New fashion brand Oliver Cabell is “seeking to disrupt the luxury fashion business” with an unmatched level of transparency around its products. Exclusively available online, each product’s page on the company’s website details where the item was made and the costs that went into it, including the brand’s mark-up.
By working directly with Italian factories and using quality materials and responsible manufacturing processes, Oliver Cabell says it is able to offer high-quality products at a fraction of traditional luxury prices. Designing in-house, selling only online, and forgoing traditional mark-ups are some of the ways the brand is cutting costs; in stark contrast to what its founder, Scott Gabrielson, claims more established brands have done to increase their margins.
“More than three quarters of designer goods purchases come from a handful of companies. This allows these brands to mark-up its products 10-20 times what they cost to make. Bags and leather goods are the most demanded, and in turn hold the highest mark-ups,” Gabrielson said.
“When you buy fashion goods you often buy a brand. The problem is that these companies keep the brand but change the way they make things, and it has never been in the interest of consumers,” he added. “If you're buying from high-end brands at expensive prices, you automatically assume that it’s of high quality. It's usually not. And that's crazy.”
With his new venture, Gabrielson hopes to offer consumers “an honest alternative” to more established brands that have failed to raise their social and environmental standards despite the expensive prices of their goods. He first learned of the realities of the fashion industry following the infamous Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 that killed over 1,130 people in Bangladesh. He quit his job in business development at an education non-profit to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Oxford, where he focused his studies on the evolution of the fashion industry.
One experience particularly sticks out for him: “While visiting a factory in Asia we saw cramped female workers, earning $7 a day, gluing and sewing designer bags and accessories,” Gabrielson recalled. “One of the bags, which the brand claimed to only produce in Italy, cost under $100 to make. It sold for over $1,200 just down the road.”
The team at Oliver Cabell hope to tap into the shift in perspective from ‘consuming’ labels and megabrands to ‘experiencing’ and self-discovery that is being driven by Millennials. While consumers may be willing to pay a higher price for a product, the company asserts that the price should be justified by its quality. Related to this, Gabrielson noted, “We hope Oliver Cabell relates to people differently than traditional fashion brands. We believe that telling the story behind our products and providing value will do more for us marketing-wise than any big advertising initative.”
As a whole, the ethical fashion movement has been growing. From exposés on cotton sustainability, to Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index and annual awareness campaign, to startups creating more durable clothes in the fight against ‘fast fashion,’ brands are facing more and more pressure to raise their social and environmental standards. Furthermore, companies are beginning to launch footprint-measuring and traceability tools to give consumers added transparency, such as Reformation’s RefScale, which shows the environmental footprint associated with each of the small brand’s products, and Dutch Awearness’ Circular Content Management System, which uses barcodes to ensure full traceability and is available for other producers to use.
Some in the space recognize that the industry’s practices need to change. For example, luxury apparel manufacturer Kering recently called for more collaboration to improve sustainability performance and drive innovation.