March 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
Malkemus thinks much of the rising-price trend is owed to the basic capitalist idea of pushing the market to what it will bear — which is not necessarily a wise move, in his opinion. “When a young lady says to me, “I went shopping for shoes and the average pirce point was $900 — $900 used to be a coat, ” says Malkemus. “I think that people may have taken advantage of the notion that ‘It’s all about accessories right now.” When [designer] ready-to-wear priced itself out of the realm of most consumers, shoes and bags were still affordable. Now, what’s happened is the shoe people and the bag people sort of lost control of that, and they are scaring off a certain consumer.” (Iredale, WWD Accessories, 3/26/12)
In the middle of today’s WWD Accessories special issue, which is chock-full of images of luxury handbags and shoes, there’s an unexpected and delightfully Truth Plus-esque piece that questions the new $600-plus price norm for designer shoes. I remember when spending $150 to $200 for a pair of contemporary shoes felt like a real splurge, and that Manolo Blahniks used to cost a shocking $395. Now, you’d be more apt to see a pair of Chinese-made shoes at Macy’s for $150 and a pair of contemporary sandals for $395. As people’s salaries have remained static, reduced or have disappeared altogether, luxury shoe brands have rather brazenly continued to hike up the prices of their products. When I read that $1900 booties are being snapped up in a flash or an ‘It Bag’ sells out by pre-order in record time, I can only think that it’s the true 1% who is able to afford these items. Yes, an aspirational customer can save his or her pennies and buy one good thing as an investment. But there’s no way, I don’t think, that they can make multiple purchases of $700 shoes in one season.
So why have prices gone up? Designer shoes, as Malkemus explains, are most often produced in Italy. In past years, the dollar had lost quite a bit of value against the Euro, and US customers ended up with higher retail prices as a result. Raw material prices, Malkemus says, have increased 30-40% in the past year and half alone. As the prices of the most high-end shoes have gone up, the market has created new norms for prices at all quality levels to accord to the top tier’s price setting. But as the Euro-Dollar currency conversion has recently evened out, shouldn’t shoe prices in the US decrease some across the board?
Malkemus’ above quote says a lot about why prices haven’t and perhaps won’t drop. The average aspirational customer, who began her luxury education/fascination with Carrie Bradshaw’s Fendi Baguette, has become an accessories-focused consumer who might buy fast-fashion clothing and pair it with with $700 shoes. Malkemus is right that high-end and contemporary clothing pushed away many average customers, and H and M and Zara have capitalized on that shift. Bags, shoes and sunglasses have been marketed as more enduring, versatile purchases. Plus, there’s no way, unless a person is wearing a recognizable Prada print, to know that he or she is for certain wearing a $1200 skirt. A luxury shoe or handbag has become a more easily attainable status symbol than say, a luxury car or a home in a wealthy town. Still, I’m not sure how Hermes is rushing to keep up with production of $25,000 Birkin bags, but I digress.
I’ll be curious to see what limit luxury accessories brands will push consumers to before their current pricing strategy ceases to work. As I work on my own line, I see how expensive it is to work with European fabrics and manufacturers, but I’m trying not to hand those costs on to my customer when we launch, or worse yet to exploit my customer by charging far more than the cost of producing the good.
February 3, 2012 § 1 Comment
A fashion revolution? (Friedman, FT, 1/30/12) Vanessa Friedman and a few other sites have covered the launch of honestby.com, an e-commerce venture started by designer Bruno Pieters. Honestby is the most transparent e-biz to have launched in recent memory; it allows customers to see and understand the pricing and work that goes into each garment that the company produces. It’s a radical idea, and one that could turn retail on its head if it works.
Tory Burch, taking the fashion world by storm (CBS Sunday Morning, 1/29/12) A short, but well-done interview with designer Tory Burch. It was interesting to hear that she envisioned an entire luxury brand before its launch, and has followed through with success on that concept.
Couture Report: The Day Before Dior (La Cava, NY Times, 1/23/12) This beautiful piece of insider journalism is exactly what Cathy Horyn was suggesting the fashion world needed more of. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at how Dior’s jawdroppingly gorgeous, John Galliano-less couture collection came to exist. Incredible photos.
It’s In The Jeans (Phelps, Style.com, 1/23/12) I like the story of Carrie and Matt Eddmenson of denim brand Imogene and Willie. They started small, are growing carefully and revived local manufacturing.
Ad Campaign – Bates Disciplined Fabric, 1950 (The Vintage Traveler, 1/25/12) I’d never known that Bates College was named after a textile company. Here’s a great background on The Bates Manufacturing Company.
Inside 3×1, Soho’s Only Fully Transparent High-End Denim Factory (Grinspan, Racked, 1/25/12) I’ve been meaning to get down to this denim shop/factory. Like Honestby, it’s meant to bring the consumer closer to the design and production process.
Joseph Brooks, Who Refined Lord & Taylor, Dies at 84 (Vitello, NY Times, 1/30/12) Joseph Brooks was a master merchant and marketing visionary who had great success at both Lord and Taylor and Ann Taylor.
Luis Fernandez & Greg Lawrance – The Duo Behind NUMBER:Lab (Fashion Law, 2/2/12) A law and small business-related interview with up-and-coming menswear brand, NUMBER:Lab.
February 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
Again, I’ve managed to collect a long list of links in a short period of time, so for that reason, I’ll post the manufacturing/business-related ones today, and the style-related links tomorrow. Since I last wrote anything op/ed-like here, we’ve all listened to the State of the Union and made it through a primary or two. Everyone is thinking about manufacturing, outsourcing, big business, small business, and entrepreneurship.
I myself have been thinking about President Obama’s SOTU message about needing to ‘get each other’s backs’. In the midst of all these policy debates, it’s our basic values that I wonder most about. Do we care about one another enough to employ fair labor practices domestically and abroad? To not destroy the environment? To remember the importance of education and innovation in America? To pause and stop thinking about our own finances and self-worth, and to start considering that of the greater good? There are many factors which have made us a self-centered, inward-thinking society, concerned with our creature comforts, but isn’t now the time to reconsider that attitude? What will it take?
In China, Human Costs Are Built into an iPad (Duhigg and Barboza, NY Times, 1/25/12) I know many of you have probably read this piece, and the large number of similar articles about the manufacturing of Apple parts in China, specifically at a company called FoxConn. This piece unearths the extreme work hours, on-the-job dangers and environmental impact of producing the iPad. Apple execs quoted in the piece argue that they’re doing everything they can to treat their outsourced laborers fairly. Will articles like this cause consumers to think about where their favorite products are made? Or is it out of sight, out of mind? The thing is, I don’t think we can get away with complete ignorance forever.
Mr. Daisey and The Apple Factory (This American Life 1/6/12) If you haven’t listened to this podcast, you must. Mike Daisey, a performer, and “self-described worshipper in the cult of Mac” actually heads to the Chinese city of Shehnzen to investigate the lives of workers at FoxConn. He risks his safety to interview employees about a recent outbreak of suicides at the factory. His re-telling, part of a one-man show being staged here in NYC, is chilling. What we can’t see, Mike Daisey did, and it’s not pretty. This American Life’s host Ira Glass asks his audience if or how much they should care about where their favorite products are made. He also airs short interviews with the NY Times’ Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof, both of whom argue that Chinese industrialization is ultimately good for their country and their citizens, and that eventually they will evolve into a service economy like ours in the U.S. But if they do indeed evolve, where will things be made? How can manufacturing jump from country to country, exploiting human lives, the environment and even consumers? At some point, we will run out of places willing to make things for nothing.
The Past and Future of American Manufacturing (Planet Money, 1/10/12) NPR is doing an incredible job with on-the-ground reporting about domestic and international manufacturing issues recently. As I’ve mentioned below, I’m a huge fan of Planet Money’s Adam Davidson, who recently wrote a long piece in The Atlantic,Making It in America, and this podcast goes along with this piece. Davidson traveled to Greenville, SC, a former cotton/textiles hub, to find out about what life was like during the manufacturing boom, and during the current manufacturing draught. What he finds is that there is a surge in new manufacturing opportunities, and that these factories need a few low-skilled laborers, but place great value on highly-skilled, highly-trained workers. This training comes from specialized schooling and instruction, and he suggests government encourage more of this type of education in order to increase American manufacturing. But what I kept thinking about, after listening to this podcast, was a short interview with the owner of the company whose auto part factory Davidson visited. The owner is based out of company HQ in Long Island City of all places. His company is public. And while he claims to have a family business, to really care about his American workers, he is absolutely pessimistic about keeping or growing American manufacturing job opportunities. He says no tax credit or schooling opportunity will help, that he has to report to his shareholders, who care only for profit and not for people. I think Obama needs to talk to business-owners like this one, to find out what could reverse his thinking, and his shareholders’ feelings.
The State of Our Disunion: A Globalizing Private Sector, A Government Overwhelmed by Corporate Money (Reich, 1/23/12) Robert Reich, always articulate and direct, mentions many of the same issues Davidson raises in his piece. But Reich goes on to say that not only are large, publicly-owned corporations maximizing profits by utilizing overseas’ labor, but they are are influencing politics as fierce lobbyists and political contributors. Not easy to make change when this is the case.
Ron Johnson tries the Apple magic at JCP (Ken Segall’s Observatory, 1/25/12) Everyone is watching to see if Ron Johnson, Apple’s former head of stores, can polish a very dusty brand, J.C. Penney. He’s made a lot of aggrandized and much-covered speeches and announcements about a change in pricing structure and a shop-in-shop concept (one of which is dedicated to Martha Stewart, and has gotten her in some legal hot water again). I’m going to sit back and watch what happens. J.C. Penney stores have long targeted Middle America, and if Johnson goes too slick, he may miss the mark. Buying cheap goods from vendors is a lot different than building a dream store around a perfect line of products.
January 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Three months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Angus Echols, a member of DuPont’s executive committee, began shaping the chemical giant’s plans for the coming decade. The U.S. would soon be at war, he explained in a series of memos and high-level discussions, and the company needed to aid the effort. But it also needed to think far ahead. When the war ended, Echols argued, women would want to buy cheap stockings. And where was DuPont on this crucial matter?
Echols got his way. While DuPont provided nylon (among other things) to the U.S. military for parachutes and tires, its research department studied how to make stockings on the cheap and did work that eventually led to Orlon and Lycra. And eight days after the Japanese surrender, DuPont announced that it would shift nylon production from war materiel to ladies’ undergarments. Not only did veterans have solid jobs to return to, but the company dominated the burgeoning synthetic fiber and plastics business for decades to come. (Davidson, NY Times Magazine 12/28/11)
As the results, re-assessments and resignations of last night’s Iowa Caucus continue to roll in, the road to the 2012 Presidential election is beginning to solidify. Above any of the other candidates, Mitt Romney has voiced frustration about China’s superpower economic status and their questionably valued currency. I suppose now that the race is narrowing down, we’ll see if he sticks to this agenda or not.
Although I welcome an open discussion of foreign monetary policy and of how to bring jobs back to the U.S., the act of looking inward at what we can do now to improve our own economy might prove a stronger tactic than verbally lashing out at other countries.
In the above piece, Adam Davidson, one of my favorite economic analysts, and host of NPR’s Planet Money, tackles the future of American corporate Research and Development, or R and D. In previous decades, this long-term information seeking and innovation process gave big American businesses a leg up on competition. Davidson points out, that in recent times, while the consumer public has required lightning-fast product development timelines and launches (ahem, the iPhone), they haven’t given much thought to where or how those products were innovated. American corporations, for their part, have continued to invest in R and D; innovation, technology and marketing have been our strengths.
But Davidson’s point here is not to point out the obvious but rather to question if the Chinese can usurp our innovation or design advantages. Where we are now also at risk is where our products are invented, not just where they are manufactured:
Our global competitiveness is based on being the origin of the newest, best ideas. How will we fare if those ideas originate somewhere else? The answers range from scary to scarier. Imagine a global economy in which the U.S. is playing catch-up with China: while a small class of Americans would surely find a way to profit, most workers would earn far less, and the chasm between classes could be wider than ever.
He goes on to describe the circumstances that would lead to this occurring. American corporate CEOs, according to Davidson, don’t want to invest in pricey and risky long-term R and D, because investors require quicker and quicker returns. There are ways, he also says, of preventing the loss of innovation to other countries, like discouraging short-term incentives and inviting international scholars to work in the U.S., but those measures have yet to be taken.
This question of where our things are invented also applies to the fashion industry. Fashion is a global business, and is more comfortable with the concept of boundary-less innovation. But the American fashion industry and economy has become the place for emerging designers and fashion technology. We too need to make sure we are thinking ahead about how to stay ahead of the game in order to reinforce our position as a leader in creativity, commerce and new ideas.
Today’s Truth Plus: Amazing Amazon, Merkin’s Girl Crush, Social Darwinism, Pattern Maker History, Drop the Catalogs, Beijing Bling
December 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
What It Looks Like Inside Amazon.com (Buzzfeed.com) (photo above) The ultimate behind-the-scenes photo shoot of one of the world’s largest Amazon shipping facilities.
Perfectly Perfect (Merkin, NY Times, 12/1/11) I love Daphne Merkin’s writing, no matter how explicit the subject matter. This time, the topic, Tory Burch and her empire, is tame. Merkin’s tone here is a bit sycophantic, but it also has a fine edge that makes the piece as perfect as its title. Also see the lovely photos.
The Rebirth of Social Darwinism (Robert Reich, 11/30/11) As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve followed Robert Reich’s blog and writings about the economic crisis closely. He’s clear and concise when very few others are. He’s also a no holds barred liberal; in this post, he demonstrates his belief that conservatives are aiming, through policy, to take this country back to the late 19th Century, when robber barons held most of the wealth, when US citizens had very few rights, and when ‘survival of the fittest’ was politicians mantra. We evolved and moved out of that era for a reason. Let’s hope we don’t go back in time to anything like it.
William Wai’s Four Decades in the Garment District (Chen, The Midtown Gazette, 11/22/11) A nice history and photos of a hard-working pattern maker’s history in the Garment District.
Stopping Unwanted Catalogs (Carrns, NY Times, 11/21/11) A call to end printed catalogs. I wholeheartedly concur, unless the catalog is doing a different job than the website, stop wasting the paper and money.
Beijing bling (Economist, 11/19/11) Who knew that a Hong Kong jewelry chain named Chow Tai Fook was twice the size of Tiffany? According to this article, they’re only poised to grow larger.
November 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
A Conversation with Harold Koda about Fashion and Art (Mida, Fashion Projects, 11/7/11) Harold Koda is the Curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one of fashion’s most knowledgeable historians. This interview does a nice job of discussing the fine distinctions between fashion and art.
Dennita Sewell on Giorgio Sant’Angelo (Chamberlin, Downtown Phoenix Journal, 11/11/11) I tried to get to the Phoenix Art Museum when I visited Arizona this past Spring, and was sorry to miss this Southwest mecca of fashion history. Truth Plus friend John Tiffany is speaking there tonight about his book, Eleanor Lambert: Still Here. I wish I could be there to hear his talk and to check out the museum’s fantastic new Giorgio Sant’Angelo exhibit. Sant’Angelo’s luxe bohemian style still looks fresh today.
Click for Couture: ModeWalk Aims to Bring High Fashion to the People (Holt, Vogue.com, 11/7/11) When I first read about this site, which gives shoppers access to Paris couture houses, I flinched. To me, this concept seems to push the idea of fashion e-commerce a little too far. But if they’re able to bring a greater selection of RTW French designers to the U.S. shopper, then perhaps there’s a more realistic chance of succeeding.
A Town Creates Its Own Department Store (Cortese, NY Times, 11/12/11) This story was on the front page of the Times’ site over the weekend, and I think it’s one we can all take a cue from, including those standing outside Zuccotti Park downtown. This community in upstate New York (not far from where I went to college) took the initiative to pool funds and build a community department store. They essentially blocked Walmart from moving in, and have chosen to shop for clothing, notions and home goods at a place they all run and feel passionately about. We can stand up and be proactive, and even if this idea might not necessarily be scaleable, it’s a sign of hope for this country.
Op-Ed: Cultivate Innovation To Kick-Start Economy (NPR, 11/14/11) My mom suggested I listen to this interview with entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen. Kamen, like many others, believes we need to reform our education system to better ready young people to compete with other countries and that we need to encourage innovation early. What I found interesting was that he said that for generations, the U.S. built industries and then outsourced them, and moved onto the next innovative revolution. That evolution has slowed to a grinding halt, at least in terms of new innovations that have created jobs on American soil.
Why Moda Operandi is Probably Doomed (Stoll, Maiden Lane, 11/11/11) Truth Plus friend Ben Casement wonders here if Moda Operandi’s luxury pre-sales model has any barriers to entry. An excellent question.
Samantha Cameron’s dressmaker says less (retail) is more (Friedman, FT Material World, 11/15/11) I’d have to say that on some level I’d agree with UK custom clothier Emilia Wickstead’s wholesale strategy. She only wants to be in a few stores and to continue pushing her made-to-order business. In this start-up culture, does it make sense for all fashion companies to have a ‘go big, or go home’ mentality? If your product is as pricey as Ms. Wickstead’s, and you don’t have the desire to build a worldwide brand, this type of select selling makes good sense.
November 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
Crayon to Cotton (MacCrimmon, NY Times, 9/10/11) My husband sent me this amusing interactive piece about clothing that’s based on children’s real drawings. Early Lagerfelds in the making.
Tangible Brilliance: “Charles James: Genius Deconstructed” at the Chicago History Museum (Yaeger, Vogue, 10/19/11) I hope to make it to Chicago to see this exhibit featuring the designs of America’s original couturier, Charles James. What’s unique about the exhibit is that visitors can touch and move the construction of the gowns. With 100 Antonio Lopez sketches included in the show, it’s not to be missed.
Readjusting Our Eye, Again (Horyn, NYTimes, 10/21/11) Horyn pleads for sanity from the fashion design community, and lauds those who’ve put out clothes she believes women can really wear and are worth their dollars. Have to go pick up Bon Magazine too.
Norman’s Conquest (Horyn, T Mag, 10/10/11) Another Horyn piece, this time historical. A lovely concise overview of Norman Norell’s career. Norell was one of the most important, if not the most important fashion designer, in American history.
Best-Dressed Women of All Time Videos (Vanity Fair) I found these fascinating short videos with VF editor Amy Fine Collins discussing some of the best-dressed women of the 20th Century. Charming and smart.
Generation Catalano (Shafrir, Slate, 10/24/11) If, like me, you were born between 1977 and 1981, and have been wondering what generation you fall into, it’s, as author Shafrif purports in her convincing and witty piece, Generation Catalano.
The Haunted Wardrobe (Hirschberg, NY Times, 11/14/99) This article isn’t new or newsworthy, and I’m not even quite sure how I found it, but it’s a beautifully written tribute to the complexities and joy in buying vintage clothing.