In almost every sector, you can buy products that fall within three categories: cheap, middle and luxury.
In today’s world, the most value comes from the middle category.
Cheap products are available everywhere, from cars to homes to clothes.
We’ll stick with clothes for now.
Cheap clothes - or “fast fashion” - are available everywhere from top brands like H&M, Zara and Forever 21.
I’ve been a fan of Uniqlo in the past due to how well their clothes fit me, but they fall in this category too.
The cost of products like these is enormous.
Books like Overdressed have shed light on why. Cheap clothes are manufactured by cheap labour in foreign countries with lower regulations. The result is a large human cost in poor working conditions and accidents.
The environmental cost is staggering as well. Americans buy 5 times as much clothing as they did in 1980, and 85 percent of clothing ends up in the landfill - a massive 10.5 million tons per year in the USA alone.
Items in this category are less durable, manufactured poorly, and wear quickly, meaning they need to be replaced much more often.
They seem cheap at first, but long-term, when constantly replacing them, the costs add up.
Luxury covers a wide range of products. There are products in this category that have great value.
The price of luxury products means that items can often be customized just for you. It means that premium materials can be used, maximizing durability and comfort. It sometimes means they will be classic in style, good for years to come.
However, there is a large portion of this segment in which you are paying for the brand. That is fine, but you must be aware of it, and able to detect when this is the case.
Many products in this category will be of equal quality as those in the middle, yet you will pay many more times the price.
Sometimes products here will suffer from the same trendiness as fast fashion - they will not be relevant in a year or even months. Brands will often offer a wide variety of products, most trendy, with a few classics, which makes it even harder to distinguish (looking at you, Gucci).
Beware paying a large premium for a brand name, rather than quality.
The Middle - Where to Find Value
The middle category is where much of the innovation seems to happen.
In fashion, Everlane is a prime example, and not only has transparent pricing, but details where its products are manufactured and the conditions, and have just launched a product line made from recycled plastic. Myles Apparel is another.
Huckberry’s new in-house boot brand, Rhodes, is another good example. They source direct from a factory in Portugal for premium quality at a reasonable price, and their boots can be resoled over and over - meaning they will last a long time.
Curators like Huckberry do a fantastic job of finding products that fit this category. Often they are local companies too.
Products in this category have higher pricing, but are premium quality. They are more durable, less trendy, and often have higher transparency around pricing and manufacturing processes.
This is where you find the best value.
Of course, there will be overlap in all these categories.
In general, find products that are classic, durable and cost-effective.
Find products that will last, and despite paying a slightly higher price up-front, you will reap the rewards over the product lifetime, in direct cost, environmental improvements, and helping support good labour practices.
Shop for products in the middle.
In what other areas does this model apply? Let me know in the comments.