Fashion is an every day part of our lives (unless you’re a nudist) because the clothes we wear say a lot about who we are as a person. Like all industries, fashion is not immune to stereotyping and myths. Here are some of the common mistakes many people make when it comes clothing and the fashion industry.
Historically speaking, the crown jewel of the textile and garment industry was Italy. Many legendary fashion houses were founded here, and in the city of Prato, the capital of the Italian garment and textile industry, most of these fashion houses set up shop. That was then, and this is now, and in today’s world, Prato is no longer filled with a bunch of adorable old Italian ladies sewing together Italian suits and shoes for fashion houses. Today, Prato is estimated to be home to almost 50,000 migrant Chinese workers, of which less than 10,000 are legal. This makes up for almost a third of the entire population of the city.
The conditions in many of the factories populated by migrant workers are reported as being sweatshop-like, and as a result of the low pay and harsh working conditions, the textiles and garments produced in Prato today pale in comparison to those of the past bearing the same “Made in Italy” label. This label used to be synonymous with quality, but today, many companies are popping up that sell garments with the coveted “Made in Italy” label, often with some phony Italian name attached to the brand as a namesake. This is not to say that major fashion houses are exploiting this cheap labour, as most of these houses retain family-owned garment and textile factories to protect the integrity of the brand, but be aware: next time you see something that is “Made in Italy”, that label might as well read “Made in China”. Ironically enough, this brings me to the second myth.
2) Made in China equals poor quality.
What Italian textile industry was to quality, the Chinese textile industry was to cheap, efficient production. Today, the stigma of “Made in China” is not entirely accurate; yes, there are still thousands of factories that churn out cheaply made products, but in recent years, due to inflation and demand for higher wages, many companies that were previously based in countries with higher standards of employment conditions such as the United States, Canada, and Italy, have recently shifted production to China in order to keep product costs down while maintaining profit margins.
A Canadian example is the outerwear company Arc’Teryx, a personal favourite of mine. All Arc’Teryx products were designed and manufactured in Canada, but ever since the company changed hands and production was expanded, many Arc’Teryx garments are now manufactured in China. Despite this, the company employs strict quality control standards, and the reputation of their brand has yet to falter despite the change in production location. In fact, company revenue has tripled in the past 5 years. Other companies that manufacture high quality goods in China include: Theory, Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone, and Emporio Armani.
The conditions in these factories are much better than the sweatshop like conditions that still plague many Chinese factories to this day. The employees who are working in these garment factories have more extensive training and possess more skill than many of their counterparts working in factories that assemble garments for places like Wal-Mart or the Gap. Essentially, think of it like the difference between the AHL and the NHL; you get paid more because you’re a better player, or in this case, garment maker. As a result, quality is not impacted, only the price of labour.
3) All clothing products made in Asia are of inferior quality to those made in Europe and North America.
Japan has an incredibly rich manufacturing history, as many of the manufacturing techniques and technology were directly imported from America. Japanese denim is widely regarded as the best in the world, as many highly trained artisanal companies have been manufacturing denim the same way for almost a century. Today, most of these denim companies manufacture their products using old shuttle looms, which they procured from Levi Strauss Co. after they shifted much of their production to China in the designer denim boom of the 1980’s. Many high fashion companies also manufacture their clothing in Japan due to the high quality workmanship and technology available in many of the manufacturing prefectures. Global brands such as Dior, PRPS, Nudie, and Robert Geller manufacture many of their products in Japan, or use fabric from Japan to be sewn into garments elsewhere. Japan also has a rich history of fashion design, with common themes including relaxed fits, deconstruction, and a certain casual elegance surrounding many designers’ collections. Workwear is also a fairly popular trend in Japan, and many companies hit it big during the workwear trend that began in 2008. Due to Japan’s rich history of manufacturing, reproduction of the clothing and styles of this era were easily reproducible.
The godfather of Japanese fashion, Yohji Yamamoto, has been successful for decades designing clothes that are truly unique, and in my opinion, some of the coolest on the planet. Japan is also home to arguably the best fast fashion company in the world, Uniqlo, who have recently expanded into the North American market with an extremely positive reception. Uniqlo is prized by many fashion hobbyists because of their high quality products and designs compared to other entry level stores such as H&M, The Gap, and Zara.
4) A higher price automatically means something is of higher quality.
Many decades-old fashion houses sell clothes not on merit, but simply based on the legacy of their name. Gucci, Prada, Chanel, etc…have rich histories, but their current designers were not the ones who founded the label. Many of these labels suffered slow periods when the industry crashed or when a certain designer was at the helm, but the brand is only as powerful as the designer’s interpretation. This is why I rarely purchase things not from an eponymous label; the designer founded their label on certain aesthetics and a vision, so their passion is so much more evident than in the big houses, which choose designers based on past history, but pay them a handsome salary in the process. As a result, the drive and the passion is sometimes lost in the money, while smaller labels still trying to prove themselves are inherently more exciting. What’s nice about these smaller labels is that because the designer is trying to gain a foothold in the industry and form a following of fans, prices are often lower. It’s essentially the same process that occurs in the music industry: when a band first starts out, their shows are cheap, low-end productions, but the passion in their work is evident, and you can sense the energy of the band much more in a small venue than in a huge stadium. When a band gets to a huge stadium, their music has often changed, they’ve “sold out”, and they’ve become a lot more safe and predictable in order to secure more money from their fans and sponsors. The key is not to purchase your clothes from a world-famous rock star; you have to get them from that local band that’s just starting to take off.
5) Europe is ahead of the rest of world with regards to fashion.
Perhaps decades ago before the advent of airplanes, the Internet, and online shopping, but this simply isn’t true now. Many trends that exist in Europe will simply never be popular in North America because of cultural and functional differences. For example, pochettes (see picture) are fairly popular with European men, but they’ll probably never catch on in North America because our lifestyles are functionally different. Europeans do a lot more light travelling and aren’t infatuated with the automobile quite like we are, so owning a pochette makes sense for a European man, but a North American man would look out of place with one. Despite this, many travellers return from Europe infatuated with how progressive many European cultures are, and while emanating these cultures might seem like a good idea, we have to remember that North America is functionally different from Europe, and, unfortunately, a lot of things popular there will simply never see the light of day here.