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Jun 19, 2017

$75 for a Tank Top? Transparency Pricing -- YEA or NAY?


Readers, if you're like me, you're very aware that the cost of ready-to-wear clothes isn't always reflective of the quality.

That said, unless you're buying in the second-hand market (i.e, thrift stores and flea markets), a very low-cost item is generally going to be low quality.  And if you sew -- which I assume most of you do -- you also recognize that creating clothing can cost a lot: high quality fabrics are more expensive than inferior ones, more complex designs require more labor, etc.

One type of garment I rarely sew is athletic wear because I can't easily access the tech fabrics I like, and the construction of a lot of athletic wear is complicated.  I'd rather buy things like running shorts and swimsuits ready-made and apply my sewing creativity to other things.

I've read quite a few articles lately about why clothing costs as much (or as little) as it does.  This recent story from the New York Times discusses the increasing popularity of "transparency pricing," whereby manufacturers make known to customers exactly what every part of a garment cost, from fabric to notions to labor.  It's a way of getting people to recognize that good-quality clothing, manufactured in an ethical way,  is worth the higher price.

The relatively new clothing brand Everlane makes transparency pricing a big part of their socially-conscious identity.

I don't know how popular transparency pricing will ever become.  I'm also not sure how much time I want to spend studying the cost of every jeans button on my Levi's.  Still, when I'm confronted by a Nike tank top (up top) that costs $75, as I was yesterday while shopping online, I think transparency pricing might be valuable.

There may be excellent reasons why a poly-nylon tank top costs $75.  I know some sporting goods companies like Patagonia are very up-front about their commitment to sustainable and ethical production, which results in higher costs.  Not so Nike.

What should a tank top cost?  Obviously, it depends.

In closing, readers, how interested are you in knowing exactly why the clothing you purchase (or even the fabric you sew with) costs what it does?

If a company says it's paying $12 for a zipper, how do we know they've costed these out effectively?  (If their rent is $3,000/month, maybe they're overpaying.)

Also, who gets to decide what a fair mark-up is?  Who's to say how much profit they should be making?

I'd love to hear what you think about contemporary pricing in general. 

Should any tank top cost $75?

Transparency pricing: YEA or NAY?

(Another thought-provoking article about transparency pricing here.)

30 comments:

  1. I was in the mall today and frankly shocked at the poor quality for the price. No wonder the department stores have to put out large clearance racks and have the rest of the clothing on sale. $75 for a striped top in thin knit with crooked and unmatched stripes. I can get the equivalent at Walmart for $5. Sigh. I don’t want to believe the stores and manufacturers think we are all that stupid, but they must. Sigh. Transparancy pricing would go a long way towards getting me to part with my money.

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    1. Good grief! I should proofread better before I hit go. :-)

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  2. I can think of very few reasons why a simple nike tank should cost $75.00
    Well, I guess I can't think of any realistic reasons why....gold thread? Spun silk all hand handled? Nope, nothing reasonable.
    I don't know about the pricing.....it couldn't hurt knowing more about what I purchase.

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  3. Pricing isn't what determines value. When buying a $75 Nike tank top you are paying a lot for the branding. If you don't need the cachet of a brand then buy a cheaper version. I find most all clothing is sent out with a ric
    Diculous price that very few pay. The items sell when the sales, markdowns, coupons, etc. make the price a person can pay. I try to be well-constructed clothing made with quality fabric that may cost more than Wal-Mart crap. I also spend more for items I will wear a lot ( oat per wearing) I am a follower of MPB, but rarely sew clothing. I sew more as a craft .

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    1. Correction: ric. Diculous = ridiculous😏

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  4. I think the prices reflect the clothes being pitched as part of a fashion statement, not workout wear. That is how my kids' peers see this.
    As much as I like the idea of sewing my own gym gear, I have even less access to the materials that the big manufacturers use than Peter in NYC. I do thrift most of my stuff. Nike needs that money to cover it's track biochemistry program ;)
    I do admire the technical fabrics though. And now and then, I have sprung for a shirt at Title 9. But generally, I will wait for the prices to come down for 'last year's color range'.

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  5. Transparency would be good. I don't know that most shoppers have an understanding of how a company arrives at their price point. Having owned a ski shop where we carried soft goods, I have a pretty good idea of what the mark-up is from wholesale to retail.

    As others have stated, I also wait until the prices go down for reasons such as, end of the season, end of that colourway, end of that style, etc.

    Like you I only purchase sports clothing that I don't want to make myself, and even if I did there is no where near here where I could access the fabric anyhow.

    Looking at non-sports clothing, I make most of my clothes. Still struggling with fitting issues for trousers, but it will come.

    I certainly would like to have access to more than the one fabric store that we have here. I have ordered items online, but between not being able to 'feel' the fabric, descriptions that are lacking, poor photography,exchange rate between Canada and USA, and brokerage fees, the experience is not always satisfactory.

    Now, I have tracked down 2 Canadian online fabric shops, so that has helped, but a lot of the other issues listed above still apply.

    I also do the trolling for fabric in the secondhand market, but I'm finding it's become harder and harder to find fabrics that aren't mostly synthetics which I very rarely use.

    When I go travelling, I almost always come back with fabric whenever possible. Usually those travels are off this continent so I discover some unique fabrics.

    I'd like to see some transparency on the cost of fabric too!

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  6. Transparency would be nice if they included the percentage we pay for commercials to make a certain brand desirable. Origin of the fabric would be nice too. And use of chemicals in the finishing.

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  7. I'm all for transparency when pricing, but it doesn't always compel me to buy: it depends on the company. For example, I trust the transparent pricing of a company like Everlane, which has had ethical and transparent business practices imbedded into its business model since Day One. With a company like Nike, I'm suspicious. I sense that their "dedication" to "transparency" has more to do with taking advantage of a particular trend for the purpose of justifying high prices rather than being truly interested in fair wages, etc.

    Very interesting discussion! I'll be following along.

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  8. I am all about information. The more I know, the better I can tailor my choice, no matter the item. It's nice to know where my money goes, since I care about that sort of thing. Also, I don't always need the item to last (though I try to avoid purchasing things that won't last) so it's nice to know exactly what quality:cost ratio I'm looking at.

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  9. I work in a sports retail store in ireland and have noticed a price increase in basic nike clothes - when the economic downturn happened here about 09/10 nike reduced the price of their clothes by about 5/10% (at least thats what I noticed on shop floor) and I generally find their clothes and runners good quality although I cannot comment on the ethics......The one thing often overlooked is the amount of counterfeit and the overheads that entails. (Its a bug bear of mine) Some years ago we had a customer return a jersey.... and the insisted they bought with us and we had no way of proving otherwise as they had a receipt for the jersey style....thing is the jersey was not ours/genuine nike soccer jersey, it was a 'good' counterfeit. what can happen is a portion of nike fabrics and labels etc get illegally redirected to a counterfeit factory and they are made up there - (in this case the wrong style code was on the label) and the vinyl strip badly applied and peeling - so the customer in this case bought the 'real one' from us - waited a month and returned the counterfeit one....all we could do was send it back to Nike....

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  10. If they put $12 for a zipper, I am going to immediately know that they are selling me a lie. I have bought plenty of zippers -at retail - and rarely seen one that costs that much. I know that they buy in bulk and get better prices than I can get.

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    1. Well it does depend on the zipper. A good quality YKK zipper, double ended with a Vislon tooth will cost my about $17 wholesale if I only buy a few. Which is aound $12US.

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  11. SeamsterEast aolJune 20, 2017 at 8:48 AM

    Quality clothing looks and feels different from lesser quality clothing. The appearance difference you can see from a hundred yards away. Think of a cotton dress shirt vs a poly/cotton shirt. The difference is sometimes not HUGE, but there IS a difference. People willing to spend the higher price just to be seen in public wearing the higher price insist on the higher quality. Sometimes people buy the lesser quality and claim the higher quality, but it is not. Sometimes vendors will stick a much higher price on lesser quality merchandise hoping to rope in a rube or two, but it is a marketing dead end, the vendor not long for this business world. Rayon is rayon, not silk.

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  12. I'm all for transparency pricing, but wonder how they factor in things like finishing into the labor costs (you kind of need to have some expertise in sewing to understand those, right?)

    Related: I went to a Fancy Department Store the other day to scope out the designer stuff, and it was amazing how many seams were just serged or whatever, just like what you'd find in any big-box store. Coats and jackets with no linings, plastic buttons on pieces that cost thousands of dollars.

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  13. Would we need transparency pricing for restaurant meals? My point is everyone has to cook a bit to eat, so we know the value of that work. When you eat a lovely meal out -- if the service is nice, the ambience is cozy, the food is delicious, and you don't have to wash the dishes, pretty much everyone knows the value there. It's different with clothing because most people haven't constructed a garment. They don't know how to evaluate the effort in a shirt or athletic shorts. It's kind of a mystery whether that is hard to do or not. They haven't shopped for fabric so how to tell the difference between high performance synthetic and plain ole nylon. Or muslin and Egyptian cotton? So I guess transparency pricing for clothing assumes some knowledge that I would venture most customers don't have. So I'm not sure how will really provide data for comparison shopping for many. I must say that I have paid $12 for a metal two way zipper and seen many other similar zippers that cost more. So I can believe that $12 would be a reasonable price for zipper on a well made jacket. Thanks for another interesting post, Peter.

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    1. I see your point but I don't agree with the comparison you are using. There is much more involved on the maintenance of a restaurant and on the preparation of a good meal than you are describng here. I actually quit working in professional kitchens because I believe it is too hard to deal with the difference between what it takes and what people are willing to pay. It is a much harder job than the cooking ordinary people practice at home.
      But I completely agree with the argument that customers would need some background to read this information, and I also have trouble on believing stated information from huge companies, as nike, for instance.
      GREAT discussion, Peter.

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  14. I hate it beyond endurance when people not in an industry get judgy about the costs. Most people have not a clue. WE make and sell shirts pretty much at a loss as we could never sell them for what they really cost us to make. But it suits me to have a seamstress on hand for other reasons so I put up with it. We sell for $260-$300. The person who makes them is visible to the customer.
    make it a rule to do a quick calculation. Take off sales tax, halve the cost and look at what is left. That figure has to pay for everything - fabric and materials production, construction, shipping - is it enough? Here a $35 t shirt has only $15 to pay for all of that. And I know that is not enough.

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  15. Some years ago I was shopping in Soho with out of town cousins. I found a Balenciaga skirt in one store. The fabric was nice, but it wasn't lined and it had, as someone else mentioned, serge finished seams. It was about $900 at the time(lots of years ago) This is in a top of the line rtw piece. How transparent is transparent really. Will customers actually make decisions by it? I think not; the brand is definitely the enticement.

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  16. I can see some benefit in transparency pricing. My family owns a franchised pizza restaurant and it drives me crazy when customers expect to buy a pizza for less than our cost. I'd love to be able to justify our prices (which are not high). But while I think consumers have a little idea of what labor and materials should cost, I'm not sure many people understand the other costs involved in running even a small business: commercial rent, commercial utilities, multi-line phones, marketing, insurance, maintenance, repairs, etc. I can't even imagine what those costs are like on a large scale and every time I walk into a retail store (which is rare) I'm shocked they are able to make any money. And I'm not surprised at all when I see yet another list of store closures. Consumers want a lot of choices, but there aren't necessarily enough consumers to buy up all those choices. As we say in the restaurant biz: too many chairs, not enough butts. And fewer items being sold often means higher prices per item to cover the fixed costs.

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    1. I own a business, too (not clothing related). You're right that most people have no idea of the costs involved in running a business: we pay our employees a decent wage, pay 80% of their health insurance, match 3% of what they contribute to retirement. This is on top of the cost of the merchandise, and not to mention utilities, equipment, property insurance, worker's comp premiums, etc. (This is why it is unfair when big box stores, who are our competitors and who could surely manage without it, are given property tax abatements from cities to entice them to build or stay in that city. And who then proceed to pay their employees less than we pay ours! Thankfully, we are now a third generation family business and though hard work and good luck are doing very well in spite of this sort of thing.) I think many people these days have little grasp of what quality clothing looks like, and most have even less grasp of how much markup is needed to make a decent profit (i.e. keep the lights on, pay the employees, and have something left over for yourself to make the 60-70 hour work week worth it.) I'm a little confused by the idea of transparency pricing, to tell you the truth. I'm not entirely sure it will work. It is sad that it has come to this, but the clothing manufacturers are much to blame as well. It's gotten to the point where, while cheap prices usually indicate poor quality, high prices don't necessarily indicate good quality. I see the need to "sell" the quality and justify the price. But I bet many people see the markup and instantly think it's too much, just because they don't understand everything that is involved.

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  17. I like the idea of transparency, even though it is not really possible to itemize, in detail, every cost that a manufacturer incurs. I would especially be interested to know that the people on the production line are paid a reasonable wage and are not locked in a firetrap or a building on the verge of collapse in order to earn that wage. As to people who shop by price alone, I really cannot think of anything to say that would interest them.

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  18. I'm probably like most customers: I vaguely understand that there are many levels and types of costs embedded into the design, manufacture, marketing, and selling of an item but it's about all I can do to simply compare prices and quality, then buy accordingly.

    I've read study results re. organic foods concluding that their stated benefits over conventional foods are a) miniscule; and b) don't justify their sometimes much higher prices. Just as some retailers and manufacturers profit from customer ignorance, others will profit from a customer thinking s/he is enlightened. I'm all for more information (as long as it's truthful) but companies are in business to profit first and foremost; thus, I tend to view claims of social consciousness and assumed halos of virtue with a bit of suspicion.

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    1. I'm inclined to agree with you. Plus how can the average person gauge whether the "transparent" costs are fair or not? If you've never purchased a yard of fabric, how would you know what a fair price for a particular type of fabric is (wholesale, no less)?

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  19. I'd pay $75 for a tank top if it meant I wouldn't be making a duplicate purchase in the near future. So, if the quality is good enough that it will last, the style is neutral enough that I won't need to give it a rest, the cut is flattering enough that I will wear it regularly, etc. I like the idea of transparency pricing, but in a way I don't care. I know the most sustainable thing I can do is buy less. If that means paying more at times or that someone is making a windfall profit for designing exactly what I need, so be it. The majority of my clothing budget does go to sewing, I won't over think the things I don't like to sew or can't sew.

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  20. I take a pic and knock it off If I want it that bad. I'll pay for a nice hunk of fabric because "high end" is still more. I'm glad I sew. 97% of my wardrobe is handmade. Shopping is so depressing for me now. I'm glad I don't have to bother. I only by shoes and accessories.

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  21. I'm with Carol! I would take a photo and recreate it myself before paying a higher than comfortable price! (And have done it on many occasions!). The majority of my wardrobe is "me-made" including my workout gear now. Transparency pricing would make no difference with me. (Now shoes and bags...that's a whole other animal!! LOL!

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  22. Well, I'd certainly be interested to see the transparentcy pricing on this tank. Until proven otherwise, I suspect any buyer is just paying a whole lot for that "swish" emblem.

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  23. Pricing is a formula where you have to factor in a lot of the small things you can not see--things that are in the garment and things that go beyond the garment. Thread color, thread type, type of stitch used, shipping, color matching etc.. I would be nice to see if they follow this formula or not.

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  24. I like the idea of transparency. I'd love to know how much Nike thinks their logo adds to the value of a piece of clothing.

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