Clothes maketh the man, so the saying goes. Man counts on clothes, Buddha counts on golden robes is the Chinese version of a similar saying.
We all want to look good and we look up to people to look good. So what do we do, we follow the latest fashion trends and see whats hip. We dress acccording to what the models on the catwalks and magazines tell us looks good.
Well, then we compare ourselves to them and go back to eating chocolate and sweets… whats the point…
Jokes aside, dressing matters. But its not just what we wear, many people also focus on who designed it – whats the brand behind the product. A 2 SEK IKEA blue bag is mundane but a similar tote bag marketed as a Balenciaga product however is fashion forward and avant garde. Looking good is in many cases not just about dressing and clothes but also about brands.
Humans are creatures driven by context and stories, brands matter not because their products are special or always more unique but because of the story they tell us. From the celebrities who market their brands, to the advertisements to the designs and the models everything contributes to the story. The stories can be heartwarming, witty (like IKEA), aspirational etc.
For example, people who buy Quicksilver are well to do and active enough to enjoy the beach and surf like Kelly Slater, people who buy Burberry are classy and cute like Emma Watson, women who want great hair and skin like Jessica Alba should buy L’Oreal products… you get the idea.
However, not all brands are the same. There are large and well known brands that can afford to have their own outlets and buildings across the world – these range in offering from Sweden’s H&M to France’s Louis Vuitton; Spain’s Zara to Britain’s Burberry.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are brandless products, made by factories in Bangladesh* and other places and sold sometimes to a brand and other times just sold openly to the market. Then there are those in the middle, who are big and branded but not the sort that would have store everywhere. Not every store or brand has their own shops in the heart of a city to sell their products, some of these brands end up selling their good through a middlemen (usually a department store) for example Lacoste.
These stores, may not always be able to have their own outlet throughout a location, but their are premium enough for people to want them. And that’s where outlet stores come in. An outlet store is one that is owned by the brand and sell only their items at a shopfront. In theory they sell items on a discount because these items were not able to be sold or returned to the retail stores. So in a way, for people looking for a brand and a deal, this is great! Because of the usually prohibitive cost of creating their own store, these outlet stores tend to be found in outlet malls, where a whole collection of brands are housed.
Southeast Asia has one premium outlet mall, and it is located in Johor state in Malaysia. The name of the outlet shop is, ‘creatively’ enough, Johor Premium Outlet.
Located 45 minutes away from the city, in the Kulai district of Johor, the Premium Outlet stall was marketed as a sign of the states growing ambition and openness to the world. In the immediate aftermath of its opening, the crowds flooded in, excited to see an outlet mall and get great products at great prices. They were sold the story of branded products at much cheaper prices.
This turned out however to not be the case.
The negative reviews came in quick and fast, with the place given an overall rating of 3.5 out of 5 on Tripadvisor. We went because we too were sold on the story of cheap and good, we weren’t too sure if both appellations applied, the prices seemed off and the range of products seemed like they were from 10 seasons ago. I initially thought it had something to do with the specific location. Then I went to the master of all things searchable, Google, and discovered that outlet stores meant something else.
Outlet stores may not always be selling products that were not sold from the retail store, but actually selling products that were of lower quality. It isn’t so straight forward or simple. That was something new to me, someone who walks outside fashion stalls than walks into them.
Buyer Beware… I guess.
ON THE MAP
*It was not perhaps appropriate in the context of the article to talk about garment production, but take a look at some of these videos belong regarding the garment trade. Does your favourite brand ensure that the products are not made through labour abuse?