Ever wondered how a plain white T-shirt can cost $200 dollars? Or who could possibly afford a coat which retails for half of your annual salary? You’re probably not the only one.
Beyond the design and size of your garment, it’s often the price tag that sparks the most controversy and intrigue. What exactly you’re paying more for is never explicit: sometimes it’s better materials, meticulous craft, or ethical labour; other times, the high cost could simply be a matter of hype. Croatian unisex label PRICE ON REQUEST are taking price transparency to a whole new level.
“When we started, [we faced] a question familiar to any new designer: how do you price a collection and cover the costs, if your brand value does not exist? Especially here in Croatia, where most of the population can only afford high street prices,” says Gala Marija Vrbanić, the founder of PRICE ON REQUEST. “So we came up with an idea: the price of a garment increases with every item sold. For example, when we first present a shirt, that shirt might cost $30. It’s a low price, one that leaves us with hardly any room for profit. But that same shirt will cost $42 for the next customer, for the third customer it will get even higher, and so on. In that way, we are welcoming early buyers. With time our brand value also rises. I think this is a natural progression in each brand’s development. We’ve decided to demystify the process and involve the customers at every step.”
Established in Zagreb in 2016, PRICE ON REQUEST exposes the subtle mechanisms of supply and demand, and the elusive currency of hype in today’s fashion industry. In an era where you expect to see queues outside streetwear stores, it asks a poignant question about the nature of our desire to own something.
The aesthetic of PRICE ON REQUEST is timely and covetable: from vinyl coats and thigh-high boots to cyberpunk-style prints on jerseys, tailored jackets, and trousers featuring semi-transparent plastic. It’s sexy and full of attitude, but also offers a taste of DIY spirit: instructional videos on the label’s Instagram show you how to make, not just style, their signature cut-out trousers and other garments.
So, did Vrbanić set out to question the fashion industry at large? Her mother was a fashion designer, so she remembers always having an interest in the field, but ended up in the industry almost by accident. While studying visual communications at Zagreb’s School of Design, she entered a competition open to young fashion designers with the first thing she ever made — and won. From there, she had a show at Croatian Fashion Week. The experience was not entirely positive.
“All this post-Soviet hype that comes from Western media and local designers is not reflective of what’s happening in the region”
“After my first show at Croatian Fashion Week, I was really frustrated,” Vrbanić recalls. “To be precise, the quality of your work is judged by the number of celebrities taking selfies in the front row of your show. It doesn’t matter whether you have a unique concept or have copied a D&G collection from 2013.”
With an ambition to tell the truth about the state of fashion in Zagreb, Vrbanić gathered a group of like-minded individuals who became the collective behind PRICE ON REQUEST. “We decided that we are not going to be negative, but instead do something which speaks to people in a fresh way. But at the same time, we always try to be critical and hopefully influence the public,” she says.
In the last few years, a lot of emerging designers have become vocal about fashion’s overproduction problem, trying to find creative solutions through their collections. Fashion designers from the New East are among those pioneering the movement: from Tigran Avetisyan presenting a collection of 12 identical coats emblazoned with “Nothing Changes”, to Jahnkoy’s Maria Kazakova using her designs to talk about the disastrous environmental effect clothing donation has on traditional crafts in Africa. Then there’s the Vetements label, founded by Demna Gvasalia, which has been holding a mirror to the fashion industry by offering “ugly” normcore at luxury prices.
Capitalism came to post-communist countries as late as the 1990s, meaning a lot of New East designers have arrived on the market just as the industry is facing systemic issues such as the crisis of textile manufacturing. At the same time, they have witnessed a hot new market for luxury brands. Their collections confront this contradiction between consciousness and overconsumption head-on.
Retaining a critical stance is more important for Vrbanić than pushing a brand aesthetic. “I think that all this post-Soviet hype that comes from Western media and local designers is not reflective of what’s happening in the region. It a sentimental illusion from 20 years ago. A lot of the people are doing it only because it’s trending,” she says.
On the other hand, the designer remains optimistic about the Croatian creative scene: “I think that it’s some kind of phenomenon that a country with a population of four million has so many talented people. Speaking about Zagreb, the creative scene is really interesting. Generally, people don’t get fashion, but the ones that are dedicated to it are doing great things.”
PRICE ON REQUEST has always produced its garments in Croatia and will keep doing so. At the same time, they are starting to cast their net globally, selling their collections through international retailers. Though the price increase concept has been put on pause, Vrbanić has a lot of exciting plans for PRICE ON REQUEST. The collective is finding new ways to reinvent the fashion industry. One idea is to collaborate with a tech company to produce clothes which would exist “somewhere between virtual and physical space”. “I can’t tell you much since it’s still in a prototype phase,” Vrbanić says. “It could mean buying one garment that could transform into anything you like.”