If you love to hate on Gwyneth Paltrow – and you’re hardly in a minority if you do – then you’ve probably heard about her latest entrepreneurial endeavour: hawking cashmere sweaters at $500 a pop under the Goop label.
Let me confess upfront that I don’t own any cashmere sweaters, and I wouldn’t pay $500 for the privilege of doing so, unless the sweater in question came wrapped in $50 bills. With that said, my question is this: assuming you were the type to spend $500 on knits without missing a beat, would you drop that kind of cash on something that carried the unmelodious label of “Goop”?
With all due apologies to Ms. Paltrow (for whom I actually harbour no dislike), “goop” makes me think of the stuff currently coming out of my kid’s nose – which, needless to say, you don’t want to have me describe in more detail – or the form of life matter that tends to coalesce after a few days in the dishes my husband leaves in the sink and I passive-aggressively refuse to put in the dishwasher to make a point. Ahem. Where was I? Ah, yes. Goop. Perhaps not the most auspicious name for a luxury label?
Speaking of questionable branding, what on earth is happening with Coach these days? Five or six years ago, Coach was a legitimate designer brand. Nowadays, that designation seems increasingly debatable. By definition, and for better or worse, a “designer brand” has a certain concept of exclusivity attached to it. The more accessible a brand, price-wise and market-wise, the less cachet it carries. These days, if I see anyone carrying what looks like a Coach bag, I never stop to question its authenticity anymore. In part, that’s because prices have been dropping steadily. [Yes, a lot of Coach bags still cost upwards of $400. Yet, it seems like every week, I get a new flyer in my mail box for discounts on Coach merchandise. And that doesn’t even account for outlet pricing.] In part, it’s also because the quality of Coach bags, especially those sold in the outlet stores, seems to be dropping steadily too. In other words, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the authentic from the fake – a problem for a designer brand.
Coach has been tremendously successful in increasing its consumer base … perhaps too much so. When your products become so ubiquitous, through a combination of market saturation, lowered prices and lowered quality, can you still justify a $400+ price tag? What is it, exactly, that your consumer is getting from you that she can’t get from any other brand selling leather bags? It ain’t exclusivity, that’s for sure. As for superior style … some of the offerings in the Poppy line have me questioning that. [I do have to commend Coach for bringing back some of its classic, non-monogrammed styles, popular in the 80s and 90s. I only wish the quality of the leather was the same as before; my vintage Coach purses – made back in the day of American manufacture – feel completely different to the touch than the bags I recently saw in store.]
On the other end of the branding spectrum, there is Joe Fresh. Runways shows, stand-alone stores, and the slow creep in prices – Joe Fresh is looking to go upscale, and I am not happy about it. I must be turning into a cranky-pants in my old age, but why did they have to go and mess with what worked (for me, which their corporate peeps ought to keep in mind, obvs). My “WTF moment” happened when I came across a pair of flats – flats! – for $50. We are talking about a brand that is sold in grocery stores, for goodness’ sake! And let’s not pretend that the quality has increased correspondingly; apart from basic pieces, the quality of Joe clothing can be hit-and-miss. When we’re talking about a $20 shirt, that’s not a big deal perhaps; it’s a different story when I’m being asked to shell out $40 for a piece I could get for $25 at H&M.
So, I guess my message to the fashion industry – waiting for it with bated breath, no doubt – is this: Coach needs to remember how to be a designer brand again, Joe Fresh needs to remember that it’s not supposed to be a designer brand, and Gwyneth Paltrow needs to stop asking us to take Goop seriously … especially as a designer brand.