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Pricey Denim Isn’t Always High Quality, New Study Finds

A new study reveals that price doesn’t always mean quality when it comes to denim.

The study, “Price and perceived product quality: a comparison of denim jeans in three price categories,” led by Behnoosh Ghaani Farashahi, a product development graduate researcher at North Carolina State University, tested and analyzed the quality of three denim brands. And the findings, she says, may make denim shoppers rethink their purchases.

The jeans analyzed in the study were from better ($129), moderate ($69) and budget ($9.95) price categories. All of the analyzed jeans were 100 percent cotton with similar coloring, aesthetic styling, and fit. And all pieces had a waist size of 36 inches and inseam of 34 inches.

“Without any stretch and they were all the same size. They were all medium weight denim, and they were pre-washed,” Farashahi said.

The experiment was a process of multiple launderings according to their care label. The jeans were evaluated after the first and fifth cycle for “color difference, colorfastness to dry and wet crocking, fabric breaking strength, seam strength, smoothness retention and dimensional change.” The results were then compared to determine the product quality in relation to the price.

In the results, Farashahi said the $129 better jean had the highest thread count and the most expensive supporting material. It had the least amount of color fading, which was then followed by the budget jean, and lastly the moderate jean.

However, both better and moderate jeans had poor colorfastness to crocking than the cheapest jean and had the lowest level of fabric and seam breaking strength.

Though the $129 jean was labeled “premium denim,” the fabric breaking strength rated low in performance standards for 100 percent cotton.

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The $9.95 jean had the most irregularities in the fabric surface and stitch and seam defects, thus making it the lowest in fabric quality. Although the budget jean was lower quality in fabric, it had the closest to standard garment measurements for the selected size. The moderate jean was the most out of range where size standards were concerned.

After the washing, the study found that all of the jeans shrunk in inseam and hip measurements. The better jean had relatively low dimensional change as compared to the other jeans, which Farashahi said may have been due to the higher fabric count. The moderate and budget jeans experienced so much shrinkage that the jeans did not fit their original sizing.

Based on the study, price categories don’t necessarily reflect the different dimensions of product quality where denim is concerned. The most expensive jean had the best product specifications and visual appearance, but it didn’t display high performance in relation to fit, durability and color performance.

The better jean would appeal to consumers who are more interested in style and design than longevity. Consumers who need a jean with durable and aesthetically pleasing aspects would be attracted to the moderate jean, while consumers who are price-conscious would be interested in the budget jean.

The study, according to Farashahi is significant for consumers because it reveals that neither jean is “100 percent bad or 100 percent good in quality.”

Consumers consider quality based on both performance and design, so not only should consumers be educated about their denim purchases, but retailers should be supplying them with the types of testing information that could help them make those decisions.