If You Can Buy It at an Airport It Ceases to Be Exclusive

Words by: Andrew Williams


Two ordinary button down shirts, yes? Well, not quite. Well, not for me anyways.

These are in fact the first samples for my own label. You may remember that this is a little project I’m working on. Kicking things off I’m aiming to offer the perfect button down, soft roll collared shirt. Indeed, my frustration at not being able to find one, off the peg and for a modest sum, is what finally convinced me to go down this road. I should add, I’m hoping to be able to offer it hand-cut for £50 or under.

Sadly, while the fabric is perfect as is the cut they’re not quite right with regards that elusive collar. But we’re on our way nonetheless. There will be more details in future posts.

If these things were easy then everybody would be doing it, right? However, mine will be but the latest of a slowly growing movement of micro labels. The trials and tribulations we must endure are not the only things we micro label aspirants share in common.  We all desire to redress the balance in favour of the consumer and correct something which seems to us totally unjust.

Just why I, and a few others like me, go to all this effort was rammed home to me this week when I picked up a copy of this months GQ. I only ever buy three copies a year: the spring/summer roundup, the autumn/winter roundup and the annual GQ Style edition. Looking through this months copy for the first time it struck me just how expensive everything seemed to be. It was almost as though a high price was itself a virtue and an end.

Thanks to Tom Ford I’m used to the notion of a ridiculous price for manufactured clothing. While it seems unfair to lay the blame entirely at his door there does appears to be some notion afoot that if you don’t charge inflated prices you have little right to call yourself a ‘designer label’.

It’s long been debatable whether ‘designer labels’ actually offer you anything approaching value for money anymore.  They seem mostly to use the same cheap sweatshop labour the high street chains do – to one degree or another. And when you compare what some charge in comparison to having a garment made bespoke or made-to-measure prices seem even harder to justify in my view.

So if it’s not quality, then what are we paying for? Well of course designer labels work on a notional sense of exclusivity. Indeed, they play on that sense and play it up. Normal economic theory suggests that price is a reflection of scarcity; but not so with designer labels. The proliferation and commercialisation of labels like Ralph Lauren, Hackett and Thomas Pink mean that in fact the same products are offered to millions of people all over the world. I don’t know about you, but I work to the theory if you can buy it duty free at an airport then it’s not exclusive.

And this brings me back to where we started – the micro label – micro in every sense of the word. What I love about these guys, and why I’m joining their ranks is that they genuinely offer that sense of value for money, of originality and of exclusivity. Product runs are small, but so too are the prices. What’s more there is a genuine and palpable sense of passion, the enthusiast at work.


A couple of these micro labels to catch my eye recently are Everlane and The Knottery. Both based in the US of A, product runs are strictly limited and run out quite quickly. In both cases products are made in the US and you’re charged a fair price for them. Sadly, Everlane doesn’t ship to the UK yet but the Knottery does and I recently loaded up on the Longshoreman as well as their knitted lapel flowers and cotton pocket squares.

If you like your designer labels, well good luck to you. For me they make increasingly less sense as a concept – whatever I may think of individual products.

After all, if you can buy it at an airport then it isn’t exclusive.