To Buy or Not to Buy Brand


Recently, partially as a result of my more frugal spending and partially as a continuation of the various conversations that are taking place around lolita fashion, I’ve been thinking about buying brand. More specifically, how I should be buying my brand. Those thoughts feel deep enough to warrant a discussion, so allow me to share them with you and we’ll see where that gets us.

On the one hand, brand lolita fashion items are now a lot more affordable to obtain than before thanks to the massive second hand market, both in Japan and elsewhere. On the other, we want to keep the brands to avoid sharing fate with some of the other ones we enjoyed a lot, like Victorian Maiden, Putomayo or Excentrique. The constant dichotomy of wanting brand items, but not wanting to pay brand prices can be, and is, incredibly confusing to navigate. Yes, Victorian Maiden and the others went out of business for a variety of complex reasons, which weren’t necessarily limited to us not purchasing enough – not keeping up with fashion trends and changes in marketing strategies and technologies were as big a part, if not bigger, in their demise. Yet still, the customer’s power lies in what, where and how they purchase and once a brand is aware of demands (e.g. for larger sizes or in a particular market), they can adequately respond to that.

Show them you want it by throwing it in the bag. And getting the matching bag
too (if you can)!

Now, I’m not here to tell others what to do or how to spend their money. Everyone’s preferences and capabilities are different, so one person’s monthly haul will equate to another one’s annual splurge. It’s important to keep in mind that lolita is not fast fashion, so what’s affordable in lolita will never be anywhere near high street prices. If you’ve missed it, do check out Lovely Lor’s video on why is lolita so expensive, she explains it very well. What I’m trying to address is the mentality some lolitas have that they would never buy brand new – and that’s an actual quote, not an exaggeration, citing high price as the predominant reason behind that. And again, while that mentality alone didn’t kill brands like Victorian Maiden, it is a very simplistic attitude that fails to recognise some of the relationships within the fashion and plays a part in the larger picture.

Let’s take the Angelic Pretty Paris branch as an example. After years of wishing for a physical branch in Europe that we could all access, it finally came. Unlike the BtSSB Paris branch, it accepted e-mail orders and subsequently opened up a webstore, so you don’t have to physically be in Paris to shop there and you still enjoy the benefits of the EU customs union (which most European countries are part of). However, the prices in the Paris branch are higher than in the Japanese ones or even in the US store. The difference accounts for import costs (shipping as well as customs and taxes, which are higher from Japan to France than from Japan to the USA), overhead costs (rent on the branch, website maintenance, staff wages) and allows for profit for Angelic Pretty as a company. If all lolitas in Europe now decided that the prices were too high and they took their custom elsewhere, the demand for the Paris branch would all but disappear, it would stop being feasible to keep it and subsequently it would close, bringing us back to square one.

A physical branch is not be all or end all for a brand - but being able to keep
one is a significant investment that can't continue without supportive customers.

The same logic and processes apply to any lolita brand in the grand scheme of things. If all lolitas suddenly decided that they are not going to buy brand new, brands would go out of business. Now, given the popularity the fashion enjoys domestically and abroad, particularly in China, this is an unlikely scenario to happen for some of the biggest labels like Angelic Pretty or Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. Having said this, smaller labels, regardless of the country of origin, are already struggling to compete with lolita giants like AP or Baby, thus they’re more susceptible to fluctuations like this and need to fight harder to keep up with market changes without compromising too much on what makes their brand unique. But the point is that in the grand scheme of things the “I would never buy brand new [implied: because it’s expensive]” thinking is part of the problem.

Like I said, I’m not here to force everyone to buy everything brand new and to buy everything from brands. For one, indie designers need that support just as much, if not more, and for another – we can’t all afford to do so. Roli did a great post on what you should expect a lolita coordinate to cost and the all-brand examples can be a little heart attack-inducing in price, I’ll be the first to admit that myself. But recently this has been bugging me because I began to notice myself being a part of that problem too. So I started thinking about things that I could do to support the brands I like, be it larger labels or indie designers, that wouldn’t hurt my budget and that would stick to my newly adopted principle of meaningful and careful spending.

I always said that I had brandwhore-ish tendencies in me. Not it's time to put
my money where my mouth is. For the sake of burando!

To me it starts with having clear priorities and an idea of what I want from my lolita wardrobe. By now I’m quite confident in my style and preferences, know what cuts work for my body shape and have an idea of where I’d like my wardrobe to go next. This allows me to look at even the barest of previews and be able to tell if something will work within that framework or not, so that I don’t give in to the initial excitement because it’s something new. Also, as I regularly review how my wardrobe is changing, I can quickly spot any gaps and address them in the best way possible. Note, for example, how I aim to keep my wishlists and need-lists specific by mentioning colour and style, as well as relevant details (e.g. neckline or sleeve style on blouses) where appropriate. When you’re this specific about what you’re trying to get, it’s easier to resist temptations and stick to your guns when it comes to limiting spending/saving up, at least for myself. The combination of knowing my style now, staying on top of my wardrobe may need and having an idea of the direction in which I want to go all help ensure that my spending is reasonable and justifiable, but also that every new purchase does add something to my collection instead of being more of the same or something completely unusable. This in turn means that I have the means to indulge in a brand purchase if I decide to and that I can trust myself to make this brand purchase smart and fitting with my style and needs.

Obviously, if something is no longer sold in shops, then we’ve no choice but to track it down second hand, but where possible, I would like to purchase more directly from the brands to show my support and to do my part in keeping them in business and keeping the fashion going. This will have to work differently at different times. If an item comes out that I fall for, then as long as it passes the 48 hours rule I should endeavour to purchase it. In case of things from Angelic Pretty, I would also like to purchase more from the Paris branch, although I won’t lie that the points I’ve accrued already on the Japanese webstore are pretty good at making me buy in Japan instead. If I’m in a financial pinch or if it’s an item that I feel could wait this long, then I would like to purchase from brands during sale times. This is one way of continuing to support the brand, but without having to commit as much financially. After all, the brands can’t be making reductions that would cause them substantial losses and even a sale purchase sends the brand a message (though that’s for them to analyse what that message is). Lastly, in line with what I said earlier about idolising Japanese brands, I would like to apply the above more towards indie brands. Many of them have amazing designs, although price tags vary between brands (e.g. Lady Sloth is pretty affordable, whilst Baroque or Lief are on the higher end), but they rely on our custom even more than AP or Baby do as they don’t always gain the international following that Japanese brands get. Indie brands are also a bit more exclusive, things are either handmade to measure/order or in very limited quantities and the designs can be more unique, so they need us more to see that we want them to carry on doing what they do.

Support your favourite indie brands. They rely on you even more than AP.
Photo from IndustrialKitty's Livejournal post.

A lot of the above is more of a matter of changing mentality and thinking than about money, at least for me. I am lucky to be in a position to be able to afford brand items new without having to make sacrifices and I also aim to be smart about my purchases and about budgeting. For every purchase I made, there are usually at least two that I talked myself out of (some with more regret than others). For other people who would like to make similar changes, this may be more a matter of saving for longer to buy fewer things. There will also be people who simply decide not to buy Japanese brands in general – and that’s ok, as long as they support their favourite designers through their custom, be it a Chinese brand, Korean or whatever else. Yes, there are some fantastic options and bargains to be had on the second hand sales market, as well as some other benefits to shopping second hand (e.g. sustainability and the environmental impact). But those will not disappear whereas brands, small and large, will if they don’t see support substantial enough to keep them in business. And WunderWelt can’t come to every brand’s rescue like they did with Moi-meme-Moitie.

Do you buy brand new? If you do, how often are you able to do that versus how often you actually do so? Do you try to shop in your ‘local’ branch (i.e. any one nearest to you that’s outside of Japan) or do you choose to keep shopping services in business instead by shopping in Japan? Do you think it’s important to continue shopping from brands to keep the fashion going? Or did my rambling just bore you to death and you disagree with every word I said? 


  1. I didn't shop in btssb when it existed and I highly doubt I would do in the Paris AP, not really my style. I can however say I support Independent resellers, and buying direct from brand/indie. I do buy second hand sometimes. Given the prices of brand I only buy when I really like the piece, as their prices is mostly out of my price range.

    1. That's fair enough. I know a few people, especially those who are more into Gothic Lolita etc., who just don't find things they like at AP or Baby, so they either shop with indie brands or other Japanese brands when they can. The things I have bought brand new most are usually little bits, like a headbow or some socks, because they're easy to add to an order, they are easier to save up for and often stay on sale for a while, so I can buy them cheaper. But from now on I think I will try to do more to buy things new, especially from indie brands (purely because those are harder to track down once they sell out).

    2. Personally I can't justify buying small bits at brand, as I have to pay customs and a pricey headbow gets crazy expensive. Indie brand or taobao is so much value for money. However socks are near impossible to find as indiebrand, so I shop mostly brand there. I am more on the darker side of classic, so AP isn't so interesting for me.

    3. As much as I like headbows from Cutie Creator, recently I feel like I got everything I could have from them and while they get new stock pretty often, it's not quite my style. But while brands are still top with socks, there are a few Chinese shops that do pretty decent tights - I like what MuFish has on offer and Yidhra has some nice printed designs too, perfect for darker classic.

  2. You do make some very good points! I want to say I support the brands I love, but I know that I don't to the extent that I really should. This post was a good reminder to put my money where my mouth is in lolita terms. I've started doing it in other aspects - I subscribe to a few varied Patreons and try to support local businesses and artists - but not so much in lolita. To be fair, it's partially because my wardrobe is bigger than I need and very well rounded but still...

    Though it's bad, because now I'm partially viewing your post as a justification to buy Meta's pintuck JSK that they just re-released.

    I do really want to buy more indie items as well, especially smaller things, but shipping to Australia is such a pain lol! I had a great shopping cart of sweet jewellery from Etsy the other day and then realised he shipping cost as much as the items and I just wasn't willing to do it.

    Anyhow, I'm rambling, but this was a great post!

    1. It's a double-edged sword, isn't it? I feel very similarly about my wardrobe, it doesn't actually need much at the moment, it's pretty cohesive and allows me a range of options, so this mentality could end up simply justifying purchases I don't need. Hopefully the 48-hour rule will save my butt here.

      Oh Lord, the shipping! This gets me too. Especially from North America - that's madness what it costs to post anything from there! Even more so when posting an equivalent thing from the UK to North America is a quarter to a half of their price. I'm trying to get over that, but it's not hard. We need shopping services worldwide, not just for Japan and China (I know there's like an equivalent of Tenso in the United States, but I don't shop there enough to justify using that). This is partly why I love big lolita events, because no shipping costs, but that only works when you have access to any. :/

      Another point that I only came across after writing this up are the contribution that scalpers make. Whilst I'm not trying to justify what they're doing, because buying up stuff to sell off at marked up prices is wrong (and at best questionable), but by purchasing new items directly from brands they do sort of help keep these going as well, they're showing that the demand is there. Of course, the more you look into it, the more problematic it gets, for example they will only do that with brands like Angelic Pretty and maybe BtSSB, leaving less popular brands out. But at least it secures those big ones for the time being, allowing the rest of us to focus a bit more on the indie labels etc.


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