The Sunday Leader

Dirt Cheap Designer Wear

Picture courtesy: joanafaria.wordpress.com

Often in Sri Lankan clothing stores you can find designer wear going dirt cheap. Most of these clothes come from garment factories. They are either rejected shipments or a result of surplus production. It is illegal for the factories concerned to sell these items under the names of their original brands, so most of the clothes you will see have labels cut off, or unconvincingly painted over. This is alright though because it does not really take an expert eye to figure out what garments were meant for foreign markets and designer labels.
There is a new shop on Highlevel road that had great gear going very very cheap. This shop has dropped all pretence and simply called itself The Factory Outlet (TFO for short). There were jeans by Lee and Wrangler going for around thousand rupees along with an array of other designer wear with labels cut off or discreetly erased selling for low prices.
Of course there are a good number of items that are clearly fakes, with made up brand names so you have to know how to separate the chaff. There are also some on-the-fence things like soft leather Crocodile wallets for about Rs.700. Not to bother on the shoes. There was a ladies section also, and kids; but I did not venture in.
Where else do they sell designer wear dirt cheap? Spellbound, also on Highlevel road has great t-shirts. Most of their shirts start from size XXL upwards. In fact this is a feature in most of the stores of similar type: the sizes are large and do not fit ‘average’ Sri Lankans. This is because most of the clothing is made for Europeans and some for Americans, who are obviously much more generously proportioned.
Cool Planet also has some good items. House of Fashions has the occasional hidden gem but most of the time you should not bother. Take my advice and be wary of Odel, anything you find there can be obtained more or less for half the price at any of the other stores I have mentioned. Cotton Collection is not bad though. Although there are plenty of other shops popping up everywhere now, so if you know a place, do share.
Where does the stock come from? Local factories obviously. But also from India and Pakistan. A lot of the fakes come from Thailand and China. How do they operate and how does the distribution work? The answer to that would make for very interesting investigative journalism. But I suppose all it takes is a contact from a factory, sufficient working capital and you have excellent clothing for local consumption, it is like magic.
Why go designer? Well aside from the fact that designer wear obviously looks better, the quality is far superior and will last you for years if needed. Usually you pay a massive premium for design and quality and that is why designer clothing is a multibillion dollar global industry. In Sri Lanka though, our unique position as a manufacturer of designer garments has given us a great positive externality. Positive externalities are created when an external party benefits from a good or service at next to no cost. This is just one of the ways Sri Lankans can benefit from large garment manufacturers operating within its borders. So why not?
Clothing stores completely dependent on garment factory rejects and surplus produce have blossomed all over Sri Lanka. Some of them have become chains and are probably worth billions of rupees. Do the big labels that order these clothes mind? Well largely they do not. They turn a blind eye because of the massive reductions in cost of manufacturing.
The factory in Sri Lanka gains by obtaining some relief on already tight margins and the Sri Lankan consumer gains as well. But again, there is never a free lunch, and no situation is entirely win win, so there must be a loser. In this case it is the European and American consumer that has to pay three or four times the price to buy the same garment that you and I buy for a thousand rupees. No wonder tourists go berserk with the shopping when they get here.
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