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"Poor" Brands Turned Pretentious

Photographed by Devin Ricks of Marc Woodworth, Robert Murray and Joelle Weaver

By Devin Ricks

What exactly defines a “‘Poor’ Brand”?
Brands such as Fila, Russell, Champion, and Starter are all brands that were looked down upon in terms of popularity during the early 2000s. For most kids in school during this era, wearing the aforementioned brands often led to young individuals becoming self-conscious about the clothing that they wore. Children who came from wealthier families and could afford to wear brand-new clothes from notable brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike, Air Jordan, etc. were praised, while shaming those who did not share the same wealth.

At the early age that children are when this bullying is most prevalent, words critiquing something a child has no control over like their clothing can be detrimental to their mental health. Kids that wore ‘poor brands’ like Russel and Starter to school were painted with scarlet letters because these companies were categorized as only being for low- income families. Due to the self-consciousness these bullies made them feel, children frequently grew furious with their parents since they could not provide them with the brands that everyone else was wearing. However, in recent years, these brands like Fila and Champion have gained popularity, and with this rise in popularity has come a rise in their once-affordable price tag.

When a company spends millions of dollars to market their brand, they would expect the brand’s popularity to increase. However, that also comes with an increase in price. Champion, for example, was a brand that would be sold at a low price in general merchandise stores like Walmart or Target at the cheap price of only $35 for a brand-new hoodie. In today’s era, Champion can be found in stores such as Urban Outfitters, Pacsun, Foot Locker, Nordstrom along with many more specialty stores with a price tag of at least $60 or more, without any discounts.

With increasing inflation, the price that these brands set will also increase. These once affordable brands are now significantly less accessible to low-income classes who want to be able to purchase new clothing today. Many times, in order to afford such brands, many today will purchase second-hand or shop at thrift stores. While this may not be the most conventional method for most, it is a perfect example of how the fashion cycle works.
A brand first begins as a no-name, low-cost brand before becoming a well-known brand. The fact is that the same people who bullied others for wearing labels like Fila, Champion, or Starter are the same people who, ten years later, are now buying from those companies at double the price simply, because they are now considered "popular." Most people who grew up in the mid-2000s will respond with Air Jordan when asked "If you had to choose between Air Jordan and Fila, which would you buy?" Today, Fila has a high potential of being chosen over Air Jordan’s.

In the early 2000s, people were much quicker to judge the clothes that others were wearing. However, now there is much less pressure to wear name brand. One reason for this is how popular trends such as Y2K and thrifting have become stylish with much cheaper prices.

Another issue is that the companies who created these brands are no longer making affordable, quality clothing and pushing towards the one capitalist goal of making as much money as possible.

Authenticity used to be for the forefront of clothing brands. Now, they care more about how much they will make each year to have better profit margins. Working only for profit is a horrible mindset for brands to be in and leads to overworked and underpaid factory employees. What happened to the meaning behind the craft of creating clothes? What can customers do to slow these processes down? That is a question that some are still trying to figure out, as affordability is not made a priority today.

Other than Shein and Fashion Nova, there are several affordable clothing brands like L.L. Bean, Uniqlo, and CHNGE that manufacture high-quality, sustainable garments. One benefit of these labels is that they can offer competitive costs for a variety of unique apparel styles, while only certain items will carry a higher price tag. However, there are still brands that people will buy that will still be judged upon. How can society stop this? People are creatures of habit, buying what they are told in the hope of making them popular or well liked.

There needs to be a change that happens within this side of the fashion industry. Instead of focusing on being popular, brands should focus on producing high-quality clothing for all socioeconomic classes. People of any income should be able to afford clothing that makes them feel confident with no fear of judgement.

The fashion industry is always going to promote popular brands. There is a correlation between very low-priced goods with cheap quality. If companies could create quality clothing with affordable price tags, why not do so? It again circles back to the consumerist culture that companies are promoting. Companies are only looking for larger profit margins in this era, rather than remembering the foundation and mission of the company, like producing quality and affordable clothing. It can be questioned whether this could ever be done, as more sustainable materials do have an increased price due to production and manufacturing costs. What must be done is a release of caring what others think, buying sustainably and wearing what you want.

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