Yesterday, Brandweek ran an insightful piece examining a trend current in businesses as varied as greeting cards, clothing, and insurance (see video). Companies are focusing on the Great Depression as a selling point: When times are tough, where do we turn? “A home-cooked meal, time with loved ones, appreciating the things we do have, the things we can count on…” actor Dennis Haysbert bellows in an Allstate Insurance commercial.
While a feature on Depression-era chic would probably make sense, I’d like to focus on the quality of construction that came out of that historic period. At the time, there was no consumer mentality. We were a country of laborers, and every dollar earned went to things that were well-made.
I write about menswear because I am passionate about quality. These days, since we can count on little else to withstand the tests of time, we should be able to count on our clothing.
Unfortunately, most of our clothes are no longer made in the United States. The skills honed by workers who dressed the men, women, and children of our country’s last Great Depression have been exported overseas. If we cannot buy American-made products that bear a similar high quality to those of the 1930s, let us buy only the quality imported products.
Somewhere along the lines, “new and improved” came to mean cutting corners in honor of that golden calf, the bottom line. One of those corners is quality. Selvedge denim, once the standard, became a luxury. Bench-made shoes were abandoned for mass-produced assembly line versions. Textiles are an after-thought to out-pricing the competitor.
Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean seems to have made it one of his missions to promote the quality reissues of many companies, the latest being Wolverine, and to showcase the companies (Sierra Designs) that are missing out. My hope, and I think Mr. Williams would agree, is that in this economy, the consumer desire to buy quality grows from a niche market demand to a mass movement. Once you’ve walked down 5th Avenue in a pair of Alden’s loafers, once you’ve worn whiskers into your Levi’s 501 shrink-to-fits, once you’ve weathered the storm, metaphorical or otherwise, in a Sierra Designs 60/40, you’ll understand that quality really is king.
All images c/o Corbis.