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“Good quality isn’t always expensive…

April 23, 2011

…but poor quality always is.”

I heard that almost 20 years ago in a New York showroom of a fur coat manufacturer. I was there on a weeklong trip with a fashion class, touring the city, going to a Versace exhibit at FIT, and meeting various people in the fashion industry. But the words from the 50-something guy with a Queens-accent have stuck with me through the years.

Quality is something that most of us don’t know what to look for beyond a brand name. Unfortunately, brands realize that while consumers may be more educated than ever on the latest “trends,” a shockingly high amount of them are ignorant when it comes to evaluating quality workmanship. So these brands have exploited that, moving production of high-end garments away from the US, France, UK, and Italy to developing nations in Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe. They will skimp on the quality of finishing, stitching, threading, zippers, etc. but keep the price the same. There was some resistance at first, but as more and more stuff got produced–and the general quality rose–people forgot or just stopped caring.

I’ve experienced this first hand. About the same time I went on the New York trip, I also got a part-time job at Armani Exchange. While a scant few items were made in Italy and the jeans were made in the US (with Cone denim!), a majority of the stuff was made in Hong Kong. We constantly heard complaints, “Hong Kong?!”, usually from customers of Asian descent. But still they bought. Now you probably rarely hear a complaint as people got used to it.

I now work for a retailer where I occasionally get some great free stuff, though a few high-end pieces I got didn’t live up to the price on the tag.

A few years back, I won a Gucci purse at a Christmas party. It was the kind where the leather had a champagne metallic finish. I could tell the bag was a customer return because there were a few spots where the metallic finish had flaked off. But I didn’t complain as it was a free Gucci purse that the price tag said was $500+. My wife and I both avoid logos, but she still freaked out.

Well, within a few months of regular use, the metallic finish had really begun to flake. I’m all for patina and aged leather, but that should take years not months. If I had paid $500+, I would have been pissed. Here are a few shots I took today of the wear:

Exhibit 2 is a woman’s trench coat by Coach. We had a few past season items and we were allowed to choose what we wanted. It’s a classic raincoat in an admittedly great fabric. But the price tag was $700+ for made in China?!

Within a week (1 week!) buttons started falling off. Four buttons have fallen off so far. Because of the heavy fabric, these are the type of buttons that have a companion button on the inside of the coat to reinforce the stitching, typically a mark of quality. Well that didn’t work:

There should be buttons to the left of those bottom 2 button-holes

The throat-latch button used to be here.

The interior companion button is hanging on.

Another missing button on the other side of the coat

The point of the rant was to hopefully provoke you to investigate a little before you buy and don’t always be swayed by a designer name. Some of my most long-lasting pieces aren’t designer pieces at all, and of the few designer pieces I have, the best ones have great workmanship. I’m preparing a post on an Armani shirt that I’ve had for 18 years that only recently started to fray at the collar and cuffs. I was lucky enough to receive the pieces above for free, but they’ll end up costing me in repairs and stress.

postscript: An interesting book I read a few years ago documented similar themes of the increasing price and decreasing quality of designer goods was Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas. Worth a read.


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