Friday, March 11, 2011

Label Me Aware, Part I: Demystifying Clothing Labels


Labels are everywhere. Take a look around at all of the products in your home. Everything has a label to tell you all about it. It is to the company's advantage to make its customers aware of exactly what they are buying and how to get the most out of it.
But what do these labels really tell us? People of all ages have certain brands they will only buy and this decision, hopefully, comes from their experience with a brand. Where some brands have earned their keep in the merchandise world, there are many that are fresh on the scene and we need to stay focused on shopping for goods maintaining the highest of quality standards. Today, I begin my two part series on labels focusing on clothing and food. For Part I, I will inform you about clothing labels and try to leave you with a few tidbits to consider the next time you head out to the shops.

Be Informed. Not Conformed.
Clothing labels' basic functions are to market the company to the consumer, offer product information and give them instructions on how to care for their clothes. Labels are like a stamp of authenticity on clothes and bags. Recognizable labels used to be synonymous with high quality goods and luxury clothing but in today's very fast paced clothing market, they seem to be more synonymous with a high price tag. If one has the way and means, a fashion line can be created and sold to the masses at whatever price they choose. As we have seen with so many, "designers" these days, the ability to put your products out there seems to get easier every day. With today's quick and easy access to the internet, custom labels can be purchased online and applied to clothing at home. How do consumers discern the good from the bad while shopping? Do not be fooled by this tactic of price equals quality. Purchase true quality pieces for your wardrobe based on a few things like necessity, fabric weight, visible wear/tear and price. The market is so competitive today that many companies seek out the cheapest manufacturing means and rely on marketing, and not concrete quality products, to sell their merchandise. Do not be a lemming when it comes to clothing. Stick to high quality classics and avoid purchasing new and trendy lines that tend to equate an inflated price point with ultimate style and quality.

Less Is Luxury
From chip board logos to satin ribbon, designers use many tactics to lure customers into buying their products. They put the details into their marketing and less into the quality and structure of their garments. I do love the elegant packaging from Ralph Lauren or L.L. Bean but both of these companies have the credibility to back it all up. In order to be successful, these companies must market themselves in order to stay competitive. Advertising is key to getting the word out there but it is worthless if there is not a good solid product. A products quality is truly tested by time.

Let's look at an American classic. Jeans. These are on of **my absolute favorite pieces of clothing and I own many a pair. Most Americans would agree with me as we all own at least five pair of these versatile wardrobe staples. During the California Gold Rush Jacob Davis
and Levi Strauss created"waist overalls," as jeans were once called, with their distinct copper rivets and durable cotton fabric. They are still the best selling jeans brand after over 100 years and, amongst other aspects of these fashion forerunners, two key elements to their original product remain: Unmatched denim quality and an understated label. One highlights the other creating the simpatico relationship that I look for when choosing designers to wear. Instead what the label really says is unfortunately and oftentimes only seen after we purchase something and bring it home to really inspect it. Beware of the impulse buy!! That is exactly what returns are for so save those receipts whenever you shop.

Stuff Clothes are Made Of
One of the most important pieces of information clothing labels give is what they are made of and how to properly take care of them. Designers have limitless options when choosing textiles to fabricate into wearable pieces. From cotton to nutria (rat fur), there are no bounds on what can be created into high fashion. True story: I once donned a dress down the runway made entirely of multi-colored drinking straws. Designers are artists and I try to respect every piece that hits the runway. They are able to use many different kinds of fabrics and textiles to bring their creations to life. Though their options are plentiful, different fabrics do cost different prices and this is mostly based on availability and production costs.

Cotton is still king as it is the most important natural fiber in the world. It is produced in over 50 countries, making it highly available and, therefore,very inexpensive. It is easy to manipulate into clothing and is very durable. Silk, on the other hand, comes from the cocoon of silk worms. It's production is mostly limited to China. The process to extract the silk is intricate, and somewhat controversial, and this attention to detail is reflected in the price of silk garments. It is also much more delicate to deal with in fabricating garments and this all factors into the cost of silk pieces. Two completely different fabrics with completely different costs.

Know that most clothing is manufactured in third world countries where labor laws, especially for children are somewhat unclear. Even many high end brands send their production lines overseas in order to keep costs to a minimum. This has been a practice for decades, leaving very few production lines in America. Don't fret, however. Manhattan's Garment District and The Fashion District in L.A. are still booming and generate billions of dollars in revenue every year, making them steadfast world leaders in the fashion industry.
Care for Your Investments
Labels will let you know what they are made of usually on an attached label that also has the care instructions. Using the above examples of cotton and silk, care instructions could not be more different. If you laundered these two in the same way you'd be in a world of hurt. Symbols have replaced long verbiage on how to launder your clothes and this can be very confusing. By clicking
the above link you will find out exactly what the symbols on the care tags of your clothing mean. Water temperature and levels do vary from machine to machine so please pay attention to all of the care instructions and warnings. I view my clothing and accessories as investments in myself. You earn money to purchase them and then put time into looking for great wardrobe additions. They are called "care instruction" because you should do just this. Take care of your investments. Properly washing and laundering clothes is key so heed all labels and warnings here.

Most importantly *dry clean when it says to!! I cannot stress this enough. Finding and establishing a relationship with a good dry cleaner is absolutely key to the longevity of your clothing. If the label reads to send it out, then locate the best cleaners/launderers near your house and drop your things off. Ask a friend or coworker for a reference. For trying out a new cleaners send just one piece at at a time in order to do a cleaning test run. Go back again if you are happy with their work. If you are lucky enough to have a good cleaner already, recommend them to friends and family. Referrals are the best paid compliments to business owners.

Keeping it Simple
Labels are your one link to the life of your clothing aside from you actually owning it. I treat all of the pieces in my wardrobe very seriously, even the ones that I specifically only wear around the house. My home is my sanctuary so my house clothes also need to be nice and last me for a long time. Label me a "home body." I search out not only luxury pieces but essential ones that are comfortable for me and also easy to take care of. It has got to be simple care for the majority of what I wear these days. At one point in my life, I had a slew of wool suits and pants with blended fabrics that I'd invested in and they had to be sent out every week. I paid attention to the care instructions then and I am reaping the benefits now as they are still a part of my wardrobe almost a decade later.

*I've never tried the dry cleaning bags that are available at many grocery and retail locations. We currently have a delivery cleaning service. I have heard both good and bad about these dry cleaning bag products but perhaps it's time I give it a try to dispell some rumors...

**My favorite pair of Levi's jeans were 501's with the perfect length inseam. I must admit that I took them from my sister the summer before she left for college. I think I ended up cutting them into shorts years later during a hot Texas summer and a short-lived Daisy Dukes phase. I love my sister and am sorry for stealing those beautiful jeans from her.