Should Brand Matter?

by Katy on February 6, 2015 · 38 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

Yesterday’s Non-Consumer Mish-Mash column received a thought provoking reply to my mention that the 50¢ tank top I picked up at a garage sale was Old Navy brand.

“Why can’t it just be a great black tank top? Why does it have to be Old Navy?”

The reader went to on to write that:

“Because it sounds like we are buying these by BRAND and not because we like them. How does OLD NAVY black tank top describe a tank top any better? How does describing coffee mugs or underwear change how it looks by mentioning the brand name?”

This comment did not surprise me because the same commenter had earlier questioned why the brand of my garbage picked Crate and Barrel Christmas mugs mattered? I had not addressed the question at the time, (lord knows what what going on in my day when I published that piece) but the question had certainly been ruminating with me.

Does brand matter, or is it a completely irrelevant detail?

I think the answer is both yes and no. Brand is not important in terms of status. But some brands are better made than others, and certain brands are more cleverly designed. In the best case scenario, these two occurrences collide.

Take for example Garnet Hill, which one of my favorite brands. Garnet Hill is a mostly catalog based business that sells expensive clothing, housewares and kid stuff; but their star products is their bedding. Oh my God, the bedding! It’s extremely high quality and the graphics are fantastic. When I garbage picked a flannel duvet cover in their classic clouds pattern I was over the moon. Had that same duvet cover been a Target brand, I would have been less likely to bring it home and put the work into mending all the tears.

So yes, brand mattered in this case.

When I picked up the 50¢ Old Navy tank top at a garage sale, my thinking was not along the lines of “Wowie-zowie, it’s Old Navy!” but more along the lines of “This tank top looks functional. I already have a blue one that I also bought for 50¢ at a garage sale last summer, so I know it’ll work for me.”

And no, brand did not matter in this case.

In an ideal world, all consumer goods would be high quality and equally worthy, but such is not the case. Some brands are simply better than others, while stores like Target run the gamut from poor to fantastic quality. (My mother swears by their towels for her rental cottages.)

I describe myself as a “Non-Consumer” but that doesn’t mean that I am immune to brand awareness. It is simply more satisfying to score a $2 pair of Goodwill Levi’s instead of Wal Mart brand. I am not looking to fill my home with designer goods, instead I look for high quality goods that will not fall apart before they should. And if I can get three of four seasons out of that tank top, then I’ll feel pretty good.

How do you weigh in on this issue? Is favoring some brands more than others bowing down to Madison Avenue? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Pamela February 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm

It also matters (sometimes) in terms of resale value. Which, I think, is an important way to be nonconsumer. After all, if you buy something that you need for a limited amount of time then re-sell it when you no longer need it, that’s more like renting. Buy a good one that can be re-sold (or just donated) and it’s less likely to go into a landfill anytime soon. If it’s a popular brand, it’s more likely to retain its value even if it isn’t necessarily made better just because it’ll be more in demand. You probably won’t re-sell that 50-cent tank top… but you might, and if you do, if it’s Old Navy, chances are pretty good you’ll get at least 50 cents back out of it unless you wear it to shreds. Which knowing you, you will. 🙂


Linda in Mass February 9, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Definitely true for resale value. I went to a local Salvation Army resale store and found a beautiful red leather tote bag. The price was $30. That is steep for me at a resale shop. But I loved it and I knew that I would get use from it. Then while in the store, I looked up the brand. I found the bag was an over $400 bag that is made to order. I loved it anyway but figured if I used it for a year (or 5) and decided I did not want it anymore, I could sell it for at least the $30 I paid or more.


Jeana February 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm

I absolutely favor some brands. My husband got a great Carhartt jacket at our favorite thrift store. It was $35. I would never pay that for a ‘cheap’ jacket. I also favor a certain style of Merrell shoes for farm work. I happily buy them gently used on eBay because I know they work for my feet. Since I try to never buy anything on the primary economy, I doubt my decisions factor in to what retailers produce, but I know I am not contributing to the production of the junk Forever 21 produces.


Christine February 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm

I agree, it doesn’t always matter but it often does, for the reasons you have stated. What fits your figure well, what fits your aesthetic, what’s a great quality item that might have been out of reach?

When I thrift for my kids’ clothes, I can spot certain brands without looking at labels because the clothes have washed without fading/pilling and I tend to prefer their colours, patterns & graphics ; for me it’s not just that, but also the fit that matters. That said, if I find quality or attractive styles in a no-name brand, that’s a welcome win.

And yes, there’s always a rush knowing that you got a $$$ item for pennies on the dollar. I recently picked up a $2 blouse and later noticed that the original $89 tag was still attached. Can’t deny that it felt good!


Elizabeth February 6, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Brand (for me) matters in clothing. Different brands fit differently, so knowing brands you like makes it so you only try on 3 pairs of jeans at the thrift store instead of 20 in your size, in baby clothes it means I can (even when the baby is sleeping) buy her clothes I am pretty sure will fit her (because certain brands fit her so much better), different brands are different quality (my old navy clothes may hold out better than the Walmart brands – so when I see them both for 3.99 at Goodwill I will pick up a brand I know holds up well), they affect resale value because brand loyalty is a thing. That was just for clothes – the same does not apply to food. I buy name brands only if I prefer them – only the case for a few food items, and sometimes only if they are on sale (ie, we buy generic cereal unless the name brand is on sale for cheaper/ or the same and its one where we like the name brand better).


Jill February 6, 2015 at 3:04 pm

I am with you, Katy. Brand matters when the brand has a reputation for high quality. For example, I would pay more for a second-hand LL Bean jacket than a second-hand Walmart jacket. Why? Because all the LL Bean stuff that I have owned in the past lasted FOREVER.


kathleen February 6, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Yes, I look for good brand names when I go shopping. I’d much rather have a second hand pair of Nine West shoes than a brand new pair from Payless. Even if I may like the Payless a little more, just put them on and there is no doubt that the Nine West fit better. I stick with brand names and occasionally buy cheap which I know will only last for one season.


Another Trish February 6, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Your reader sounds like a teacher to me 🙂 an effective one, too.

Personally, brand matters to me if it is an environmentally/socially responsible company. It helps me to know where to vote with my money… or where not to vote. regardless of the store of origin, a garage sale is a great place to shop as you are “voting” for your neighbors and your community!

That said, Old Navy would not be a brand I’d be too proud of, so I think I’d decline giving them free advertising on my blog.


Betty Winslow February 6, 2015 at 4:10 pm

The times brands matter to me:
at a thift store and the jeans I’m holding are 16P Lee traditional fit (which I KNOW will fit me, since I already have a pair at home) or the top is Sag Harbor XL (which is a brand that makes their clothes to fit my build…)

When one of my kids reeeeaaallly wants something and the brand matters to them and I can find it at a garage sale, thrift shop, etc.

If it’s for a gift.

Otherwise, all that matters is, I like it, I need it, it fits, and I can afford it.


Betty Winslow February 6, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Ummm – *thrift* store. Never post when you’re not paying 100% attention….


Isabelle February 6, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Right there with you all!
In clothing, brands definitely matters to me because some are made better than others, look better, last longer. I will not buy full price for a brand, I look for thrift stores as much as possible.
I own of all kind of brands that said, Northface to Walmart.
For food, I don’t care about brands. I have no problems with no name.


Debra P February 6, 2015 at 5:08 pm

I would rather buy brands i am familiar with and like over brands i have never beard of, especially when thrifting.
There are several brands i favor, which are high end, because they fit me better, they last longer, and the style is more classic. I would like my clothes to last as long as possible.
I’m also a quilter and the name brands of fabric are of much better quality.


Isabelle February 6, 2015 at 5:12 pm

And, if I may add, to me brands also matter in cars and electronics. For quality and durability


lori February 6, 2015 at 5:16 pm

Great post Katy! All things are certainly not created equal. The have never heard of Garnett Hill. I need some nice sheets, I keep washing and reusing the same one set, they are getting thin. May have to check that out.


Stephanie February 8, 2015 at 1:12 pm

They have FABULOUS wool slippers for kids (the price will give you a heart attack- yay eBay) and their linens are great.


Monica February 9, 2015 at 7:01 am

I purchased some wonderful Wamsutta cotton sheets with a striped pattern on sale (and with coupon) from Bed Bath & Beyond last year. They are laundering wonderfully and are so soft and breathable. I also bought some from Costco last year for almost the same price, but the quality is (surprisingly) not very good. The cotton doesn’t seem to soften and it sounds like I’m rolling around on paper bags when I sleep on them!


Melody February 26, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Monica- don’t forget Costco’s 100% guarantee! If you’re not happy with them, even after a year, you can return them for a full refund. I’m more likely to buy things at Costco now because of that!


Maria February 6, 2015 at 5:27 pm

I totally agree with you regarding quality…some brands are just consistently better quality and longer lasting.


Practical Parsimony February 6, 2015 at 11:37 pm

I do get that little lift from knowing I purchased cheaply a brand name I could never afford new.

This is a silly point, but people who do not shop yard sales or thrift stores think that wearing used clothes is demeaning. A friend told me she could afford new clothes from the store. But, she looked a little envious and sick when I could show her the high quality and brand names I got for pennies on the dollar. I don’t shop for brand names, but I know which brands are high quality.

In 1975, when my third child was due, I bought a pink lace, lined sleeper at a yard sale. There was a tiny spot on the top of the foot and the little pink bow at the instep was untied, obviously worn once. I removed the one stain, tied the bow, stitched all the bows so they would not come untied, sealed the ribbons with an iron so they would not fray. Of course, I did not know I was having a girl. She wore the yard sale outfit home from the hospital. It cost me a whole quarter. Later, I saw it in the boutique for children for $21. Remember, this was a 1975 price. It looked like high quality, never wrinkled, never tore up, just a lovely little sleeper, albeit a dressy one for wearing when going out.


Katy February 7, 2015 at 9:22 am

What a lovely memory!


Karen February 7, 2015 at 3:08 am

Some brands do matter to me. I buy a lot of Lands’ End and LL Bean for casual wear, and Soma Intimates for underthings. These brands hold up for a long time, fit my body, and are comfortable. That said, I spent $15 at a charity-supported thrift shop for a wool coat that I still wear. To each her own.


Diane February 7, 2015 at 5:52 am

When I used to frequent thrift stores I did pay attention to brand names. If I could get a good quality piece of clothing for $2.00 or so, it was worth it to me.


emmer February 7, 2015 at 8:35 am

I loath clothes shopping–overpriced, imperfectly made, etc. so I when I need jeans, I go where I expect bargains–thrift stores or clearance. both tend to be crowded and time consuming with waits for dressing rooms. finding the brand that I know will fit me means I don’t have to try it on. out of there fast with my treasure.


Sharon H. February 7, 2015 at 9:54 am

I was struck by a line in a Lord Peter Wimsey detective novel by Dorothy Sayers: “The quality guarantees the name, the name does not guarantee the quality.”

It’s up to the manufacturer to put the quality in. If he lets it slide, the name will lose its luster.


Katy February 7, 2015 at 10:42 am

So very true.


Sharon February 7, 2015 at 10:38 am

Sometimes brand is important because you know it fits when you find your size and cannot try it on…. And, yes, in quality and durability, too.


Michelle February 7, 2015 at 11:13 am

Even before I was halfway through your post, I was thinking that yes, brand does sometimes matter. I’ve had much better luck with clothing from some stores than others. So when I’m buying thrift store clothes, I do consider the brand. If another shirt without tags has better feeling fabric, I’ll pick that one.


Anne February 7, 2015 at 12:48 pm

i think what the originally comment implied was that if an item you love comes from Walmart or comes from Nordstrom it doesn’t actually matter. The item filling a need or functioning for you is what matters. That said, I am very brand loyal for certain things and not at all for others. The more I thrift, minimize, and DIY, the more I see that I can be happy and efficient with less and usually without the highly coveted or advertised item. But I still love love love my (thrifted) all clad pans. 😄


kathleen February 7, 2015 at 9:00 pm

When I thrift, even if I only THINK something is from Walmart I put it back. Once I bought a blanket and when I got in the car I googled the brand. It was from Walmart. I turned right then and there and gave it to my friend. This is probably another whole conversation, but I just cannot LOVE something from Walmart. I always say that if Walmart was the only place I could find an item I wanted, I would change my want.


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary February 8, 2015 at 8:46 am

Yeah, I’m with you on this, Kathleen. If I know it’s from Walmart, I really don’t want it in my house.


Suzanne February 7, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I think brands do matter. Today I found a retro, orange, Pyrex baking dish at a thrift store for $1.99. I sent a picture of it to my friend to see if she wanted it (she loves orange stuff). I told her it was a “Pyrex.” I think sometimes the brand helps describe the item. It can also give you hint about the quality. I look at plates to see if they’re Mikasa (kind of a nicer brand – by my standards) or Corelle (won’t break), etc. I once bought two Le Creuset items (a kettle and a Dutch oven) at an estate sale for $7 total. One of the highlights of my yard-sale experiences. I definitely bought them based on brand. I cleaned them up and now I use them all the time.


Jessi February 7, 2015 at 2:46 pm

For me, brand often gives an indicator of quality. To me, Old Navy is a low quality brand- but decent for a 50 cent tank top (I like to stock up when they sell them in store for $1). If I see a Lands End tank though, I know that it is good fabric that will last and not fade with many washes.

That’s really the only reason brand matters to me.


Dawn February 7, 2015 at 5:54 pm

I remember about 20 years ago buying an Eddie Bauer brand navy blue turtleneck at a thrift store. It was probably $1.99 or $2.99. I wore it for years and years. Really. I think I finally gave it to one of my sisters because I tired of it and I’m not sure how old it was when I bought but at least a couple of years. And then I had for ten at least. I wore it quite often. It never changed shape and the fading was ever so slight and so even. The edges of the cuffs never frayed. In that case the brand definitely mattered. I have a couple of Target Merona brand long sleeve tees that are only a couple of years old and they have frayed and worn much more. I always look for high quality brands at when thrifting.


Chelsa February 7, 2015 at 9:27 pm

I think brands are important…a brand is a brand for a reason. They all have their own standards for quality, service, impact on environment etc etc
I think of brands a lot…I’m a photographer and it’s important for me to show the clients who I am and what I do….as a brand. That way I get the clients who truly appreciate what I do, and they get a photographer who will capture what they really want.
As far as clothing, as that seems to be the main discussion, saying a brand instantly communicates quality and fit generally. For me this is ESP important when I am buying my husband clothing. He doesnt shop…so if something does fit I have to return it. BUT I know that I can buy the x shirt in x size from Eddie Bauer and it will last 5 years or more and will fit my husband perfectly. No returns. This is esp key when shopping at Goodwill or consignment stores!


l bryant February 8, 2015 at 7:08 am

I agree with certain items. I have only purchased Jansport bags. My 5 kids have several each. They use them for school, sports, and extra curricular activities. Any problem I have had with them has been corrected and or a replacement provided free of charge (minuses shipping product back).
I also have invested in calphalon cookware, corelle dishware and totes umbrellas for the lifetime warranty on their products.
Almost all of our clothing is second hand and the kids are label “lovers”. I have a set price I will pay for clothing so if what I find is not “acceptable to the kids” then I will allow them to apply that amount along with their own money to purchase the “label” they like.


Vickie February 8, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I do favor some brands, like you, not because of status but quality.
I want things that will last. I found a pair of jeans that fit me so well – due to my shape, that is not always the case – they are a pair of my favorites. I’ve had them for probably 5 years or more. I got them for about $20 at Ross and didn’t realize until I got them home they were Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. I wasn’t buying them for the name, I just wanted them to fit good and look nice.
Whether new, used or free, quality products will last longer and that saves money in the long run.


Carla February 9, 2015 at 6:26 am

Completely agree that brands matter when they are known for high quality.

Also, if you’re shopping for kids, brands can matter for them in relation to their peers. We may want to think this isn’t true, but the schoolyard can be a tough place out there, and most kids want to fit in and having the ‘right’ kind of clothing can help. It can make a difference for a kid in terms of feeling ok with wearing thrifted clothing. My kids have grown up with thrifted clothing, shopping at a retail store is an extremely rare occassion, but I know that they see what other kids are wearing and I try my best to get them items that fit along that while still getting interesting items for them. They always get to pick what items they’ll wear from what I thrifted, and I know that the lower quality brands get picked up less often, so I just try to avoid them unless the item is special. I think this is partly due to fashion but also fit, the lower quality stuff just doesn’t fit them as nicely.


JD February 9, 2015 at 10:05 am

Brands certainly matter to me for quality/customer service/re-sale reasons. However, I’ve seen quality slide in some brands, so that I’m more cautious about some brands than I used to be. This is particularly true for brands which cheapened their quality in order to be able to be sold in the big box stores. Professional landscapers have warned my husband about buying some formerly excellent brands of yard tools, because the companies had to cut corners to cut a deal with the big box stores. But, in general, brands tell you something right away. Agreeing again with others, I feel much happier paying $5.00 for that thrifted pure silk high-end brand dress that still looks great after I’ve worn it over three years, than I would paying $5.00 for a cheapo brand dress that will pill or come apart before I know it.


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