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What’s in a price tag? (part one)

During my 7-week visit to Europe, I talked to plenty of people who could enlighten me about the going rate of kids fashion. 

Let me tell you it was an interesting journey. On the one hand, quite some people were trying to convince me that price was *the* decisive factor for parents. According to this logic, consumers don’t care whether it was made by kids or slaves, as long as they can buy what they need (or want). And kids grow out of their clothes so fast, so who would pay a premium price for something that has such short utility? Another person told me that even high-earners were proud to score discount deals at fast fashion retailers for their offspring. Ha! 

Then, on the other hand, most kids fashion boutiques reassured me that our prices were absolutely not expensive; they were merely mid-range. 

So, what do you make of that? It would be so easy to only listen to what I like to hear, but that would be silly. Let’s go to the bottom of this contradiction.


What is a good reference point?

Big retailers and discount stores have heavily distorted the perception of price and value. Sometimes they even sell at a loss, as part of a marketing stunt. A £1 bikini anyone? According to an elaborate test by The Sun, Missguided’s black bikini wins from a £160 designer model. In a statement in response to the shock and horror from people with brains, the brand said “Introducing the £1 bikini – a one-off item to celebrate 10 years of empowering women to look and feel good without breaking the bank. It cost us more to produce than £1 and we’ve absorbed the costs so we can offer it at an incredible price as a gift to you, our babes.” So, that’s all right then? 

Fast fashion stores are constantly bombarding us with messages about their low prices. They call on our desire to score a deal and know that we are wired to get high when we think that we saved money. (Read more about the psychology of discounts in our blog post about Black Friday.)

So how can they keep prices so low, and still make a profit? And how can the families behind C&A, H&M, Primark, Uniqlo and Zara be amongst the richest families in the world? The short answer is: because these companies cut corners. 

For starters, they steal designs from indie artists. They are amongst the biggest companies in the world, and they scan Etsy, Instagram and Pinterest for ideas to copy. A sad and pathetic truth. 

Then, the quality of their fabrics and overall care of how things are cut and sewn, has drastically dropped in the last two decades. Buttons fall off, fabrics are void of natural materials, and “they don’t make them like they used to”. It’s not your imagination, it is engineered. The official term is “planned obsolence”, which means that garments are designed to fall apart, or to go out of fashion within a couple of months. So you'll go back to the store and buy more.

With the above in mind, it is fair to state that the price of fast fashion should not be used as the baseline. But yet, many people have mental price points based on what they have heard repeatedly for years; they have been brainwashed to think that clothing should be cheap. What about taking the price of a latte, or a “plat du jour” in France as a mental reference point? Give it a try.


Is price the only quality of fashion? 

We should step out of the price-centered conversation, and bring the other characteristics of garments back to the forefront. Because, thinking that price is the decisive factor for choosing to buy something or not, is just plain ridiculous. Look, feel, quality of the fabric and how well the garment is made, are qualities that influence whether or not we are going to open our wallet. And yes, all of us also look at the price tag, but only when we like it enough. 

During my sociology classes in Ghent some 25 years ago, I became acquainted with the idea that our clothes - and hair style - communicate non-verbally about our professional background,  social status, mood and attitude. They also indicate whether you're on your way to a funeral, a hot date, or the tennis court. Fashion is a powerful way to express ourselves, or in the case of dressing our kids, to communicate that our children are loved, cared for, and part of our family. 

So, the way our kids look in their clothes is an important quality, for some parents more than others. For other parents, the kind of fabric is important: natural fibers for kids that are prone to allergy, or synthetic fibers for their ease in maintenance (they dry faster and wrinkle less).

Also, does the kid want to wear his or her outfit? And how likely are they going to want to wear it, once you have paid for it? Solving this one is a mystery to me though.

And let’s not forget that garments also have functionality. Winter coats keep our kids warm, running trousers let them move freely, and today's swimming suits protect our waterrats from sunburn and skin cancer. 

Some parents also consider the quality of the lives of the people who have made their kids' clothes.

Because of the multiple characteristics of garments, price can only be one of the many factors that parents use as a guide to decide whether or not to buy clothing for their kids.

At The Extra Smile, we have hired great designers, bought GOTS-certified organic cotton, and work with trained seamstresses in fair workshops in Cambodia. You are welcome to check out our collection of sustainable and ethical kids fashion here


To be continued

Price is a tricky subject. I will elaborate on other angles in future blogs. If you want to share your thoughts or perspectives on the price of kids fashion, please drop me a line at heleen@the-extrasmile.com

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