The Lookbook: Calvin Klein Sneakers


Calvin Klein sneakers purchased at the TJ Maxx in Middlebury.

This column will showcase one piece from my wardrobe and discuss its historical, cultural or industry significance.

This week, I bought a pair of gold Calvin Klein fashion sneakers. Featuring a one and a half inch platform, complementary white shoelaces and a $15 price tag, these shoes were a gem I found at the T.J.Maxx in town.

I, like many people, love a good bargain and constantly find myself in discount stores on a fashion treasure hunt. In an age of technology and the rise of mega online retailers, many conventional retailers have struggled to maintain a consistent customer base. 

Online retailers like Amazon have begun dominating the retail industry with their abundance of clothing options, cheap prices and fast shipping. Consequently, American staples such as Macy’s, J.C.Penney and Sears are struggling as their customers are moving to online options. The time for walking into brick and mortar stores is evolving to one-click shopping and “omnichannel” e-commerce. This is why one might be confused as to why discount retail stores, like T.J.Maxx, seem to remain unaffected. 

Well, the answer is this: People like myself. Or should I say, people who love searching through the racks at discount retail stores for that designer bargain. The treasure hunt is T.J.Maxx’s selling point; it’s their niche that makes them resistant to the plague of online fashion. While it is very convenient to shop online and wait for your clothes to ship to your mailbox in McCullough, T.J.Maxx’s consistent sales prove that people are still willing to trek out to stores to hunt for that brand-name item at a discounted price. Many discount stores are allowed to sell “premium” items at cheaper prices with the contingency that they do not advertise such prices to the public. Ever wonder why you see T.J.Maxx advertisements but no specifics about what is going on sale? The ambiguity of knowing there are deals to be found but not knowing where or when they’ll be available is how discount stores have been able to stay relevant in an era of e-commerce. The fun is not in the shopping but the surprise bargain, or treasure, at the end.

However, many bargain shoppers are often ignorant of the actual process that outlets and discount stores go through to get their inventory. I think many of us assume that all items found at discount retailers were either surplus or flawed items from the designer’s original inventory. 

In recent years, many articles and class action lawsuits have arisen, shedding light on the marketing practices and supply chain management behind discount retailers. Angry shoppers have found that many items for sale at discount and outlet stores are often designed and produced separately from the named designer. In 2017, Gap Inc. was accused in a California case action lawsuit of labeling price tags with the “original price” scratched out and a new “discounted price” placed beneath in order to mislead customers into thinking they were buying items on sale. According to the lawsuit, these items were produced specifically for their Banana Republic outlet stores and were never intended to be sold at a higher price.  

Another method of stocking store shelves with “bargain” items has been to allow discount retailers licensing deals. In such deals, discount retailers are responsible for the production and sale of the items that ultimately get slapped with the designer label post production. The initial designer is then paid royalties for allowing their name to be put on an article of clothing that they had no hand in producing. Take, for example, my new $15 Calvin Klein sneakers. It is very possible that these shoes were made completely separate from Calvin Klein Inc. Licensing deals allow discount retailers to sell more cheaply made designer items. This relieves designers of the responsibility of production and sales and gives them a little extra cash. 

There is an evident push from consumers for companies to be more transparent in the production of items they are selling. I am someone who loves my clothes and going shopping. So, while you will see me around campus in my new metallic gold sneakers, I find it important to be knowledgeable about where and how these shoes came to be. I believe there is room for our consumer society to hold retailers more accountable in their business practices.

Clark Lewis is a member of the Middlebury College class of 2019. 

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.