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Value clothes don't always come cheap

'Cheap' as a marketing message is becoming an increasingly questionable tactic for a clothing retailer to rely on. Yes, a large number of consumers are driven by price and will queue round the block for the chance to, say, kit their kids out for a tenner (although given recent events on the British high street I am beginning to wonder if some consumers wouldn't just queue round the block for the chance to, um, queue round the block).

But you have to ask yourself whether the inevitable negative publicity that follows the news you're selling clothing for less than the price of sandwich is really worth the risk.

Asda's announcement last week that it was indeed selling school uniforms (including underwear and shoes) for less than £10 - although that price was based on the cost of some items coming from multipacks - was met with a fairly predictable response from the media. What, they asked, was the "real cost" of this clothing? Asda may have asserted that it maintains high ethical standards, but you get the sense that the media doesn't really want to believe them.

When you're buying on the scale of Asda's parent Wal-Mart, it may well be perfectly possible to produce and sell clothing this cheaply while ensuring that you make a profit and your suppliers are paid a fair price.

Just because clothes are sold cheaply doesn't necessarily mean that they're manufactured in different circumstances from clothing that is sold at a higher price. The point is that when you market and sell clothing this cheaply, in today's climate, it just makes the media and some consumers suspicious. As for what it does to your competitors, well, therein lies another story.

There is a rising sense of concern surrounding cheap clothes. Former Topshop brand director Jane Shepherdson added her voice the debate following her appointment to the board of ethical clothing brand People Tree. She was quoted in a number of national newspapers this week saying that people were sick of filling their wardrobes with "cheap rubbish".

No doubt those comments will be interpreted by some (including some at Arcadia HQ) as a side-swipe at her former employer, but by today's standards you couldn't call Topshop cheap. Affordable yes, but not cheap, and certainly not rubbish.

This is a retailer that invests and believes in design and whose customers are prepared to pay more for that design element. (Having said that, spending money on design doesn't necessarily result in good design, as evidenced by the logo unveiled for the London 2012 Olympics this week.)

But whether she was being cheeky or not, and I like to think she wasn't, I agree whole-heartedly with Shepherdson.

Sensible pricing and a focus on quality would result in better product for consumers and a healthier climate for high street retailers. Trouble is, cheap sells. But, to avoid the backlash, retailers may want to reconsider marketing their wares as such.

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