Do other countries do this?
August 19, 2012 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Cheap clothing worldwide: OK I see ads for very low dollar cost clothing which leads to short lifespans for those clothes and a never ending repeat cycle. Is this something other countries outside the US do for their garments? Do say German middle class parents buy cheap items for school or do they buy better grade products and buy them less often? Is the Wal-Mart/Ross/K-Mart junk clothing limited to the US? Same with cheap shoes, are the quality shoes found in German or Swiss or French stores better and therefore longer lived?
posted by Freedomboy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The conventional wisdom is that Europeans buy higher quality and less quantity in clothing, and they repeat their wardrobes more often.

That said, H&M, Zara, Topshop, and a lot of the other popular "fast fashion" retailers started in Europe, and I've personally witnessed Europeans shopping there. The American versions of those shops (especially Forever 21) in New York always seem to be full of European tourists, too.

So I don't know who these mythical "Europeans" who rarely shop but buy only the best are hiding.
posted by Sara C. at 6:18 PM on August 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

H&M. Topshop. Matalan. Zara. If anything, "fast fashion" is more prevalent in Europe than the US. For school clothes, uniforms are somewhat more prevalent than in the US (though not at all common in Germany) and that's a different market from everyday clothes.

Anecdata from a little bit of time in France is that there's slightly more of a culture of buying less and paying more, but you'll still find people taking advantage of Monoprix's budget lines.
posted by holgate at 6:22 PM on August 19, 2012

There are plenty of cheap clothing stores in Europe too, but IMHO the US takes it one step further (or rather cheaper). When I used to live in the UK, and take vacations in the US, I would always stock up on US clothing because it was so much cheaper (plus the exchange rate was favorable). So the tourists don't mean anything meaningful, they are just taking advantage.

However I don't think there is a very different culture of buying long-lasting expensive clothes in Europe unless you can actually afford it. I certainly grew up wearing cheap, low-quality clothing, because its all my parents could afford.
posted by Joh at 6:28 PM on August 19, 2012

In England, Primark is literally a byword for cheap and shoddy clothing.

In the past, cheaper clothing wasn't all that common here, and poorest families instead wore secondhand.
posted by Jehan at 6:29 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I'm in Brazil I generally buy cute-but-disposable clothing for my kids. If anything it's less expensive and cheaper than in the states, but they love it.

I would expect that worldwide kids clothing is likely to generally get stained or outgrown before all but the most poorly constructed clothing pieces fall apart, so the alternative to 'disposable clothing' is probably quality second hand / hand-me-downs. It would be interesting to consider family size; with smaller families does it make less economic sense to buy quality children's clothing since you won't get as long of a lifespan out of it?
posted by true at 6:33 PM on August 19, 2012

Joh, my point about the tourists is that if they're snapping up piles of $8 t-shirts in Forever 21, how is it that they supposedly "buy less"? Even if they have closets full of nicer things back home, if they're carting home an extra suitcase of fast fashion bought in dollars, they're not buying less and paying more. They're buying more and paying less. Just like Americans do.
posted by Sara C. at 6:35 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a data point, this Planet Aid newsletter (apparently from 2011?) claims that 1.4 million tons of used clothing are generated in the U.S. annually while 1.5 - 2 million tons are generated in Europe.
posted by XMLicious at 6:37 PM on August 19, 2012

Clarification: "They" in my post refers to my kids. I have no idea how the Brazilians feel about it.
posted by true at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, while living and traveling in Europe, I've found there are low-end clothing stores that have what I'd call Target-quality clothes, but very little of the Wal-Mart ilk.

We took a business trip to the States once and everyone (myself included) brought an empty suitcase and a trip to the mall was the highlight of the trip for everyone. You've never seen a group of people so happy to be going to a bog-standard American mall. A few people brought nothing but the clothes on their back and a bunch of empty suitcases and bought a whole new wardrobe while Stateside.

An acquaintance of mine made her living flying into a city with one of those enormous outlet malls, packing her suitcases full of discount designer fashion, then flying back and selling them on the downlow in Yurrop because it was still cheaper to buy designer things at cost + her considerable markup than in the country she lived in.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:02 PM on August 19, 2012

There are heaps of mass chain European brands you won't find in the US (Promod, Pull & Bear, Oysho, C&A, and even Mango still isn't that common in the US), so on top of the Zaras, H&Ms, and other obvious European chains, they are conveniently placed and quite unavoidable. So whether one is shopping at a mass chain store or a higher end shop for clothing would be the same situation you would find in the US I think. The big difference would be when things go on sale.

In the US, basically if you wait it out long enough, EVERYTHING will eventually go on sale it seems within 2 months of showing up on a rack. Whereas in Europe they have set periods during the year where items can go on sale for a couple of weeks (maybe 2-4 times per year); otherwise, it's business as usual at regular cost.

Basically, in the US you can always show up at any old store and find a gigantic sales rack or Buy 8 Get 3 Free deal, whereas in Europe you have to wait for that certain time of the year where the entire store is marked down.

In the States, if I REALLY wanted a pricey shirt, I would just wait it out a few weeks because I always knew it'd get marked down, some kind of coupon would show up, or a flash holiday sale (at risk of it going out of stock, but still). Whereas in Europe, I have to wait MONTHS for that Time of The Year, try to be the first in the shop on the 1st day of the sales event, and PRAY it was still in stock.

Before moving abroad, I used to find it odd that my parent's foreign friends would arrive with empty suit cases and go crazy shopping at boring old international chain stores in our boring old American shopping mall. But since having lived abroad throughout Asia and Europe, I find myself doing the same exact thing when I'm taking a trip back home.
posted by peachtree at 12:30 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It used to be that there were better-quality shoes in Europe (I've lived in France for 13 years now), but currently I'd say they're about as difficult to find as in the US.

Clothes, on the other hand... H&M came to mind as soon as I saw your question; they're from Sweden. There are indeed WalMart-type situationst too, namely at Carrefour and other "hypermarkets". Monoprix (formerly Prisunic) is something of an exception, as a mid-range, in-city supermarket. Clothes I've bought from them have lasted pretty well, as in several years of regular use.

But honestly, if you want an anecdotal data point, it's gotten so bad here that I started sewing my own wardrobe a year ago. I haven't bought readymade clothes since. Shoes I now treat as investments, but I have to go to online specialty stores to find quality ones. I still buy my outdoors stuff from either REI, in the States, or from Lafuma, a French brand and manufacturer. On the other hand, Decathlon, a big sports/outdoors chain in France (and some other countries IIRC), is cheapo-de-cheap.
posted by fraula at 1:42 AM on August 20, 2012

Whereas in Europe they have set periods during the year where items can go on sale for a couple of weeks (maybe 2-4 times per year); otherwise, it's business as usual at regular cost.

I believe this is the case in France; it certainly isn't how it works here in the Netherlands, where things can go on sale any time for whatever reason.

I highly recommend To Die For by Lucy Siegle which goes into great detail about how the whole process works.

Anecdotally, ten years ago I used to buy things from H&M on a regular basis. Their t-shirts, for example, were good quality and would last for years. Since about five years ago, the quality has been so poor that it's just not worth shopping there any more. Many if not most things are designed to be worn a couple of times and then thrown away. Zara, the Zeeman and a couple of other chains also sell poor-quality 'fast fashion'-type clothes. There are also plenty of cheap, poor-quality shoes to be found here.
posted by rubbish bin night at 1:54 AM on August 20, 2012

In this case, I second everything fraula says about France, though I haven't gotten as far as sewing my own clothes. Shoes are the absolute worst to buy here in France, and there is just so much *crap* available both form chain stores and independents. The shoes, though, are the worst.
posted by whatzit at 3:21 AM on August 20, 2012

My experience in Germany is similar to peachtree's analysis of sales. Also, clothing is always a season off - so if you wanted to buy a bathing suit now you would have to wait until next spring or order on line.

There are chain stores (TKMaxx, C&A, etc) but the quality of the actual pieces is better. My best example is underwear - the cheapest I have ever seen ONE pair of toddler underwear is 6 euros (and as much as 15 euros) where as you can get THREE pairs for an equivalent amount of money (8 US dollars) in Kmart or Target in the states. However, after being worn once a week for 6 months, the one pair of European underwear there is no signs of wear, the elastic is still works well/the fit is comfortable and snug, the pattern is the same and the material actually softer from being washed. On the Target US underwear, the elastic/the fit is baggy, the material is thin and not as soft and the decals are wearing off.

Children here seem to have less clothing (instead of 15 t-shirts they may have 10, we have about 7) and there is less of resale market. There are also clothing recycling bins in every neighborhood (next to the green, white and brown glass recycling bins) and I have always been interested in where those donations go?
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 3:49 AM on August 20, 2012

My frustration living in Brazil (contrary to true's experience) is that when it comes to kids' clothes, these "disposable" clothes are much more expensive than in the U.S. and are generally very cheaply made. When I tell people here about how cheaply I can get kids' clothes in the U.S., they are amazed. But every kid wears a uniform to school, so your playclothes don't get worn out as quickly.
posted by wallaby at 4:31 AM on August 20, 2012

I don't do any clothes shopping at all when I'm in the Netherlands. The prices are on the high side, and the quality at anything other than luxury department stores or boutiques makes it just not worthwhile. When I go home, if I shop carefully, I can find very well-made clothing at reasonable prices. In the Netherlands, at least in the city where I live, that doesn't exist. Shoes? Don't get me started on shoes. You're better off going on vacation to Italy and buying your shoes there.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2012

Oh, yes, shoes are a different nightmare altogether, especially if you're outside the standard range. I'm a 13 in US sizes and still distinctly remember an entire store where my choices were a pair of hiking boots or a pair of brilliantly ugly yellow Nike running shoes. (I bought the Nikes, if you were curious).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:04 PM on August 20, 2012

France has their own version of Forever 21, Tati. Though I have heard of tourists from, say, Milan coming over here and buying tons in super-cheap retailer Primark because there is nothing similar in Italy. But as others have said, we Brits do it in the US, especially for American brands.

Whereas in Europe they have set periods during the year where items can go on sale for a couple of weeks (maybe 2-4 times per year)

I know this is the case in France, but it isn't in the UK. In Topshop, New Look, Primark etc. the shelf life of a garment can be weeks - it arrives and sells out or ends up on sale (big ones in summer and end of December, several at intervals throughout the year). Teenagers 'traditionally' shopped in Topshop, but a few years ago Vogue etc. started writing about them, and now they show at Fashion Week and clothing prices are comparable to what I think of as 'mid-range' high street stores. That's why Primark is so popular - they are literally pocket-money prices. It's also affecting the second-hand trade as charity shops cannot sell it for a competitive price, as it costs so little new and wears poorly.

Fabric in most stores has been getting cheaper and more meanly cut, I've noticed - five years ago, a particular shop that was selling silk dresses for £65 now sells polyester or viscose for the same price.

1adam12 - I don't know if it's 'fast fashion', but I bought a dress from Sissy-Boy that was silk jersey and very reasonably priced.
posted by mippy at 12:55 PM on August 20, 2012

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