The market levels of fashion are:
Haute couture, ready to wear, top end high street, middle market high street, bottom end high street and designer maker.
Designer maker can fall anywhere on the spectrum.
In order to distinguish between the levels there are several things to consider. The most basic being small things such as packaging. Do I get a free carrier bag or do I have to pay for it? Does it come in just a carrier bag, or do I get something more sophisticated? I could go on and on, but just something as small as that can really reflect where the garment you are purchasing falls within the market levels.
Colour. We all like to buy clothes with rich, bright colours. But what kind of quality are we getting? Is the colour going to fade into nothing after a few washes, or is it going to be still going strong in five years time? The quality of the dye a company uses can have a big impact on the quality and price of a product. If we pay £10 for a t-shirt, we don’t really expect it to last more than 6 months. If we pay £100, we expect it to last a lot longer. Using the same token: how well is it stitched? Are there any loose threads? Is the fabric natural or man-made? Are any embellishments sewn on securely? We don’t think anything of it when a coat comes with a few spare buttons – but we are being given those buttons because the likelihood is that the ones already on the coat are going to fall off. The manufacturer knows this. If we buy a coat from a haute couture designer, we certainly don’t expect to lose any buttons. All of these factors that we often take for granted, are so important in the fashion industry; and have a massive impact on where each company or designer falls within the market levels.
The techniques and processes used to create a garment are another factor that has a large impact in terms of market levels. If a garment consists of 2 or 3 pieces of digitally printed fabric, stitched together and thrown onto a shop floor you can guarantee it’ll be quite a low price. If a manufacturer or designer has taken the time to create a pattern to be digitally printed, then screen-printed back onto the fabric or sewn something by hand you can expect the price to go up. These people are investing their time in these products so it is only right that we invest our money; and the more time they invest, the more money we should invest. I could go into Primark and buy a t-shirt with a basic pattern on it for less than £5, but what I’ll find (and will irritate me to no end) is that the basic pattern has not been matched at the seams. This is so they can waste less fabric; make more garments; get them into the stores faster; and sell them for a cheaper price. Taking the time to match the pattern of the fabric at the seams can see a garment rocket from the bottom to the high end of the spectrum.
I’ll be looking at ethics in another post, but just to briefly mention it in this one: where and how was the garment made? Living here in the UK, a lot of the clothes I see in the high street stores were designed in one country, made in another and sold in yet another. Having a product mass produced in a sweat shop will see the product at the bottom end of the spectrum, but having it made to fit by the person who designed it will see it a lot higher up the spectrum.
How many shops does the company/designer own? If a company has stores up and down the country, they’re likely in the middle to bottom areas of the market. If a company has one store/studio in which they produce all of their work, that usually suggests that they invest a lot more time into the products themselves rather than into the selling of the products.
The perceived quality of the brand can play an important part as well. Here in the UK, we would associate Primark and Monsoon to being at opposite ends of the spectrum. The reality is, they’re the same – just with different price tags. If I wanted a pair of jeans I would shop in New Look, who I would associate as being at the middle high street level. The reality is, I could buy a pair of jeans from Primark and they would last the same length of time. All of these companies mass produce with the one goal of making money, but the way they advertise themselves is what sets them apart from each other. The likes of Primark and Matalan advertise themselves as bargain buys, whereas the likes of Top Shop and River Island advertise themselves as being quite high end and trendy. The majority of people therefore assume that the quality of the clothing in these ‘higher end’ shops will be better and are more inclined to purchase their clothes within these stores.
There are several others things that can impact where a company or designer lands within the market levels, but these are the ones that I feel have the biggest impact. Others include: fit and sizing (the fit would be better at the higher end of the spectrum); fashion shows (do the garments appear on the cat walk before they go on sale?); washing instructions (does the product need to be washed by hand, dry cleaned, or can it be thrown on a trusty 40 degree quick wash in our washing machines at home?); levels of innovation (is it cutting edge, or just the same old?); and imagery and layout (how does the piece look? Does it look high end, or low end? Is the pattern matched? Is the pattern straight?