,” he said. “Fashion is fashion. You can either buy a $50 pair of pants or a $500 pair. They’d probably both be just as durable but there wouldn’t be fashion. There’d just be stuff.”

I beg to differ. But I may be biased I think having style comes from within yourself and is personal, rather than coming from a designer and being a public display of wealth.

But like Mr. Hefner said ... it's worth it to some people. Thing is, I think a lot of people convince themselves the designer stuff is actually better when what they are actually buying is imaginary, a figment of some marketers' imagination. Obviously it is to some extent, but it's not so many times better that a quality mid-range brand rather than a luxury brand would not have sufficed.'s worth it to some folks.

1 comment:

  1. the thing about some designer clothes is that sometimes it's just so much more long lasting, so it can definitely be worth it. my clothes fallls apart too soon from "fast fashion" places. sometimes i end up spending about the same in the long run than if i just invest on some nice, classic pieces. but i only buy my stuff on sale or sample sales, but i can't always make it to sample sales.

    there's sites like that have sample sales online, too. that makes my life so much easier! they're even having a dvf sample sale on june 3rd. i can score a dvf dress without that 71% price increase. : )