Overcoming the Fast Fashion Story


Fred Perrotta

Liz Pape, the founder of Elizabeth Suzann, wrote an excellent post addressing pricing in the fashion industry earlier this year.

Her clothing line is made in the USA of premium fabrics and priced accordingly. In the post, she discusses consumers evaluating her products and pricing against those of fast fashion retailers.

As companies like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 entered the market in a big way, those moderate, but relatively accepted, prices plummeted. The scales tipped around the early 2000s, as the consumer mindset shifted from one that was proud of a high price tag on clothing - viewing it as a sort of status symbol - to one that was proud of getting a deal. Prominent names started wearing mass-produced, “affordable” clothing (Michelle Obama appearing in Zara and J. Crew), and in April of 2000 the New York Times declared it was “chic to pay less.”

(Emphasis mine.)

The most important lesson I've learned from Seth Godin is that our purchases are based, not on a rational assessment of the options, but on the stories that we tell ourselves.

The story that Liz is commenting on is a social and cultural one. We collectively shifted from a story about value and status to a story about bargains. The recession created an environment where this story could take hold and where fast fashion brands could grow. Americans weren't going to stop buying stuff, so we had to create a story that made us feel smart and frugal while still buying stuff.

Fast fashion brands told a story that we could believe.

Liz addresses this in different terms in the post.

We have all been conditioned to believe that, regardless of inflation and regardless of price increases in other areas, clothing is getting cheaper. What’s more, the total amount of money we spend on clothing as a percentage of personal spending continues to drop, and the perceived value of clothing as an investment - both financially and emotionally - is on the decline.

The pendulum will eventually swing back. For some consumers, it already has.

Liz's customers already believe a different story. Her customers believe a story about premium fabrics and products being worth the investment. Her customers believe that cost per wear is more important that just price. Her customers believe that buying American made is important.

They buy from Elizabeth Suzann because they believe Liz's story and because the purchase makes them feel good. Zara's custmoers buy from Zara for the same reason but for a different story.

My company, Tortuga, tells a story adjaccent to Elizabeth Suzann's about premium products and gear worth investing in.

The best way for premium and niche brands to grow is to find their people. We have to loudly declare what we believe so that the people who share that belief can find us.

Liz is sharing her story and making clothes that she believes in. The people who believe her story will find her.

Thank you to Liz for sharing her story. Let's end this post with another quote from her.

Ultimately, I suppose I believe our consumption habits would be healthier (and we'd be happier) if we shopped based on filling needs in our life with intentional goods designed to serve those needs. Those needs may be philosophical, ethical, practical, physical, emotional, and financial. But they are certainly not strictly financial, and we should evaluate the products that fill those needs on far more than their cost to create and the resultant price tag. All of this is being said in full recognition that the ability to choose how and what we consume is a privilege not all are afforded.