A Look Inside the System

The fashion industry is built on an intricate web of relationships between brands, retailers, suppliers, producers, and consumers. There are many ways to connect consumers with product, and each method has its advantages and disadvantages. The practices of buying and selling merchandise have evolved over time – how did we arrive at the current landscape of the fashion industry? Why do some brands sell direct (via their own stores or ecommerce sites) and others rely on wholesale partnerships (with large retailers like Nordstrom or Macy’s)? What makes fast fashion so different, and why has this model created such turmoil for traditional brands and retailers?

“Wholesale is a dream for design-driven brands, since it allows them to focus on the design and product, while offloading the selling to an often influential third party. Brands that really want to own the relationship with the customer…often won’t be as design-driven since they have many other skills to master, from customer acquisition to ecommerce to customer service.” –Loose Threads

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Brand Profile: Oliver Cabell

This past week saw the addition of another fashion brand to the ranks of those who go above and beyond to offer pricing and sourcing transparency to their customers. Retailers like Zady and Everlane have been pioneers in this shift toward honest and open engagement with consumers about the products they make. Whether this involves naming the places where a brand sources its fibers, fabrics, and findings, or laying bare a brand’s pricing strategy and inviting consumers to gain a better understanding of what it costs to make their clothing, these subtle changes have huge implications for an industry that has traditionally operated behind closed doors.

When a brand voluntarily provides what has always been considered a trade secret, they aren’t just supplying long sought-after answers: they’re giving consumers the information they need in order to start asking better questions. Part of the reason the dirty secrets of the fashion industry remain so well hidden is because we as consumers don’t realize we aren’t getting the whole picture. If I am unaware of the fact that my clothing had an entire life before I purchased it, why would I ever think to look into the details of that story? Continue reading

Designing for the Bottom Line

“Fashion is made to become unfashionable.” -Coco Chanel

And yet for some reason we’re still surprised when a once trustworthy market dries up and disappears completely. My hunch is that this surprise is due to the way many outside the fashion industry have come to treat brands: as any other kind of business, one that doesn’t have to bow to the fickle nature of fashion trends.

I become uneasy when I hear of a fashion brand going public. This was extremely popular in the 1990s as brands first discovered that the additional funding from an IPO could assist them on the road toward global expansion. We saw the creation of luxury conglomerates run by outsiders to the fashion industry (i.e. Bernard Arnault at LVMH Moët Hennessy) bring an entirely new mindset to the practice of selling clothes. Instead of hemlines and silhouettes, the conversations turned to growth and margins – to making creativity as profitable as possible. Continue reading

Decisions, Decisions

In a recent bout of online shopping, I found a blouse I really liked. Two weeks later…it’s still sitting in my shopping cart.

Background: this particular brand passed initial inspection so I decided to look around at their clothing. One top in particular caught my eye and I was 95% of the way toward making a purchase when a little voice in my head stopped me. “What is the fiber content?” it said. A sigh of annoyance escaped me – have I mentioned how I adore this pesky thing called awareness? To appease my conscience I headed back to the detail page and that’s when I discovered the top was 100% rayon. Ugh. Why did I have to see that? Continue reading

Brand Profile: Eileen Fisher

It’s high time we discussed the undisputed frontrunner of sustainable fashion.

“We don’t want sustainability to be our edge. We want it to be universal.” —Eileen

Eileen Fisher started designing clothes in order to solve an issue many of us face: she was having trouble getting dressed. She kept imagining clothing that could easily go together: simple shapes, beautiful fabrics and colors, and proportions that lent themselves to seamless outfit options. In 1984, without even knowing how to sew, she set out to make this vision of simple dressing a reality.

Since then, her initial four shapes have expanded into a full-blown collection with some pretty ambitious goals. Enter Vision2020:

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100% organic cotton and linen, wool from humanely-raised sheep on sustainably-managed farms, Tencel instead of rayon, and recycled polyester instead of virgin. Less water, less carbon, and less fabric waste on the cutting room floor. Committing to bluesign certified technologies for responsible chemical, energy, and water usage and collaborating with other brands to increase demand for responsible dyes. Following their supply chain back to the beginning and ensuring all participants are treated fairly and empowered to voice their concerns along the way. And finally taking back your well-loved pieces to resell or recycle into raw materials for future collections.

Overwhelmed yet? Continue reading

Knock It Off

Mary Katrantzou’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection is one I won’t soon forget. Never before had a collection so captivated my attention: the details were impeccable, the designs like nothing I had ever seen before – a rarity in today’s fashion world. I was completely in awe of her work. Chalk it up to my age or to a lack of exposure in the world of fashion, but I had never experienced this level of appreciation for a designer. Maybe for the icons that are no longer with us, but not for anyone from the modern fashion world.

It wasn’t long before her work was being replicated at every level of fashion retail. Her digital prints enabled copyists to take her designs straight from the runway and churn them out in a matter of weeks, beating Katrantzou’s own designs to market. Last year, she commented on how commonplace such imitations had become, saying “It became something you saw everywhere…I felt the need to move away.” Continue reading

An Antidote for Fast Fashion

Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of artisanal craftsmanship. Right now, the fashion industry loves the word “artisan” – it seems to be everywhere these days. The more I see it, the more I wonder: what does artisan mean? What qualifies someone’s work as artisanal? As I mulled these questions over in my mind on a bumpy NY-bound flight, I happened to notice my seat-mate’s coffee cup: when “artisan” shows up on an Einstein’s to-go cup, we need to have a talk.

My first step was to consult the experts, Merriam and Webster:

ar·ti·san

: a person who is skilled at making things by hand

: one that produces something in limited quantities often using traditional methods

May I elaborate a little? Artisans are masters of their craft. They have studied and honed their skill to a point of expertise: they are PhD-level makers. They have not turned to mechanization of tasks, and they do not cut corners in order to decrease costs, save time, or enhance profit margins. Continue reading

Dear Mom

My mom has taught me a lot over the years. Whenever I’ve needed a sounding board to help me think through decisions, she’s who I call. She breaks down the big complex problems until their solutions look simple (moving all of my belongings to a new city on the other side of the country), she always has sound advice to offer (like that one time she advised me against taking a 12 hour all night bus ride), and she’s my exploring buddy whenever I move to a new place (Texas, Florence, Utah, and New York – some more enticing than others…).

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She also shaped my views on clothing. It is because of her that I (begrudgingly) wore skirts that were “appropriate length” when all my friends hopped on the cutoff denim skirt trend. She taught me how important it is for skirts and dresses to be lined, how to tell if a garment fit properly across my shoulders, how to care for my clothes, and how to keep them looking nice (hang them up and actually pull out the iron once in awhile).

As much as I used to push back on her rules, over time I came to adopt them 110%. You will never see me trying to get away with a skirt that’s too short or a dress that is see-through. Instead, I’ve become quite picky – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed on what appeared to be a perfectly good piece, simply because it needed another inch at the hem. I once resisted her point of view, but now she is the first person I turn to for a second opinion.

In addition to these guidelines, my mom taught me that in order to get the quality you want, sometimes you have to pay a little more. I would gawk at a price tag; she would say, “But it will last.” I’m not talking about exorbitant prices here: all I’m saying is she helped me graduate from my ‘buy a ton of cheap clothes’ mindset to a more reserved place where each piece I buy serves a long-term purpose. In fact, she’s been on the right track all along – I’m just now starting to see it.

What it all boils down to is this: my mom taught me about quality. She taught me about beautiful construction and about paying attention to the details. She taught me to view clothing as an investment, not something I should be comfortable throwing away. Why else would she teach me how to care for my clothes if not to keep them around for more than one season?

For everything you’ve taught me (even when I didn’t want to learn), thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Brand Profile: Dear Survivor

I recently fell in love with Dear Survivor after finding them on Instagram. Once I made it over to their website, I found beautiful jewelry, hand-crafted leather accessories, and an incredible story. The heart behind these products became clear, and I was deeply moved by founder Christine Longoria’s mission for her company.

But I wasn’t quite ready to purchase. I’ve read enough to make me skeptical of jewelry supply chains – especially when it comes to gemstones, leather, and metals – so I wanted some clarification. When I’ve reached this point in the past, I emailed the company or brand to ask my questions. My plan is always to wait for a response before I buy, which puts a purchase off for at least a few weeks (and sometimes indefinitely). So, without high expectations, I typed out a few of my questions and hit send. Continue reading

Fashion Revolution

On April 24th, 2013, 1,134 garment workers lost their lives when the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh.

We’ve been conditioned to think fashion is silly and frivolous, a mindset that severely limits our ability to combat the industry’s ills and effectively address its global impacts. Why do we downplay the effects of a $1.2 trillion dollar industry (or $3 trillion if we include the textile trade)? Within the United States alone, fashion was responsible for $250 billion dollars spent and 1.9 million people employed in 2014. And we still think it’s all about playing dress up? Continue reading