Ask Alexandra: The Value of “Made in China”

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Have a question you want to ask me? Fill out the form here.

ask alexandra, fashion advice, hermes, made in china, country of origin, luxury goods

Hermès’ Jypsière bag costs $7,500 and is made in France.

 

Hi Alexandra,

Thank you for the wonderful article in dissecting the luxury brands. I have a question that relates to the article as well. Does “Made in China” influences the value of fashion brands? There are some name brands out there with their goods manufactured in other countries other than US or Europe, does the value of their goods deteriorate because of that? Michael Kors’ bags are manufactured in China, but it does not seem to effect brand popularity, is it because of their marketing campaign? Do independent designer’s brands that are manufactured in Asia or South America seem more inferior? Thank you in advance for answering my question!

ask alexandra, fashion advice, made in china, country of origin, luxury goods, gucci

Gucci bags are supposedly made in Italy, but I’ve been told they are mostly made in China, with the last few stitches being applied in Italy, which allows them to use that label.

Hi Vivien,

“Made in China” has a very different significance today than it did ten years ago, as manufacturing there has improved a great deal, and it is much easier to get high quality products from that end of the world. On that note, there is also a big movement towards locally made products, for example, American-made fashion, and if those brands are targeting the type of consumer who wants “American-made,” then that will be a major benefit.

ask alexandra, fashion advice, made in china, country of origin, luxury goods, tory burch

Tory Burch’s shoes are made in China, which means she is making quite a big margin on these, which sell for $250.

There are a few factors affecting the impact of the “Made in” label. Here they are:

1. The brand. Consumers have different expectations from different brands. If you go into Walmart to buy a t-shirt, you expect it to be made in Asia, as that’s the only way for them to make t-shirts for $5. If you go into Gucci and buy a $1500 handbag, you expect it to be made in Italy. (Incidentally, brands like Gucci do get their bags partially made in China, but the final stitches are put on in Italy, which means they can put the “Made in Italy” label on them. That’s a bit deceiving, but, I digress…)

When luxury brands make things in China, it usually means that they know their customer is more interested in buying the brand and unconcerned about where it is made, so the country of origin doesn’t matter.

ask alexandra, fashion advice, made in china, country of origin, luxury goods, lululemon

Lululemon’s groove pants are made in Taiwan or Vietnam.

2. The consumer: Some consumers care about where their products are made, others don’t. As I mentioned above, there has been a movement towards buying local, and there is a new(ish) consumer who is very keen on buying products that are made locally. For my company, The Sleep Shirt, one of our biggest selling points is that it is made in Canada. On the other hand, some consumers want to buy products that are made in what I’ll call “prestige apparel manufacturing countries” like France and Italy. Those kind of consumers want a product made in one of thee countries because they think it will be better quality (and usually, it is.)

The last type of consumer is the one that doesn’t care. And to be honest, I think that is most of us, most of the time, at least for part of the clothing we buy. When I am shopping, I will certainly be drawn to products that are made locally, but for things some things (like t-shirts and socks) I rarely look at the label. On the other hand, I feel like the factory in Bangladesh certainly drew attention to the plight of the garment workers in Asis, but its effect on our cheap clothing shopping habits is yet to be seen

3. The product: The last issue is the product. Certain countries specialize in certain types of manufacturing, for example, China and Brazil make a lot of footwear and India does a lot of beading. If you want to get shoes made in Canada, you are out of luck, we simply don’t have many good factories who can make this product, because of the specialized skill and machines involved in making footwear. So companies like Lululemon can get away with making a great deal of their product in Asia, and still consider themselves a “premium” brand, because there are a lot of big and high quality activewear manufacturers in that part of the world.

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  • Hung

    Have you read “How Luxury Lost its Lustre” by Dana Thomas? She goes into detail about this topic. A lot of luxury brands (which are never mentioned because the factories must sign confidentiality papers) do indeed make their goods in China, but then apply the finishes in Italy and France. The Europeans usually remove the “Made in China” tag and then add the “Made in Italy” tag once they arrive in the country, or keep the label so well hidden that you’d need a magnifying glass to find it. It’s a great book!

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I haven’t, but I have heard of it. And yeah, it sucks about how the brands can mess around with country of origin like that. That’s why I only buy Hermes, which is made in France. Haha… I wish…. ;-)

  • yaas

    As a consumer, “made in …” really matters to me, and it is very sad that those companies deceive us (it shows they exactly know it’s important). I think when they make a product in a well regulated country, a larger portion of money goes to the real craftsman, instead of the factory managers (in a poor country) and top managers in the company, when they share the large margin obtained by misleading people.

    Another problem they cause, with removing and eliminating high quality craftsmanship from places where traditionally have the foundation and knowledge to improve that quality, they bring unemployment to their countries in the name of outsourcing. Also they escape health and human rights and regulations which would cost them in a rich country (that confidential agreement happens much easier in a less-developed country).

    I find the fact that Alexander Wang (his own brand) produces in China acceptable (because he is of Chinese descent), but I don’t see why I should pay an arm and a leg for a Balenciaga or … if they decide to make them in a less-developed country.

    In the end, I think the ever-grossing sale of some luxury brands will show how much we really care …

  • Jocelyn Fung

    A. Wang was born, raised, and educated in the States, and his parents are of Taiwanese descent. he’s more American than a lot of people, and probably has little to no connection to modern China other than appearing Asian and having an Asian surname.

    separately, on the topic of this post, I feel that there is a ton of fear today surrounding the monolith that is China. the idea that everything made in China is automatically terrible is an unfair stereotype. sometimes it’s even racist. China is a massive country with millions of people and many many sub groups and cultures and cuisines that can’t really be summed up in a word or grouped together as an entity. like Alex said, there’s more and more high quality products being manufactured there, and a huge number of people there are extremely wealthy, it isn’t a “poor country,” so to speak (but yes, there are lots of poor people there as well). to generalize this way is dangerous, there is always more to the story than the stereotype, no matter how true it appears in the moment.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I totally agree with you. Also, that’s why one of the reasons Chanel bought all those French artisanal studios, to preserve those skills and make sure they don’t disappear.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Good point Jocelyn. I also think we should refer to “Made in Asia” (except in Japan, where there is the perception of higher quality) because most people’s judgements are similar whether the label says China, Vietnam, etc… All those places have much cheaper labour than the West.