It’s natural for us to protect our hard earned cash by routinely searching for cheaper options — of anything. Two product categories in which the competition has been overwhelming us with affordable (cheap) options enticing us to fork over our dough are food and clothes.
I was asked recently why apparel purchased in outlet shops tends to fall apart after a year or so.
Clothing sold in outlet stores has become big business. Once a place to unload liability inventory, most higher-end retailers have turned outlets into profitable retail chains, using lower cost (quality) products and stitching them in low-cost countries. For all of us involved, the makers and consumers, it’s truly a race to the bottom, to the cheapest.
As in clothes, consumers have been demanding cheap food. Fortunately (or unfortunately), industry is happy to oblige, thanks to capitalism and supply-side economics.
We’ve aggressively improved processes to make corn, meat, and tee shirts dirt cheap. That means we look at each component in the production life-cycle and continually evaluate where/how more profit can be squeezed from less. In almost all cases, we bastardize the original product. You can safely bet that meat sold in a fast-food chain, whether beef, pork, chicken, or fish, is from animals who have suffered a miserable, production-controlled life. Clothing made for outlet stores were designed to be sold, not to last a lifetime. It’s a penny-pinching business. Good care and cheap don’t compliment each other in the race to the bottom.
An old girlfriend of mine, in the fashion business, had a surprisingly stark closet, yet she always looked up-to-date and sophisticatedly fashionable. Her philosophy was to purchase well-made, high-end, classic pieces in a tight color range, mostly black and white. She was able to combine all her pieces to make her wardrobe look much more expansive that it was. She spent less on clothes at the end of the year than the average discount shopper.
Cheap clothes and cheap food are not bad, as long as our expectations are in line with the purchase price. Our yen to buy lots of cheap clothes has provided jobs and contributed to raising the living standard for millions of Asians. Our desire for cheap food, on the other hand, may satisfy our immediate taste buds and budget, but we’ll pay for that later, and chalk up the expense to another category called health care.