Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quality Control (or lack thereof): The Prada Case Study

This post is inspired by a recent purchase – my very own Prada messenger bag. Like many young adults with an affinity for fashion, but not the bank account to back it up, I decided that while I can’t deck myself out in a Prada suit everyday for work, I could save my money and buy a little piece of the dream in the form of a black, nylon bag that I can carry almost every day. With the price tag at $750 dollars, it certainly wasn’t an inexpensive purchase, but I hoped that the bag would last a decade. A few days later, I was trying to explain my splurge to a friend who was criticizing me for buying a bag that “wasn’t even leather and wasn’t worth the money.” I was literally in the middle of countering her attack by saying, “Yeah, but look at the craftsmanship. Everything is perfect, the lining is immaculate, and the stitching is even…” when my friend noticed that the seam holding the strap to my bag was coming undone. It was only 5 stitches that were pulled out slightly, but having only carried the bag for a week and having spent almost 2 paychecks to get it, I was pretty horrified. I went to the internet to find out if there was anything I could do to have Prada either refund or fix my bag for me when I discovered they were dealing with other bag problems as well.
At Milan’s 2008 fashion week in January, there was much hype swirling about Miuccia Prada’s new design concept – colorful fairy prints. The clothes were colorful, avant-garde pieces said to be inspired by the daydreams of a young girl but they weren’t something everyone would want to wear. The purses, on the other hand, were quickly becoming the “It” bag of the season and were retailing for over $2200 dollar with a three month waiting list. But Prada's success was suddenly overshadowed by a devastating realization – the beautiful colored ink used to dye the bags was running the instant water touched the purse. noted that, “Prada is well aware of [the bleeding] problem. Some SA’s warned their customers due to the nature of the delicacy of the bag the ink could bleed. There have also been conflicting stories [about] how Prada is handling it. Some say Prada will not refund you after buying the bag, some say they will. What I do know is that when paying upwards of $2500 for a bag, you want it to stay in tact and the ink to stay in place. For those of you that already own the bag, be cautious with it in the rain and make sure to read up on the issues.” One blog poster wrote, “My fairy bled and so did my heart.” A bit dramatic perhaps, but try and imagine watching the ink from 2,500 dollars worth of paper bills blotch before your eyes and you will see what this person was feeling.
The last Prada nightmare story I have encountered was in the pages of Dana Thomas’s book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster (which I mentioned in the last post). Here is an excerpt from her book:

“In 1992, I bought a pink sleeveless Prada cocktail dress that was made of thick iridescent cotton and silk faille, fully lined, and finished beautifully. It cost 2,000 dollars, but it is couture quality and will last forever. Ten years later, I bought a pair of thin cotton-poplin cropped trousers at Prada for $500. I put them on, and the gentle passing of my foot ripped the hem out. I put my hand in the pocket, and it tore away from the seam. I squatted down to pick up my two year old, and the derriere split open. I hadn’t had the pants ten minutes and they were literally falling apart at the seams. I mentioned this to a former Prada design assistant. ‘It’s the thread,’ he told me. ‘It’s cheaper and breaks easily.’ When I told him about my gorgeous dress from 1992 that was as solid as a Rolls, he nodded. ‘That was then,’ he said with a sigh.”

How can companies like Prada call themselves luxury goods companies when the luxury only lasts ten minutes? It is true that people buy luxury goods for many reasons, status being the primary one (in my opinion). However, many people justify their purchases with the rationale that the price-per-wear or the price-per-use is similar to cheaper alternatives. So what IS the motivation to continue “buying labels” when they are guaranteed to fall off in a matter of days? I was fortunate in that my Prada bag was replaced within the week, but many others were not so lucky. I think it is time that Prada, as well as many other high-fashion companies, scale back on the plans for global domination and mass production (see the cover of Deluxe for the visual image of this idea) and take the time to reconsider what they are selling to the customer. Luxury may not last forever, but it certainly is supposed to make it out of the store!