After spending some time debating whether our quality standard for luxury goods just too high, we reached the conclusion that it’s absolutely not. After all, we’d like to continue living in a world where young fashionistas can raid their mothers’ (or grandmothers’) closets and score some great vintage designer pieces. Is it really too much to ask for the seams of our Speedys to remain intact after a few years of use or for the red soles of our Louboutins to not show wear after only one night out?!
High end brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have enjoyed success because they’ve had brilliant creative directors and great marketing strategies for over a century. But the quality of their products seems to have decreased over the years – quite ironic given the fact that superb quality, not status, was the original value proposition for both of these brands.
Take Louis Vuitton, for example. In the mid-70s, to keep up with growing demand in the US, LV provided “The French Company” (now French Luggage) a special license to manufacture bags with its iconic monogram. Our vintage Speedy has held up better than its modern counterpart, a clear sign that they really just don’t make things like they used to.
In 2005 Louis Vuitton hired consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to help implement lean production techniques. Interestingly, the direct impetus for the program was not to increase quality, but to reduce production time and actually be able to stock to meet demand (very much counter to their previous strategy of forced scarcity). So while it doesn’t exactly resemble a Toyota plant, each LV factory has now shifted from having 250 employees each specializing in one task to “clusters of six to 12 workers, each performing several tasks” (read the WSJ article). LV proudly boasts that the defect rate has decreased. That certainly saves the company money but doesn’t directly impact the customer since the quality control process happens before the bags hit the shelves. Ultimately, the defect rate doesn’t account for the quality of the material, which is probably diminished as it is moved around from station to station! Our hunch is that our 2006 Speedy was produced under the new system and is evidence of the tradeoff between production speed (and a lower manufacturing cost) and the bag’s quality.
So, where exactly does that leave us? No more LVs – we’re holding out for a Birkin, with the hope that the ultra high end brands can actually live up to our quality standards (note that Hermès has increased its number of craftsmen, and has NOT changed its manufacturing system).