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From my works behind the scenes though I got to see why we charged $500 for a pair of pants. The wool was sheared from our own dedicated farm of sheep grown in the bountiful hills of Transylvania. It was brought here and cleaned and scoured for hours, then spun on machines that we had purchased and owned in our own manufacturing plants in Irvine, CA. The knit was then dyed by hand in-house to ensure consistent color and quality, and fluffed for hours that resulted in a soft, airy feel to the wool. The knit was then woven into blankets that were hand sewn by skilled seamstresses, again in our own manufacturing plants. An average garment took 10 hours from start to finish to complete, and many of those hours were spent in the hands of workers, making California minimum wage. You can start to do the math and see how the dollars started adding up. I got very, very skilled at being not only able to defend our $500 price tag for a pair of pants, but justify it as well, to anyone that thought we were high on crack.
The T-Shirt place I worked at was much the same. The use of quality cotton, dyed and manufactured in LA, QC’ed in our LA factories, and so on. Some items were outsourced to China, as was the case with the fancy designer place I worked for, but it was always the last alternative and it was usually for woven garments. China has the market on making quality wovens, and manufacturers here in the US can rarely compete.
All this to say that when people talk about quality versus quantity, I can usually nod my head in earnest agreement. But here’s the thing, most of us can’t afford that kind of quality. While we would love to say that our wool garments come from happy happy sheep in Transylvania, most of us have very ordinary jobs and lives that not only don’t need fancy sheep’s wool, but just can’t afford it. So what do the rest of us do that want quality but can’t afford real fancy quality?
Well I’m still trying to figure it out. I’d like to think that if you spend a bit more and avoid consistently shopping at places like Target and Forever 21 for your wardrobe, you’re good. But the plain truth is that even places like Banana Republic, J. Crew and even Zara offers the disguise of quality wrapped up in a pretty label and glossy ad campaigns. My $89 J. Crew white button down just shrunk at least 2 sizes after hand washing it, and the “quality” shoes I bought for Taylor at Nordstrom, that set me back almost $50 just lost 2 jewels in less than 3 months of wear. The nice thing though about both of those experiences is that I know I can take them back and (I did), and both companies offer a return or exchange, along with a sincere apology. I once tried returning a sweater to Forever 21 that unraveled with one wear and zero washing, and the manager almost laughed me out of the store. She referred to their return policy and basically said, “don’t you know our stuff is crap? It’s the chance you take when you spend $9 for a sweater.” Touche and shame on me.
Good quality that is still within reach is not impossible to find and I’m trying to be better about doing my research first, and being very selective with what I buy and how I spend my money. I needed some new workout gear and so asked for a gift card to Lululemon for Christmas, and bought my first No Limits tank, and man do I love that thing. At $64 a pop I better love it right? The price is what I like to call, crazy stupid expensive, but the company has a minimum 5 year quality guarantee and they are committed to social and environmental responsibility, which I wholeheartedly appreciate. I posted a picture of it on Instagram this morning, and a friend advised me that Old Navy has a very similar tank for sale. I got very excited for a few minutes thinking I could own 5 of those tanks for the cost of 1 Lululemon tank, but do I really want 5 of something decent when I can have 1 of something very excellent?
It’s a question I wrestle with quite often. This weekend, I’m going to finally delve into the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost Of Cheap Fashion, and see if I can form a more concrete opinion and strategy. I’ll report back with what I think of the book. Overall though in the last couple of years I have tried to stick to buying less, buying more classic pieces, and investing in what appears to be better pieces in those classics. And if I get the occasional bad apple, I’ve been trying to limit my purchases at stores that stand behind their quality and will gladly return an item if there is a problem. I am also trying to concern myself less and less with trends and fast fashion, since that is where I can get caught up in buying the cheap for one season mentality. It’s a work in progress though, since after all, I am still a sucker for some trends. And the occasional purchase from Target, like a killer leopard skirt, never hurt anyone, right? The older I get though, I try to remember that I’d rather be a slave to my savings account and my checkbook, than a slave to fashion. Remember that moment when Carrie Bradshaw realized that she had enough for the down payment on her apartment that she needed, sitting right in her very own closet, stacked with Louboutins? I don’t want that to ever be my life story.
So when do you decide to debunk quality for quantity, or at least for a lesser price? Is it on trend items, workout gear, seasonal items? When do you decide to bite the bullet and pay up for something you hope will last you longer? And while we all love to hold onto the ideal of quality versus quantity, when and how often do we really live by that motto and sacrifice and save to get there? I know I don’t nearly enough.