Some eye candy from Businessweek (Cost-Cutting Is Rampant in Fashion, May 26).
So the question is what does it take to save money in apparel? With material costs rising, pennies matter. Eliminating a few features to simplify assembly can make a significant difference in the profitability of the product.
Because only so much can be cut out of a garment, cost savings amount to a few pennies here, a few pennies there: eliminating cuffs and pleats, scrimping on linings inside coats, switching to coarser material for pockets. Fabric comprises as much as 50 percent of a garment’s costs. Cutting it more carefully to reduce waste can reduce by 50¢ or more the cost of a pair of $195 men’s wool dress slacks, Brown says. Zippers that come in a big roll are cheaper than ones custom-made for specific garments.
“For big apparel companies that make hundreds of thousands of men’s suits a year, saving 20¢ or 50¢ a garment is a lot of money,” says Salvatore Giardina, a men’s suit designer and adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
I see two interesting parts to this. One is touched on in the article: What is the interplay between design and cost? You presumably hire a designer because they will create distinct and attractive products. How much do you undercut the value of their contribution by insisting on changing product features. Some of the features may not matter to customers (gentlemen, when did you last use the watch pocket on your jeans?) but some might (I like pleated pants).
The second question is to what extent they are taking advantage of uniformed customers? I have been wearing clothes now for a number of years but I must admit that I do not know the finer points of how they are put together. I have had suit salesmen wax poetically about why one suit was worth $400 more than other one but I have never had such help when buying downmarket pants. To some extent, some of the changes discussed here (e.g., altering how seams are sewn) have implications for the quality experienced by the user but are not necessarily immediately obvious to the untrained eye.
On the other hand, they are $30 pants. For $30 no should expect a trained salesperson to point out where corners have been cut or to opine why it might be worth dropping a few extra bucks on a different pair of trousers. Still I suspect that some retailers or brands are very conscious of making these changes if only because the new version may not stack up to what customers are use to (check out comments on REI’s Sahara T shirt).