Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hoodwinked by Heritage

Clearly I live under a rock.  Despite being surrounded on a daily basis by hundreds of Bright Young Things, I have managed to remain ignorant one of their favourite clothing brands:  Jack Wills.  True, I have seen some perma-tanned girlies wearing "Wills" sweatshirts, micro-shorts and sequinned flipflops during Freshers Week... but I actually thought this meant they were Royal Wedding supporters. Wrong!

Let me introduce you to Jack Wills (from their website): 

 "Jack Wills launched in 1999 in Salcombe, Devon, designing British heritage-inspired goods for the university crowd. Today we continue to be influenced by the best of British, from our history and culture to sporting and country pursuits. We take pride in using the finest quality materials, techniques and design to deliver our distinctive connection between the old and new; epitomising what it is to be young and Fabulously British.

From the iconic British university towns of Oxford and Cambridge to the ivy league campus' of Harvard and Yale, Jack Wills has been travelling the globe proudly planting the Union Jack at over 60 stores and counting; including UK, Ireland, USA and Hong Kong."

Apparently, this company hands out free sweatshirts to the Head Girls and Boys of "our" great public (i.e. fee-paying) schools to further promote the brand among its target clientelle.  My daughter tells me that JW hoodies are the garment of choice among the "Popular Girls" at her current school (think "Heathers") despite a hefty price-tag.

Feeling nauseous yet?

Brideshead Revisited, '80's style
I recently read "Starter For Ten" by David Nicholls.  The main character is an ordinary working class lad who gets into Bristol University against the odds and earns the nickname "Brideshead" from his old school mates.  It is a funny, sad and rather entertaining read.  There's a film too, with James McAvoy, but the book is better.  I digress.  My point is:  I am rather "chippy", i.e. I have an enormous working-class chip on my shoulder.  Call me "Brideshead" and I would come after you, swinging my old leather satchel round my head like an Olympic hammer-thrower.

So I am probably the last person you would expect to buy in to this cynical "Fabulously British", "university crowd" marketing ploy.  Right?  Right.

So, the other day I was browsing eebaay in search of a cardigan.  Shall we use the word "vintage"?  Oh yes, do let's!  And I came across a rather lovely fair-isle yoked cardi.  Ooh!  Just the sort of thing I would knit if I had the time!  Oh look - it has bound button-bands!  And dark brown vintagey buttons.  And it's that lovely short length that looks so good with high-waisted skirts and trousers.  It could almost be from the 1940's!  Ooh!  Pure lambswool?  "Brand new, no tags"? I had better bid on that!

So I did.

And I won it.  Yay!  (£23 in case you are interested.)

And then I did my research.  TSK!

The photograph had been"borrowed" from another seller (whose cardi is listed for £80, Buy It Now), and was not a picture of the exact garment up for sale.  When I checked the seller's history, not all items sold had ever been delivered:  there was an ominous pattern of "lost in the post", "not received" issues.  But because the seller had a good buying history, they had lots of stars by their name.  Will I ever get my cardi?  Watch this space!  My daughter's exact words were "You loser!"  Sigh.

But back to the matter at hand...

Where was this "Fabulously British" item made?  CHINA.

I checked the company's Ethical Trade statement:

"Jack Wills is a foundation stage member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, together with other select companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations around the world. We are working towards improving the working lives of employees among our supplier base and business partners."

And I only feel slightly better.

They are opening a store in Kuwait soon.  I had better start queuing now.

Caveat emptor.


Twelfthknit said... probably isn't the same person....but I think you might be able to guess who this 'parecels lost in post' preson reminds me of?

Marie said...

Ahahaha, this post is hilarious Roobeedoo! In all fairness, the cardi is beautiful so I hope it arrives soon! I actually have a pair of Jack Will knickers that were gifted to me...I feel like a faker every time I wear them ;o)

Lucy said...

When I first started university I was actively confused by the existence of 'rahs', epitomised by Jack Wills - wasn't this an old British stereotype that had died out in the 1950s? Apparently not. This academic-middle-class girl from Birmingham also developed a peculiar chip on her shoulder.

But as you say, the irony is that if you look at the clothing separately from its branding and its price tags, a lot of it is actually quite nice.

Colleen said...

You wouldn't be the first Brideshead to be taken in the by the branding that looks like affluence, old affluence that is. These United States are filled with stories of successful branding...

But, you made this working class girl (who got a scholarship to the second most expensive private school in the states) laugh and cry this morning.

Carry on, mate!

theperfectnose said...

Made ethically in China by blind three year olds for two sesame seeds an hour. Those brands that really want to be ethical stick to manufacturing in the first world, where Trade Commissions have teeth, Environmental regulating bodies exist and being a member of Trade Union isn't punishable by life in jail. Oh yea, and the lack of involuntary organ harvests from healthy prisoners is another awesome first world bonus (I'm only referring to comparisons with China here. No idea what happens in Vietnam and other monocratic places.. XP). Live and learn at least you're buying secondhand and make sure you pay via PayPal and ask for tracked shipping. That way if it doesn't turn up PayPal will refund your money.

Dibs said...

Hahahahhahaa. Roo you got me laughing like a hyena on the train. The cardi looks nice though. Let's hope ur item shows up.

christinelaennec said...

Very funny indeed - and sorry you found out only later. My clearest memory of my years as a graduate student at Yale is of overhearing the university lawyers, one bright morning of the clerical union strike, saying to his colleague, "Just wait til the first snow comes. Those b****es will be back at their desks in no time, you'll see!" That is the truth behind the Ralph Lauren facade.

I'd like to think that the worship of the powerful will go the way of having golliwog dolls. It's too bad that perfectly nice classic clothes have become associated with that world, merely because the moneyed classes kept wearing things like fair isle sweaters when everyone else had moved on...

Thanks for making me laugh!

Linda said...

You innocent! Let me corrupt you further by introducing you to Hollister, where my son has just got a job as an in-store model...
There is no more crushing experience as a woman of a certain age than to enter a Hollister shop (sorry, 'store').

Stephen Greene said...

I think it's a great sweater and will look the way it was meant to look when you put it on.

I grew up in a blue collar family and have a like chip on my shoulder. It's a good place from which to view the world.

I watched an old Richard Burton interview yesterday, Dick Cavett, was the host. Burton started in the Welch mines with his father and brothers at a young age but was kidnapped by his great voice and acting ability and moved to a bigger life, though not one he was comfortable with.

He bribed all but one brother and his father to leave the mines, though as a young boy, he like all the others in the valley wanted to be miners like their Fathers. He spoke with a fiery pride of his brothers and especially of his Dad. He spoke little about his acting prowess.

Sigrid said...

Well, somehow I think that when (if) you wear your unethical sweater you give it your inimitable style. This story and your daughter's comment reminds me of a something I overheard today from my eldest to the youngest, "Parents on the interweb, they're just so funny."

indigorchid said...

Haha, this was such a funny read! Unfortunately I think this happens quite often. I've certainly been fooled at thrift stores, thinking I'm looking at something vintage, then realizing it's Target's own contemporary brand. Oops.

I will be watching this space.