Why clothes cost so much…or so little

August 10, 2008 maydarling

Re: pricing of clothing or the B & Lu Dilemma

There was a comment on SP that went “Do size 30 pants really require $30 worth of fabric more than my size 8s?”

I work in the fashion industry (I design childrenswear, but I’ve worked for Polo Ralph Lauren, doing women’s sweaters).

And when they charge more for larger sizes based on fabric usage, manufacturers can make the case that it makes sense. Especially if when they track sales they see that the “inbetweenie” to lower size plus sizes are selling better.

When a production team is in the process of putting together their BOMs (Bill of Materials) for styles, they have to cost everything down to the penny.

Everything consists of:
Trims (ribbons, sequins)
Color (some dyes cost more than others)

Prints (screen printing can be a really expensive process when you’re dealing with an intricate print requiring different screens to be cut from the copper dies)

The name of the game is to make  as much money as possible using the least amount of materials. If manufacturers see that styles which take more materials are selling the least, they have two options in the immediate future:

a) stop producing these sizes and sell off the rest at a loss during sales


b) increase markup for these sizes to account for the extra materials and reduce the amount of the sizes that they manufacture

What may look like a few pennies or tens of pennies for supersizes to the average consumer can translate into elevated costs of *thousands* for the manufacturer. Manufacturers have to think in bulk when they book materials from mills. And if they have garments *or* fabric left over after bulk production of garments, that is a loss. No business, especially a small business, can afford to regularly take such a loss.

So, the materials question is answered.

Now, the quality question.

The cheaper you can secure labor, the less your finished garment will cost. This will might translate into clothing that is not of the best quality. You might get anywhere between six months to a year’s worth of wear, if you’re lucky, with these garments. But for someone who is on a fixed budget, this isn’t the most economical option, what with having to buy clothing every half year to a year. This also ties in with the materials part because cheap materials cost less to produce and book and unfortunately, this means poly/rayon/whatever blends.

Natural fibers simply cost more. Period. From having to pay the farmers to grow the plant/raise the animals (which trickles down into laborers who work on farms/ranches, plant/animal husbandry which means pesticides/fertilizers/food, the cost of maintaining the land itself, the machinery used to harvest the fibers), to processing the raw goods (cleaning the plant/animal fibers, converting the fibers into yarns/threads, dyeing the threads, the labor which goes into the processing, maintaining the buildings that house the machinery, which makes the yarns/threads, etc), then converting the yarns/threads (of any material, manmade or natural) into fabric itself.

All this also requires transportation between the various facilities.

Which also costs money:



movers to load the goods onto the trucks and to unload them at their final destination

Let’s not forget about the cost of electricity. Utilities are going up and up and up. These are all costs which are passed down to the consumer.

The once you are ready to construct the garment itself there’s even *more* cost involved.

You have your:

technical designers (of which I am one), who take the original designer’s sketch and pick it apart to its basic elements and assign measurements to make the pattern and assure accurate fit and construction

designers, who create original sketches and select every design element from fabric to trim to closures.

production and product developers, who work with the mills to assure that the garments stay on track for delivery to the store (either online or brick & mortar), take care of costing and plan every element to make sure that the company stays within margin.

Sales people, who travel around presenting the clothing to stores so that the manufacturer can make money to pay themselves and their employees and the factories (who in turn pay the farmers who in turn pay the laborers)

There is a vast network of people behind that shirt that a person is contemplating buying, and they are all looking to get paid. I know I look forward to getting my paycheck every two weeks.

And it’s not enough to simply “spread the costs across all the garments and mark them up another 50 cents”.

What people don’t understand is that there is no smooth grade between all sizes. Period.

There is a grade that runs between sizes 0-6(8), a grade that runs between 10(12) – 14(16), a grade that runs between 18(20) – 24(26) and one that runs between 28(30) – 34(36).

That means that each numerical size in each grade run is subjected to the same costs/problems. Each size run between grades has its own patterns and markers (markers are runoffs of the actual pattern pieces used to construct a garment), it’s own cutters (people who do the actual cutting of the garments), it’s own tables to lay out the fabric to be cut and sometimes their own sewers – which translates into more labor costs.  And if it takes more time to develop a garment (and by extension, a collection) because of the unique challenges faced in plus-size (I hate that phrase) design, that compresses lead time, which cuts down on the amount of advertising time to get the word out there about the clothing, which in turn cuts down on the amount of people who know about it, which diminishes the amount of customers you have to purchase said garments.

Fat people run on a spectrum just like thin ones do. And the sizes in the middle* (18-20-22) tend to sell out the fastest while the smaller (12-14-16) and larger (24+) tend to hang around in warehouses. So, retailers either a) mark them up to make up for the loss and carry fewer of those sizes or b) drop them.  It sucks. But this is a business. Granted, there is a market for them, definitely. But before getting all het up about it, take a minute to consider why this is so.  At least the smaller operations are *trying* to fill the void.

*I am one of those in the middle sizes and let me tell you, it’s HARD to find my size because most everyone else out there is in that range, too.

Entry Filed under: clothing fuckery

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