On a Hunt For Quality

To kill time in this period of confinement, I set out to stitch the button on a coat I had only worn 3 or 4 times. Then, I remembered that another button was detached from a jacket that was not much older; that the hem of a pair of trousers was beginning to unravel; that the lining of a coat was loose by a few centimetres. That several parts of my dressing room were in need of small repairs that were not related to the wear and tear of time, but a lack of quality. 

Producing ever more, the fashion industry is regularly singled out for its impact on the environment, while new eco-responsible labels are multiplying. At the same time, a plethora of established brands are also committed to making their clothing and accessories with greater respect for nature and people. All these initiatives are great. 

We talk about "sustainable fashion". But this oxymoron doesn't necessarily mean that it is more durable and more resistant to use. "The notion of quality has been lost with globalization and relocation during the lengthy manufacturing process, says Pascal Gautrand, consultant and founder of the Made in Town agency in Paris. The fact that we are no longer in close and frequent contact with artisans has led to an impoverishment of this knowledge within the general culture. " 

In the past, the local tailor or dressmaker maintained this image of beautiful work with the general public. From the 1960s onwards, the democratization of ready to wear also undermined this notion. In order to meet the demands of the modern world, the fabrics of these garments in standard sizes were lightened in order to offer more comfort. We are talking about weights per square metre that would have been halved on average, without the strength of these textures being increased. In parallel, the textile-clothing sector has been industrialized, from spinning to garment making, to meet the growing demand of consumers. "Quality has often been opposed to performance," continues Pascal Gautrand. To lower production costs, materials have started to be woven on faster machines. Fibres such as wool, linen or cotton, which posed technical problems because of their natural irregularities, were mixed or replaced with synthetics that turned out to be continuous and regular filaments. "

An illustration of this perfect quality set aside is the famous denim fabric now produced in Japan. It is woven on the narrow looms that the Americans and Europeans replaced with broader, more efficient machines at the end of the last century. Similar stories exist in the fields of lace and embroidery, jacquards, printing. "The most creative fabrics can only be made slowly," moderates Pascaline Wilhelm, the fashion director of the Première Vision Salon. Moreover, the weight of the fabric no longer has the same meaning. Today, it is even woollen and airy kinds of cotton that are the most expensive because industrial progress has made it possible for them to be both ultra-fine and strong."

The textile and clothing sector has indeed been very innovative in recent decades. However, quality has been largely neglected in the democratization of fashion and its trends. "Quality has been sacrificed on the altar of marketing," says Pierre Maheo, who has made it his credo with his label Officine Générale for the past seven years. We think of fast fashion and its renewed continuously shelves, but when luxury brands started to emphasize their logos, to edit capsule lines or ephemeral products, it is also the notion of sustainability that took a blow. Quality used to be a beautiful fabric, a beautiful way. " In 2013, this Parisian designed his label by surrounding himself with European partners chosen one by one, be they weavers, hosiery makers or garment makers. "It was a real challenge to go ahead and put quality ahead of a logo," he continues. The opposite would have been much more manageable. And I would have sold more pieces. When you offer wear-resistant clothing, the renewal cycle is (unfortunately) less frequent."

Are the workwear trend and its hard-wearing work clothes, which have been a groundswell in recent years, a direct consequence of this decline in the quality of ready-to-wear clothing? "Without making any counter psychology, this trend expresses a need for materiality," observes Pascaline Wilhelm. That said, "sustainable" is not synonymous with "basic" and "quality" no longer necessarily means "expensive" in the current range of fabrics. "According to Pierre Mahéo, consumers are relying less and less on the price to assess quality: "They have a sharper look at the origin of the products, how it is made, with what materials and under what conditions. You can sense that they no longer want to pay for mediocre products. I'm dressing more and more former luxury clients who have understood that they can afford such good clothes at much lower prices". 

Pascal Gautrand adds that the Internet and e-commerce sites, through which it is difficult to appreciate the quality of a product, "are now re-injecting culture around brands and their know-how... All of these approaches and initiatives are helping to raise awareness." Today's confinement encourages people to think about and sort through their cupboards, so it would not be surprising if life were to resume tomorrow with the even stronger sense of consuming less but better. In other words, to give priority to quality over quantity.

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