Raising eyebrows but ticking the trend boxes, this dress costs just 99p.
[Image via OMG Fashion].
If you dig beneath the glossy surface of retail, one of the most obvious marketing tactics to draw people in is to offer certain products as 'loss leaders'. These are the heavily discounted items that you're not making money on - in fact, you'll more than likely be selling them at a loss - but they drive new customers into the shop who then end up buying a shed-load of items along with that dirt-cheap t-shirt or DVD, so everyone goes home happy. One of the most obvious cases of this is the newly available dress by OMG Fashion (nope, I hadn't heard of them either) which was put on sale for just 99p today. No, that's not a typo. I want to explore the positives - basically their marketing strategy - and the negatives, as well as the best counter-argument that I believe charity shops and environmentally-friendly retailers could launch.
So much traffic was generated to the website that it crashed and the item is now marked on the homepage as 'Out of stock until further notice'. Although many of the shoppers may have only snapped up the bargain and not been tempted by its much pricier neighbours, such as the bandage dress for a grossly inflated £59, the majority probably stuck something else in their virtual basket too, so the loss wouldn't have been astronomical to the company. What's more, they've managed to generate a heap of publicity with their marketing tactic, generating traffic and purchases. It's blatant and obvious and a bit cheap, but you can't deny that it works.
Financial Issues - Fair Wage vs. The Recession
Strangely, one of the biggest gripes that the public had was that the dress was likely to have been made in a sweatshop by impoverished children; something that shoppers don't normally worry about when they buy from notorious sweatshop labour abusers like Gap and Nike. Somehow it's only when the price we pay is low, rather than grossly inflated, that we are exposed as buying into the exploitation of workers, as if the 99p dress is the source of all evil. Well, I don't think it is (though it may be symptomatic).
The thing is, though Britain may have been labelled as being 'out of the recession', for many of us we are really, really not. If someone offered you a Christmas party outfit for less than the price of Heat Magazine, well, it might be quite tempting, especially considering the amount you'd be spending on the rest of your evening. Although I do like to be ethical where I can, such as being a member of Amnesty, and I've worked with several ethical labels in my career, I'm not going to deny that I shop in H&M and Primark too. I can certainly see the financial appeal of this piece, whether it sits comfortably with me or not. It's fun and flirty and it would suit young girls who want to let their hair down and forget financial issues. However, I do think it presents a golden opportunity for ethical organisations to get their own back.
Sweet Charity - How to Challenge OMG
The way that charity shops should tackle publicity such as this, which emphasises the convenience of throwaway fashion, is to take on the 99p challenge. I think a great counter-argument would be to up-cycle dresses in charity shops, spending 99p on the materials to engineer the up-cycling, such as second-hand buttons, remnants of fabric, sequins, vegetable dye, wax for a batik effect, etc. Meanwhile, ethical labels could blog about the dress and its negative impact, then create pieces that make the wearer feel a million dollars rather than under a quid.
As you can see, the dress really did spark a lot of mixed thoughts for me. I won't be buying it, though I'm not going to pretend that I'm some kind of ethical goddess, because I'm also partial to the lure of the incredibly cheap high street and online retailers. Whether you go and buy it or not, you have to admit that it's a controversial move and one that is undeniably interesting to both fashion lovers and haters.