Designer Clothing: What's it Really Worth???


Designer Clothing: What's it Really Worth?

by Alexander Kabbaz, Bespoke Clothier
When a wardrobe consists of higher quality items, most would consider it to be an investment in their lifestyle and appearance. It can add up really quickly. A few suits in the thousands, shoes & shirts in the mid-hundreds or more, coats, scarves, gloves ... plus all the accessories and furnishings. Soon the investment is approaching - or has reached - the six-figure mark. Certainly nothing to sneeze at!

But if it's not custom or from a small, artisanal brand, what's it really worth? Take out what most consider the normal retail markup and the actual value's about half, right? Think again. You're nowhere close. Seriously: Nowhere near!

As many of you know, we used to own a factory which made shirts for designers' retail stores. Alexander Julian was one of them. In the trade, this kind of work is known as "Cut and Make" or "Cut, Make, and Trim". Cut and Make are somewhat self-explanatory. Trim is things like buttons, collar stays, elastic ... all of the ingredients except fabric.

We were making about 1,200 shirts weekly for Julian on a Cut & Make basis. We got about 25 bucks for each shirt. They sprung for the fabric and buttons which cost them about $10. The shirts sold for $350.

That's pretty much the norm. 10% of the retail price of "designer" clothing is the cost of the actual clothing. Another 40% is allocated to promotion and advertising plus what was in the 1990's the usual markup of doubling the cost. In sum, your $350 shirt has an intrinsic value of 35 bucks.


The Kabbaz-Kelly shirt factory, c. 1990's.
Our crew assembling care packages for U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq.

And your $2,500 suit? Those shoes? It is said that a new car loses half of its value the minute you drive it off the lot. Your clothing? If it started at only 10% of what you paid for it ...
But the story doesn't end there. One day the 'powers that be' called us up and said, "We need you to make a shirt for 12 bucks including the trim. Can you reduce the stitch-count, find some cheaper interlinings, and get the price down by half?" "Wazzup?" I innocently asked. As it turned out, these shirts were destined for the firm's outlet store in Conway, New Hampshire. They weren't going to be sold for the usual $350. Instead, they were just going to be marked at $350 but "reduced" to half price and sold at $175.
They sent us some obviously cheaper fabric from who-knows-what country of origin. The only clue we had was that it smelled sort of like yak. We changed the higher quality split yoke to a one-piece. That cut down on the cutting. We eliminated the front center placket and just folded over the selvedge of the fabric. We reduced the stitch count from the usual 14-16 per inch down to 9. Changed the sleeve plackets, the interlining, the buttons ... in short it still looked like a shirt.

I figure the fabric was worth about 5 bucks max. So, again, you've got your $175 shirt with an intrinsic value of $17 or so.

What's the moral of the story? There isn't one. It's just a story. But you're a more knowledgeable consumer. Thank you for reading.


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