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Cheap denim, the true cost

Denim

But what separates a £200 pair of jeans from a £40 or even a £10 pair? That was the subject of a recent Channel 4 documentary, The Shopper’s Guide to Saving Money. The show’s conclusion - that all jeans are created equal and shoppers are being stitched up by designers - will not sit well with the likes of 7 For All Mankind, Diesel, Edwin, Lee and True Religion. 

However, what the show failed to highlight is that where the jeans are manufactured can also play a part in the final cost of jeans, especially when wages and safe working conditions are taken into account. Workers in the factory owned by Turkish denim brand Colin’s are paid one-third that of their UK counterparts.

Also, jeans produced in environmentally responsible factories — ones that avoid using harsh chemicals that wash into rivers, farms, oceans — are typically more expensive to produce. The show didn’t point out that the quality of components like rivets and buttons are a factor in price, as are extra details such as distressing. Handmade rips and tears will cost more than machine distressed denim as shown in the Colin’s factory.

The true value, regardless of price, comes from far more than just the end product and the label sewed to it.

The Shopper’s Guide to Saving Money’s argument

In a bid to show that even experts can’t tell the difference, one of the show’s presenters visited Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson, who turns out jeans at £5,000 a pair. Anderson began by explaining that cost variations largely come from the weight of the denim; with high street weights between 10oz and 12oz and his own at 15oz. 

When asked to identify cheap and expensive denim, Anderson struggled to match four styles to their price tags of £10, £50, £100 and £200. While he did manage to identify the lowest priced pair, he placed the £50 style as the most expensive, suggesting there is quality to be found in the mid-market.

Meanwhile, another presenter visited Adana in Turkey, where many British high street brands clothes are made. She went to the Colin’s factory, one of the largest producers of denim in Turkey, turning out around 20 million metres of denim per year. 

The factory manager Elith explained that all jeans made from the same stuff, regardless of price. He said, on average, 800g of cotton is used to make a pair of jeans. Of course, the heavier the weight of denim, the more cotton is used, reiterating Anderson’s point. They showed the whole process through the raw cotton being combed and spun into threads, woven with lycra in the case of skinny or stretch jeans, dyed and then being made into jeans. 

Later, in an interview, the factory owner said the cost of a 1.5 metre piece of denim can range in price from €3 (£2.10) to €7 (£4.90), depending on the thickness. The show then spelt out that the cost of denim is between £2 and £5 and the cost of manufacturing is more than £8. The rest of the cost, it said, comes from shipping, branding wages, profit, the wages of the designer and other company costs as well as advertising campaigns. 

“You cannot say looking at the jeans if it is £200 or £20 but that doesn’t mean a cheaper jean is a bad jean,” said Elith. “A jean is a jean and they are made the same way. They are treated the same way [by us when we make them].”

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