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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reading Between the Lines

Over the past few years, as I have become relatively well-versed in vintage goods, I am increasingly aware of where things are made.  Generally, if something vintage is made in Italy, France, England, or the USA, the quality is high and the style is good.  

We all know the big C-word, where it seems like everything is made today.  And whether true or not, to many people, myself included, the words "Made in China" are often synonymous with inferior quality.  I am not sure if it is due to my vintage obsession or my desire to purchase quality over quantity, but now I find myself checking labels before I buy something.  In fact, I will hesitate and often skip the purchase if it is made in China.

I guess I am not alone, because the folks at JCrew seem to be playing games with their descriptions in an attempt to convey that their clothes have Italian origins.  I snapped a quick pic from the latest JCrew catalog.

The description states, "The Cocoon Coat, in our stadium-cloth, inspired by extra-toasty stadium blankets and made just for us by Italy's Nello Gori Mill."  Sounds like the coat is made in Italy, right?  When you look more closely at the tiny description on the side, you see that code word that just screams MADE IN CHINA-  "Import."  For anything in their catalog that is actually manufactured in Italy, the words "Made in Italy" are typed in the boldest of prints.  But here, the word "Import" (as is printed beside 90% of the items in the catalog, even those with seemingly Italian roots), shows the discerning purchaser that while the fabric may be made in Italy, the garment itself is made in China, even though the word China is nowhere to be found in the catalog description.

This is just one of many examples of this description game-playing in the catalog.  Does this bother you?  I am sure the team of JCrew lawyers made sure the appropriate commas, italics, line breaks, and hyphens were located in the big bold description shown above so that they can argue that the description refers to the fabric, not the garment.  But to the average consumer, this description strikes me as misleading.

Do you check labels for the item's place of origin?  Does it ever affect your decision to purchase? 


tina said...

Good to know! I will watch more closely now.

Rachel said...

Anthropologie does this, too.

Dina @ Honey + Fitz said...

I saw a fascinating documentary about the J.Crew president a while back and he addressed this very topic. They showed him in Italy checking in on the production of cotton that was going to be used for their men's shirts. His position (and I guess that of the company) is that the fabric makes the item and if they can control the quality of the material, they can put out a superior product (and charge more $$). He did go on to say that if they entire shirt was made in Italy that they'd need to charge 3-4x what they charge now for a shirt (I'm assuming he means in order to keep the same margins which honestly might be the whole issue!) Either way, I definitely don't look at labels as much as I should. Need to be better about that.

Lori said...

This is pretty typical in the apparel industry. I've worked in the textile industry for 12 years now, and unfortunately more and more manufacturing has moved to China. The truth is that most consumers aren't willing to pay for better goods out of North America and Europe. There are also some fantastic Chinese mills that create very high quality goods - it's just not the majority of what you see in stores.

I understand how you feel about J. Crew's slight of hand with the facts. It's not cool, but at least they are helping to keep a bunch of Italian textile mills in business. Sorry for the lengthy comment, it's a great topic!

Matters of Style said...

I think what bothers me about jcrew isn't so much that it is manufactured in china as that they play around with the descriptions to make it appear like the garment was made in Italy. The catalog is full of it. It seems misleading to me.

Tracy said...

I never thought about it before, but will definitely be mindful of it in the future.

Beth said...

Thanks for pointing out the deception! Keep up the great work!

the Queen City Style said...


Brilliant post. I completely agree with you.... I have read those very captions in the catalogue and inferred the garment was hand made in Italy, or at least something special, a cut above their other items. Totally misleading. Society... sale, sale, sale.
Thanks for great post,
ps--will always be a die hard j. crew gal, however.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I definitely read the labels and have the same attitude. My three year old daughter even now says, "it's Chinese junk" when she sees me looking inside the clothing for the label. It's very disheartening how hard it has become to buy garments, or anything really, that are domestically made. I've learned that less really is more, and have started paying more money for fewer items of better quality (mostly from the artisans and craftspeople found on Etsy).

Anonymous said...

First time commenter, love your blog and read it every day. I'm with you, I generally pass on anything with the "Made in China" label, especially household items and furniture. With new clothing it's much more difficult.

Anonymous said...

OMG Just last night I was out shopping,(reading labels) JCrew is not the only one that does this.
I think it's becoming commonplace. They know that the consumer is starting to avoid 'made in china', so the goods are 'produced for....' or 'distributed by.....' There is no mention of 'made in' and the word China is conspicuously absent. Do they think we're stupid? yep

Amy Vermillion Interiors said...

Fantastic post Sarah. This drives me nuts.
I totally agree. If they stated, cloth made in Italy, coat made in China that would be fair and honest.

This is very…"don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain" stuff.

Kris Robitzsch said...

Very smart! But mI believe they must have done it in purpose.

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