Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 12:42 GMT
Are we paying too much for designer clothes?
After a three year legal battle, the supermarket chain Tesco has lost its case against the US jeans maker Levi Strauss.

Tesco has been fighting to import jeans from countries with lower wholesale prices, and sell them in the UK at a discount to Levi's own outlets.

Levi Strauss argued that they should be allowed to control the distribution and influence the cost to European consumers because they have invested large sums building up the mystique of exclusive luxury products

The ruling is likely to influence a wide range of goods being sold in European supermarkets including sunglasses, watches, electrical items, perfume and champagne.

Do you agree with the judgement? Is this bad news for the consumer or are brand name companies right to defend their investment? This Talking Point was suggested by Ross, England:

What are people's views on the European Court ruling that Levi Strauss has the right to insist that retailers selling their goods should do so at a minimum price? The repercussions of this ruling will be extensive, as effectively, no retailer will be able to bulk buy from abroad and sell the products at a lower price than the European average price for that product. Will this herald a return to manufacturers within the UK preventing supply of their products to retailers who dare to sell at a more competitive price?

If you have any suggestions for Talking Points, please click here.

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Crocodile Tears from Tesco - just look at the difference of farm prices to shelve prices on UK food. If they really want to help the consumer they would sort that out first!
Chris Stevens, England

Levis make the jeans, so they should choose how much they are sold for. Simple as that. Those who want them cheaper should go abroad and stop moaning. Tesco aren't helping the masses, they are trying to damage a perfectly good brand.
Ross, UK

It's just more rip-off Britain. But why are the prices so high? It's quite simple, some members of the public are prepared to pay the asking price, just to show they can afford to. If we all refused to do so, the prices would match those in America in no time at all.
Paula, Scotland

It's a consumer society and ultimately, the power rests with each of us

Silke, London
The decision is ludicrous and anti-free-market, however, in reality, as long there are people prepared to pay silly prices for designer goods in the approved outlets, there is no reason for the manufacturers to change or to drop prices. It's a consumer society and ultimately, the power rests with each of us.
Silke, London

It would be interesting to see what would happen if Levi Strauss were not allowed to source their raw materials from where they liked.
Steve, UK

Of course the decision was right. The whole attraction about designer clothes is that poor people can't afford them!
Neil Pearce, London, England

I am trying to understand how the commission fine the chemical companies for price fixing and allow clothing and other companies to fix prices.....
JP, England

I wonder what would happen if Heinz decided to sell designer baked beans in Tesco at 20 a can. They've got their label on the outside of the product too.
Chris B., England

I actually enjoy clothes shopping, going into my town centre and picking out different shops to buy from. It does not seem right buying milk, bread and a pair of designer jeans! I also think that the supermarkets are getting too big for their boots! Supermarkets should be for food, household items, not clothes of any description. I am not a label person, but if you pay for the label, is that not also paying for some exclusivity?
Rose, UK

Like every other consumer item in the U.K. the British public are being cheated. The American public are charged half the price on many items. I have heard all the arguments from people like Levis, and they are simply not good enough. It is all about profit, and not quality to the individual.
Nabeel Al-Mehairbi, United Arab Emirates

Why shouldn't they protect the way their brand is presented in the market place?

Paul, Oxfordshire, UK
I think the decision by the European Court on designer goods is a fair and correct one. It is misleading for the Consumers' Association and others to claim that it removes choice. In the case of Levi Strauss their products are freely available through their chosen outlets and if you don't like the price then there's plenty of cheaper alternatives available elsewhere. Designer organisations spend a lot of time, money and effort on developing their brand. Why shouldn't they protect the way their brand is presented in the market place? Why should they allow their products to be sold next to a pound (sorry 450 grams!) of potatoes?
Paul, Oxfordshire, UK

Am I alone in actually preferring to buy products that don't bear the manufacturer's external advertising? As for so-called "designer labels" being necessarily better than budget brands, if you believe that as a general proposition, you're nuts.
Richard, UK

I was under the impression that we lived in a free market economy, unless of course the rest of Europe objects. Is it not ironic that the day after this ruling the manufacturers of vitamin supplements were heavily fined for price fixing?
Rory McKnight, UK

I am a student and I have very little designer clothing. But I hear these students head to toe in designer brands moaning how skint they are. They then said they spent 1,500 on a suit, shirt and tie for a brother's wedding. I don't feel sorry for them.
Helen, UK

Looks like Europe has sold us down the river again, long live rip off Britain...

Jon, UK
I find the ruling staggering, as essentially it is a slap in the face for the open market. I will be very interested to see how car manufacturers view this ruling, as surely they will now try and use the ruling as a means of maintaining higher prices in the UK. It is not too great a leap of the imagination to say that BMW has a lower "brand value" in France than the UK and so they are legally allowed to charge a higher price now. Don't the people who say they are justified in this see there is a dangerous precedent being set here, looks like Europe has sold us down the river again, long live rip off Britain...
Jon, UK

It's just more rip-off Britain. But why are the prices so high? It's quite simple, some members of the public are prepared to pay the asking price, just to show they can afford to. If we all refused to do so, the prices would match those in America in no time at all.
Barry, England

Just what does the EU think it is doing? It is supposed to stop price fixing and other anti competitive practices, and help consumers. The EU presidency should be ashamed of this decision, and should reverse it as soon as possible. Well done to Tesco, keep up the fight, consumers are on your side! (and it's great PR for you too!)
Patrick Lee, England

Blue jeans a luxury item? Based solely on cost, yes I suppose they are. However, Levis are often sold in the US at huge discounts. Why should Levi Strauss try to control the European market and make us pay more for blue jeans than Americans pay? The few times I've bought Levis, they came from charity shops, new with the original price tags on them. Is Levi Strauss going to stop that trade too? There is no 'mystique' about blue jeans, people!
Arri London, EU/US

Levi should have the option to decide who retails its jeans, however that doesn't alter the fact that they are grossly overpriced for what they are! At the end of the day we should all vote with our money.

If you want to, or are prepared to, spend large amounts on label clothes then do so; it will keep the price up. If you know where to go, you can pick them up cheaply anyway. If you've any sense, there's plenty of reasonably priced alternatives around. Labelled garments are just an extension of the 'fashion show' mentality; a totally worthless exercise with the deliberate aim of parting money from punters. Suckers!
Richard Philips, UK

Tesco also has a right to source its products from whatever market it chooses at whatever price it can

Ben, UK
Levis have every right to try to sell products at the price the choose in any particular markets. However, Tesco also has a right to source its products from whatever market it chooses at whatever price it can. This dispute is for companies and markets to resolve amongst themselves, and governments should not step in to fudge the market in favour of one or the other. It's just an unfair restriction of trade brought about by Eurocrats who got "nobbled" by big business.
Ben, UK

Forget crackpot EU legislation; the solution is in the hands of the consumer. Boycott Levi Strauss products until the prices come down. This is the only way that the ordinary person can fight back. For various reasons I do not buy anything French. Usually, there is a suitable alternative from other European countries. If, however, the EU packaging laws prevent the country of origin from being stated, I simply buy the equivalent non-EU product, normally from America or Asia. Don't be ripped off - the consumer has the power.
Paul, UK

I don't wear designer clothes. They don't last. They are just cheap garbage. I buy a pair of jeans for 10 and several years later with proper care and cleaning they are still smart and still strong. Long after the designer rubbish is passed off as out of fashion. The Levis rep said this meant they could still invest in new innovations for their product? What innovations? As long as a pair of jeans has pockets and keeps my legs and backside warm and comfortable, I don't care.
Richard H, UK

Simple solution is for the UK government to raise VAT on designer goods that are price fixed by the manufacturer to 117.5%. That should be good for everyone because now Levis will cost 100 quid and hence be twice as good. The money then could be used to fund education, the health service or some other area of neglect!
Rob, Finland/UK

Companies should be able to decide on the price as part of their overall brand offer. If you don't want to pay for the "intangible" brand values then buy another brand that suits your own personality. It is not a monopoly, Levis merely add value to a utility clothing object and deserve to be paid for that.
Derek, Sweden

Firstly I would just like to say that Levis is not a designer make to start with like Ralph Lauren and Armani. I think it is great that Tesco lost their court case. At last someone has stood up to them and hopefully it will show them that they can't just get away with anything they like.
Matthew Blackmore, England

Obviously the consumer is dissappointed with this news of Tesco no longer being able to sell Levi's jeans. Tesco have been doing very well for themselves and I am sure will continue to do so despite this news. In my opinion, Levi's jeans should be sold at discounted prices because, like with most designer companies - take GAP for instance, the cost of actually producing the items is much lower than how much is paid at the consumer end. This is probably due to other controversial issues such as child labour - maybe this is a topic which needs to be discussed?
Sheena, UK

Just don't buy them and watch the price tumble

Frank Bridge, UK
The reason that we pay double the American price is that we buy these jeans at double the American price. Just don't buy them and watch the price tumble. Look at M&S jeans. No one buys them and consequently are very reasonably priced.
Frank Bridge, UK

I don't see the problem here. If some people have such a fragile ego that they need to spend four times as much for a shirt or pair of trousers, let them. For the rest of us, there are plenty of other clothes to wear which are just as smart.
Colin Mackay, UK

Any retailer who has the bottle should stand up for the rights of the UK consumer

Rachel, UK
Like many others I feel that the decision was wrong. As someone who works in marketing I can understand Levi's position, but I believe it to be wrong as it restricts the public's choice. This decision should be overturned and any retailer who has the bottle should stand up for the rights of the UK consumer not to have to pay rip off prices.
Rachel, UK

Some people here are saying don't buy Levis. I say don't allow them to fix prices. It is a free market. If someone is selling at less or more profit let it happen. The case should have been in favour of Tesco.
Khalid, India/UK

Today the EU has fined vitamin manufacturers 750 million US dollars for price fixing, yet yesterday gave Levis and other "designer labels" the green light to do this. Can someone please explain this to me?
Jason, Manchester, England

The fact that Tim Kaye thinks 30 pounds is a reasonable price for a pair of jeans shows what Levi Strauss has done to your market. 30 pounds is outrageous!!! I would not pay more than $25 Canadian - about 11 pounds sterling - for a pair of jeans, nor would I have to. We have dozens of stores that sell good quality, good-looking jeans for under C$25 a pair.
Charlene, Canada

The experience was most enjoyable

Tim Kaye, UK
I have a pair of Tesco's Levis. I defy anyone to tell that I bought them from Tesco's. The experience was most enjoyable. I wasn't ignored by a bored sales assistant or had my ears blasted by some designer music. Best of all I paid 30 which is a very reasonable price for a pair of jeans (Levis or anyone else). Don't pay 50 I say. They're not worth it. Keep up the good work Tesco!
Tim Kaye, UK

In the scheme of things one label is pretty much like any other. As long as clothes are well made, functional and good value for money, who cares. If there is a label on them and someone with too much money and little sense wants to pay exorbitant prices - well bully for them. Those who really care, don't really worry about labels.
Jo, Georgia, USA

The only winners are the big brand name corporations

David Lane, Leeds, UK
I am covering exactly this issue with my students this week. By allowing Levis to price fix, they are allowing the return of enforced Recommended Retail Prices. We, the consumer, can only lose. The only winners are the big brand name corporations whose shareholders must be rubbing their hands in glee.
David Lane, Leeds, UK

To Gordon Fraser. There's a world of difference between Ferrari/Ford comparisons and designer label clothing snobbery. Often it is the 'cheaper' clothing products that are of superior quality. I say let the idiots throw their money away at nothing more than signatures if they so wish. When I see them in the street, I only pity their stupidity.
Bill, UK

Personally I welcome this. Where is the joy in having designer labels if everyone else has them because they're so cheap? If the labels do not matter, why do you want to make them cheaper? There are lots of cheaper alternatives, use them instead. Why don't we insist that Ferrari makes all their cars as cheap as a Ford to ensure every Tom, Dick and Harry can have one.
Gordon Fraser, UK

Once again, big businesses get their cake and eat it too. They are all for free trade when it suits them (preferring to use offshore sweatshop labour rather than pay people fairly) and say - it's a global market, get used to it!! Then in the next breath, they look for protection from governments to safeguard their fat profits.
RF, England

In principle I am in favour of the ruling for Levis. "Luxury" goods are just that and consumers should be and are prepared to pay the asking price. If people want to buy regular items they should shop where they can afford them. In the majority of cases these are in fact better value. What "luxury" or branded companies strive for is the exclusivity and desirability factor. Flood the market with these and the desirability goes away. The net result of this will be these companies will not be able to invest in R&D and set future trends and customers' desires. I am sure the only reason Tesco is unhappy is another profitable product can not be sold!
Paul B, England

Paul B, England: jeans aren't luxury goods, they're work clothing. Levi have cynically elevated their jeans to luxury status by shoving the price sky high, and are clearly intent on keeping it that way. If people are daft enough to pay 10 for a pair of jeans and 40 for the label that's up to them - but it's only a matter of time before some smartypants at Levi tumbles to the fact that they can stop making jeans and just sell labels!
Chris B., England

If you don't like the price, don't buy the object

Robert, UK
If you don't like the price, don't buy the object. If everyone applied this rule and sales plummeted then the manufacturer would have to reduce the price. I haven't bought a pair of 'name' jeans in years, they don't last any longer, or fit any better so why waste the money?
Robert, UK

Overpriced designer jeans? Not to my knowledge. Our local charity shops do genuine, clean, good quality, worn-in Levis at about 2 which are great for gardening or working on the car and later as rags to mop up oil.
Simon Mallett, UK

Since when were Levis 'designer clothes'? Surely the reason why real designer clothes (Gucci, Prada etc) are desirable is that they are expensive and aspirational. If everybody could buy them cheap in Kwik Save then they wouldn't have cachet anymore so why would people want them?
Helen, UK

First rip off Britain, now rip off Europe! How absurd that that these companies are allowed to set prices artificially high and then get protection from the law when companies like Tesco try to introduce competition. If Tesco can procure goods cheaper elsewhere why shouldn't they be allowed to pass on the savings to consumers?
Stephen Driscoll, London

Anyone foolish enough to pay inflated prices for designer clothes deserves to get ripped off in my opinion. Who are they trying to impress? What is wrong with going to good old M&S and buying your gear from there? I wear M&S clothes and I have a gorgeous woman on my arm, so it hasn't done me any harm!
Will Faulkner, Hale, Cheshire, UK

This is a disgraceful though not wholly unexpected decision in favour of the greedy corporations. If a pair of jeans is only worth $40 when being sold in the USA then how can it be justified that they be sold for nearly twice that much in this country? I would like to see all consumer groups organising action to boycott Levi Strauss brand products until they take steps to reverse this exploitative system.
Shaun, Teignmouth, UK

I thought the EU was supposed to work against monopolies and for free trade

Christine, UK
I couldn't believe the ruling of the European Court. It's a travesty of justice! I thought the EU was supposed to work against monopolies and for free trade. This ruling goes against the principles upon which the EU was founded. I urge Tesco, Asda and all other retailers to break the law. Import the cheap brand names and let us all show the European Court that consumers want the freedom to choose!
Christine, UK

The law is the law and must be obeyed. The value of brands is another thing altogether. I for one find it ridiculous that a particular trademark in itself, that is irrespective of quality of the product, should have such a decisive effect on consumer decisions. The gullible will continue to allow themselves to be exploited commercially by the owners of the big names. The more sensible will not. It is no more complicated than that.
Peter, Netherlands

The answer is simple - don't buy them.
Andy W, UK

I understand Levi Strauss wanting to keep goods 'exclusive' - let's face it that is something that can be as important to the buying public as the item itself (or labels would not hold the importance they do), but what I don't understand is why we have to pay double the American price. I feel that that is the more important issue.
LBW, Reading, England

See also:

20 Nov 01 | Business
Q&A: The Tesco-Levi battle
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Talking Point stories