Need for Speed

Glamorizing cheap fashion costs more than you think

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John Stillwell / Getty Images

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge walk hand in hand from Buckingham Palace the day after their wedding to a waiting helicopter as they leave for a secret honeymoon location, on April 30, 2011 in London, England.

Fashion can do a lot for the public personas of politicians’ wives. Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pillbox hats, boxy crew cardigans and bouffant hairstyle inspired women around the world to imitate her glamorous look. Today’s political spouses still sport Jackie O.–level bling; take, say, the $2,000 Sophie Theallet sundress Michelle Obama wore on her Hawaiian vacation or Ann Romney’s $990 Reed Krakoff bird-print blouse worn in a recent television interview. But in the wake of the Great Recession, style hawkers have been quick to point out the more affordable items those women are donning too.

Thriftier threads can make high-rolling politicos and their wives seem more relatable. Kate Middleton’s first postnuptial outing with Prince William, in a $90 cornflower blue shift from Spanish retailer Zara, endeared her to Middle England. In the U.S., Michelle Obama’s Today show appearance in an H&M polka-dot ditty had a similar effect.

But the rise of bercheap apparel chains like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo, which are popularly called fast-fashion retailers for their ability to churn out modish styles at record speed, also carries big costs for U.S. apparel makers and the environment. In recent years, cut-rate European and Japanese clothiers have raked in more customers and bigger profits than traditional U.S. apparel companies like Gap and American Eagle Outfitters by mass-producing lower-quality digs that keep pace with runway styles. That’s led more shoppers to cast aside hefty chunks of their wardrobes as fresh looks come up, which leads to more waste.

The fashion frenzy has picked up speed since the financial crisis, as traditional U.S. clothiers try to win back trend seekers on a budget from more-agile competitors. Slow goers like Gap and Macy’s are swapping out big orders of staples like T-shirts for smaller, more frequent batches of hot knickknacks like handbags and hair bobbles. But with wages rising in China, the fast-fashion model–which relies on higher sales volumes and slimmer profit margins–could hurt American clothing companies and jobs, since they rely more on Chinese manufacturers. Unlike with European brands that can source quickly from nearby locations like Turkey and Romania, suppliers closer to U.S. apparel makers tend to be more expensive. There’s a trend in fashion that could clash with a First Lady’s persona.

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lfabris1977
lfabris1977

I think that the analysis done in this article is not entirely correct. Zara, Hamp;M, and Uniqlo, despite all cheap labels, target different subsections of the population with different budgets and different taste. Gap, American Eagle, and Macy's appear not to have understood the concept the other brands are going after. I live in the NYC metropolitan area and I am in my mid 30's. All my friends, regardless of income bracket, own at least one piece from Zara or Hamp;M (Uniqlo is different, too casual) but they would never be caught in public wearing anything from the other ones. I personally try, I enter the stores, look, and inevitably exit empty-handed. Therefore, leaving for a second out the outsourcing debate, I don't think that it is correct to criticize entirely the European groups for doing the right thing: target the taste budget-savvy women in their 30's-40's that are most likely the main purchasers. Out of the cheap years of college and not yet into the big  kids-college-fund dilemma. These women don't buy at American Eagle, Gap, or Macy's because they are neither their grandmothers nor their teenage cousins. Until the American brands are able to understand this concept I don't believe the gap will be closed.

b3thv33
b3thv33

When discussing the costs of clothing manufacturing and countries that clothing is manufactured in ( in this article: Turkey, Romania, China), I noticed that this article makes *no* mention of how the workers in these countries are paid or treated by their employers. When talking about the true cost of cheap clothing some mention should be made about the fact that to keep costs low for the consumer, manufacturers cut corners on safety and working conditions and put downward pressure on wages. For more information see: WORKERS’ VOICES: The situation of women in the Eastern European and Turkish garment industries http://bit.ly/OFftOjor: Bangladesh's Garment Workers Brave Deadly Fires To Make Luxury American Clothing http://huff.to/RONIU6or: London Olympics 2012: Cambodian garment workers paid just £10 a week to make branded 2012 Games 'fanwear' | Mail Online http://bit.ly/MIQz04Pretty poor reporting TIME.

ElsieyeyVieri
ElsieyeyVieri

Jane responded I didn't know that someone can earn $7895 in four weeks on the network. have you seen this(Click on menu Home)

Zhen
Zhen

As much as I want to support U.S. retailers, I think it is foolish that AE, Macys and the Gap have yet to change their supply model.  Though they may not easily move their supply from China to countries like Turkey amp; Romania, they can pinpoint areas of weaknesses.  They cannot simply reply on thrifty shoppers who look for quality and price to want their poor quality and out of date threads.  In addition, Americans have no hesitation to buy a shirt that costs $50.  But as a trained shopper, I rather spend that $50 on a high quality peplum blouse than a $50 polyester shirt that has been in the market for about a year already.

To conclude, U.S. retailers really need to START improving their operations but clearly they are choosing to be lazy... and what can I say?  I rather buy from retailers who strive to bring the best in retail rather than retailers that rely on their brand image to help them survive this economy.