A question of quality

 

If like me, you have high expectations for the fashion items you are investing in - as well as in every other aspect of your life - you probably struggle to figure out if the clothes you see in the shops actually deserve the stamp of quality. The question for me is: How do you know when a brand is high quality?

Everywhere you look, retailers will claim that their clothes are of the best quality and well crafted. So, it is absolutely gutting when you realise that your brand new top, which you imagined would lay the foundation for your newfound style, is as poorly made as any trendy, mass produced high-street item. It is this kind of experience that has me feeling down about shopping. It has forced me to be more cautious with my purchases and I have often become cynical to the point that I almost stop shopping all together. If I see another sweater shrink in size or another t-shirt twist its seams after one wash, I will throw a tantrum!

To clarify, when I say poor quality I am referring to the colours fading, appliqués unraveling or fabric falling apart. I know that stuff happens and you may lose a button here and there, but that is not worth binning it for. Repair, reuse, recycle... Right?

According to the BBC, “Quality is about meeting the minimum standard required to satisfy customer needs.” [www.bbc.co.uk, Business Studies, 2014] My minimum standard for a t- shirt is that I can use it for a longer period of time without it losing its original appearance. After all, if a garment is designed to be long lasting, it should withstand the washing machine test, no?

The unfortunate reality is that this element rules out a lot of retailers. In my experience, a cheaper top always seems to have a shorter lifespan than a more expensive one. Mind you, there is always the odd exception to the rule, like the T-shirt I bought at Topshop 5 years ago, that has never failed to come out of a wash in the same condition that it had gone in. It is high street fashion and it only cost me £15, so why is it still going strong? Is it a case of don’t judge the fabric based on its high street label? Again, I am confused, because if I can’t judge the quality of an item by the label or the price tag, then what can I judge it by?

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When it comes to how clothes are made today, it becomes even harder to differentiate high quality from low quality.

If you choose to devote your consumer loyalty to your favourite high-end labels, don’t let yourself be fooled by their production methods. Many big labels use the same factories, agents or production methods as high street labels, which means that their differences have become remarkably insignificant. Except for the price tag of course, which again makes you wonder why you are paying such a high price.

In truth, it frequently comes down to PR and marketing, brick and mortar shops, the extremely quick turn around, plus the hundreds of styles that never make it past sampling. Big labels tend to plan their strategy after their market placement. This can mean gambling on a few styles, which leads to the overproduction of a few hundred items, making simple models available in every colour imaginable.

After pondering this subject for a while, I believe I have found my answer to what makes a fashion brand or item high quality: It’s in the design. According to the 10 principles of good design by Dieter Rams, “Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.” Dieter was obviously thinking more about alarm clocks than polo shirts when he wrote

this, but every fashion designer who cares about how their final product will be used by the consumer should follow these principles.

You can tell when a designer cares about what they make and if there is purpose and thoughtfulness behind each detail. The more time that is spent on a dress, coat or a pair of shoes, the better quality it will be. And if each feature has a clear reason behind it, and if the material has been carefully selected, wherever the clothing ends up, it will be cherished and cared for, for a very long time.