You’re Right, Clothing Quality Has Declined: The Aftermath of the 2008 Crisis

Apr 25, 2022

This image was generated using AI using the text description "Rich Clothes Vs. Poor Clothes"

This blog image was generated using AI using the text description "Rich Clothes Vs. Poor Clothes"

The 2008 Recession

Clothing quality has declined in recent years, and there are several reasons why. One of the major factors contributing to this decline was the 2008 financial crisis, which fueled the growth of discount retailers and increased demand for low-quality items.

During the crisis, luxury brands (nearly all brands) suffered a decline in sales as consumers tightened their budgets. As a result, fast fashion companies became highly sought after, offering cheaper alternatives to luxury fashion. This increase in demand for discount stores led them to imitate luxury fashion items built with far less quality.

The Imitation

For example, a leather jacket at Gucci, priced at $4,000, can be found in a similar style at Zara for $120. This is literally 33 times less for a similar product. This is a significant difference, considering that 33 times more on a car could be the difference between a Honda Civic and a brand new Rolls Royce Phantom.

The 2008 crisis forced brands to find ways to increase profits, which they did through cutting costs and figuring out ways to make cheaper clothes, which has been top of mind for many years. Consumers were not willing to pay more for clothes, and retailers had to adapt to this reality.

As fast fashion companies worked to mimic luxury, it forced them to adapt to trends fast, and overproduce styles, which lead to more low-quality clothes reaching second-hand stores and a lot reaching landfills. This has led to the rise of disposable fashion, which is not only unsustainable but also harmful to the environment. Let’s face it, Zara offers over 50,000 SKUs (stock keeping units) while Gucci only carries 900. How can a brand generate so many variations of styles without being extremely cheap and wasteful? Not possible. Maybe AI can help us get there.

The Player at Fault

A brand that has succumbed to this low quality reality is Perry Ellis. Perry Ellis was a fashionable and forward-thinking designer in the 1960s and 70s. His brand was often known as “elegantly casual”, or “sophisticated yet comfortable”. Mr. Ellis died young, at 46 in 1986, but his brand still lives on today. However, if you go into a Perry Ellis store, you'll find cheap fabric that imitates quality ones, like silk and cashmere. But silk and cashmere are expensive, and today's consumers are used to much less/ wouldn’t know the difference. Just as most of us don’t know what type of fish we’re eating at restaurants. 

As we think about why clothing quality has declined, retailers and consumers are both to blame. We're all driven by money, whether that be to make as much of it as possible or to spend as little as we can to look and feel as we desire. However, we should also think about the long-term value of our clothes, and how they can bring joy and memories for years to come.

My grandfather purchased a button-down shirt from Perry Ellis in the early 1990s. It was a beautiful blue, silk shirt, a really well-made product. He gave me that shirt before he passed, because of how much joy he had and the great memories that came with it. This shirt has lasted for 30 years and is still in great condition. It's a testament to the value of quality clothing, and how it can last a lifetime.

Moving Forward

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to buy a shirt like that at Perry Ellis or Zara, and I’m not saying these luxury brands are the way to go either. However, as consumers, we can choose to value quality over quantity and invest in clothes that will bring us joy and memories for years to come. Less is more!

Yours Truly,

Lloyd A. Yates, MBA