On Puffy Jackets and Birds

As a slight detour from our gastronomic odyssey from Korea, I offer a no-food-food-for-thought.

I came across a news article reporting that a man has allegedly made and sold thousands of dollars worth of counterfeit North Face down padding jumpers. The man had mad skills, and the counterfeit products were almost identical to the real deal. The only differences were the inside labels behind the neck, the shape of the inside lining, and the type of down filling; while the real North Face products are filled with goose down, this guy used cheaper down from ducks.

What grabbed my attention was the reporter’s focus on the response of so-called “netizens”, online readers of the news site. Many of these readers released their “anger” upon North Face, and not the alleged counterfeiter. The reason? North Face sells their goose down jumpers for over $400 (in Korea), while the alleged counterfeiter sold his duck jumpers for a meager $40. The anger was directed at the fact that the cost of production for the North Face products is less than $100, leaving blown-up margins for the outdoor brand.

Goose versus duck. The cost of production and margin left by the final products goes well beyond the type of bird sacrificed for puffy jackets.

What about “brand value”?

The readers and their comments did not take into account that the name “The North Face” has a certain price tag to it, beyond the actual cost of the bird feathers. It did not take into account that no one has the liberty to re-create a cheaper, more reasonable puffy jacket just because the original product seems a bit too puffy.

Fashion Week rolls around across the globe, and each time, I quietly ask myself of the true “value” of “haute couture” brands and designer labels. Overrated and overpriced? Probably. Puffy? Possibly. After all, you are paying many more times than the cost of the fabric and manual labor that went into producing the garments; you are paying the price to wear “the name”.

Brand value seems to be walking a fine line. As economies are still reeling and struggling to step out from their gutters and sewers, consumers repeatedly and more often ask of “value” and what they are willing to pay for such value.

Intellectual property, must it take a back seat?

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