And therein lies the story of men’s knitwear. Over the last 75 years, the center of the industry has moved away from Scotland and gone to China and Italy. China competes on price; Italy competes on design. Scotland has struggled because it hasn’t been very good at either, instead just banging out the same classics year after year. The story isn’t too dissimilar from the one Antonio Ciongoli told me a few weeks ago, when I interviewed him about how he designs clothes. When he did his first Eidos collection, he found that the worst sellers included the quarter-zip sweaters and five-pocket chinos everyone told him he had to make. The reason is because they were buried under a mountain of all-too-similar designs from other brands. Today, his best sellers include a unique field jacket and belted cardigan, both of which are distinctive to an Eidos look.
There’s a word for this: commodification. It’s when a market is so competitive products become nearly indistinguishable, so they primarily compete on price. Think of the difference between a blank white t-shirt and a Rick Owens “unstable” tee. There a million options for the first, so the price ceiling is low. Rick Owens’ tee, on the other hand, is much more unique, so it’s able to command higher prices.
The difference is that now everything is being commodified. Fast fashion retailers can ripoff a runway look within a month; trends pass through the fashion ecosystem at light speed; and consumers can more easily comparison shop. When a guy is looking at a field jacket at J. Crew, he can compare it against the hundreds of options online, even while he’s in the store. All he needs is a WiFi connection.