Quality v.s. Quantity?

Quality versus quantity. What does it really mean? 

This term, and others like "well-made", are terms that I hear all the time, and from very unlikely sources. I still find myself often discussing with perople what I feel they really mean to me, and other small artisan designers. So I thought this would be a great time to sit down and show some examples of this, to illustrate first hand what quality and well made really look like. 

For this "show and tell" I decided to use my Mandy dress, but you can do this at home with any garment in your wardrhobe. As a generalisation, any garment from any of the larger fast fashion chains compared to any smaller/eco conscious labels you own should offer some interesting/contrasting parallels. So grab your garments, turn them inside out, and lets begin!

 

STITCH PER INCH AND PUCKERING EFFECT (due to fast process) 

The single issue or indicator that I raise the most, without doubt, is Stitch Per Inch (SPI). Simply put, the higher the SPI, the more expensive and time consuming it is to make, and the longer it will last. I use an SPI of 12 to 14 on all my line. Generally, mass produced fast fashion items will be around 8 to 10, at most. The higher the SPI, the better quality the stitch and finish and the higher quality the stitching. In general, the longer it will take to make, the more expensive it will be, and the longer it will last.

Garments with a lower SPI are generally less durable, have long stitches and are more prone to snagging. The lower the SPI, the less thread it takes to make, and the faster and easier it is to make. In appreciating finely made garments, or indeed when purchasing clothes, I feel you should always be aware of the quality of the garment - of which the stitching details and workmanship are always the key

 

Merrowed edge

The next item we will look at is the merrowed edge. Sewing aficionados would know the meaning, but to the rest of us it is essentially just the way fabric edges are finsihed. It is created by 'overlock stitching' using an over lock machine.
Over lock stops the edges of the cut fabric from fraying, this is the most beneficial way for mass production to finish their product, an overlock machine is faster than a sewing machine, it produces 5,000 stitches per minute as opposed to 250 - 1,000 stitches per minute done by a sewing machine. Overlock stitching was traditionally used in areas where the seams finished with a sewing machine would cause seams to bulk up, making the insides of the garment uncomfortable to wear, so yes, sometimes we use it as well. But over lock has become the industry standard as its the fastest, cheapest and hides a lot of sewing flaws.
This can never be seen more clearly than when the garment is turned inside out. Amongst other things you will notice is the finish of the Khadi yoke, which is done here on a curve, is completely clean and even - as it has been 'french seamed' which is a very slow and time consuming process. But it is another sign where the garment has been made with love, with patience, and finished with skill and attention to detail. This finishing, called french seam, is the most difficult and expensive.

BUTTONS

And what about the buttons, I hear you asking (if you are still reading). Yes, even the little details down to the buttons can talk to a garments attention to detail and quality.

Having spent many years as a young designer at premium lables such as Ralph Lauren in New York, I was frequently aware of the importance of good quality buttons. So I am always in love with my buttons and pay a lot of attention to them. In both of these pieces, I have used my fabric waste to cover recycled buttons. I almost always use coconut, shell or wood buttons. The attention to detail in our trims is important to me. And using excess fabric in little ways like this, are what details are all about, if you have extra fabric - why not use it and make it look fabulous.

Re-use waste fabrics

And while we are talking about trims, how can we not go into detail about THAT belt, and the bicep brading. Let's start with the belt. When I say XXL - I do mean XXL, its huge!

So this belt is hand braided, made from waste fabric, and is about 3metres or 9 feet long! This sort of detail in a belt would normally be sold separately, but with this stunning dress it's included! A fast fashion garment would either have no belt, or a cheaper alternative. Similarly the bicep brading is a standout on this dress. Done by hand, stitched with love - this kind of handwork takes an individual tailor a lot of time to finish.

bias cut

Next, working our way down, let's look at the bottom of the skirt. For any dress or skirt, the most difficult and expensive way to cut the fabric to make the body, is on a Bias. A bias cut means cutting the fabric on a 45 degree angle to the straight grain so that the fabric will drape itself contouring to the shape of the body.
To put it simply fabric is cut at a diagonal angle which means it is cut into a full circle. So that when you put it on, and do that lovely twirl - it will flare and hang perfectly as its cut as a circle. A cheaper, mass produced dress would be cut on grain, which means it is done straight on running fabric, does not hang or show as nicely.

baby hem 

And how could you not have been asking yourself about the hem? Have you ever seen someone walking in the city with half of the hem on their dress or pants coming undone? That is (usually) the sign of a fast made garment.

On my dresses, I use a baby hem, which consists of about 1/8" of fabric turned back fabric at the bottom, turned a few times, and then evenly stitched off. This is a slow, time-consuming process, that too done on a bias! In comparison, a fast made garment would have a hem about 1/2" to 1", made by machine, and turned back only once. This is faster, cheaper, and can be mass-produced in quick time to enable the next piece to be made.

Inside out

Finally, and as you might have guessed when reading this, can you wear it inside it?!?! Take a look at some pictures we took and you tell me? 

I think the answer is yes! No dirty seams. No cheap thread work visible. 0% overlock stitching showing. Everything is covered. Attention to details in finishing. Clean finish and the french seams in the armhole. No machine-made edges. If the answer to these is yes, then you have truly bought something lovely, something to cherish, and something that should last you a long time.



Whether it is my garment, or another small independant label, I do want to say thank you for supporting quality over quantity, and for helping to impact lives and livelihoods, in the right way. And thank you for paying a premium for the quality of the garment, and not just the label in itself.

 


1 comment


  • Anhad Bhullar Malhotra

    Hi Kopal!

    This article is so beautifully written and draws attention to the most important detail of a garment, the stitch.. Being in the same industry this gives me so much pleasure and satisfaction that there are still a few of us left who genuinely want to leave a lasting impact and a solid message about quality in clothing!!

    Lots of positivity coming your way!
    Regards


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