The Cost of Quality
One of the most common commentaries that Jane’s Vanity faces, especially on social media, is that of cost. Why are our products so expensive? Who would spend that much money on lingerie? Why is there such a difference in cost between your inventory and the items I can buy at my local department store? While there are a number of excellent blogs already written about the many factors that contribute to the cost of lingerie and the importance of sustaining different types of production, we thought that we would also address the issue from our perspective.
Really, the answer can be summed up quite succinctly: our products are expensive because they are beautifully made from the highest quality materials in small productions. It is these three main points that make up the bulk of the cost of our inventory: design, materials & construction. In this particular case, the old adage “you get what you pay for” definitely applies: you are paying the cost of quality.
I’m sure everyone has had the shopping experience of touching a garment and being repelled by the tactile sensation imparted by its fabric. In the lingerie world, this most often occurs with “satin” polyesters (satin ≠ silk!!!), clunky scratchy lace, and poor quality mesh. Who would want these atrocities so close to their skin? This is not something you will experience with Jane’s Vanity garments. Every item we stock is created from truly magnificent materials: the highest quality silks, hand-embroidered pashminas, lace that is produced on looms that date back to the 1800’s, ethereal silk knits, the crispest of linens… there is a never-ending list of materials used in the production of our inventory, and they are all achingly lovely. This is a large reason that we will not order from photographs, and why we regularly travel throughout Europe to view collections in person: we need to be sure that the fabrics are up to snuff, and we can’t always tell from a picture alone.
While many designers can gain access to the highest quality materials (these tradeshows are often held simultaneously with the ones for retail buyers), not everyone has the design sense to know what to do with them. One of our most treasured moments is discovering a designer with a spark of genius – someone who is producing a unique, creative collection that truly stands out amongst the sea of offerings. We were the first US stockist for Olivia Von Halle, and immediately fell in love with her tailored take on the feminine pajama, which began a revolution of pajamas as everyday attire. Marjolaine is a perennial favorite, with their creative combinations of a rainbow of silks and laces. Cadolle’s quintessentially French designs are made even more charming by their heritage: the company was founded in 1889, and has been passed down through the women in the family since its inception.
Part of this creativity comes from ordering from and supporting small, independent designers. The larger companies, mass-produced in huge facilities and most often found in malls or department stores, cannot keep up with this level of design change. Sure, they produce seasonal styles in different colors and fabrics, and may even embrace a trend once it’s stuck around for a few years. But for the quantity they produce and the executives they must appease, they simply aren’t able to think too far outside the box.
In our industry, orders are placed a full season before they begin to arrive. For example, the orders we place at the Salon International de la Lingerie in late January are for the following fall/winter season, and typically don’t begin to arrive until late August of the same year. These pieces are entirely made to order: the designer procures exactly enough fabric to make the quantity ordered by their wholesalers and produces the pieces in the 6-9 months following the market. This is one reason why the pieces we stock are such treasures: once they are ordered, they cannot be re-ordered or produced again.
One of the most important elements of the beauties we stock is the manner in which they are constructed. French seams, Italian rolled hems, detailed hand-embroidery and meticulous lace placement – these are all the mainstays of our inventory. Bras are painstakingly stitched, with up to 35 pieces going into each one. Additional stylistic details – velvet-lined straps, gossamer-light materials, detailed hand embroidery – require the skills of a professional highly trained in that level of couture construction.
Another important element of the construction is where it takes place. 99% of the lines we stock have their goods produced in the same country they are designed, boosting the local economy and guaranteeing a level of oversight which helps keep quality high. This also means that the people constructing the garments are being paid a living wage, a hugely important consideration when making any clothing purchase. Working backwards from a retail price is an elaborate equation of not only the markup that will help keep the retail and wholesale businesses afloat, but also the cost of materials, designers, workspace, and the labor for construction. In many cases, the reason that lingerie costs can be so low is that the work is outsourced to countries where workers are poorly compensated and work in terrible, unhealthy environments.
While our inventory is by nature delicate, we regularly hear from clients that have had items in their possession for beyond a decade – and with proper care, you can wear your treasures for just as long. When the same piece is still in rotation years after purchase, the original cost breaks down to pennies on the wearing, something that is hugely uncommon in this era of disposable fashion. Jane still owns and wears pieces from her first visit to the Paris lingerie markets over 25 years ago, a true testament to the value and lifespan of high-quality lingerie!