Category Archives: Business Transparency

On The Brink of American Made Matters® Day – Nov 19th

AMM_Logo

Why does buying “American Made” products matter?

Let’s take a look at some stats:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 5.1 million fewer American manufacturing jobs now than at the start of 2001
  • According to ABC News, if consumers spent 1% more on American made products, it would create 200,000 additional jobs, 5% it would create 1,000,000 jobs
  • According to the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing supports an estimated 12 million jobs in the US. This number was more than 19 million in 1978.
  • According to the Los Angeles Times, every factory job added creates three additional jobs. Other estimates are as high as five additional jobs. This is more powerful than any other segment of our economy.
These are just a few of the many facts provided by the American Made Matters® (AMM) website, www.AmericanMadeMatters.com, an organization dedicated to educating consumers on the importance of buying Made In USA products.
With a current Facebook fan base of over 19,000 and a collection of well over 100 Made in USA brands as members, AMM is a leading pioneer in the Made In American Movement. In an effort to expand their cause, they created American Made Matters® day, encouraging consumers through social media avenues to dedicate that day to buying American,
On November 19th, 2013 we’re encouraging consumers to buy at least one American Made product…Our hope is that consumers will see how easy it is to buy made in USA and begin checking tags and looking for the American Made Matters logo when shopping this holiday season and throughout the year. Share your American made finds by tagging American Made Matters or using hashtag #AMMDay2013.  (AMMD Facebook page)

As a fashion theorist/journalist and style writer dedicated ethical production practices, I am a huge proponent of American Made fashion brands – and am sympathetic to their agony over finding manufacturing solutions on American soil. This particular Tedx talk tugs on the heart strings, and gives a real life example of the tough struggle presented to those who try to keep their garment production in the US:

During 2012, America exported $22.6 billion in textiles and apparel and imported $100.93 billion (according to the U.S. International Trade Administration), it’s time for this to change. I talk a lot about supporting the American Fashion industry, see my article about the decline of the NYC garment district in this months issue of NYC magazine Inside Hell’s Kitchen here: page 12, bottom left. There are a few initiatives set in place to revamp the American garment manufacturing industry, planning to upgrade the current factories in the NYC garment district and providing scholarships for emerging designers to use some studios in the area for workrooms and showrooms, but that isn’t enough.

#AMMDay2013 has inspired me to turn up the volume on my voice against offshore apparel manufacturing. I want to get in the faces of “American” brands like Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Brooks Brothers, Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike, Nordstrom and Lands’ End who use large Chinese factories for most of their production. I want the CFDA (the Council of Fashion Designers of America) to do MORE than just give out lifetime achievement awards, I want them to care about the American Fashion industry, I want them to help emerging designers, even those who aren’t in the hot areas of NY or LA – I want the American Dream back.

american_made2So, for American Made Matters Day, I plan to dedicate the day to speaking out, exposing those “American” fashion brands we know so well for their unAmerican business practices, as well as showcasing and thanking the revolutionary pioneers dedicated to keeping their brand exclusively Made In USA.

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Transparency Tuesday – Wits + Beaux – Expressive Men’s Accessories Made In NYC

Wits + Beaux – a men’s sock, bow tie, and pocket square e-commerce company – has an honorable dedication to supporting American manufacturing; all of the production processes of their brilliantly colorful, expressive menswear accessories are conducted in The Garment District of New York City. For Transparency Tuesday, I.F. takes a behind-the-scens look at this NYC start up brand who puts quality and high design at the forefront of their business model.

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Wits + Beaux Merch

In a time when large fashion corporations outsource their production to factories abroad where labor is cheap, small start up companies like Wits + Beaux  are rethinking the way the supply chain has been circulating and realizing the benefits of having production be local.  An honorable anomaly in the world of American fashion brands, Wits + Beaux makes it a priority to support the movement for keeping manufacturing in The States – a movement that has seen a resurgence in the small business community with the help of platforms such as Makers Row, but still has yet to fully take hold. As the insatiable fast-fashion consumer hunger for new fashion products continues to drive companies to stock new merchandise on the shelves more and more often, the focus remains on finding the cheapest labor possible to keep prices low, rather than having quality pieces.

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Wits + Beaux Intsagram

Luckily, there are pioneers for change like Wits + Beauxwho value the artisanal craftsmanship that can be found in one’s local community, and who believe that quality takes precedence over expense. With the amount of dedication and attention to detail the New York based team of Wits + Beaux puts into the designing of each piece, finding expert artisans to work with and discuss materials, patterns and design was extremely important. By working with The Garment District, the team could easily converse with and visit the workshop where the production took place. They were able to discuss with the experts, in person, how to make certain engineering aspects of their products possible. (Check out the video where the Wits + Beaux team discuss their use of the NYC garment district: http://kck.st/18A4az3)

The collaboration has led to a series of unique features that have become the trademark of  Wits + Beaux design including a unique stitching technique – seamless on the tips, an elastic arch support eliminating bunching, and an few extra inches in height, ensuring a day long wear without having to hike up fallen socks.

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Wits + Beaux Intsagram

Wits + Beaux’s inspiring dedication to keeping production at home  is equally matched with a passion for providing the fashion forward male consumer with “expressive” accessories. Which, for now, at the beginning stages of the brand, includes brightly designed, high quality sock wear, bow ties and pocket squares. As the website explains,

“Wits + Beaux was born from a singular quest – finding a well-made, unconventional and expressive pair of affordable socks. From that seed grew a dream to create a virtual men’s accessories boutique and cultivate a community of like-minded individuals who want more than just a shopping cart to fill; they want an experience. Our customer wants to engage in the design process as much as be inspired by the latest trends of the season.”

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Wits + Beaux Instagram

Fun, witty, friendly, and personable with a pinch of edginess is the perfect way to describe the voice of the brand, with the origin of the brand’s name perfectly corresponding with the mantra,

“’Wits’ and ‘Beaux’ are nicknames from early nineteenth century, Regency-Era England—known for distinctive trends in fashion and culture. We were intrigued by the contrast of these terms to the modern, technology-driven vision we had for our business. ‘Wits’, as they were known, were the poets, orators, and politicians of their time. The ‘Beaux’ were the trend-setting gentlemen of fashion. So, with a tip of our hats to this rich history of sophisticated and stylish gentlemen, we hope you enjoy the smart, superbly designed and crafted men’s accessories Wits + Beaux brings you without having to have a royal checkbook or a horse-drawn carriage to get them!”

Wits + Beaux invites men to a unique shopping experience while still relaxing in the comfort of their own home. This will soon become even more unique of an experience with the addition of the “Design Your Own” feature which is set in motion to be added to the platform soon. Customers will be able to easily customize their products by selecting the pattern and color to make their very own, original design.

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Wits + Beaux Instagram

I.F. commends Wits + Beaux for thinking critically about their business practices from the very get go and putting an emphasis on quality over quantity – high design over cheap trends.  Another A+, and we wish Wits + Beaux luck with the expansion of the brand and getting backed for another round of inventory for holiday! Support Wits + Beaux today by clicking here!

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I can get 5 shirts at Forever 21 for the same price as 1 shirt from an independent designer, why bother buying indie?

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Yes, it’s true that trendy looks can be found for super cheap at fast fashion stores and large chain retailers like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M. However, it is important to think about what is being perpetuated when people choose to give their money to these types of retailers over supporting more small time, independent designers. Fast fashion and large chain store retailers are focused on one thing and one thing only: the bottom line. Getting fads out as quickly as possible at the cheapest price is their main business agenda, and in doing so they promote a destructive shopping culture and seriously hurt the success of independent designers who promote innovative design and positive business practices.

– Forging Authenticity –

Forever 21 has been sued over 50 times for copyright infringement; the fast fashion retailer has blatantly knocked off designs from big name brands like Diane Von Furstenburg and Betsey Johnson to smaller, independent designers like Trovata and Foley + Corinna. This is one of the many unethically sound ways these types of retailers are able to keep their prices super cheap. Knocking off from other designer’s work allows these companies to avoid having to pay a creative team of designers, thereby allowing them to charge less for their products. What’s worse is that the courts almost always side with the copycat. Since copyright laws are so complicated when it comes to fashion, the stealing of designs is really hard to nail down. By buying into these cheap knockoffs, design integrity is compromised. What was once a gorgeous, highly detailed design with amazing drape and feel becomes a low quality look-a-like with shotty craftsmanship, void of almost all stylistic detailing. The originality and innovation that went into the design is diluted when cheap knock-offs become representative of the original look – hurting the success of the designer who exerted time, energy, and dedication to creating the concept. The mentality of, “If I can get the same look for $100 less, why buy the real thing?” is detrimental to an independent label.

– Lacking in Longevity –

Fast fashion retailers and chain stores make products from the lowest quality materials they can get away with, resulting in a super short lifespan of the product. Ingenious from a strictly business perspective: the cheap products last just about as long as the trend and when they fall apart, consumers simply throw them away and replace them with next weeks cheap fad… a never ending cycle of robotic (ergo thoughtless) consumption.

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Purchasing from an indie brand, however, you can be sure that true thought, time, and energy went into every aspect of the design. Materials are hand chosen and each stitch is placed with precision. Independent brands are focused on creating products that last. Yes, they will be more expensive, but that is because they are made from quality materials that will not fall apart after a few wears and washes. So, even though it may feel like you are spending less by opting to buy cheaper items, in the long run you save more by investing in more expensive, higher quality items that last.

– Humanitarianism –

It is no secret that big chain retailers use large factories, usually overseas (even though Forever 21’s factories are actually in LA), where workers are paid practically nothing for their labor and forced to work long hours in horrible working conditions. This is another major way they are able to keep prices so low, and so long as people’s buying choices revolve around the price tag, these retailers will continue to get away with exploitive practices.

Smaller, independent designers are much more in tune with the consequences of their business practices. Because the designer plays multiple roles in the business, they have a hand in each step of production from design, to manufacturing, to the end sale. Independent designers have a focus that is lost in large retail corporations – they make it a point to be responsible with their business. Many even take it a step further by using their business to give back.

– Voting With Your Dollar –

The next time you are choosing where to shop, remember that you are really voting with your dollar. Do you want to promote mass-produced, low quality fashion fads that rely on the exploitation of workers, or do you want to support original designers who use their business for good? The choice is yours.

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Sarah’s Bag – Inspiring Brand, Empowering Women

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“Empowered women mean empowered societies,” this is  the motto of inspiring accessory brand, Sarah’s Bag. This Beirut, Lebanon-based business paves the way for sound supply chain practices, proving that fair labor does not compromise gorgeous and innovative design. Sarah’s Bag employs women at risk as their artisans, who hand make absolutely original clutches and handbags with lavish embellishments including embroidery, cross stitching, intricate beading, crochet and so much more.

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Founded in 2000, Sarah’s Bag has grown to employ more than 150 women across Lebanon who have taken solace and found empowerment in the opportunity presented by Sarah to take control of their lives; finding work that helps them contribute to their communities and support their families in a world that otherwise casted them aside. These women congregate together to hand stitch designs that showcase their skills, giving them a space to connect with each other while producing magnificent works of art for the world to enjoy.

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Sarah’s Bag is an inspiration – really shedding light on the fashion industry and the vast opportunities it has to support and help communities in need. Rather than sourcing cheap and unfair labor in mega-factories, why not source individuals like these Lebanon women who, with just a bit of instruction, can produce not only gorgeous designs, but high quality pieces that will last lifetime, while at the same time improves the lives of others.

A truly magnificent display, this brand should be commended for their tremendous effort and success in combining fashion, business, and humanitarianism.

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Watch a video about the story behind the amazing women artisans that hand make the products of Sarah’s Bag here:  http://bit.ly/176zBTw

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Two Months Later: A Look at the Bangladesh Catastrophe

126692804_01_407688bSince 24th April this year Bangladesh has been at the forefront of fashion and business news. The tragedy of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, which killed over 1,000 people and injured more than 2,000, has meant that garment factories have been a big issue for retailers and fashion businesses.

The Rana Plaza disaster happened at a pivotal time in social history. Many people around the world have been hit by a tough economy, and they’re thinking more carefully before buying anything, both of their own need, and the value of their products. Longevity of items, and where they have come from, are very important factors to a lot of consumers.

Additionally, social media is at its peak, and instant news has had a profound affect on the way information is digested. Just looking at the global response to the tragic events at the Boston Marathon this year, makes you realise that everybody feels connected, and reacts together.

When you combine these two things, consumer awareness and instant news, it shows that when something goes wrong in the production chain, it has huge consequences. Consumers are asking more questions, and making big businesses feel uneasy. With personal budgets tighter than they’ve been for years, it’s easier for people to change their shopping habits, to turn away from companies and brands because of how they operate.

If something like the Rana Plaza catastrophe had happened 15 or 20 years ago, would we even have heard about it? More than likely, the major corporations would have hidden it away, subduing any reports. Now that we have the ability to be connected with the other side of the world in moments, these companies have nowhere to hide.

This isn’t to say that all big businesses are corrupt, and forcing people to work at a rate barely above slave labour. With the cost of living being more tightly monitored by individuals, there have been more ethical and responsible companies emerging. They understand that the attitudes towards instant and throwaway fashion are changing, albeit slowly and in very small increments. These companies might be charging more for their wares, but that’s because the materials were bought for a fair price, and the people who made them were paid more than $60 a month. We now have the opportunity to learn what fashion is worth to each of us.

Sadly, for a lot of people, the cost of these ethical products is prohibitive. One of the positive things to come from the Rana Plaza collapse is that politicians and governments are now seeing the responses from social medias, and understand that these are things their people feel strongly about. It would be nice if we lived in a world where governments were governed by their own morals, but unfortunately, they rely on the morals of their voters. Right now, their voters want change and help for the garment workers, so they are acting.

In the months since the collapse, the government in Bangladesh has voted to increase the minimum wage for factory workers, and to allow them to form unions without the prior consent of the factory owners. BEGMA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) have announced that the factories within it’s association must sign up to a worker database, to give security to casual workers and keep a real time track of the employment levels.

As recently as within the last week, the US President announced that they will be ending duty-free trade privileges over their concerns into dangerous working conditions and worker rights. This is a bold move for the US, and one that has caused anger in Bangladesh, which feels that America is ignoring the recent changes instigated by the Bangladesh government, which is working hard to protect its citizens.

Feelings are that the EU will soon follow suit with this change in commerce, as they often do after the US makes a change of this magnitude. It often takes one definitive stand before change can start, but we can only hope that the garment industry in Bangladesh can survive long enough to repair itself.

With all of these changes and work from a high level, its clear to see that everybody felt the pain and loss from April, and want to help make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s only been two months since the Rana Plaza disaster so it’s too soon to tell if any of these changes are working. We might not know for some time if they will work, but it cannot continue as it is, and at least in the mean time every one who can do, is doing something.

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Transparency Tuesday – Fashioning Change

 
Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.41.21 PMFinally, the myth that sustainable clothing is harder to find and more expensive than normative fashion brands has been dispelled. Introducing Fashioning Change, an amazing, innovative eCommerce platform based in San Diego that finds less expensive, yet equally trendy, sustainable alternatives to the large brands you usually shop. Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.41.46 PMFashioning Change builds your own virtual changing room by asking you a series of questions including your budget for fashion products,

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Personality,

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style,

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brand preference,

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and which donations you care about most.
Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.45.34 PMYour changing room is then formulated and you can browse items by your personal style, causes, personality, or “likes”. You can also explore larger categories like Women, Men, Children, Brands, and Looks.

We want to thank Fashioning Change for making sustainable fashion more accessible to the masses and starting to change the idea that sustainable = expensive. I.F. gives Fashioning Change an A+, be sure to check them out at http://fashioningchange.com and build your personal changing room for free!

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Transparency Tuesday

Business Transparency is extremely important to I.F. On Tuesday’s, I.F. will spotlight fashion businesses and/or organizations both large and small that are making innovative moves toward making the fashion industry a little less opaque.

Honest by.

honest by

Click me to visit honestby.com

THE HONEST BY PHILOSOPHY

“We believe Fashion is about beauty and that the story behind fashion can be equally beautiful.
We want to give our customer the opportunity to shop with complete awareness of what they are buying.
We want to produce all of our products in a life friendly way.
We believe in the health of our clients skin.
We want the impact of our products and activities on the environment and human health to be as small as possible.”

Honest by. is the ultimate transparent fashion business, giving customers absolutely all the information possible about their garments, from detailed material information:

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Click me for full view

manufacturing details, carbon foot print, to an extensive break-down of the price calculation:

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Click me for full view

Each and every detail concerning the production, manufacturing through to consumption of the products is considered, outlined, and analyzed in a sussinct and understandable manner. There is even advice provided for how to best dispose, post-consumption; “**For optimal decomposition: please remove all polyester garment labels and components before disposal. These are not biodegradable.

The business model of Honest by. is truly admirable, and frankly only really feasible with the current size of the business – which is being run out of Honest by. owner and designer, Bruno Pieters’ studio in Antwerp. What is even more admirable is the fact that when faced with the opportunity to expand, approached by large department stores to carry his line, Pieters declined. The stores refused to allow the display of the price calculation break-down to customers, and for Pieters, compromising this definitive aspect of the company wasn’t up for negotiation. We commend you, Bruno Pieter, choosing transparency over profit is so rare in companies these days.

Honest by. truly thinks about every single aspect that its business practices affect, as well as the consequences of those effects. Customers can truly feel their buying is honest and ethical when the purchase from Honest by., and for that we give Honest by. an A++.

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Who Wears the Pants?

Dockers          Dockers

In order to understand the world and the endless amount of information we take in every second, the human brain has developed the use of ‘schemata’ or categories which are used as frameworks so that information can be easily and quickly filed away to help us interact appropriately in different situations. Everyone has their own set of schemata influenced by background, upbringing, experiences and relationships. Yet, there is no doubt that everyone uses them. They have to, as some scholars say, or else there would be information overloads and no interaction would be able to take place. Some schemata are shared by the general populous, such as gender schemata. The female schema contains characteristics such as nurturing, facilitating, polite, dependent, and unaggressive. The male schema says men are dominant, aggressive, stoic, successful, independent, and the breadwinners. There are also other schemata that go along with race/ethnicity, class, religion, occupation, national identity, and sexuality.

These universally accepted schemata can be easily discovered by simply looking at the media and advertisement portrayals in how the represent their markets. It seems that Dockers has very different schemata traits when it comes to gay and straight men which we can see in their most recent advertising campaign. This campaign began a in early December of 2009 which called for men to go back to their roots, to act more manly, and to ‘Wear the Pants’.

Most of the ad’s have the same general format; a man standing in front of a plain background, the top half of him is a saying and he is wearing Dockers pants. What is interesting is the difference in the word choice given the context the ad will be seen. Can you guess which one of the above ads I found in Out magazine, the national gay fashion and lifestyle magazine for the US? Without getting into the phrases used, you could probably tell just by the style and fit of the pants. The ones on the left are an orange/pink and the fit is much tighter than the khaki’s on the right which are looser, wrinklier, and a dull tan. Even the stance of the two are remarkably different. We have one who is almost posing sexually, looking to the side, or behind him as if looking for someone to make a connection with, versus the other man who seems to have no interest in what is going on around him, rather he is looking out with his hands on his hips as if he just accomplished a trying task or is contemplating the meaning of life. Getting down to the more obvious of differences, we see what the Dockers advertising campaign sees as the difference in priorities between gay men and straight men through the phrases they chose to make up the body (in both sense of the word) of their ad. ‘Behold the Second Dawn of Man’ goes along with the main theme of the Dockers new ad campaign which, in summary, claims that our society has become genderless, and is therefore crumbling.  It calls for men to drop their non-fat lattes, put on their pants, be men and help little old ladies cross the street, discipline misbehaving children, and of course, buy Docker’s pants. It is easy to see the sexism in this campaign, but further drudging of the advertisements brings to light more prejudice ideals. First of all, the ad I found in Out is much harder to track down in other outlets. In fact, it doesn’t even appear in a Google search. Does Dockers not want to be identified with the gay community,? if so, why advertise in a gay magazine?

The phrase used for the advertisement placed in a gay context states, ‘Attract the touches of friends, boyfriends, and even the occasional stranger’. So, straight men wear their pants to maintain order in society, gay men wear pants to be promiscuous and attract attention from occasional strangers. Though it seems trite to take such a critical view of these two seemingly unimportant advertising images, it does bring light to how mainstream corporations view different subcultures and instill representations and reinforce stereotypes. As the introduction to Erving Goffman’s book Gender Advertisements says, “Advertisements depict for us not necessarily how we actually behave as men and women but how we think men and women behave. This depiction serves the social purpose of convincing us that this is how men and women are, or want to be, or should be not only in relation to themselves but in relation to each other” (Gornick, 1979).

It is important to understand the implications and affects these representations have on our culture. From creating unfair homogenous stereotypes of a group to instilling an unattainable body and lifestyle ideal people try to live up to.

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