Inexpensive Fashion: ¡Viva!

The Economist recently reported that

A GIANT photo of a model in tiny underwear is in danger of causing car-crashes on a busy intersection in Mexico City. The billboard announces the arrival of H&M, a Swedish fashion retailer, which opened its first Latin American store in Mexico City on November 1st. A fortnight earlier Forever 21, an American chain, celebrated its debut in the country. That followed the first opening of a Mexican store by Gap, another American clothing giant, in September. The new entrants promise high fashion at low prices: even more distracting than those skimpy H&M briefs is their miniature pricetag of 69 pesos ($5.30).

A catalyst to this beneficent development was Mexico’s recent reduction of apparel tariffs, but the driving force has been the steady march of fast fashion giants like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21, whose designs imitate the ever-changing trends established within fashion’s higher segments. Vilified by some of fashion’s upper crust, these copycats do more than merely copy. They adapt designs in ways that serve economic functions. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Copyists enable the industry to meet the range of consumer preferences by segmenting the market… When design copyists compete to imitate and adapt design originators, they also discover manufacturing and distribution shortcuts that help reduce unit costs. By removing a seam here or there, using less costly fabric, inventing an electronic inventory system, and so forth, fashion copyists reduce their own costs and can offer designs to consumers in even lower-priced market segments. It is only in recent decades that people of even modest purchasing power began to have access to fashionable, tasteful looks. “Queen Elizabeth owned silk stockings,” Joseph Schumpeter famously observed. “The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort.” Similarly, Frédéric Bastiat expressed wonder at the market’s ability to feed Paris without a central plan. The same holds for the spontaneous order of the fashion world. Paris gets clothed as well, good sir.

¡Vivan las imitaciones! [corrected EJL]


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