Buying Nothing


Solanum Lycopersicum shows off their spring collection at the LA Fashion Week.

Solanum Lycopersicum shows off their spring collection at the LA Fashion Week.

I was thinking the other day about designer goods. In general I am not easily persuaded to buy an item based on the name attached to it. The idea of spending hundreds of dollars for the privilege of owning something that says Coach or  Louis Vuitton is simply the wrong shape to fit in my brain.

I should emphasize that I’m not denigrating the work of designers; their work is often of the highest craftsmanship and expertise and I couldn’t respect that more. Designers also straddle a tricky crossroads between art and commerce: to be a success their work must have both artistic and commercial value. In essence a designer must be both an artist and a brand. The problem that I have is when so much focus is on the brand that the art is irrelevant.

Think of any t-shirt with a designer name on it. Is it actually $50 better than the t-shirt you could buy for $1 at the thrift shop? Intrinsically no. But some people will seek out a $50 designer t-shirt and will happily pay full price for it, scorning any discount whatsoever.

Why?

I tried to reason out this mindset while waiting for water to boil one day. Presuming that everybody wants to get the most for their money, and assuming that a t-shirt is t-shirt no matter what store it comes from then what is someone buying when they pay full price for a designer t-shirt?

I decided that they are literally buying nothing. The t-shirt is irrelevant. They are paying $50 to be part of the exclusive group of people who can buy a t-shirt at $50. They are paying full price to define themselves as the “haves” by out pricing the “have nots”.

This seemed like a dubious investment.

I am clearly a Have Not. I could buy a $50 t-shirt if I wanted to, but would never want to because it is pointless and stupid. If I wanted something exclusive I could just make it myself and then I would be the only “have” in the world. But then I have two unfair advantages: first that I DO believe that I have the skills to create a work of value and second I DON’T believe that I, myself, gain value by owning someone else’s work or by preventing others from sharing it.

Is there a part to this equation that I have overlooked? Where do you fall in this spectrum?

And because it is awesome and probably played a pretty big part in me writing this post here is the music video for Thrift Shop. Some NSFW language, but other than that I approve this message.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on January 25, 2013.

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