This is certainly a question that is hard for anyone not in our industry – ie, the average consumer – to answer accurately, but this Huff Post piece does a reasonably good job of tackling it.
The Difference Between A $5 White Tee And A $125 White Tee
The answer isn’t that simple, but we spoke to experts to get to the bottom of this wardrobe staple.
If you’ve ever looked at a $5 H&M white T-shirt, you’ll notice it doesn’t look all that different from a plain white designer tee that sells for upwards of $300. What’s the deal with the price difference? Is the designer tee just ridiculously marked up, or is there more to it than that?
There are plenty of factors involved in determining the retail price of a T-shirt, many of which the average consumer probably doesn’t think about while shopping. Everything from the type of fabric to the manufacturing process to the branding can have an effect on how much we pay. How do we know that what we’re getting is worth it? Or, alternatively, what exactly are we paying for?
The answers aren’t that simple, but we spoke to a few experts who gave us some insight into the world of the wardrobe staple.
Let’s start with the fabric.
“Fabric is the largest cost component of most wearing apparel,” Margaret Bishop, a professor at Parsons New School for Design and at The Fashion Institute of Technology, told HuffPost, adding that fiber “is the largest cost component of most fabric.”
So what exactly does that mean? Well, let’s look at cotton, one of the most common fabrics used for basic white T-shirts. Preeti Gopinath, associate professor of textiles and director of the MFA textile program at Parsons New School for Design, explained that higher grades of cotton will cost more than lower grades.
The grading, she said, is “usually based on the length of the staple, which is the length of each individual baby fiber in [the fabric]. The longer the fiber, the smoother the yarn will be. If the fiber is short, many short fibers twist together and you’ll have more joints in the yarn. The more joints, the more texture.”
Then there’s the variety and quality of cotton ― is it Sea Island cotton? Egyptian cotton? Pima cotton? That choice further affects the cost, and if elastane is added to the cotton for stretch and better recovery ability, that adds to the cost as well.
There are also branded fibers, which, you guessed it, cost more than unbranded ones (similar to generic versus brand-name pharmaceuticals). For instance, the brand name for pima cotton is Supima, and that name has a marketing cost associated with it, Bishop explained.
Processes called carding and combing also add a cost to the final product. Carding cotton is the standard process of brushing fibers before twisting them into yarn. That can be followed by combing, which gets rid of any shorts bits in the yarn and gives it a smooth finish, Gopinath explained. Combing leads to a smoother, higher-quality yarn that’s also more expensive.
On top of all that, Bishop and Gopinath noted, if cotton is 100 percent organic, it will come with a higher price tag. Something that is made of a blend of cotton and a synthetic fabric, like polyester, on the other hand, will likely be cheaper; polyester and other synthetic fabrics are cheaper fibers, Gopinath said.
It’s not necessarily true that a designer T-shirt will be made with the most expensive cotton available, but, as Bishop explained, “it’s more likely that if it’s a very low price, the quality is not going to be as good as it will be for many of the more expensive brands.”
Then there’s manufacturing.
Both the labor involved in making a T-shirt and the country in which it’s manufactured play a role in determining the cost of a product, though one much more than the other.
According to Bishop, “Many people erroneously think the labor cost makes a big difference in the cost of a T-shirt, but the labor is a very small portion of the overall cost of the garment.”
If a brand is made overseas, Gopinath expanded, the labor may add practically nothing to the final price of a T-shirt. “It’s negligible,” she said, noting that it may add “a few cents … if it’s a mass-produced T-shirt made in Bangladesh.”
“If we see how much an American is paid, even at the lowest minimum wage of $8 an hour, if you convert that into Indian or Bangladeshi rupees, no one is paid that kind of money [in India or Bangladesh],” Gopinath said. “That’s like a king’s ransom already for the person overseas. They’re paid, in our equivalency, maybe a dollar or 50 cents, not even per T-shirt, but maybe per hour or per a few hours of work.”
Again, not every single cheap T-shirt is made in India or Bangladesh, where the minimum wage is significantly lower than in the U.S., but it’s extremely common. Just take a look at any of your H&M and Forever 21 tees, and you’ll notice many of them say “Made in Bangladesh” Read More