You Get What You Don’t Pay For: what you should know before you shop (again) at an outlet shop or retail discount store

Remember that little red Calvin Klein dress?wpid-img_20141002_125951_263.jpg\r\n\r\nYesterday, as I was reading  Jay & Katie’s “The Myth of the “Maxxinista”: The dirty little secret behind outlets and discount stores,”  I got to wondering if one of my local mall-based discounters, that always claims to sell “department store brands,” was selling the brand but not the same kind or quality garment that one might get in a department store.  So, I did a little investigating….\r\n\r\nFirst, though, a little recap of what Jay & Katie investigated and revealed in their post (and something I figured out a couple of years ago by observation:)  we are always overjoyed when we’ve snagged that designer labeled dress for a steep discount.  Or when we shop those outlet stores and find fabulous bargains on clothing that we’ve *never* seen in the mall or city store.  The reason we never see the same clothes in the mall as we do at the outlet is that outlet stores must compete with fast-fashion stores (Forever 21, H&M) and so sell lower quality clothing, made especially for the outlets.  Outlets and discounters (like TJX and probably Burlington) license the labels like Calvin Klein or Rachel Roy–but the sourcing of materials and manufacturing is more often than not done by the licensee and not the name-brand.\r\n\r\nWhy is this such a big deal?  Well, the fashion industry is a very “dirty” business.  By “dirty” I mean polluting to the environment.  It’s also “dirty” in its labor practices, its working conditions, its lack of accountability when it comes to where and how raw materials like cotton are grown and processed.  What we don’t know about our clothing hurts not just the people over in Bangladesh and China where materials are sourced and clothes are manufactured, but hurts us as well.  It hurts our economy because we’ve lost clothing manufacturing jobs, it hurts our environment because pollution is a global phenomenon, and it sometimes hurts us through toxic dyes and other materials left in the processing of clothing.\r\n\r\nThis is also a very misleading practice.  When consumers see a label, consumers expect to get the quality and manufacturing standards that the label may be known for.  We don’t expect a garment to be made of lesser quality materials in perhaps really awful working conditions ( read more in the post by Jay & Katie about FTC petitioning and more…)\r\n\r\n

the real thing at Macy's
the real thing at Macy’s
\r\n\r\nSo,  what I found as a Calvin Klein label dress at Burlington Coat Factory might not be Calvin Klein proper, but more like “Calvin Klein” licensed.  I went over to Macy’s to see if there was a distinct difference between Calvin Klein dresses sold there and the red one sold at Burlington Coat Factory.  There are several differences.  The material of the Macy’s Calvin Klein dress was softer.  The ruching was not just across a portion of the midsection, but  across the entire midsection.  The facing was beige, not black, and was beautifully finished, so there would be no need to reach in and smooth it down after putting it on.  There was also a large thick, square price card attached to the left underarm of the dress.  Everything about the Macy’s dress spoke of a dress manufactured by the Calvin Klein Company for Macy’s.\r\n\r\nI looked at other Calvin Klein items in Macy’s, and all had the large cardboard tag, even if the styles and colors were slightly different from what the Calvin Klein stores and online shops are offering.  The difference is sometimes an aspect suggested by the department store’s buyers (“we love that style, but would like to offer it to our customers in cobalt blue as well as black and gray.”)\r\n\r\nAnother interesting little thing about Calvin Klein items I viewed on the site:  the prices are fairly reasonable (about $134 for an average dress,) and there is a good size range.  If I were truly status conscious, or if I needed quality clothing for my job, I would purchase Calvin Klein clothing in my size, from the site, or from Macy’s or another high-end retailer (if the price was comparable to the website) and have it altered.  Yes, this takes time and planning and extra cost for tailoring.  But do I really want to pay simply for a license, and support shoddy materials and bad working conditions in a country that doesn’t care?\r\n\r\nNot really.  Not that I know something about those discounters and outlets.  How about you?

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