The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

February 24, 2009

Authenticity is a Relative Thing

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 6:21 pm

Among the various clothing manufacturers out there (especially when it comes to jeans) there seems to be some notion that the products being sold have to be somehow “Authentic” in order to get people to actually buy them.  The whole idea of authenticity when it comes to clothing seems to be just a bit nebulous, all things considered.  For the brands that have been around for a long time (such as Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler) this isn’t really a problem, since there’s plenty of history behind them.  On the other hand, when you don’t have that kind of heritage to trade on, it seems to become necessary to make one up as you go along.  To illustrate this, I would like to show a couple of examples of this that I have run across recently. 

First of all, we look at an example  from the American Living Co. brand, which appears to be a JCPenney house brand. Lately, it seems that this brand is being applied widely throughout the store, on everything from jeans, clothing and shoes to luggage, housewares to dishes.  As seems to be customary for such a brand, the logo is done in a somewhat antiquated style, and seems to be trying to cash in on a patriotic and classical image which, upon further inspection, seems just a bit undeserved.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the “Established MMVII” so proudly emblazoned on the label is basically a fancy way of saying that the brand was established in 2007, giving them a rich tradition of about a year and a half to draw on for inspiration in designing their clothing.  The other clue comes when you look more closely at the tags (which were fairly well hidden) and find that these jeans are actually made in Vietnam, and an American Living polo shirt I recently purchased (off the clearance rack for $5.97) was made in Jordan of all places.  This isn’t to say that they’re the only one doing this type of thing.  I seriously doubt that anyone is actually manufacturing their jeans in America anymore, since even the Levi’s I’m wearing while I’m writing this were made in Bangladesh.  I suppose the name “American Living” still sounds a lot better than “Vietnamese Living” would, even if when you dig down beneath the surface the whole thing begins to seem about as authentic as a three dollar bill.

As a counter example, I present Costco’s Kirkland Signature jeans:

Anyone who shops at Costco is probably quite familiar with the Kirkland Signature brand, which is used even more broadly throughout the store than the American Living brand is at JCPenney, applied to practically everything from orange juice to major appliances (for quite a few years until they remodeled about a year and a half ago, my parents had a “Kirkland Signature by Whirlpool” branded stove in their kitchen.)  For quite a while, Costco has sold blue jeans under the brand as well.  Unlike the ersatz patriotic image of the American Living jeans shown above, these jeans don’t even pretend to be anything besides what they’re supposed to be, which is, well,  cheap.  A pair of Kirkland Signature jeans sells for $12.99, a price you’re going to be hard-pressed to beat anywhere this side of the closeout rack.  They also acknowledge right on the label that these are made in Mexico (it’s a bit hard to see in this photo,) although I have heard (but can’t confirm) that there are also some made in Canada as well.  The couple of pairs of these that I have owned over the years have also held up reasonably well, although they’re obviously nothing particularly fancy (if you’re looking for those, Costco does sell several premium brands of jeans as well, including Lucky Brand, Levis  and Calvin Klein, but as with everything else there that you aren’t necessarily buying in humongous quantities, selection can be hit or miss.)

Even though these jeans are being sold under the same brand name as the milk you’re buying two gallons at a time, in an apparent nod to the vagaries of clothing merchandising the label includes the obligatory year of establishment (in this case 1994) and proclaims the product it has been stuck on to be authentic, almost as though there was some problem with cheap imitations or something like that that.  Quite frankly, I don’t even know how you could make a cheap imitation of a product that sells for $12.99 in the first place, but that’s beside the point.  The question that it boils down to is this:  Of these two brands, which of them would you consider to be more authentic?

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