Why Is Raw Denim More Expensive Than The Usual ?
The denim is important part of the cost but it’s not the only factor. There’s economy of scale, higher labor costs and the hype train as well.
Denim – most “raw” denim is selvedge denim. It’s made on outdated and slower looms. The old looms can add some character but the denim is only as good as the weave/material/price point being paid. Distressing denim is also a good way to hide the fact that fabric may have never been that great to begin with. You can’t get away with sub-par that these days, especially not for the nerdy, self informed enthusiast market. Cost per unit on great denim is 4x normal fabric costs.
Labor – Most of the high dollar stuff you’re talking about is made in the USA or Japan which obviously have higher labor costs. Add to that some details typical at the higher price points (hidden rivets, tucked belt loops, overlocked and topstitched inseams, button flies) all add to labor time as well. This feedback loop is where most of the costs come in – you can’t usually get the good quality work done in places with cheap labor.
Levi’s uses robotic sewing machines for things like back pockets, something incompatible with high end detailing (single needle completion, hidden rivets, maintaining smaller seam allowances so fades aren’t wierd etc). Some brands will use vintage machinery on the production line. Vintage machines sew beautifully but they aren’t as fast and the have higher maintenance costs per pair. Keeping these machines running and sewing clothes is really the only way to keep them out of the scrap yard, they’re way too cool to let that happen. This begs the question for the customer whether that kind of thing you like to support, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and has almost no impact on end product quality.
Scale – any company that gets the raw denim nerds (LVC and RRL excluded) is relatively small. Costs are comparatively higher because you get less mileage per pattern created, smaller cutting lots, higher price per pair sewn, less efficient distribution and all the usual small business price culprits. If you’re manufacturing in house you get more control over the product (full disclosure:I run a tiny denim brand and I manufacture in house) but you also end up with much higher equipment and overhead costs. Why not just use a contractor? I’d rather not do it at all than lose complete quality control.
Hype – the marketing department at bigger brands knows people are interested in the market, not everybody offers an amazing product.
Is it worth it? That’s up to you. How do you feel about supporting domestic/skilled apparel labor, preserving industrial production knowledge, nerdy details, do you like textiles etc. It’s hard to understand until you see the good stuff in person – some brands try to cut out the retail aspect completely but that’s a race to the bottom I can’t get behind.
I’ve found some great bargains at Boscow’s Department Store Outlet for Men & Women Denim Jeans starting at $29.