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Posted by Gary Newbold on 16th Feb 2021

Our products are expensive if defined by the first definition of that word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Definition of expensive

1: involving high cost or sacrifice, i.e, an expensive hobby

A closer look at the second definition is what this article is about.

2: commanding a high price and especially one that is not based on intrinsic worth

The question of Intrinsic value is a deep and centuries-old philosophical one and beyond the scope of this blog, which is merely to examine what it means in the context of how we judge the value of a product.

Our products are easier to understand once you own one, not so easy from a picture on the website. The reason I say this is because when the product is in your hand, you can observe the quality both in construction and of the fabric itself. Although it is no coincidence that better fabrics are easier to photograph in a product as the handle and drape is so much better.

For the purposes of this blog I would argue that what we are selling here at English Utopia is the very opposite of the second definition and contrary to most fashion retailing.

A catchall description of the latter could be as follows. A product made in a low-cost labour environment, using raw materials where the emphasis of the final product is upon the visual reception, i.e. a store environment or website imagery. Also, where the origin of manufacture is discreet or even absent and the source of raw materials is unknown. One could also add that a description of the raw materials used, in terms of their construction is not passed on to the customer. Whether they might be interested or not, that information is denied by its absence and dismissed as irrelevant.

Our wax jackets for example cost £450. It won’t take you very long on google to find one for at least half the price of ours and even less. It is a good thing that commodities are available at all levels of pricing to suit all pockets and tastes and I’m not writing to criticise any brand for the way they have their business model set up. All I am doing here is defending the point of intrinsic value in a product. Something that I feel over time has been lost.

In my lifetime branding in fashion has changed so much. If one examines product advertising of some 50 years ago, there was often a greater emphasis upon intrinsic value. What a product did, what it was made from, where and how it was made. My impression now is that most product advertising is contextualised to lifestyle and is designed to appeal to our desires, even insecurities. Route 1 in a sense. If a guy wearing a tweed jacket inside a country house makes us feel like we can have some of that then why not. It doesn’t matter where the product was made or what it’s made from if it gets us from what we are without it, to what we will become with it. But that’s not intrinsic value, it’s extrinsic according to the second definition of ‘expensive’ at the top of this article. Meaning that with little or no intrinsic worth projected, an examination of the price becomes more important.

There is a very good reason why intrinsic value isn’t to the fore in product advertising, especially in fashion retailing. Probably more than most consumer categories, fashion panders to how we want to see ourselves as I mentioned above and this is a very visual thing. An outward projection. The imagery I described earlier is an easier sell than telling somebody about the type of cotton that has been used in their purchase. But there is also another very good reason. Most raw materials used in fashion are very cheap to produce and engineered to give an and instant look and appeal, with scant regard for longevity or performance. It’s also true to say that most products in fashion are mass produced in cheap labour cost centre, often being flown tens of thousands of miles to get to their retail destination.

All of this works on the premise that the consumer places greater emphasis upon why they are buying over what they are buying. Image over substance.

That’s the way consumerism has evolved and that’s the world we live in. But this model has predominated so much so, that when you try to make a product in an artisanal environment with an emphasis upon the intrinsic value of the product, i.e. what it is made from, where the raw materials from and how they are sourced, in general terms it has less appeal to most consumers. At the present time I might add.

And yet, the intrinsic value is very apparent when adopting this model and it can be demonstrated that the price of that product has an intrinsic worth, verified by the transparency of information given. Meaning that if you tell someone that their potential purchase is made in the UK from extra fine Merino wool, made in Scotland or Austria, you’re telling them that a better quality of raw material has been used that will both last longer and look better over time. I’ve worked with fabrics for over 25 years and believe me, the better ones really do last longer and look better. You can tell this right from the moment I cut into the fabric and the way it behaves on the cutting table.

The interesting thing to me in all this, is that at the end of the year we probably make roughly the same amount of profit as most businesses would like to. A bit of a generalisation but probably a 10% net profit would be where most businesses would like to end up. Roughly split into 30% raw materials, 30% labour, 30% overheads and a 10% net profit. I think that’s how most small artisan type businesses would break down. Bigger fashion brand fitting the model I have earlier described might be more like this. 10% raw materials, 10% labour, 70% overheads and 10% net profit.

If you want to make money in fashion, you probably wouldn’t take the ‘intrinsic worth’ route. Brand Guru’s, Marketing managers, ‘consultants’ (huh!) Would all say that this is outdated and not the way to grow a brand. I will finish by saying something that should ensure no investor ever comes knocking at my door. I’m not in this to make pots of money. I’m primarily invested in making beautiful things that I have a passion for and hope to continue to find enough customers to support me in this quest who also appreciate the intrinsic worth of things.