Saturday, 31 May 2014

Why Do We Buy Designer Clothes?


VIDEO: http://bit.ly/XHuw51

I was in a Ralph Lauren store just yesterday- being the unenthusiastic spender that I am I had been attracted by the large sign in the window that boasted of 'Generous Savings'.
A thousand pounds for a jumper, anyone?
I went in, walked straight to the sale rack and I saw these 'Generous Savings'- a white V-neck sweater was the first to catch my eye. Knowing Ralph Lauren is something of a 'prestigious' brand, I expected it to be overpriced- perhaps £100, on sale at half price to £50?

But no. I was wrong. Very wrong indeed.

The fuzzy Christmas-style sweater was £995.
And the 'Generous Saving'?
£300 off- the sweater, on sale, with roughly 30% off, was £695.
SIX HUNDRED AND NINETY FIVE POUNDS.

Or how about this £46 equivalent?
Other than making me leave the shop immediately in fearful haste, this small event made me think about what we know today as 'designer clothes'.
No doubt, this jumper I saw at Ralph Lauren was not the only one of its kind- I returned home to find a very similar jumper for £46 at Debenhams; still an exorbitant price for a jumper in my opinion, but far less than the RL equivalent.
So what is it that we are paying for if we are to buy this £995 jumper?
Ralph Lauren refused to give exact figures of the cost to make it, but we do know it's handmade, by 'Pure Cashmere Yarn'- which, according to my father (who made these when he was young) would cost a maximum of £30 (considering today's £15 per 50g price of the material) plus labour costs.
Now, unless labour and other costs (eg. transport) for each jumper were over a couple of hundred pounds, it's fair to say the profit margins on every jumper sold would be huge for RL. It wouldn't take an economist to determine that.
Yet people still buy designer clothes. Someone must have bought the jumper; the product department at RL aren't misinformed enough to invest in a product no one would buy.

So why? Why would people buy the Ralph Lauren jumper rather than the Debenhams one?
In the interest of not writing a book of reasons, I tried narrowed this down to three; it was difficult, and I haven't included many, but I think I've done it well enough.

REASON 1- SHEEP MENTALITY
You'll know this if you lived during the craze of Superdry Windcheater jackets (I admit to being guilty myself in this case). This mentality was what enabled David Beckham, in a single magazine photoshoot, to help the Cheltenham fashion brand to grow from a single shop to what is now a global icon in pop fashion, making sales of almost £400m last year.
Essentially, once more people begin to wear designer clothes of a sort, people feel pressured (often unwittingly) to wear the same- to 'fit in', to 'look cool'. Social pressure, exacerbated by the celebrity lifestyle forced into our faces via the media, creates this sheep mentality, of obsessively following trends. Remember crocs? They were once considered cool.

REASON 2- QUALITY
It's a thought perhaps the biggest of cynics (cough cough, my uncle) cannot really deal with, but it is often the case. You'll expect a £165 Barbour fleece Jacket to be made of better materials than a £15 Primark equivalent- and thus the Alcantara-lined Barbour Jacket does cost more. Many people care about the quality- and more often than not designer, expensive brands offer better quality, usually through better, more expensive materials and/or better production procedures, that would make them more comfortable/last longer.
However I think it's safe to say there are exceptions- the aforementioned RL jumper an example of this.

REASON 3- SOCIAL STATUS
This is probably the main objective for the fortunate buyer of the RL jumper- it links well to reason 1 as well. The little logo of a horse, or a seagull, or whatever logo for some people is the main reason for their purchase- because it sends a message to people who see it: that the wearer is wealthy enough to buy expensive designer clothing. That they are fashionable, 'trendy'. It would be overly cynical to state this is the objective of all wearers of designer clothes, as it isn't, but it does explain some of the more ridiculous designer purchases- such as the RL jumper, or these nine-grand Louis Vuitton binoculars (pictured right) that perform the same function no better than a regular £20 pair.

One could argue that designer clothes are unnecessarily expensive- and in many cases they'd be right. For £4 north of £995 I could buy a MacBook Air- which would certainly be of better quality and perform everyday tasks quicker than a £30 laptop (if one exists), saving me time- while the £995 RL jumper would not hold such an advantage (in terms of practical value) over a £30 jumper.

While the quality must be taken into account also, it's worrying in my opinion that a growing focus on outward appearance is increasingly taking its toll on the largely cash-strapped wallets of the Western world. The impact of social pressure, this 'sheep mentality' cannot be underestimated.

So think, next time you're at the Armani, Superdry or dare I say even the Ralph Lauren store. Question your motives; and you potentially could save yourself (or your parents) a few bob.

Thanks for reading. This is probably the longest I've ever taken to discuss largely a single jumper.

Mohammad Lone Editor