Monthly Archives: April 2015

Understanding How Fashion Products Are Priced

We all have different motivators to buy a product: price, brand, availability, materials, style, and the list could go on. Regardless of what motivates you to buy, it’s important to know the factors that determine how fashion products are priced and this post is just the tip of the iceberg.

Variables in determining the product pricing:

  1. Where is the product made and who by? Is the product made in the US? Since most manufacturing moved overseas, there aren’t many facilities or skilled people which increases cost, especially as demands for local manufacturing rises. That coupled with the fact that labor/environmental laws in the US are better regulated and higher minimum wages makes US manufacturing costly.
  2. Where are the materials made? Same concept as where the product is being made.
  3. What materials is it made of? A more obvious contributor to higher cost: high quality materials made with care cost more.
  4. In what quantities are they being made and distributed? The more made and distributed, the cheaper the item is and vise versa.

One exception to the rule is when a product is over produced, not made to expectation or made before the buyer removed it from the order and then sold off for much cheaper. Outlet malls are an example of where the product might go, although that’s not the majority of items at an outlet mall. There are a other exceptions, some of which I list below the pricing structure.

So how are products priced? Here’s a basic formula for how they’re calculated: 

calculating retail and wholesale prices for fashion

Another variable which isn’t in the ‘basic’ pricing structure above is an additional markup for a showroom or sales rep which usually takes anywhere from 20-30% of the wholesale price. Also, if you’re selling to a larger retailer/department store, they will most likely want a discount on your wholesale prices because they are ordering a large sum. Every brand had a slightly different markup that works for them.

Another exception, which seems to be a trend now with online sales, is selling direct to consumer. This allows for you to significantly reduce the price as you don’t have to accommodate the retail markup. The hardest part about this is that you have to sell your product online in a competitive marketplace. This also means that you could never sell anything wholesale to retailers. When you work with a retailer, they have their own market which reaches new clients that you likely won’t have access to online. Direct to consumer sales are not easy, but for niche products it may be the way to go.

At the end of the day, the product you’re buying is from a business which hopes to make a profit in order to continue making products for you. When you buy something, you’re choosing to support that business so it is important to be informed.

This thought can be exhausting, I know. No one has time to research and make sure that everything they buy is ‘morally made,’ let alone, have the money to spend, likely on a higher ticket item. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just trust that the company is doing what’s best? This is one reason why buying from a specific company which has the same morals as you is great. They will do the filtering for you, rather than you having to investigate every product you buy. Just like paying an expert in another field, you’re paying a store to know what products you should buy.

So the next time you have ‘sticker shock,’ ask yourself, how was it made, and where was it made? Same thing with a product on the lower end. There is always a reason for why fashion products are priced the way they are.

Related/Recommended readings:

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

More on fashion business: The Fashion Designer Survival Guide, Start and Run Your Own Fashion Business


Winter Bike Fashion: A Recap

This year marked the first time I biked through a winter in Madison. It was great for my calves, but showing up to any event looking presentable was definitely more challenging!

I’m not the only one turning to the closet and struggling to find clothes that work for work, play and inclement weather. According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, Madison is second among large cities for people who bike to work. We have great bike paths in the city and beyond, but there’s no public agency dedicated to helping us traverse our closets.

Posts on bike friendly fashion abound, but few address winter biking. For the most part, I was on my own. The secret, I learned, is one easy word:

LAYERS. They solve everything.

For those contemplating (or already decided on!) winter biking next season, let’s break it down:

Base layer: Long johns. This might be the most quintessentially midwestern recommendation on a blog that’s supposed to be about moving beyond midwestern stereotypes, but a good set of long johns keeps everything happy. I wore Cuddldud bottoms every day when I biked this winter, and if it was below 10 degrees, I added a Cuddlduds top layer, too. The material is thin, remains unnoticeable under my clothes, and is designed well enough to stay relatively cool during the day while keeping me warm during the commute.

Cuddledud Bottoms

Second layer: Regular clothes. This layer is pretty easy if you’re already comfortable dressing for biking. For me, that means starting with a good pair of straight legged or skinny jeans. My favorites are a pair of True Religion jeans that have loosened up enough to move well but are sturdy enough to take the rub of my bike seat.

Any sturdy pants also work well, and for formal meetings, I’ve worn dresses with pants underneath, quickly stripping the pants and tucking them into my bag when I get there.

True Religion Jeans

On top, my favorite thing to wear is a thin wool sweater or lightweight blazer (depending on the event) for warmth without bulk.

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I also typically wear SmartWool socks meant for cross country skiing because they’re thin enough to fit into my regular boots but warm enough for winter activity. I’ve rocked cuffed rain boots for most of this winter (and through spring) because they keep my feet dry during the slushy days and protect my jeans from salt and grit. At the same time, I do wish I had a better pair of weatherproof tall boots like these sold at Shoo on State Street:




Third layer: Outer gear. This is where my winter bike fashion took a major hit. I tend to wear my Patagonia puff jacket everywhere I bike in the winter because it’s flexible enough to move in while still being warm. It definitely stands out next to the black wool coats everyone else is wearing, but I hang it up as soon as I arrive. If anyone has recommendations for attractive jackets that work for winter biking, though, let me know!! I’m eyeing sales racks for next season.

In addition to my jacket, I also wear a thin ski cap under my helmet and mittens.

Fourth layer: Backpack or messenger bag. I’m a huge fan of biking with a bag for carrying my things (of course) as well as for stashing my mittens, hat, etc. when I get to a meeting or an event. A waterproof messenger bag is a classic choice, but a good looking backpack is a comfortable, spacious option.

I’m still working with the backpack I used in college, but I’d love either of the following options, both made in Wisconsin!

This black backpack from the Maggie Modena line is classy:

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A Beatnik Rolltop bag from Vessel Workshop in Milwaukee for a more casual vibe:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.20.20 PM

My winter biking wardrobe is still a work in progress, but I’m looking forward to adding more pieces over the years.

I know what I want for work and ordinary days, but I’m looking for more ideas for nights out when I want something more fun than nice jeans and a sweater while staying warm. What have you found that works for you? Are their local designers making any bike-friendly winter wear that I should add to the list?


Adventures in Fair Trade Fashion

View from the top! Broadway and Herald Square, June 2012

A view from the top! From my last job, building located on Broadway and overlooking Herald Square, June 2012

After 12 years of apparel industry experience in NY and Philadelphia working for a number of brands from Levis & Dockers to Donna Karan,  fashion has been quite the eye opening experience for me.  Gone is naive idealism of a fashion student erased by the real-life, cut-throat world of the industry.  One of the things that began to bother me about the industry was the rampant inequity of the system.  Although the fair trade movement has been going on since the 1960’s, as far as ethical fashion it has been developing slowly through the past 20 years. I really became more interested in fair trade fashion around 2007 when I was working for Levis Dockers.  I had read about how some of their overseas manufacturers were scrutinized for their labor practices. That’s when I started obsessively researching fair trade fashion brands and what they do, and how they were different.

Lucky Breaks

There were 2 very fortunate incidents that occurred around this time, that helped to solidify this new path in conscious fashion, working at Donna Karan’s private line for the Urban Zen foundation and also volunteering with Sewing Hope, a project of the non-profit Fount of Mercy.

Photo courtesy of Sewing Hope

Photo courtesy of Sewing Hope

The Sewing Hope project was the Sewing and Tailoring training programs of Fount of Mercy that worked with local East African organizations, building their capacity to provide educational and vocational opportunities for their communities’ vulnerable.  One of the the keys to helping countries industrialize begins with the women and the grass roots cottage industry of the garment trade. Teaching women how to sew, so they are able to start their own businesses and earn money to support their children and create clothing for every member of their family.

Left to right: Designer Celestino, Model Jaslene G, Designer Rachel Gregory, Model Kim Tank, Designer Andrey Oshlykov.  Photos by Theodore Samuel

Left to right; Designer: Celestino, Model Jaslene Gonzalez, Designer: Rachel Gregory, Model Kim Tank, Designer: Emmet McCarthy, Model: Irina Roma. Photos by Theodore Samuel

I volunteered to be there event coordinator for their annual fashion show fundraisers, with all the proceeds of the event going directly back to the Sewing and Tailoring program in Uganda.  Everyone involved with the event were all volunteers; designers, models, hair and make-up, DJ’s , sound, lighting and photographers.  In the three years of helping to produce their annual shows, we were able to raise over $22,000.


Donna’s mission at Urban Zen was to create a “Soulful Economy, which means conscious consumerism, social responsibility and giving back. The Urban Zen Foundation creates, connects and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well-being, preserving cultures and empowering children in mind, body and spirit. ”  I was at a place where all the hard work and long hours meant something more then just a paycheck,  and I worked alongside a fantastically driven team and an icon.

Be the Change

Two years ago I moved to Madison, WI with my husband and was thrilled to pick up a part-time position at a fantastic fair trade fashion boutique on Willy St. When I started working with Nikki at Change Boutique, I was super excited to finally have found a perfect alignment for my fashion background and my philanthropic desires.  In the past year we have been working on developing our own pieces and I have had my first taste of researching and developing products in a fair trade capacity.

I have learned a lot about ethical sourcing and manufacturing through this process and am continuing to learn more about it.  Since I’ve started working directly with fair trade, friends of mine in the NYC industry were quick to ask specifics about what fair trade really means.  It turns out that although there is very clear idealism behind the concept, clearly defining it is not as simple.  In posts in the following months,  I will share what I have learned and my ongoing exploits in producing fair trade & sustainable fashion locally and worldwide.