Small local brands vs big chains: why do they cost more?
It always makes me laugh when I hear people say they don't buy local designer clothes because “it costs too much”. The most expensive dress right now at Topshop in Montreal is $270. The most expensive on the Marigold site? $229. I could make this comparison with a ton of Quebec companies and multinationals like Zara and H&M.
Unlike other cities like New York and Paris, our local brands remain incredibly affordable. It is certain that if we are the type to buy five sweaters at Forever 21 per week, we will not be able to sustain the same rhythm with our creators here. And that's good. We can never repeat it enough: as much for our wallet as for the environment, we must focus on quality and not quantity.
It is also a question of perception and social mores. The art of food is a great passion in our Quebec culture, which leads us to regularly spend $150 for a dinner of a few hours in a restaurant without questioning ourselves twice. On the other hand, when the time comes to buy $180 pants that you can wear for several years, do you raise eyebrows?
It's somewhat in this state of mind that I thought it would be good to dissect the cost of a garment from a local designer, from the initial sketch to the sale in the shop. With my background in fashion design and by dint of rubbing shoulders with small designers, I have a fairly precise idea of the expenses hidden behind a $160 shirt made in Montreal. But the average person, not necessarily. So I asked Marilyne to explain to me, step by step: why are locally designed clothes more expensive than fast fashion brands?
"I always start with the material, it's my starting point", says Marilyne. To find the most beautiful fabrics, she goes to Première Vision in Paris or New York (a huge fair reserved for fashion professionals) or to Télio in Montreal. “I don't restrict myself, I try to find an inspiring fabric while offering the best possible quality”. Ching ching , the bill is already starting to climb.
The second factor that influences the price of the fabric? The quantity ordered. Zara, for example, orders a gargantuan yardage of raw material, which gives it access to extremely ridiculous prices. With their microproductions, creators here simply cannot enjoy these preferential rates. By way of comparison, a multinational will pay $2 or $3 per meter, while a small designer will pay up to $20 for the same quantity (not necessarily of the same fabric, however).
Intellectual property is often the most undervalued part. Unlike international brands that almost black-and-white copy catwalk looks, small designers invest a lot of themselves in the creative process. "After seeing the fabrics, I take about two months to sketch, take into account my clients' comments, evaluate what sold well last season and, finally, make my collection plan", shares Marilyne. She now admits to allocating a (thin) $3 to $5 per piece sold for the time spent creating.
Tailoring and production
Three months after shopping for her fabrics, Marilyne receives the first quantities to make her prototypes and it is from this moment that expenses increase exponentially. "It's above all the labor that is expensive in the production of a collection", underlines Marilyne.
Take the example of a Marigold shirt. After making the pattern for her prototype, Marilyne sends it to Marcel, who takes care of digitizing it and developing the gradation (the development of the size scale). These patterns are then sent to Luigi and Louise, in charge of cutting all the pieces of fabric. Last destination: the seamstress! Certainly, a retailer like Zara goes through all these stages, even if some are completely automated, but the big difference remains the conditions under which the Marcels, Luigi and Louise of this world work.
All workers involved in the production of local clothing enjoy a living wage and a safe working environment. On the other side of the world, such as in Bangladesh, where a sub-contractor of a sub-contractor takes care of the production of a cheap brand, the laws for workers are vague and almost non-existent, resulting in poverty wages, conditions sometimes worthy of slavery and disasters like the Rana Plaza. No, I am not an alarmist or a sensationalist. It is indeed the reality.
Here are some numbers to give you a better idea. Marilyne produces a shirt at a cost of $40. She will then sell it to a boutique for $85, who will sell it to the customer for $160, a normal raise to pay everyone and make a small profit margin. At Zara, a shirt that cost $8 to produce will sell for $80 in stores. The first shirt is multiplied by four. The second, by ten. That's a nice profit margin difference, isn't it? When we say that we vote with our money...
Many designers do business with a representative whose mission is to sell the collection to boutiques, a service which, in the case of Marilyne, represents 15% of each piece sold. Selling on its website is a good way to reduce intermediary costs, but the fact remains that the platform causes a whole other set of expenses: maintenance, marketing, delivery costs, etc. Did I also mention that the vast majority of designers also have to produce a lookbook twice a year? Photographer, model, make-up artist, studio rental, printing: the bill, once again, is rising quickly.
With all these expenses and a very meager profit margin, you might be tempted to ask: why are the companies here not raising their prices? It's simple. They are just waiting for people to stop saying that local designers “cost too much”.
By Joëlle Paquette for MARIGOLD