During the 1950’s, at Buffalo State and Albright
Art School, I was captivated by many post-WII
home essentials that complemented America’s
newly casual lifestyle.
As a student, I worked at Berger’s, a large apparel
specialty store in Buffalo. When the store planned
an expansion, I convinced management to add
home products and became retail buyer of their
new Gift Gallery in 1958.
My domestic retail buying was in well-appointed NYC showrooms where all
everyday products ‘looked good’. Because wholesale salespersons pushed
BRAND, PRICE and STYLE; which are NOT designations of quality, I valued
that I had been taught to differentiate the quality of similar products.
In 1961 my pre-occupation with ‘criteria’ of quality soon intensified
when I began annual buying trips to Europe where my retail buying
experience was incredibly different!
Instead of trade fairs, commissionaires in Italy, France, Spain,
Switzerland and England brought me to artisan studios, ateliers
and mass-production factories.
I became an EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY as I watched sand become glass, clay become dishes, ores became knives, forks, pots, pans—
and wood became furniture. Technical experts in several factories
in every category, showed me how “quality for each of these universal
essentials is a synthesis of raw materials and production methods”!
I stood in wonder at early mans’ ability to satisfy his everyday needs,
using nature’s bountiful, sustainable materials.
As the Industrial Revolution gave rise to factory production, it spawned a middle class who needed affordable home essentials which were soon mass-produced in broad price ranges —-and still made of nature’s bountiful, sustainable materials. Affordable everyday wares remained good until the 1970’s when American landfills started to become burial grounds for inferior quality home essentials.
I moved to NYC in 1970 and was shocked to see less-than-good everyday home essentials sharing retail space with good quality essentials. I recalled that Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, a celebrated German art institute, espoused:
“The Bauhaus fights against the cheap substitute, inferior workmanship and dilettantism of the handicrafts for a new standard of quality work”.
And now, I saw cheap substitutes, inferior workmanship and dilettantism
of many everyday essentials in America’s finest retail stores.
The 70’s were BIG….BIG STORES—BIG BRANDS—BIG BUSINESS!
Brand-biased commercials promoted products from jeans to cigarettes
— right in our living rooms!
New manufacturers pushed bias—cut prices—cut quality.
Advertising was blatantly biased—good quality, fast becoming a memory.
Greed pre-empted quality—
because WE bought the bias and WE bought the products.
In 1980, Barbara Tuchman, Pulitzer Prize author,
corroborated my concerns in her essay: THE DECLINE OF QUALITY.
Today, accelerating recalls of dissimilar products as beef, toys, cell phones and cars prove ‘quality control is out-of-control’, yet these and hundreds of other products in addition to everyday essentials continue to be made, sold and recalled.
Americans currently spend more than $85 billion annually for glasses, dishes, knives, forks, pots, pans and furniture. When new, they all ‘look good’ : some are good—some excellent—many less-than-good.
Most of us can’t tell the difference—but most of us ‘think’ we can.
We’re fooled, blame ourselves and buy more,
unaware sales of inferior wares perpetuate production of inferior wares.
In store after store, catalog after catalog, web-site after web-site—products are mired in mediocrity—and shopping is further complicated by similar wares with inexplicable price differences, multiple brands of duplicate products, inadequate labeling, brand-biased advertising and misinformation from untrained salespersons.
We see the same brands everywhere and assume their products are good—unaware incentives were undoubtedly offered to retailers to sell them. A nationally syndicated newspaper story featured an expensive leather chair suggesting, “It might last 10 years ”. Chairs—with expiration dates?—like frozen food?
As a merchandising professor at N.Y’s Fashion Institute of Technology, I was unable to find unbiased, timeless, fundamental information for everyday home products for a non-textile product knowledge class. I revisited international factories where management, designers and technical experts demonstrated and entrusted me with standards of quality for raw materials and production methods for everyday home products. Each explained:“quality is from the ‘inside-out”.
Each of us has different taste, lifestyle and disposable income:
none of us want to be told what to buy. We must challenge the
status quo—-or grow cynical! Never before has there been such
need to evaluate quality for ourselves—but we need help!
Humbled by fifty years of uncommon professional exposure to the production and marketing of everyday home essentials; and because standards of quality for these wares are nowhere in print, I feel an obligation to make standards of quality from international experts available to everyone, everywhere who uses glasses, dishes, knives, forks, pots, pans and furniture.
THE GOOD NEWS?
When applied to everyday essentials,
consumers will develop confidence to JUDGE FOR THEMSELVES.
In 1986, FIT sent me to Italy for a year as first Chairperson of Marketing
at Polimoda, a new International Institute of Design and Marketing in Firenze.
IN 1995, I received the NEW YORK STATE CHANCELLOR’S AWARD FOR
EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING .
INFORMATION IS POWER
Choosing better everyday products has a significant ecological benefit:
OUR LANDFILLS ARE SPARED.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY