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Hype about "Technical" clothing?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
The recent Marmot thread, along with other scattered discussions about everything from base layers to softshells has prompted me to put down my thoughts about this stuff to solicit some opinions:

Might I humbly submit that because it is simply to tempting for most of the companies which make "better" outdoor gear to make more money by outsourcing everything from fabric to manufacture and perhaps design, most of what they are selling today is hype.

Except for the really high-end stuff (arc'teryx made in Canada, Cloudveil Made in USA,) there is a great deal of homogenization in the the products available. Overall I think this means that the mid range stuff actually slightly better than it used to be, but most of the stuff they charge much more for is all about branding and has nothing to do with quality. You only need to look at what is being charged at closeout for this stuff to see that it ultimately costs bupkis to make a decent jacket, fleece, wicking baselayer, etc. How expensive is it to weave polyester x different ways? How much does Gore or Toray or Schoeller charge per yard of fabric? How much do Chinese textile workers get paid?

Companies like TNF, Marmot, Spyder, HH (or their corporate parents), etc. realized that they could get away with this because 90% of the people who were paying a premium for their stuff did not use it at its limit and were essentially buying for what they aspired to do, not what they actually did (the SUV effect) and it will therefore work fine without protest for 90% percent of their customers. The other 10% will move on to more specialized brands, and the companies can still keep up their brand status through sponsorships and endorsement deals.

For gosh sakes, it's the same looms in China spinning polyester and the same factories turning out the finished products and if the only difference between the best and the also rans is (to take the Marmot example from the other thread) that no one bothered to tell the factory to use a lining material that wouldn't get messed up by velcro, then we are really being duped.

If not for this kind of outsourcing it would not be possible for literally every company in the ski industry to have apparel lines: Scott, Swix, Volkl, Atomic, etc. etc. etc.

I'm generally frugal but I do spend more where it counts. After looking at my closet carefully, I have noticed: My Patagonia Capilene isn't much better than the my Reebok "Play Dry" shirt, nor is my Mountain Hardware fleece much better than my old Columbia one or even a cheap but well-fitting champion one I picked up for about fifteen bucks. I have a decent waterproof breathable bombproof hardshell that I just reapplied the DWR to with Nikwax and it works great (and I sweat profusely), and ditto for my pants which don't even have a branded WP/breathable laminate but have never soaked through, even sitting on a stuck chairlift in a big puddle.

My bottom line is that if you know enough about the the fabrics, then simply look at the construction, fit, and attention to detail and forget about the brand. And with such a crowded and and misrepresented marketplace, if I really did need to buy true technical clothing that simply could not fail, then I would scarcely know where to start.

So, am I on to something or am I simply not hardcore enough to know the difference?

Thoughts?
post #2 of 14
I think you're right, this is kinda what I was trying to say in the marmot thread. I do find that the fit of 'technical' brands is often much better for me though.
post #3 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by aschick View Post
The recent Marmot thread, along with other scattered discussions about everything from base layers to softshells has prompted me to put down my thoughts about this stuff to solicit some opinions:

...My bottom line is that if you know enough about the the fabrics, then simply look at the construction, fit, and attention to detail and forget about the brand....

So, am I on to something or am I simply not hardcore enough to know the difference?

Thoughts?
I'm the Marmot thread OP guy and you've made some great points. In fact, I tend to follow brands since I'm not good a looking at a garment's materials, construction etc. OTOH my wife is very astute about material and garment construction, and she was there with me looking at the Marmot stuff before I bought mine. She was quite shocked when the lining started to shred, so it even fooled her. This experience seems to be telling me that if you know a brand to be of high quality (from recent experience not from 10 years ago) then it can a very important part of the equation.
post #4 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by ski-ra View Post
This experience seems to be telling me that if you know a brand to be of high quality (from recent experience not from 10 years ago) then it can a very important part of the equation.
Absolutely. Things change.
Not only that, but cmpare the same end of thier product range. Companies now have a range of products. Its the same with a lot of products, not just clothing. I remember when Toro for example made nothing but the best lawnmowers, and snowblowers. They cost more, but they were good. Somewhere along the line they realized that they had to compete with the cheaper brands and started turning out crap products at lower prices, but were still more expensive than the other crap products out there.
post #5 of 14
Was watching "how it's made" the other day. PolarTec factory was cranking out what looked like miles of polar fleece from recycled plastics. I can't imagine there is more than 25 cents worth the material in a $100 jacket.

I remember when this stuff came out, the recycled version in the 90's, everyone praised it as the greatest, cheapest fabric available. Was environmentally friendly (recycled) and would become one of the cheapest materials available once production was built up. Hmmm...
post #6 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by ManDown View Post
Was watching "how it's made" the other day. PolarTec factory was cranking out what looked like miles of polar fleece from recycled plastics. I can't imagine there is more than 25 cents worth the material in a $100 jacket.

I remember when this stuff came out, the recycled version in the 90's, everyone praised it as the greatest, cheapest fabric available. Was environmentally friendly (recycled) and would become one of the cheapest materials available once production was built up. Hmmm...
the north face, marmot, arc'teryx, mountain hardwear, etc badges cost $99.75, so it all adds up.
post #7 of 14
Good post aschick -- I think you're right on with your observations.

I've found "cheaper" brand stuff that can hold up better than premium brands, and then a few months later bought the same item and the quality has already changed (different quality of fabric).

As for Polartec, I do try to stick with their brand of fleece simply because when their factory burned down several years ago, the elderly owner who could have just walked away a multi-millionaire (or maybe a billionaire) instead kept paying his workers, and rebuilt his factory and company. I never really followed the story after that, but that was a pretty decent move.

Buying big brands like TNF is like buying Nike sneakers. Most of the cost is marketing. There is probably something better out there at the same price, or cheaper for the same quality. You just have to turn some stones to find it.
post #8 of 14
I know that the Marmot uniforms I was supplied withthis year and last year is not as good as the Marmots uniform I got 3 years ago.
post #9 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by chemSki View Post
I think you're right, this is kinda what I was trying to say in the marmot thread. I do find that the fit of 'technical' brands is often much better for me though.
While there is a healthy dose of marketing hype associated with the "big brands", it is hard to argue that these brands make clothes that fit people of athletic builds.I have the hardest time finding clothes that fit me right.

Anyone with even a marginally decent athletic build is going to find that "standard" clothes dont fit right. I find myself buying the oddball brands at REI. However, when it comes to the fancy "expensive name" brands, I much prefer waiting until end-of-season and picking up a new coat or whatever at a rediculous discount.



Also, as a side note, my mother-in-law likes to sew in her spare time. Making dresses and such. She picked up my Spyder coat a while back and was gawking at the construction. She was astonished at how "built" it was. So you arent *only* paying for the brand name, at least you do get proper performance from it when you do pay for it.p>
post #10 of 14
aschick,
You and I are in violent agreement!
post #11 of 14
In almost every case the company does not manufacture its products but outsources it to various factories in Asia. These factories could be producing Spyder on one line right next to Polo on the next. Spyder alone uses more than 10 factories none of which I believe are exclusive. This is why you see so many lookalike products all with the same materials but slightly different designs. The production moves from factory to factory - China, Thailand, Bangladesh etc.... depending on cost and sometimes quality suffers although the materials can all be top quality. The best quality now in my opinion is from Vietnam ( North Vietnam ) where there are some brand new state of the art factories producing amazing quality.

The main difference in price is what the company feels its logo is worth. The technical detail in Patagonia pales in comparison to much of its competition yet the price remains very high.
post #12 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by srd View Post
The technical detail in Patagonia pales in comparison to much of its competition yet the price remains very high.
I can't speak to Patagonia's technical details (I am an in-bounds skier not a mountaineer or ice-climber), but the new Patagonia jacket my wife bought at the beginning of the season is clearly the equal of or probably even better (in materials and construction) than other jackets costing $350.

I believe that Patagonia has not lost it quality-oriented vision, and seems to take a more hands-on manufacturing approach vs. that used by the TNF's, Spyders, Marmots, etc. (i.e., requiring the asian factories to meet a price point with quality and materials a secondary issue).
post #13 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by srd View Post
In almost every case the company does not manufacture its products but outsources it to various factories in Asia. These factories could be producing Spyder on one line right next to Polo on the next. Spyder alone uses more than 10 factories none of which I believe are exclusive. This is why you see so many lookalike products all with the same materials but slightly different designs. The production moves from factory to factory - China, Thailand, Bangladesh etc.... depending on cost and sometimes quality suffers although the materials can all be top quality. The best quality now in my opinion is from Vietnam ( North Vietnam ) where there are some brand new state of the art factories producing amazing quality.

The main difference in price is what the company feels its logo is worth. The technical detail in Patagonia pales in comparison to much of its competition yet the price remains very high.
yeah, at my job i see shipping invoices all the time from asian suppliers to companies like marmot, north face, mountain hardwear, etc. i've gone to some of these manufacturers' websites and they have page after page of ready-made designs of everything from jackets to tents that you can have your logo slapped on. i'm guessing north face, et. al. may still design their higher-end stuff, but they are buying the cheaper stuff off the shelf. the prices from the suppliers are ridiculously low for the most part, but i don't know how much of that is trying to scam customs for lower duty. interestingly, burton seems to be paying higher prices than a lot of more prestigious brands, i don't know how that translates to quality though. oakley sunglasses cost about as much from the supplier as the ones that are going to the no-name places that supply the rack at your local gas station.
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by epl View Post
oakley sunglasses cost about as much from the supplier as the ones that are going to the no-name places that supply the rack at your local gas station.
No surprise there. The only thing I pay extra for in a pair of sunglasses is a no hassle replacement policy. So I'll spend $30 on a pair of coyotes instead of ten somewhere else. I also love how "polarized" is treated as some high-tech thing by the sunglasses and goggle companies. A polarized Smith goggle Lens runs about a 60% premium.
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