Redefining "Value"

This post is authored by Kelly Allen, creator of The Insatiable Margin. Kelly's point-of-view and experience in the fashion industry delve deeper behind the scenes to shed light on certain practices. The Insatiable Margin provides a place for discussion and collaboration that can ultimately turn into sustainable solutions.

I used to think that when it came to clothing, a name was everything. When I spotted a tag with the ‘right’ brand name, I was instantly drawn to the product. With any other name I may not have given it a second look, but if the brand was on my short list (an ever-changing assortment) it automatically gained value in my mind.

I never had any basis for this designation: a product’s value simply came from its extensive propagation, its status as the brand of the moment. Belonging to that moment seemed important, and I knew all it would take was a purchase. Inevitably, however, a brand’s moment will pass. Its vast penetration exhausts the market: the exclusive group we bought into is not so exclusive anymore. Slowly, we realize our purchases no longer set us apart – they no longer provide us with the value for which we originally sought them out. When the allure dissipates, we move on. We seek out the next object of value and we race to become adopters once more.

This cycle is continuous and repetitive: the chase followed by a moment of reprieve, and soon we’re off running again. In this system, does individual style even exist? Is this really how we’re meant to experience fashion?

Not if we redefine value.

What if an item’s value came not from the effectiveness of a brand’s marketing strategy, but from the parts that make up the item itself? What if materials, craftsmanship, and quality – the item’s story – played a role in this determination?

As consumers, these elements can be difficult to uncover – we need help from the brands themselves. Some will offer this information freely, others are happy to answer the questions of inquiring minds. Every item has a story – the key is to find brands that are willing to share it.

Like any other type of company, clothing brands have mission statements. Take a look at these: they provide a window into the heart of a brand and the purpose behind its creative efforts. Ask what their products are made of, by whom, and for what end. Each of these factors adds value in a way that is both meaningful and powerful: meaningful because each adds real, tangible benefits that don’t fluctuate with seasonal trends, and powerful because this means your purchase can be an extension of not only your individual style, but your personal values as well.

Under this framework, value has longevity. As a product of quality, craftsmanship, and purpose, value withstands the whims of the fashion cycle and survives independently of waning trends. This perspective gives us the space to treasure what we buy, to enjoy the full span of its utility, and to justify our investment. When value is lasting, we are free to expect more from our purchases: buying less, but buying better.

When we define value as the story behind a product, we can stop chasing after it. Unlike the next ‘right’ brand, the story is out there – attainable and unchanging. Consumption is not a prerequisite, so you can decide what stories resonate with you before buying in. Distinguishing this type of value from the other is the difference between curated style and disposable sameness.

If value is trending, it’s fickle; seek the story.