Ever wondered why Balmain sells dresses for $6390 then sells Printed T's for $390. Or why Hugo Boss a company who made its name in men's suiting sells thousands of HB Polos each day? Why bother? Why would a designer brand invest in a printed T-shirt when they have to sell 10 to get their money worth for an item they could sell one of? It's all to do with primal human instinct.
Since our times as cave men, there have been a few things that psychologist have discovered we have repeatedly been doing to survive and thrive. One of those is finding our "people". Ever heard the phrase you need to find your tribe. There is a reason people seek out people with common interests, not just so they can have great banter. This is our first priority in our hierarchy of needs after basic needs are met. Once you have a roof over your head and food in your belly, you begin to question where you belong in the grand scheme of things. Where is your place? Who are my people?
It's a deep seeded desire to fit in. Think back to when you were a teenager, did you start to like the music your friends did? Or dress the way you saw celebrities dressing? Hello low rider flare jeans with your undies hanging out, thanks Brittany… Unless you were the leader of the pack, the likelihood is you adapted to those around you and changed your style, your thoughts and behaviours until you found the people that you connected with. Your tribe.
You may very well still do it. Have a different voice when talking to people at work to slagging off your sister at home? Probably. We all alter our selves to fit into certain environments, and we all seek out friends, and acquaintances that have similar interests.
So what does this all have to do with designer T-shirts? Designer brands know their imagery is that of an exclusive club that only some can enter. You have to be of a certain stature in the world's eyes to be able to buy into their brand. This is an exclusive club and if the customer sees another person with an item from this designer brand that person gets an instant little tick in their head. But then why would designer brands bother to make cheap options? If this club is exclusive, don't they just want people in it who can afford it?
This is where brands are incredibly smart. As much as a brand would like to be exclusive and cater to a market that only they approve of, this would limit their profit. So they go after two markets.
Market number one. These people idolise the brand, they desperately want to be in the club yet quite often can't afford it. They are buying into the idea of what the brand says about you. I am well off, I have taste, and I appreciate nice things.
Most of the time people in this market save all of their pennies just to have one of the lower priced entry pieces, which they hold onto for dear life. This is the mark that they are now in the club. They made it! While that person may not bring much profit to the brand initially, the designer is banking on the fact that they have now entered the brand and are hooked. Most people that shop Louis Vuitton always shop Louis Vuitton. By creating a price point that people can afford they have you hooked.
Ever noticed how the cheap bags from LV are the most in your face? They are white with logos all over them in horrible bright colours so that even from 500 meters away you know if someone is carrying one. Yet the more expensive items, such as a Hermes bag are incredibly subtle. You have to have a designer eye to spot that forty thousand dollar bag. Yet Hermes bangles start at $800 and have an incredibly distinctive H, so you know straight away what it is.
The people that sit in this category can't afford to invest head to toe in the brand, so they want to scream loudly I have a piece of the pie!
Marketers want them to do this as well. As they know then their friends will want in. And slowly person-by-person the pot grows. As their paycheck grows so does their investment in the brand, and the brand wins. They always win.
There is a secondary market for these printed T's. These are the people I like to describe as more money than sense. These people are not only hard-core fans of designer brands. They also look down on brands that they don't believe meet their “standards”.
I can tell you from studying fashion design there ain't a hell of a lot of difference between a 100% Cotton T-shirt from AS colour to the one from Gucci. There may be small things. The place the cotton has come from, the tightness of the weave, the way the writing was printed on the T-shirt etc. But those small differences don't warrant the 300% price increase.
The people that buy a plain T from Hugo Boss are just buying it to say they have bought from that brand and they won't buy from anything cheaper. It's all about status.
Whether you are client number one or two or someone in the middle who maybe just thought that printed T was cool and would splash out this once, the principle remains the same. Buy this T-shirt and belong to our club. A club people will notice and think better of you for, a club that buys statue.
Remember this though. Your club is only relevant to the people that care. This club may appear to say I have money but only to the people that care to notice it. Mark Zuckerberg doesn't see you as wealthy due to your outfit. He wears the same grey T-shirt every day. He has other priorities, like making a crap load of money. Just as that guy who spent $3000 on the latest Lego set won't even know what the brand is your wearing.
I have seen people spend their life savings to buy one suit at Hugo Boss to be seen at work as playing with the big boys. People save for 6 months to buy one LV bag. Even date men they don't genuinely care about so they can be decked out in designer goods.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not everyone that has ridiculous wealth invests in these clubs. If they do you may not notice it. When I worked in the high-end fashion industry, I saw people come in with daggy clothes that had holes in them from years ago. Yet if you looked closely, they were wearing a fifty thousand dollar watch and I'd bet my life that in their parking lot was a very expensive car.
When working in retail, we had a man come in with no shoes, looking like a complete hobo. No one would say hi to him except one staff member who took the time to hear his story. Turns out he had lost his luggage on a plane. He walked out with over thirty items (including new shoes) flashing his black Amex as he went.
Buy the T-shirt, don't buy it. Do what makes you happy. If that T-shirt makes you feel apart of a club that you want to belong to, go for it! We are tribal creatures after all. However, if you are buying that T-shirt to play up to that status remember the only real winner is the designer.