Why emerging fashion designers cannot compete on price

Last week I read a terrific blog post from Seth Godin called, “The Tyranny of Low Price”. I absolutely love Seth’s blog and I wish I was about a quarter as smart and insightful as he is. Seth explains that if you go after the lowest price – and that’s all you’ve got – there will certainly be someone who eventually jumps in below your price and beats you.

He reminds us that “service, workforce, impact, design”, etc. are other factors in a purchase. An I love this part! He states, “Cheapest price is the refuge for the marketer with no ideas left or no guts to implement the ideas she has.”

I find this fascinating.

And here’s the thing… if you’re a clothing or accessories designer producing in the U.S., you CANNOT compete only on price. You will always lose because places like China, Mexico, Honduras, India, the list goes on… will crush any US-based manufacturing price. And I mean CRUSH it.

Which brings us to positioning in the marketplace, perceived value, and quality – some of the other major factors in consumers’ decision-making process.  This weekend was Memorial Day and I saw something amazing at a Sunday night BBQ.

Check out this scenario. Here’s what we were eating at the BBQ, a lovely “Vertical Chicken Roaster” creation from Williams Sonoma.

Vertical Chicken Roaster by Williams Somoma


Now call me a little trailer, but I remember this chicken being referred to as “Beer in the Butt Chicken” or even “Beer Can Chicken” in more refined circles. And you definitely do NOT need a Williams Sonoma pan to make this chicken taste good.

Beer Can Chicken

As you can see form the picture above, you balance the Butt of the chicken on a can of beer and place it on the grill – voila!. After a little digging, I found another option for the same chicken-type thingy on Williams Sonoma called the Staub Vertical Chicken Roaster. And get this – the price is $175, but for you! pretty lady, $130 and it’s yours. Well, it’s made in France, after all.

Staub Vertical Chicken Roaster

Staub Vertical Chicken Roaster, Graphite
Staub Vertical Chicken Roaster (Williams Sonoma, $175, our price $130

So what do we make of all this? Certainly not that consumers are dumb, because they most certainly are not. (Although right this minute I’m having a few doubts).

It all goes back to perceived value, marketing, etc. Many consumers don’t care that the chicken will taste the same, after all. I guess the experience of using your “Staub Vertical Chicken Roaster” is more fun and rewarding than propping your tippy beer can on the grill. Williams Sonoma knows this and and is positioning their product accordingly.

What can you do to be the Roaster and not the Beer Can? You can’t compete with the beer can so don’t even try.

Here’s some homework:

Think about your product and what you have that’s GREAT about it – and different than your competitors. Write down 3 reasons why someone should buy from YOU and not from THEM. Then play these 3 points up in your marketing, not bashing you competition, just explaining the benefits of what you make and how the buyer will be happy with it – how it benefits their lives in some way.

Also, I ran this blog post by Boaz David, my partner in the Indie Design Association, and I think he sums things up pretty well.  “Indie Designers need to find the VALUE in our product and focus on that! Bigger companies will always be able to get better prices so designers can’t compete with them therefore they offer something else….just like there is a burger at McDonald’s and there is the organic beef burger in a local restaurant. Bottom line, Indie Designers cannot sell price! But we can sell value!

So what do you think? Does this post even make any sense to you? Let me know in the comments below. And P.S., have you tried Beer Can Chicken? Do you like it???





2 Responses

  1. Jane, I just found your website today. I am doing a homework assignment that prepares entrepreneurs for the real world. My business happens to be adapting a textile fabrication I created in design school (and now have a patent on) to luxury scarves, wraps, and down the line, handbags, etc. …other apparel accessories. I found your website absolutely timely!! It is helping me with my homework. I have so much to think about and do. Mine will be skilled artisan products and I can’t even spell the word “cheap in practice”, these products will far out costs other luxury products but they have a 3-d quality (that’s my invention) and are a kaleidoscope of beauty and practical usage…that!’s my story…and I’m stick’in to it

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