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Tira and Clags Discuss $%&# Civilly II: Brands

Claghorn

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Alright, while @Tirailleur1 is taking a much deserved break at Cypress Cove Resort, I'm asking a few people to fill in, the first being @in stitches . Also, a warning: Stitchy isn't brief.

If you missed and/or forgot the first installment (as it was some months ago
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):
Tira and Clag Discuss #$&% Civilly I



Clags:
I dislike (the idea of) brands. While my use of the word is not entirely arbitrary, I’ll admit I type it with a sort of “I know it when I see it” connotation. Yes, Sam Hober is a brand. No, that’s not what I mean. Yes, Tom Ford is a brand. And yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

To avoid sounding like a hipster, I’ll try to sound like an economist. First, with name brands, you are always paying something extra for something you don’t directly consume. These companies have costs outside of the capital, the material, and the labor it takes to make your product. You pay for advertising; you pay for endorsements; you pay for runway shows. I don’t want to.

Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have minded paying for all that stuff. I wouldn’t really have had an option. There weren’t many alternatives, and knowledge of the brand somewhat compensated for the inherent information asymmetry most consumers face. Thanks to the internet, this is no longer the case. We have access to dozens of boutiques and more importantly, we have easy access to information. We can quickly find out if Drakes makes a quality tie, so we don’t need to think to ourselves, as we’re walking past an airport duty free, “oh, I’ve seen Zegna in magazines, so I’ll go ahead and get this.”

We no longer need brand to proxy for direct information on a product. Perhaps people don’t want to be bothered, but if they’re going to spend a few hundred dollars, we shouldn’t condone such complacency, especially should it be born of ignorance.

Now to sound like a hipster: while many of these brands do deliver a quality product, too often do people pay for the name rather than the quality.

Regardless, the benefit of the big brand is withering away. It’s outlived its purpose, and as such, more and more of its budget will go towards creating demand rather than improving product. And this will be at the expense of the little guy and at the expense of the consumer.
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Stitchy:
I love brands and I love the idea of brands. I do not love all brands, but I love the idea of all of them and I love that they exist. I mean this for the Tom Ford’s and Zegan’s, the Isaia’s and the the Borrelli’s, the Cucinelli’s and Formosa’s, and of course, the Sam Hober’s.

With every brand you are paying for something extra, beyond what you consume. For name brands, with some you may be paying for billboards and print ads, for others you are paying for packaging, for other it may be some form of R&D. For all of them it probably is a portion of prestige, or a few extra “we do it because we can” dollars. I mean, when the MSRP of a coat is $4,250, who came up with that last 50 bucks, it covering some specific cost? I don’t know, and I don’t really care to be honest. I know it’s part of the market, or game, and I willingly and happily play along.

And for the non-name brand, name brand, you are paying for extra just as well. You are paying more because they are smaller. Their production costs are higher because, their bulk purchases are smaller, their connections slimmer, their operation costs, at last as a ratio, are probably often higher. All those things drive up price. Is a non-name brand, name brand, cashmere tie really worth $150 or $200. Couldn’t a bigger operation produce it cheaper and just as well or better? Maybe, but then they would incorporate their extra costs and the price would be about the same.

In the end, anyone who gets involved in higher end menswear is going to either “overpay” at some point, or pay for some cost that exceeds the cost of the actual item being used. But in the end, that is really part of what the total value of the item is, whether it is a name brand or a non-name brand, name brand. Its just a matter of what amount of “extra” is there, and the why of it being there, and who you want to support, that each person is comfortable paying for, mentally and emotionally. What you are comfortable with, will usually ultimately dictate where you are ok to send some extra cost dollars in the end.

I do not need to read all that much, or investigate so deeply, into how well does X make a tie or suit. In my experience, the quality level of the high name brands and the high non-name brand, name brands, are quite similar. And so on down the line. I am not saying there aren’t value brands out there they may offer as much or more for less, but that is not always, or even usually, the case, in my experience.

Not to mention, very often the hype created over a non-name brand, name brand, is not that much different than the “walking past an airport duty free, “oh, I’ve seen Zegna in magazines, so I’ll go ahead and get this.”” mentality. Instead its an, “oh everyone is talking about how amazing this new thing is, so I’ll go ahead and get this.”

Interesting idea about a brand's value being a proxy for information. I can’t speak for others, but when I decide to buy something that has a brand name tag on it, its never with a mindset of, “well, I don’t know anything about this, but I know its fancy so I will spend lots of money on it.” Its more along the lines of, “I like this a lot, for any number of reason, so I want to buy it, and I know that I am more than likely paying a little (or a lot) extra, but I am totally ok with that.” Does the tag tickle my fancy too? Sure it does, but that is not why I am buying it. Its more of an added benefit that I am happy to pay for.

I can not argue against the fact that there is most certainly a rather large segment of the buying population out there that does specifically buy brand names items for the sake of the name of the brand. They don’t want to be bothered with any information outside of the advertising that leads them to these brands, and the bragging rights they gain among their compadres, and it is out of much ignorance. But that is not the brands fault. To what degree they may or may not target that customer, it should not in my opinion, affects a persons feelings about a brand who makes clothing, or anything else, that they enjoy.

It doesn't seem to me that the benefit of the big brand is withering away. Changing perhaps, adapting, growing, and responding to the new challenge of a consumer base that is more educated than they have ever been (as an aside, I do not think this is always a good thing, maybe we can get that later), hopefully, but certainly not withering.

All that being said, I do not think I have even really touched on what I love about brands. I would like you to expound a little bit on you last paragraph, and why you feel that demand will so necessarily be met, and not product quality improvement, or even quality staying where it is, not tanking. Why this is at the expense of the little guy and the consumer, and from there maybe I can begin to articulate my love for brands as a response to your dim view of their future.


Clags:
Alright, so the TL:DR version of all that: You like brands. People will always be paying more, whether it is for a big brand’s advertising or a small brand’s economies of scale. Small brands have hype, too. You don’t buy something because it’s from a certain brand (but you sort of do, a little bit).

Small brands do have hype. I think a great example of this is what you see with Conrad Wu with his Wu Tie Clan (seen below), where Conrad gently encouraged his customers to be vocal about their ties. But the hype is direct and is largely created by the consumers rather than the company. It is also more isolated, contained amongst enthusiasts who are less likely to get worked up over an inferior or exaggerated product due to ignorance or confirmation bias.
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As far as my idealistic prediction: I’m not suggesting that product will suddenly begin to tank. As technology progresses, we may even see an increase in quality. I’m merely speculating as to where big brands derive their value from. In the past, we didn’t really have a choice. Either we didn’t know about alternatives to Ferragamo or Zegna, or we didn’t have access to them. Thus, they were able to charge a premium for their wares. This is no longer the case. They can now try to squeeze out smaller guys (they won’t as there are too many), compete with the field by creating a better product (does this ever really happen?), or compete with the field through marketing and other business practices.

I suspect the latter.

Why? Well, there comes a point where it’s hard to noticeably improve. I think a lot of luxury goods have reached that point. Smaller brands have caught up, and thanks to the internet, they have access to the market. This means the only thing Hermès has going for it compared to Sam Hober is, well, the name “Hermès” and the market penetration afforded them by their past. So they’ll be milking that for all it’s worth. Customers will buy because they see value in the brand (deriving from its obsolete role as a proxy for information, later morphing into an implicit association with luxury). Hober loses a sale because a customer likes knowing he’s wearing an Hermès necktie. Customer pays more for a lesser product. Only Hermès wins.

Does this mean that big brands are doomed? Probably not. But I can dream.


Stitchy:
So essentially, you do not think brands will become obsolete. You just think/predict/fear that they will maximize on their marketing to at the very least keep up the market share that they have held up until this point. And that they will do their that with their association to luxury and not their quality of goods.

Its hard for me to argue against that. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t, but that is really a non-issue for me.

The way I look at it, and the reason I love all brands, is as follows:

I can only control what I choose to buy with my money. I can not control what brands choose to make, or how much money they choose to pump into marketing. Nor can I control what other people buy, or why they buy it.

For me, the more options there are out there, the better. There are a lot of things that big brands can do that little guys can not, and visa versa.

The bigger brands will always have more options to choose from than the smaller guys, and they will always be playing with designs and launching much more new stuff every season than the small guys. That is the nature of the business. While its cool to have something done bespoke, and to have an item made to your specifications, there will always be RTW stuff from major brands that appeal to me. When you have entire design teams working on new things, from fabric to pattern to fit, there are inevitably going to be things that I love and I would never have thought of on my own.

Maybe they make 25 new SCs, and between design, quality and fit, I like 3 of them, and if I am lucky, I get my hands on one at a price I can afford at some point. If the only way for that to happen is through the model they use, with all the marketing and advertising and super high MSRPs, and other less informed people just throwing money at SAs in NMs and SFAs across the globe (there will always be this market, and G-d bless ‘em), awesome. Everyone can do what they want with their money, and as long is everyone feels they are benefiting and are happy with what they get from these brands, then what’s not to love?

The thing I love about the smaller brands is, that as an SFer, my tastes are pretty specific. I am often looking to satisfy a very well defined number of requirements in the items I buy, and the smaller niche brands are usually able to satisfy that need much better than their larger counterparts. I can not walk into SFA and ask for a specific tie, but in 3.5 inch width, not 3.75. I can not always find the exact shade of mid or light gray trousers, or a Glen Plaid tie in wool and in a very specific colorway, from the big guys. Or when I do, its just cost prohibitive, and often the staple items are almost never available at a price I can swing. This is the area where the small guys crush.

Its funny that I find myself arguing for the larger brands when the majority of my items come from smaller brands, but that is just how the chips fell. I find great value in both, and I would not want to see either one fall off the map. I don’t think that would benefit anyone. As well, I would imagine that if my pockets were deeper, it might be closer to an even split as far as what brand are represented in my closet.

Clags:
I’m not suggesting brands are obsolete. I’m suggesting their primary function to us, the consumer, is obsolete. Any love is either vestigial loyalty or born of marketing. Yes, a wider set of options is usually better. But now we aren’t talking brand, we are talking resellers. And the internet offers a wider variety than any Saks Fifth Avenue or Nordstrom’s I’ve ever come across.

Of course, a brick and mortar presence has great value. But again, this is not something innate within a brand but rather circumstances it has created for itself.

I don’t blame the brand nor the business behind it for doing what is in its nature. And I don’t begrudge the consumer the right to spend his money as he sees fit. But I’m bothered by the glamour brands cast over people, a glamour no longer rooted in any rational or aesthetic preference.


Stitchy:
I would say, maybe more correctly, that depending on what the primary function of a brand was to an individual, it may be obsolete, but I would not make quite the blanket statement you have made. For many, myself included, brands are important as they ever were.
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Sure, some of my love towards a brand may stem from some romantic notion that grew from an ad I long forgot, but I see no problem with that as long as the brand produces things I continue to like. And if they don’t, or if the quality takes a dive (as it has with some brands, particularly after a buy-out), I move on from it until I see change.


More brands will always equal more options, completely separate from resellers. Resellers are only access. A level of access that has been wonderfully expanded with the internet and with the general expansion of interest in menswear.

The glamour doesn’t bother me. If anything I enjoy it or ignore it. I think that most sensible people can, or at least should be able to, recognize the glamour for what it is, simple indulgent fun. Nothing more nothing less.
 
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in stitches

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:slayer:

thanks for putting this together, clags!!

im off to bed but i look forward to seeing the replies here tomorrow.
 
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SpooPoker

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in stitches

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every night for at least 4 hours.
 

Claghorn

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FlyingMonkey

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I agree with Claghorn.

But I would go further. I don't think that all branded products are necessarily terrible as things, but I don't like brands as brands because I don't like advertising and marketing (and I've written academic work critical of contemporary marketing and its increasing obsession with neuroscience and the targeting of younger and younger demographics). I am opposed to the manipulation of desire by corporate capital (or states). I'd rather try to go by word-of-mouth and learn to judge the actual qualities of a thing (aesthetics) and how it is produced (ethics / politics / economics) than any 'image' that is generated and interposed between us and the thing for the purpsoses of obscuring its aesthetics and ethics and associating it with something else - like visions of a 'lifestyle' dreamt up by a committee of cynical hacks. There are two problems with this latter development: one is that brands no longer even need 'real' products, they have become simply a way of disciplining us to live in certain ways that are favorable to particular powerful interests. The other is that marketers know that many people are anti-marketing and have simply adapted their marketing to this, using personal recommendations, 'brand champions', viral campaigns, social networking, fake word-of-mouth (etc.) and of course, getting us younger and younger. At the extreme edges of neuromarketing, there are those who are trying to exploit recent neuroscientific research on the plasticity of the brain in young childen to attempt to mould neurological development to make us more amenable to marketing before we are even able to think for ourselves...

So, generally I'm with Bill Hicks on the subject...

0.jpg
 

in stitches

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@Spoo - HEY I SAID THAT!
 
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archibaldleach

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I generally agree with Claghorn that you are paying extra for something that you don't get to consume. I also agree with him that the internet makes it easier to create a more level playing field with respect to the information people are able to obtain (I am paraphrasing but I don't think I'm stating something materially different). I happen to enjoy doing my homework and learning about niche brands and small businesses that offer great value and quality, so I don't personally have a lot of use for the marketing BS that we can be inundated with.

All that said, I don't think that brands will ever become obsolete or even that their primary function to the consumer will become obsolete. Yes, the internet makes it easier to do research and information and reviews abound. A lot of men do not want to spend time learning about the finer details of suit construction or about every possible option that there is. Clothing hobbyists like us on SF care about this stuff but most men do not. There are always going to be information asymmetries and consumers with incomplete information. I think the internet and the ease of doing research probably makes the primary function of brands less necessary, but only by a limited margin. There's also a lot of nonsense on the internet (the best and worst thing about the internet is that anyone can write something). Most of the marketing and advertising for brands may be BS, but there are still going to be some kernels of truth in it and certain brands still will serve a useful function when consumers equate them with quality. Bespoke and MTM purchases are also great, but only are really relevant for a small part of the population. Even among those who can afford it, some people do not want to wait and do not want to think about the details involved. So there's always going to be a place for brands that are known to produce good products (even if you are paying a large amount for the brand and marketing vs. incremental increases in quality).

Time is truly precious and some people have (in their opinion) more important things to do with their time than to invest the effort necessary to learn enough to make the primary function of brands irrelevant. It's great to be an educated consumer but it takes a lot of time to become educated about everything. Considering the options one has when deciding how to spend one's time (e.g. work to earn additional money, spend time with family and friends, participate in various hobbies, etc.), I think it's reasonable that many will use brands in the manner that Claghorn dislikes.
 

unbelragazzo

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Think of the brands you rely on in areas that you don't care about as much or know as much about. Computers, audio, cars, whatever.

There's no way you can put in enough time to be a highly informed consumer of every product you buy. And for every branded, uninformed purchase you make, there's a forum full of aficionados ridiculing your n00b mistakes.
 

unbelragazzo

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Another way to think of it is that when you buy directly from a producer, or at least from a brand that does less marketing, you are adopting some of the cost of marketing yourself - you've spent time seeking them out. It's as if you've gone to see the doctor in his office rather than having him make a house call. Many on SF might see this as a form of leisure rather than a cost, but most of the market is not like that. So there's an equilibrium where enthusiasts are more informed and get better deals on a dollar per product basis. This should be cause for celebration on SF, not disdain.
 

Claghorn

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Alright. Well. Brands have outlived their usefulness among enthusiasts, both dedicated and dilettante. But yeah, I definitely don't care enough to thoroughly research the RAM I buy or the headphones I use. And I like the idea of interpreting our time researching as adopting some of the marketing cost. The only issue with that is that most of us enjoy that research, so I don't know to what extent it should be considered a cost to us.

I dunno...call me crazy...it just feels like some weird form of rent seeking.

@FlyingMonkey , any chance on an executive summary/full article?
 

luv2breformed

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The only issue with that is that most of us enjoy that research, so I don't know to what extent it should be considered a cost to us.

I dunno...call me crazy...it just feels like some weird form of rent seeking.

Neat discussion here. Just wanted to comment that if one grants that time is a resource (I believe most would), research is a cost. Whether or not one subjectively enjoys paying that cost is irrelevant.

Just as an example:

"Brand" Tie A: $130 + 5 min "research"
"Little Guy" Tie B: $80 + 60 min research

Let's assume said ties are of equal quality for argument's sake.

Just because we in the minority would often ecstatically choose option #2 (what? It's cheaper AND I get to research all about it!? WIN-WIN!) does not mean others would. In fact I'm sure plenty would rather pay the extra $50 to save themselves an hour.
 

JubeiSpiegel

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Great discussion, my thoughts:

I do agree that luxury brands have long moved on from the days of making artisan products of the highest quality, for a discerning client. Most of the marketing is done off of the prestige cachet of old, and the products are now produced using the most cost effective methods, under maximized manufacturing processes. All to yield maximum profit of course, and to feed that marketing engine. But i think in a world that is ruled by marketing perception, the customer does get something back (along with their purchase). They buy part of that perceived prestige, and a part of the perceived lifestyle associated with that luxury brand. The majority of the population will buy into that notion (and has bought into that notion). In a world where that is the established status quo, you are also buying that ideology.

From my random wanderings into SW&D, it has become quite apparent that there is a high cachet established for design & aesthetics, and they are more than willing to pay for it. Quality is only part of the equation for them, and i think it is something the majority of the population would agree with.

Like umbelragazzo mentioned, it is also a matter of interest and prioritizing your time. I have a friend that has always been into the underground music scene, and would always complain about mainstream music. For my part, i like music, but my level of enthusiasm did not justify the amount of time needed to delve into that world. I was happy with my mainstream music, and prioritized other interests in my life.

Basically, i can see Stitchy's side of things. I do sometimes buy into some of the hype of luxury brands, i do feel a small sense of giddiness when i wear my TF ties. But thanks to SF, i do know what TF (while overly expensive) makes good products. I respect the product, and i do buy into some of that perceived lifestyle, design, and aesthetics. SF has also opened my eyes to the majority of brands that are just not worth my time based on the quality of the product, especially as an enthusiast of sartorial things. That is were i chose to draw my line.

Lastly, there is always a slippery slope. Even within smaller brands, there is an established enthusiast hierarchy. There are tons of threads talking about the undeserved prestige of brands, such as JLP, EG, GG, based on their rudimentary similarities to similar products, worth 1/4th the price. We all buy into the hype one way or another, and there is always a bigger fish. In the end, perceived happiness is what most would hope to walk away with...
 
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in stitches

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holla!

 

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