Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rant: Modern Clothing Manufacturers are Skimping on Quality

In the drive to keep prices of clothing down for customers who demand it, modern manufacturers have to find ways to cut costs.  Many of those cost cutting measures result in lower quality garments.  This "dumbing down" of American fashion has been gradual over the last 15 years or so until a whole new generation of buyers have come to accept poor quality and throw away garments as the norm.

I have recently started noticing more press devoted to the issue of poorly made garments imported from overseas.  In my opinion, this is a very good thing.  But talking about the issue is just the beginning.  We as consumers now need to start fighting back with our wallets.  We need to stop purchasing "garbage garments" and use our hard earned dollars for quality, not quantity.  In doing so, though, you have to become a fashion detective.

Photo from Eileen Fisher
Here's an example.  I was perusing the Eileen Fisher website this morning.  I wear Eileen Fisher garments frequently, but I haven't purchased anything new from this brand for the last 3-4 years.  My older classic pieces from this company are holding up well, while newer Eileen Fisher garments in the last few seasons have suffered in comparison.  Take a look at this Round Neck Tee with Cap Sleeves that is newly offered on the site.  I am shocked at how ill fitting this t-shirt looks in the photo.  If it doesn't fit a model well, how is it going to work for me?  The cut of the garment is unflattering and when you zoom in on the photo, you can see that the "silk cotton" is thin and not tightly woven.  At $108, this t-shirt is hardly a bargain.  For that price, I would expect a garment of much better quality.

Let's look at a few details.

-  First, the fit.  Eileen Fisher says this shirt is "fitted at the bodice, easy at the hem."  Translaction? The side seams are straight instead of curving to fit the body.  It's easier to cut and sew a straight seam than a curved one.  That means the shirt is cheaper to make.
-  "Cap sleeves" simply means they have taken a short sleeve and made it shorter and skimpier.  These cap sleeves aren't even shaped to the body.  They're simply cut straight across and hemmed which gives them an odd angled appearance.  Shorter length and cutting  straight across means less fabric, which means the shirt is cheaper to make.
-  Take a look at the shoulder seam.  Now look at where the model's shoulder is.  There's about 2" less in shoulder width than there should be.  That means less fabric, which means the shirt is cheaper to make.
-  "Banded at neckline."  Instead of using a dyed-to-match rib knit for the neckline banding, which would hug the body and not gap out of shape, this band is just a folded over piece of the same knit fabric that is serged to the neckline.  One washing and that will no longer sit flat on the body.  It's going to crumple and fall over.  But using the same fabric for the neckband means less fabric to buy and dye, which means the shirt is cheaper to make.
-  Is it me, or is this t-shirt too short?  The fabric is 70% silk/30% cotton which can be "hand washed, but dry cleaning is recommended."  Translation?  This shirt will likely have some shrinkage in length when I wash it.  But a shorter hem means less fabric, which means it's cheaper to make.

The folks at Eileen Fisher are hoping you won't notice these areas where they've skimped to cut costs.  And they are not alone in using these methods.  Almost every manufacturer out there is hoping you'll accept their "garbage garments" in your pursuit of the latest fashions.  Will you become a fashion detective?  Will you keep your wallet in your purse in protest?  I hope so. 

Sorry, Eileen Fisher, I won't be buying this t-shirt.  And I have to say how disappointed I am that you would attempt to pass off this poor quality garment to a long time customer.  Maybe I should start to sew my own t-shirts again.

42 comments:

Celia said...

My husband and I have actually been discussing that. We want to clean our closets and just have 7 outfits each. I have been planning on shopping at Land's End because my husband wears business casual to work and I am a SAHM. What do you think about their quality?

Hello Kendra said...

I am a major Fashion Detective, I rarely buy things I can make myself for less or with nicer material. While I understand the reasons that companies cut cost, I find the markup of price on that tshirt to be insane. $108 for a simple tshirt is way to expensive, silk or not. Especially if it looks that hideous

Cathi said...

Wow! Until you pointed that all out I wouldn't have been able to figure out what was "off" on this t-shirt. Now I know and I'm going to use this knowledge in the future.
Sewing my own t-shirts is starting to look attractive to me too.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above, that even once-quality designers are going much lower. However, I work as a tailor for photoshoots just like these. Often I am working on a catalog or webstore shoot. The clothes come typically in size 4, sample size, and need to be tailored to fit a model that is a 0 or below and has proportions very unlike the women who wear the clothes. It can be challenging! To me, this looks like a bad tailoring job!

Also, there is so much airbrushing done on the finished photos of clothes, it amazes me. Some times they will have me take a seam out of the neck or some odd place, and just airbrush it away in the photo. Especially true with the back view of jeans. Usually I am taking 4" or more out of the waist of jeans and a huge seam up the back of the leg, which gets airbrushed out completely for the site. Eileen needs some better people working for her on this front. It kind of seems like trickery, but again, the models don't have typical proportions.

I always think about sewing my own shirts again. With production of everything overseas... it becomes so pricey to make your own these days! I think the only piece you can get a little bang for your buck by making yourself anymore is underwear. But it's about quality, so it's worth it either way!

Tallian said...

This is a fantastic article. I've posted a link to it for my friends - everyone could use info on how to avoid being disappointed by their clothing purchases!

déjà pseu said...

I purchased one of these silk cotton shirts in 3/4 length but have not purchased any since, mainly because the fabric is thin and clingy. I've had much better luck with the silk jersey tees. But I agree, *everyone's* quality has dropped the last few years, even some of the "bridge" and high-end lines.

Anonymous said...

Well, the thing is...you are paying all that money for the brand, not the quality. This goes for anything else out there.

Debbie Feely said...

Absolutely! Good job breaking down the misfit cutbacks. I see this too. I have clothes from LLBean I bought 20 years ago that are still in excellent condition. I recently pulled out a T-shirt relegated to 'paint clothes' several years ago and realized it is still in better shape than one I bought last year. I would rather have a few quality clothes than a closetful of throw aways.

K.Line said...

I cannot believe that anyone would pay 108 dollars for this thing. It's a shapeless crappiness. And you have called out its every flaw. A middle-aged woman (with larger breasts and thickening waist due to hormonal changes) would look horrendous in it, never mind the workmanship.

fabriquefantastique said...

Always have been a FD. What really p.....es me off is when the pics are Photoshoped to death.....I imagine this T shirt has not been, but then, may it has and is even worse.

Past Perfect Vintage Clothing said...

If the samples are a size 4, maybe the models need to be a sz 4 too?

Lizzie said...

I would never have guessed that tee was labeled Eileen Fisher, but then I've been reading on various sites about how the quality has slipped since they started out-sourcing so much of their work.

Why would this company be using size 0, 20-year-old models anyway? That isn't who their customer is anyway. Sorry, off topic, but you are so right about the sneaky ways companies are cutting corners. How about pockets that are too short to hold anything, seams sewn with 10 or less stitches to the inch and fabric so thin you can see through it?

weheartvintage.co said...

great article - buying garbage garments is such a false economy and this article shows us exactly why, thankyou!

Dina said...

Fascinating post! I've been thinking so much about this subject lately. I'm currently reading a book that you might find interesting. It's called "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" by Elizabeth Cline.

The people at Eileen Fisher (and all the similarly-inclined companies) should be ashamed of themselves. All I can say is that they underestimate us, the consumer. Maybe I'm a ridiculous optimist, but I think people are too smart for this kind of shenanigans...most of us work too hard for our money to buy things and have them fall apart so quickly, and we won't put up with it. These companies will see their sales fall off and then they'll wonder why!

Anonymous said...

I think you have some very valid points in this article, but I find it hard to believe that EVERY thing you've pointed out is an attempt to rip off their customer. The cut and drape of the shirt isn't a money-saving technique, it's part of the design. Sure a straight side seam is easier to sew but the fullness of it actually increases fabric consumption, making it more expensive. The shoulder seam is cut farther in but that could have just as easily been their intention with the design, as is the length, clearly it is meant to be a shorter shirt. I do agree that the banded neckline is a cheap move and those sleeves do need some work, but to change every detail that you've pointed out would change the entire design of the shirt and instead of a more unique piece you'd wind up with a regular t-shirt, and that's not worth $100 either. If I'm paying for a designer item I'd like it to have some DESIGN.

WindDancer said...

Land's End has better quality. I have noticed that for whatever the reasons, ladies are getting shorter and shorter. I already have a "long back" so any shirt that says its a 24 or 26 inch length will already be too short even before any laundering. Too, the fabric quality and the stitch per inch will be grossly inadequate. So glad I have two sewing machines...

lladybird said...

I am so glad you posted this. I've been totally disgusted at how shoddily clothes are constructed these days, to the point where I refuse to by new clothes at all. It astounds me that this is something that affects both the low-end and (supposed)high-end companies. What exactly are people paying extra for here, anyway? Just the brand.

Gauss said...

It blows my mind that somebody would spend $108 on this! I'm sure somebody is buying it...

Miss Virginia said...

Very cool post!!! Can you do more with other garments please? :D

Denise said...

I only buy 3 Dots tees, which have been made in the US and still were the last time I purchased one (a few months ago).

I am glad to see you tackle this issue - if only we still had those "look for the union label" clothes and ads I saw when I was a kid!

That's why I'm learning to sew — even as a newbie my things are better made than most pricey off-the-rack designer things.

Sheila said...

Great article, Jodi! I'll be linking up to this tonight.

As a mostly second-hand shopper, I do troll the malls to see what's in style (colour, cut, design) and then look for it in consignment, re-sale and thrift shops. I have noticed that the quality, even in the same brands (eg. Ann Taylor, Banana Republic or Gap) has gone down substantially in the last 10 years. The fabrics feel cheaper, the construction is much poorer (less linings, and the linings aren't water/washing-friendly!), and the little details aren't there.

I try to buy as much US- or Canadian-made (sometimes I even find UK-made!) clothing as I can, and I'm very conscious that when I do shop in person or online, that I support local or Canadian-owned businesses that support ethical manufacture.

I am glad that these issues are starting to come to the forefront. Educate your younger peers/daughters/nieces on shopping for quality!

Tina said...

This is an excellent post and is EXACTLY why I, as well as hundreds (dare I say thousands?) of other women are turning to good old fashioned sewing to create garments that fit and flatter.

I found what the Anonymous Tailor posted. If clothing has to be altered so much to fit a model and then airbrushed later, why are clothing brands using models? Just a curious observation...

Karen @ Bobbins And Bombshells said...

I couldn't agree more. Fast fashion is killing fashion!

Tourbillion said...

It is better than their $168 lightweight linen box t-shirt. They probably made that for $8. It looks just like a sack too.

Anonymous said...

So true. I still have a shirt from H&M in my closet, that i got as a present 12(!) years ago and it is still GOOD. what they sell now-won't survive 3 month, but at least they keep their prices down. What makes me really angry are shops that ask $108 for a t-shirt like this and don't bother to create a quality product.

Thank you so much for this post, I was wondering if I were the only one refusing to buy this kind of things-that cannot fit and won't survive laundry. I guess I just need to learn how to make my own shirts.

John Frantsen said...

Great Post and great response. Thanks for bringing attention to the subject, that I´ve also posted about a few times. Keep it up ;o)

SusanTamoney said...

Thank you Jody, for explaining this so clearly.

A lesson learned: For years I have resisted buying from the Fast Fashion "houses", but one particular dress was so cute and "wearable" that earlier this summer I bought a "silk" dress from Topshop for $140.

Sadly, but no surprise, the dress is slowly "coming apart at the seams"...literally! Despite having never been washed and only gently wore.

So, it's back to vintage and creating my own little skirts out of vintage fabric finds. I also shop top designers (like Prada), aware that even with top designers I have to check the fabrics, the construction and where it was manufactured to make sure I'm getting what I want: a piece that will hold up and become a treasured addition to my wardrobe.

Thanks, Jody!

Adele Bee Ann said...

Great expose! You nailed it with your criticism and really opened my eyes. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, thank you

Caryn said...

I guess I the lone nut here, I don't see the "problems" pointed out as a quality issue, but simply the style of the garment. The true problem is this: it is a t-shirt for Pete's sake. I don't care if it didn't have those "problems" pointed out, it is insane to pay over a hundred dollars for a t-shirt. In fact, I would say it is almost immoral unless it was some kind of odd one-off lifetime dream sort of thing. But as a wardrobe casual staple??? When there are people have nothing? I am not a bleeding heart liberal, and I am not feel any guilt for being in a prosperous country and having nice things, but seriously? That price is OBSCENE

Rebecca said...

I love the way you have broken the elements down to explain it to people who don't work in the fashion industry or understand design and garment construction. I know a lot of people would never notice these details, but anyone would be able to see that it is a really bad fit. This is the kind of stuff I have been trying to explain to people for years (including my fashion design students). There is absolutely no quality in mass produced clothing nowadays. There will be no "vintage" clothing in the future - because it is all rubbish now. there are people out there working hard to create beautiful clothing from high quality materials. Support your local design community!!!

dianne850676 said...

Great post ... I feel like I've found kindred spirits. Here's a tip if you are considering buying from Lands' End ... you can try on and buy most of their clothing items at Sears. Sears purchased the company several years ago. Some of their items are still good quality and some are not. They were my main source of clothing for several years. They have a great return policy if you mail order. I haven't sewn for several years, but have started again recently. It is hard finding quality fabrics too : ( Do any of you use online fabric resources? Do you have any you would recommend?
I am all for supporting local design community. I just attended a huge craft show in Tulsa, OK and most of it was cheap imported items being resold. Very few actual crafts. It was very disappointing.

Nicole said...

Great post! thanks for sharing this information with us. I have often thought that modern clothes are made on the cheap, but it is good to get some confirmation of that and to understand where they are cutting costs, and why these garments fall apart faster.

Anonymous said...

And in addition to the clothing, has anyone noticed how cheaply made shoes are now? It is difficult to find a decent pair of shoes for under $200 and most are closer to $400 if you want REAL leather and leather linings so that the shoes actually mold to your feet.

Anonymous said...

As to Land's End.. I recently searched their website for Made in America, based on the recent Olympics brouhaha and noticing the dress I bought from them was labeled "Made in China." The prices were remarkably higher, until I multiplied the income cost over there by ours. And added a bunch. For women, we are talking $15 socks (one pair) and $30 tights. For men, $50 polos (more reasonable considering my husband is still wearing one 10 years later) $300 shoes, and $50 sweat shorts. No women's clothes, which tells me they don't think they will sell. I used to use a elderly seamstress back in the 70's. I'm thinking of trying to find one again.

Anonymous said...

I have been upset for years about the quality and lack of standardization in our clothing industry. I looked at a velvet jacket for $400 and the nap was upsidedown I started checking and found out they make all velour clothes that way it means if you try to brush anything off you have to brush up towards your face get outta here I guess by they I mean over seas manufacturers that know some (alot) of American consumers will buy anything.I could go on about bras,shoes,underwear,jeans with spandex waistbands that don't stay put. Thanx for letting me get it off my chest

KittyKwilter said...

I like this article too. I have been lamenting the poor quality of things lately. I have T-shirts from some more expensive stores, that when you wash them they shrink in length but stretch in width. For $20 and up I would think they could be stable. I have paid $5 for a T-shirt at JCPenney that fit better. I would like to buy made in USA but it is hard to find anything that is.

Isis said...

Very interesting!

Maha Bahis Alarifi said...

oh thank you! u spoke for me!

Loretta Donovan said...

Nice to see some savvy ladies here who know quality and construction in clothing. I am enjoying garments that are 10+ years old since I bought well-made items . . . on sale. No fool am I.

nahidworld said...

The word garment denotes an article of clothing. The garment industry is a multi-million dollar industry involved in the advertising, manufacture, distribution, wholesaling, retailing, alterations and more. Each garment that is purchased and worn by the customer represents a countless hours of planning, preparation and execution to arrive at the finished product.

Anne Marie said...

You have hit a very raw nerve with me here. I adored good shoes since i was teenager, and reveled in the all leather shoes with wrapround leather soles and linings, many of which were Italian or Brazilian made I could get. I recently had this conversation with someone who also agreed. I refuse to buy today's alleged 'fashions'. I'd rather shop in my own closet,wherefabrics and workmanship have sttod the test of time. I have even considered sewing again.

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