Artificial scarcity in clothing is the worst.

Have you ever fallen in love with a dress, waited to buy it for one reason or another, and then found that it was no longer available? Have you ever bought something when you would have preferred to wait, because you knew if you didn’t snatch it up right away you might not get another chance?

This is artificially-created scarcity at work, and it’s a marketing technique that I find really manipulative and gross. All sorts of companies do it–large corporations, indie designers, straight size stores, plus size stores–but I find it both most frustrating and most understandable when small plus size companies do it.

Frustrating, because I expect large corporations to do pretty much anything in the name of profits, whereas small businesses actually seem to care about their customers as well as their bottom line. Especially plus size small businesses, who are aware of how few options their customers have. If a straight size item sells out, it’s easy enough to find something similar–but with plus sizes, once it’s gone, you might not see anything like it for a long time, if ever.

It feels like a big middle finger to their customers when a company hypes up a new collection, then sells out of some items quickly and refuses to restock them. It encourages people to buy impulsively, spurred on by a fear of missing out, rather than thoughtfully planning out their purchases. It also privileges the people who can afford to buy items right away without having to save up money or wait for a sale, a holiday bonus, or a tax refund. It creates a division between the cool kids who have the rare, coveted items and everyone else, who has to scour eBay for them.

As much as it bothers me, I also find it more understandable when small plus size businesses do it–they’re just playing by the rules of the game, and it’s the structure of the game that’s the real problem. Small businesses are doing whatever they can to make a profit in a system in which the vast majority of profits flow to large corporations. We have an economy in which a brand like Domino Dollhouse can charge up to $90 for dresses, and be wildly popular in the plus size fashion world, while the woman who runs it makes the equivalent of well below the minimum wage. It’s hard for me to blame her, or the owners of other small businesses, for doing what they can to make money.

I’m not sure what the solution is, or if there even is one. We could try writing to clothing companies and ask them to restock our favorite items, and to keep items in stock longer in general; but clearly creating artificial scarcity is profitable, and as long as it makes money, companies aren’t going to stop doing it. There’s something to be said for opting out, and just refusing to care that much about any particular item of clothing; but that’s not a great solution for those of us who enjoy fashion as a creative outlet and try to support indie designers when possible. It also doesn’t work well for people who only rarely find items that fit their style, shape, and/or size.

In summary, as always: boo, hiss, capitalism.




2 thoughts on “Artificial scarcity in clothing is the worst.

  1. Well said Laura. I STILL buy everything as if I’ll never see it again – at first sight, in case it disappears. I had some 30+ years of wearing what was in my size (no matter how ugly it was) and I still buy from that fear, even though those days are over.

    • Oh man, that fear is so real. I have more clothing than I can handle, but sometimes I still feel like the teenage girl walking into stores being unable to find more than a few things in her size…I feel like that internal fear of scarcity could be a whole other post.

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