ACT OF FAITH OR MARKETING STRATEGY?
With Kanye West, you never know. This time, apart from attracting half of Coachella's total assistance (50.000 out of 100.000 people) to the foot of a hill last Sunday at 9 a.m. to offer a performance crowned as "Sunday service", Kanye West managed to form an infinite queue of people waiting to buy ridiculous overpriced "Church Clothes" merch. The collection was composed of basic, neutral-coloured items, each of which contained several God-fearing slogans, including "Holy Spirit," "God of Trust," and "Jesus Walks". Sweatshirt prices range from 130£ to 215£, and the socks cost 40£.
Even though all sorts of criticisms were made in which jokes abounded, a bunch of people was more than willing to pay an exorbitant amount for the simplest of t-shirts. What's wrong with us? It's not possible for humans - the creators of space stations - to get carried away so easily. Is it? Well, bad news, it is and we'll explain why;
The more expensive something is, the more exclusive and therefore more desirable it becomes. In the eyes of designers, there does not seem to be a shortage of consumers who believe they can buy personal power with what they are wearing. They want the item in the first place, they want items that are scarce or are made in limited runs, and they are willing to pay a lot of money for that to happen.
In many cases, designers raise the price of their products simply to get an added shine of prestige and exclusivity. So, the short answer to why designers charge so much for their products is as simple as; because they can.
It's the price, as much as the product itself, that makes an item remarkable. The price, and the fact that most of the world cannot afford to buy such an item which has the reverse effect of empowering the buyer. In this society, no matter how little we like it, the reality is that personal power is synonymous with purchasing power. And it's not just a marketing tactic, it's a psychological condition that top designers count on
But, what is the real price of clothes?
The gross margins of fashion companies tend to be around 65 per cent, which seems a lot, but it's what the shareholders expect. It also means that a 3,500£ bag costs approximately 1,225£ to produce and bring to market, from materials to sales.
There are many steps along the way that contribute to the final price. There are the costs of raw materials, design, manufacturing and compliance. Then, in retail, there is the cost of prime real estate and sales staff. And finally, there's marketing. Yeah, those brilliant fashion ads cost a lot of money to produce, and much more to place.
That is why, in order to minimize costs with the excuse of boosting exports, increasing economic growth and creating employment in depressed areas, some trade barriers are eliminated in free trade zones that are located in impoverished countries in order to be able to produce their products in countries where the expense of paying workers is minimal.
In Bangladesh, for example, the average pay of these employees is 35£ per month, equivalent to a minimum wage that is among the lowest in the world. This allows firms to lower point-of-sale prices to levels that, if they had to bear the costs of first world wages, taxes and safety conditions, would not be "competitive".
So, do they take their factories to the third world to lower costs or do they do it to further increase their profits?
The underlying problem is to assume that the only way for cheap clothing to be available is for it to be produced in unworthy conditions. In today's interconnected and exposed world, companies take maximum care of their image and one of the reasons why they do not face a strict change is the great social and legal premise that they would suffer if they exposed the "how" of their textile productions.
For fashion companies to stop ignoring what we all know as an open secret, legal reform is needed, as well as an imposition by consumers, who are complicit in the faults of the companies, since in general the concern falls on being able to buy cheap clothes rather than on the conditions of the workers who manufacture them and the climatic consequences that this entails.
Transparency and education are the first steps and the sustainable way to relate to what we wear, the ultimate solution.