Fashion, Food and the Value of Scarcity

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thought

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of ThoughtThe‬Los Angeles Times‭ ‬ran a fascinating article about Yeezys‭. ‬For those not in the know‭, ‬Yeezys is a brand of sneaker produced and marketed by Adidas‭ ‬with the design credited to rapper Kanye West‭. ‬More specifically‭, ‬the article was about the counterfeiting of Yeezys and how this kind of counterfeiting is becoming more pronounced in the digital age‭.

It seems that a combination of easy visual communication online and more flexible manufacturing tools is improving the quality of counterfeit sneakers and‭, ‬presumably‭, ‬many other items‭. ‬What seems to happen is that a manufacturer produces a batch of fakes‭,‬‭ ‬but‭, ‬whereas in decades past‭, ‬the fakes were never as good as the original‭‭ ‬often flawed in many subtle ways‭ ‮—‬‭ ‬and that was it‭. ‬Now consumers who are passionate about these goods communicate with the manufacturers‭, ‬often via social media‭ ‬forums‭, ‬and they advise the manufacturers how to make their shoes better replicas of the real thing‭.

‬So‭, ‬the article tells the story of people who monitor this process closely and recounts how one fan was anxious to get a limited‭ ‬edition‭ ‬“Pirate Black”‭ ‬version of authentic Yeezys‭. ‬But he was an assistant football coach at a high school and not willing or able to pay the‭ $‬1,500‭ ‬that resellers were getting on eBay for shoes that initially retailed for‭ $‬200‭. ‬So‭, ‬he bought a counterfeit replica for‭ $‬120‭. ‬But‭, ‬it also tells how he waited until the 10th batch was in production because he knew the shoes improved with each batch‭.‬

So‭, ‬the article tells the story of people who monitor this process closely and recounts how one fan was anxious to get a limited‭ ‬edition‭ ‬“Pirate Black”‭ ‬version of authentic Yeezys‭. ‬But he was an assistant football coach at a high school and not willing or able to pay the‭ $‬1,500‭ ‬that resellers were getting on eBay for shoes that initially retailed for‭ $‬200‭. ‬So‭, ‬he bought a counterfeit replica for‭ $‬120‭. ‬But‭, ‬it also tells how he waited until the 10th batch was in production because he knew the shoes improved with each batch‭.‬

It is an interesting story for a lot of reasons‭. ‬In the produce industry‭, ‬we tend to focus on metrics of intrinsic value‭ ‬‮—‬ ‬nutrition‭, ‬health‭, ‬etc‭. ‬‮—‬‭ ‬but this story shows how many people value style and fashion‭. ‬It also speaks to how manufacturers can create value by ensuring‭ ‬scarcity‭. ‬In other words‭, ‬Adidas could easily manufacture more‭ ‬“Pirate Black”‭ ‬Yeezys‭, ‬but the value is created precisely because Adidas makes it exclusive and hard to get‭.‬


Many an old-timer will claim that the very ubiquity of items, all available year-round, is a loser for the produce industry and deprives farmers of the boom of a new season after a period of absolute unavailability of a product.


One thinks about the implications of this for something like the Amazon/Whole Foods merger‭. ‬All the value of Whole Foods is wrapped in its aspirational branding‭. ‬It is not just the idea that the food might be healthy‭; ‬there is plenty of healthy food sold at Wal-Mart‭. ‬It is that being a Whole Foods shopper says something about you as a person‭. ‬Maybe it makes you feel more ethical‭, ‬friendlier to the environment‭, ‬more alive with a healthy lifestyle‭, ‬or maybe it makes others think of you in this elevated way‭.

In any case‭, ‬Whole Foods’‭ ‬famous‭ “‬Whole Paycheck”moniker is a mixed bag‭. ‬True‭, ‬it is hard to get from others when purchasing at a certain retailer if you‭ ‬are perceived as being easily ripped off‭. ‬It is just as true that being perceived as able to afford a Whole Foods ‬lifestyle‭, ‬with the notion that this lifestyle costs more money because it is more valuable‭, ‬is intrinsic to the success of Whole Foods‭. ‬So‭,‬‭ ‬when Amazon looks to broaden the Whole Foods reach‭, ‬it runs into a brick wall‭. ‬The more Amazon does to make Whole Foods an accessible option for more people‭, ‬the less people will value being associated with the Whole Foods brand‭.‬

Even the whole organics craze is fundamentally motivated by scarcity‭. ‬Farmers are usually their own worst enemy‭, ‬and if the returns on something are good one year‭, ‬they increase plantings and the returns collapse the next year‭. ‬But with organics and the three-year transition‭, ‬farmers can’t rapidly increase production‭. ‬It is popularly perceived that high organic prices are a major obstacle to getting consumers to consume more organics‭, ‬but what we have is backward‭. ‬What if the scarcity of organics and the concurrent higher price points are‭ ‬why consumers think organics are better‭? ‬If organics were cheaper than conventional product‭, ‬would consumers assume organics lack value‭?‬

Another big trend in produce is the development of proprietary varieties‭. ‬Already quite prominent in berries‭, ‬grapes and stone fruit‭, ‬the combination of proprietary varieties with branding enables companies to both limit production and get value for the scarcity created‭.‬

And at the very core of the industry‭, ‬many an old-timer will claim that the very ubiquity of items‭, ‬available year-round‭, ‬is a loser for the produce industry and deprives farmers of the boom of a new season after a period of absolute unavailability‭. ‬And although there are counter arguments‭ ‬‮—‬ ‬it is easier to get produce on menus if it is available year-round and easier to hold retail space if it is used year-round‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬there is still something real to this point‭.‬

Food is not fashion‭. ‬For the vast majority of the globe’s population‭, ‬simply getting adequate calories is the challenge‭. ‬We‭, ‬however‭, ‬are privileged to live in a highly affluent society where many purchasing decisions are driven by style or status‭, ‬or a desire for affiliation‭. ‬At production and at retail‭, ‬more‭ ‬focus could be profitably paid to why many consumers so desperately want designer ‬sneakers that they will look for counterfeits or buy the real products through resale sites at big premiums‭. ‬Perhaps we as an industry should wonder how we can insert the‭ ‬value of scarcity more into the marketing of all we do‭.

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