Gucci has been a fashion phenomenon over the last few years. It’s quirky, geek-chic and eccentric aesthetic has caught the world’s imagination and the sales have reflected that. When creative director, Alessandro Michele, arrived in January 2015 yearly sales were around the €4billion mark. In 2017, they had grown to €6.2billion, and last year it topped €8billion. It is forecast to smash the €10billion threshold in 2020 and is the star amongst Kering’s stable of brands.
But, growth is slowing, and while the Gucci look has been a barn-storming success, the reality of the product and its quality issues could be the reason for turning off many consumers. People talk, especially when things go wrong.
Left - Gucci's sales growth is slowing. Is the quality making consumers get outta here?
Though Gucci’s revenue was still up a healthy 16.3% to €4.61bn in the first half of this year, it is far below the 30%-plus growth levels the market had become used to. Gucci now accounts for 40% of Kering’s revenue and has ambitious aims to overtake Chanel and Louis Vuitton as the world’s number one luxury house in terms of turnover.
This huge growth has seen queues outside stores on streets like Bond Street and GG belts all over social media, but many consumers have been disappointed by the quality of the product and won’t be burnt twice.
Speak to buyers or sales assistants at luxury stores about their thoughts on Gucci’s quality issues and they simply nod and shrug their shoulders, acknowledging what a growing numbers of consumers are realising. Gucci’s product is complicated and in order to make it at a price they can sell it at, they have, arguably, lowered the quality. Though the margins must also be huge.
When a brand is hot and hyped the quality isn’t questioned as much. But, the minute it starts to peak, these issues quickly become more noticeable and people aren’t afraid to tell their friends. This feels where Gucci is right now. While this isn’t particularly scientific, here are a few examples of Gucci’s quality issues from recent customers which could be slowing their growth.
Richard, 36, from London, says, “Like a mug I purchased the fluffy horsebit slippers when they first came out, they were lovely! Super cool, I was floating around fashion week in Milan like I owned the place! But, I was defo sucked in.
“After 7 wears, the fur started to fall out, so I took them back to Gucci to get a replacement or repaired and they said they wouldn’t and couldn’t. So, I now have half furry slippers that are just discarded as they look like they have mange…” he says.
These famous ‘Princetown’ loafers were one of Gucci’s first hit products and continues to retail for around £750. “I haven’t shopped there since, not even for the mega tailoring they do now. The quality for price just isn’t there for me. Yes it’s cool, as it’s Gucci, but you have to draw the line somewhere!” says Richard.
Jess, 38, from London, says, “The runway pieces and handbags look as good as ever but the high volume, lower entry price point items look and feel cheaper.
“I bought a scarf about 2 years ago. The print is amazing but it's paper thin - the wool is virtually transparent. Initially, I wanted to purchase a GG logo belt, but I could see the leather wasn't good quality and wouldn't last. I have an Hermes belt that's over 10 years old and going strong - the Gucci one wouldn't last a year in my opinion.” she says. “They seem to be using lower quality materials in some instances, I'm assuming this is to increase profits.” says Jess.
There was a story of a well known London department not being able to add security tags on to those white Gucci logo T-shirts because they were so thin it was putting holes in the fabric. They were retailing for well over £300.
One respondent, wishing to remain anonymous, says, “I mean the quality of their product is pretty much on a level with the high street. They produce those flimsy t-shirts that you can’t actually wash as the fabric is too delicate and you certainly can’t put a security tag or pin in it as it will mark/leave a hole.”
“The embroidery work on those sweatshirts they were pumping out at the start of the resurgence were hit and miss (they looked like a machine had done them to make it look like it was crafted by hand but obviously wasn’t). And threads just looked loose and unkept.” they says.
Right - While the ideas and imagery is fantastic, do the goods live up to expectations?
“But maybe the most disappointing scenario is their loafers. I’ve got a few pairs and all of them, after the first wear, the insoles become loose and started to peel away exposing a sticky glue like substance that you have to stand in if you want to wear them... there is nothing luxury about that at all.”
Lois Spencer-Tracey, 36, blogger, www.bunnipunch.co.uk says, “The quality of Gucci could definitely be better. Some brands that are seen as on par produce products that are quality, but for the same price.”
“I have bought a couple of pieces from Gucci.” she says. “I have bought one of their statement tee’s which was definitely not worth the £375 mark and I decided not to purchase on of their trademark trainers as the quality of the shoe was so bad for £600.
"I opted out of buying some Gucci trainers and bought the Balenciaga Triple S which I love and have worn so much. Lot better quality." she says.
“Gucci has gone down the more fashionable/trend route over the last 5 years and with that I think the quality has sadly taken a backseat. The collection has grown vastly too.” says Lois. “It has definitely made me rethink shopping there in the future.” she says.
While nobody is questioning Gucci’s creativity and design, it is disappointing that their ideas aren’t up to the standards many expect, especially when there is enough margin within the pricing to produce a decent product while keeping margins high.
Many consumers have been sucked in by the hype, but have been left with a bitter taste in their mouth due to the quality. This is something they could rectify, but could their race to become the number one luxury goods house in the world mean too many quality corners are being cut and is their recent slowing growth a sign of this quality backlash from consumers?
Below - Gucci Pre-Fall 2019
With Italy tip-toeing in and out of recession, Pitti Uomo felt a little skittish on confidence. It had an atmosphere of brands holding on by their finger nails, with many hoping for a strong SS20 season to help pull them through.
Sadly, it’s the quality makers who seem most susceptible to failure. Their high costs, lower margins and small quantities make it a difficult balancing act to continue to stay strong and produce quality product in Italy. These are the brands who are barely known yet sing through the quality on the hanger and all at a fair price. Today, you rarely get this kind of care and attention with a designer name. Here are five made-in-Italy menswear makers we should all be supporting:
Left - Pitti Uomo 96 soaking up the sunshine
Founded in 1957 by current creative director Guido Biondi’s grandfather as ‘7 Bell S.p.A’, a Tuscan atelier, it was the very first producer of Italian denim. Today, they make colourful and contemporary menswear instilled with the best made-in-Italy production.
Right - President's - For the SS20 season, there were bold minimal orange jackets, tie-dyed shirting and hand sketched T-shirts
Based in Venice, Barena, the Italian for ‘mudflat’, has been steadily making inroads into the UK with its stylish and original menswear. Inspired by the Venetian lagoon, Barena says it mimics the qualities of traditional workwear with a modern aesthetic. Loose shapes, quiet precise tailoring, exquisite fabrics, attention to detail and confident versatility are the pillars of their design philosophy.
The menswear designer is Massimo Pigozzo who has been with the Barena family for over twenty years. Trained as a tailor, for Pigozzo it is important to create designs that are simple, understated and easy to wear. Deep fabric research, pattern work and soft tailoring are key to his approach and he says it is not about reproductions or constant alterations.
Left - Barena - For the SS20 season, it was all about contrast with playful tailoring and short sleeved shirts with contrasting collars
Meaning double A in Italian and named after two friends, Alain and Albert, Doppiaa is designed for the whole family, for all ages and all occasions. Based in Milan, Doppiaa has two essential cornerstones: 100% Italian manufacturing, and the painstakingly executed pinpointing and selecting of the highest quality fabrics.
Right - Doppiaa - For the SS20 season, it was brightly coloured towelling tops, pyjama style piped printed shirts and strikingly striped trousers
This is everything the more famous Missoni should be; colourful, stylish and contemporary. Designed by Simonetta Bocelli and Franco Santarini and based in Florence, Sunhouse is a specialist in Italian made knitwear in a rainbow of colours in classic menswear shapes.
Sunhouse is one of the few companies in the world to use traditional 720-yarn looms to 'reinvent' the culture of knitwear. The production is carried out in their workshops in Montecosaro, in the Marche Region. Each individual jacket is cut and sewn by hand.
Left - Sunhouse - For the SS20 season, it was about bold colour stories in signature zig-zagged blazers and delicate polo shirts
BOB is an Italian sportswear brand created by two young Italian guys, Alessio Bonaiuti and Tommaso Bellini. They started their adventure 11 years ago in Prato, with the idea developing from going around vintage warehouses where huge quantities of second hand clothes were divided by colours and then recycled. Going through these warehouses was like being absorbed in a spectacular coloured market that resembled a field of flowers they thought and it was this image was the starting idea to develop a new concept of eclectic and colourful menswear.
Right - BOB - For the SS20 season, it was all about bold, pattern blazers and colourful separates
These are simply beautiful clothes made with care from great ingredients. While you are paying a premium, you are, in fact, getting great value when you consider the expertise and pedigree of these makers. These are the kind of clothes that are a joy to wear and will last you a very long time.
Luxury brand names were once a signifier of quality and craftsmanship. In the race to grow and hit those billion dollar turnovers many luxury fashion brands have diminished their quality to a point where you can no longer tell the difference between a real or fake product.
In the Evening Standard, this week, columnist, Charlotte Edwardes, spoke about the difference she’s noticed in the quality of designer clothes. “Yani at my local dry cleaner informs me: ‘Clothes don’t last any more.’ We are standing on either side of the counter in his shop with an almost-new shirt lying between us. It is silk, but like some reverse sow’s ear, it has developed the consistency of polyester.” she writes.
Left - Bombinate homepage
“I tell him that two beautiful Celine shirts (don’t judge: they were 70 per cent off in Bicester) were stripped of their vibrant colour and silky texture after a few runs through the ‘gold standard’ service. The trousers I am wearing in the picture accompanying this column have also lost their shape. Yani shakes his head. It’s the fault of the manufacturers and not his new - ‘organic’ - machines. In the 65 years and three generations that his family have run this business ‘we’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of clothes.’ What, even expensive brands? ‘Especially expensive brands.’”
Edwardes goes on to say that her contact at Net-a-Porter confirms that the quality of clothes is in decline with two famous fashion houses being the worst offenders.
Personally, I’ve even heard of a story where the cotton logo-ed T-shirts of one huge “luxury’ brand were so thin and, of such poor quality, that the department store they were in couldn’t attach security tags without making a hole in the garment.
This all confirms something I’ve long suspected and, something, I expect, you may have noticed.
All is not lost, though, there are still some amazing producers and manufacturers out there and there’s a new trend in bringing these, often unknown, labels and makers to a wider audience.
The Bombinate marketplace, launched in 2017, and, recently relaunched, specialises in brands of quality for men and has secured an alliance of 100+ brands.
“The main stipulation for being part of the Bombinate community is that each brand aligns with Bombinate’s quality criteria and have a compelling story. Men from around the world can now easily discover a curated selection of European brands that all share the same commitment to quality and design.” says the website.
Founded by European entrepreneurs, Massimiliano Gritti and Elliott Aeschlimann, who were both students studying marketing and finance at different universities in London. “The story of Bombinate started on a bumpy road, somewhere between Russia and Mongolia. Something during these two months traversing the legendary Silk Road inspired us to take the plunge,” says Gritti. “Driving at night didn’t prevent us from having a clear vision of what we wanted to create: an online destination that would be both a home for high-quality brands and a source of inspiration for men who care about quality,” he says. “Back to London, we set sail again to discover the finest menswear and lifestyle goods Europe has to offer. We soon realised that the future of craftsmanship lies in the hands of extraordinary people, and made it our promise to promote them and deliver their craft from their workshop to your door,” says Gritti.
The word “Bombinate” means to make a humming or buzzing noise and the website offers a platform to quality producers, but how do they decide which brands make the cut? “The promise to bring the world’s finest craftsmanship brands to men who care about quality does not come without its challenges,” says Gritti. “At Bombinate we have created a scorecard to source craftsmanship brands. It is based on 5 different factors: Design, Story, Materials, Founders, Skills,” he says.
Many of the brands on the website, such as Arkitaip, Juch and Oscar Deen aren’t well known, and that’s really the point. You’re trusting Bombinate as the umbrella brand for quality and therefore it’s very important for this nascent online brand to fulfil the expectations of its customers. While you’re not paying for a designer name, you are paying for quality and the majority of people know quality when they see it and these brands need to over deliver on this front.
“The real issue at hand is discoverability and accessibility of quality pieces at a fair price today,” says Gritti.
Bombinate has secured investment from a former Richemont Group and Cartier CEO and lastminute.com’s founder and has the potential to sweep up shoppers disillusioned with the quality of some luxury goods at the moment.
Another website offering luxury quality without the name is ‘Italic’. Italic is a marketplace that lets consumers shop unbranded luxury goods. They say by removing brands and labels from the equation, manufacturers earn significantly higher profits while passing "brand markup” savings onto customers.
The website proudly announces, “Shop luxury goods straight from the source”, and “Handbags made by the same factory as Prada and Celine”, but this only really means something if the factories and suppliers are of quality. “Based in sunny Los Angeles and fast-paced Shenzhen, Italic is a members-only marketplace where normal people (not sure what that means) can shop for luxury goods directly from the manufacturers behind the most desired brands and designers.” says the website.
Right - Italic homepage - This only works if Prada and Celine use a decent factory, which is often debatable today
Shoppers pay a $120 annual membership fee, this is free for a year for early sign-ups, and can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to sheets and toothbrushes.
The company’s investors include Index Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Global Founders Capital among them. The company says 100,000 people have joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, and is initially limited to the US.
What these platforms both suggest is a growing movement back to quality. Consumers are growing dissatisfied with luxury goods which seem to grow forever more expensive. This growing niche needs curation and also control, but if they can deliver what they promise they can expect to grow rapidly. Trust is paramount here.
A 2017 Deloitte study of over 1,000 millennial consumers aged 20-30 across the US, UK, Italy and China found that “quality and uniqueness” are the most important factors that attract them to a luxury brand. Good luck finding that!