The Devil Wears… Zara? The Changing Face of Luxury

Well she might as well be because Prada is slowly evolving into a ‘luxury’ brand that won’t be able to affix the desired “Made in Italy” label to its goods and instead, will feature that same ‘Made in China’ label so many of Zara’s products carry.  Although the brand has an established reputation for its unique design vision and superior quality (Marc Jacobs recently went on the record that Prada is the brand he most respects and wears himself), and even got top billing in 2006’s box office success, The Devil Wears Prada, leading to a massive increase in brand awareness and social relevancy as to its relationship with high-end fashion.  However, it recently came to light that Prada is upping its outsourcing of production to developing countries with less expensive labor.  Having already shifted a portion of its material sourcing to China and India years ago,  citing the parallel quality of fabrics and findings as those from Italy without the corresponding hefty costs, the brand shifted 20% of its production of products ranging from bags and shoes to clothes for men and women to China this past July and recently announced similar plans to further outsource production to India.

What impact with this shift have on Prada’s positioning as a ‘luxury brand’?  It depends on the definition of luxury.  If it is all about limited quantities and exclusivity, then origin shouldn’t make much of a difference to the bottom line. After all, the same 400 bags will hit the market and fashionistas, fashion editors and rich ladies who lunch will  be pulling trump cards to get one.  However, if luxury is defined by scarcity and the level of quality, then the discussion becomes much more interesting.

If beauty is in the high of the beholder, then so is quality, at least in principal.  Why? Because quality is not a set value, its a subjective one. given the element of perception.  A fabric’s hand (how a fabric feels when you touch it) denotes its quality, the softness of a leather indicates its worth,  how many stitches a garment has will affect how it fits, thereby directly influencing our opinion of its quality (the higher stitch count, the better fit you usually will get.  This is why clothes from economically priced stores like H&M and Old Navy rarely fit well) and it’s also the reason ‘Made in China’ has become synonymous with ‘cheap crap’. As the largest global exporter of low cost goods, the association between Chinese goods and “low quality” is a strong one.  Now, slap that label on this $1540.00 handbag and people aren’t going to pause before putting down the credit card?

Prada designer Miuccia Prada, doesn’t think they will.  When asked what effect the shift of production will have on the demand for her products, she said any change will be negligible because branding is about consistency and  “Chinese production is extremely high quality ” and a “Made in India” label translates to luxury in the mind of the consumer”, similar to that of  Italy.  Hmm, not sure I would stand behind those statements but for them to be proven true, the Prada customer has to care less about the origin label inside the bag than the brand label on the outside. After all, that is what everyone else sees; the aspirational triangle.  What value that triangle has is where the value really lies, whether its made and sewn on in Italy, China, or India.

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