Major hat tip to NPR for bringing Yelping with Cormac into my life…a blog featuring the voice of Cormac McCarthy applied to some of the most banal of American consumer institutions. It was with particular glee that I read the review of Juicy Couture, located in my backyard of Union Square, San Francisco…
Last week, I wrote about the color trends for fall and there were so many great visuals (thanks to Lizzie Smithson and Isaiah Maldonado) that I held off including any pictures. I thought I’d share a few examples of the color schemes and designers I referred to – mostly because I just love the colors…
Examples of the subdued palette:
The subdued palette also had options in paler shades:
Earth tones came in a spectrum of shades:
I mentioned that coral red and cobalt blue were not widely used, but they did show up as pops of bright accent colors:
I have to show a few examples of designers who strayed from the herd. Purple and metallics were the least used colors for fall, but these designers used them the most:
One thing I love about the fashion industry is that, despite all the glitz of runway shows and glossy magazines, there are real people behind the clothes we look at, long for, and buy. Fashion isn’t just about Vogue magazine. These clothes have to be made by someone, somewhere. And despite a sketchy history of child labor and sweatshop conditions, clothing production can be an opportunity for positive change in countries like Liberia.
Located in western Africa, Liberia was torn by a brutal civil war that only recently ended in 2003. Women in this country have had little control over their own lives and are frequently sold into marriage. In fact, an estimated 75% of Liberian women were raped during the fourteen-year civil conflict.
But things are changing. In 2003, a small group of women, who were tired of the stalled peace talks, staged a demonstration that contributed to the exile of corrupt leader, Charles Taylor. How did they do it? Wearing only white t-shirts, they threatened to remove their clothes and stand naked in the streets (their protest is chronicled in the award-winning documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell). Then, in 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia – the first female elected to office in Africa. Sirleaf has made substantial economic improvements but unemployment still hovers around 80% (even the current recession only resulted in roughly 9% unemployment in the US).
In this environment, entrepreneurs like Chid Liberty are seeing opportunities to affect change and create a profitable local business. Liberty was born in Liberia as the son of the Liberian ambassador to Germany. Although his family moved to Germany and, ultimately, the United States when Liberty was a child, he always felt a connection to his home country. Inspired by the actions of the women protesters, Liberty started brainstorming ways to make a long-term impact in Liberia.
A currently popular aid effort for struggling nations like Liberia is microfinancing – basically, providing small loans to individuals so they can create a business to support themselves. One criticism with this strategy is that many of the recipients are not equipped to handle the money and often end up no better off. A recent example of this occurred in Haiti, where a $3,000 donation to rebuild a school resulted in a pile of concrete instead of any substantial improvements. Liberty felt that a better solution was stable, long-term employment and the Liberian women who have demonstrated the strength and desire to change their circumstances were the perfect employees.
Leaving a finance job in San Francisco, Liberty started the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project (LWSP) in Liberia in 2009. To house the new business, he reclaimed a family-owned building in the capitol city, Monrovia, that the military had commandeered during the war. Bullet holes still cover the exterior and, at the height of the conflict, passersby would often be shot if they even looked at the building. Now, the building is a factory for LWSP clothing assembly services and the 58 women employed there currently sew t-shirts – a fitting choice as t-shirts were worn by the female protestors in 2003. The LWSP is the non-profit arm of its for-profit parent company, Liberty & Justice, and is guided by the same strategic and financial principles. Decisions for the company are made through an all-employee voting process and the women function more like business owners than strictly employees.
And the business plays a role in their personal lives as well. In a country where parents have to pick which one of their children can go to school, all the employees have all of their children in school. One employee, who was sold into marriage as the 8th wife to a man 50 years her senior, was left in a displaced persons camp after her husband took her children and fled the country. Today, she is remarried to a man she loves, is reuniting with her children, and is building a small house. Many women have found the financial independence to leave abusive relationships.
But is this just one of many feel-good social causes? Liberty is emphatically opposed to this idea:
“Giving people the opportunity to work in factories may not be as sexy as giving a woman a $100 loan to buy a goat which, according to our Western dream, she will obviously turn into a multi-million dollar goat cheese empire – but I think we in the international development space need to check ourselves and really understand who we are serving.”
In order to make a real difference in the Liberian economy, the LWSP must be a business that can stay in business. Kendall Riding, a social impact investor who has committed capital to the venture, is confident in Chid’s ability to see opportunity amidst the global market forces and to create a financially successful business.
“Global manufacturing is not going away any time soon,” she says. “As wages rise in Asia and the idea of corporate social responsibility becomes increasingly important, companies like Liberty &Justice are going to be uniquely positioned to meet the demands of the marketplace.”
Additionally, Liberia benefits from a new trade agreement called the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that provides up to a 30% price advantage over products from countries like China and India. On the other hand, if this were purely a for-profit enterprise, Liberty claims the women would likely not receive crucial literacy and family planning training. The LWSP is unique in its aim of creating a real, sustainable business while assisting its employees to a better life. Riding describes her experience seeing the factory firsthand,
“After visiting Liberia and meeting the women, I knew the social impact component of the investment was there. It doesn’t take long to see what this factory is doing not only for its employees, but also for their families and their communities. L&J is empowering these women to see opportunities and possibilities and encouraging them to dream big not only for the company but also for themselves, for their families and for Liberia.”
The future looks bright for the LWSP. Ashley Bush, the sister of designer Lauren Bush and niece of President George W. Bush, plans to use the LWSP to produce a line of skirts. The LWSP also has new contracts with a major men’s pants company and a large Japanese trading company. Liberty hopes to expand the staff to 900 employees in 18 months – a tall order despite the high levels of unemployment. As Liberty found, experienced tailors were less useful than those who were quick, could get in “the zone”, and have great eyesight. The expansion will require everyone to pitch in, but that’s something these women are excited to do.
Back when I lived in DC, August was the month when I was ready to throw my overused tank tops and flip-flops in a trash barrel and burn them. After months of excessive heat, where all you can wear is the barest form of body-covering, August would give me hope that one day I would layer my clothing again and, perhaps, even wear a sweater. Although, now, I live in San Francisco and have lost all meaning of the word “summer”.
For those of you who are ready to stop thinking about the recent scorching heat wave and start shopping for fall clothes, here’s my advice to you: buy something black. In fact, if you want to be totally on trend, buy something in these colors:
- Dark teal
- Dark red
If these are too dark for you, buy a few accent pieces in:
- Coral red
- Cobalt blue
How do I know this? Because I counted how often these colors were used in the fall collections of 32 ready-to-wear designers and labels (see graphic for the full list). According to the book, Fashion Forecasting by Evelyn L. Brannon, designers tend to use color palettes in a predictable pattern, or cycle. I’m in the process of checking this out now – so stay tuned – but, if this is true, it means that spring fashions will still use a lot of black, white, and grey.
I recently finished a course on the history of fashion arts and, as part of my final project, prepared a comparison of historical and modern styles. One that really made me smile were the red-soled heels of Louis XIV and modern-day Christian Louboutins. Imagine my surprise when the Daily Mail posted a story on this today – apparently, YSL made the same argument to Louboutin in retaliation to their claims of copyright infringement. You can see a picture of the YSL heels in question in the article but, here, for your viewing pleasure, the original Louis heels and Louboutins:
I spent last weekend in sunny New Orleans, eating and drinking way too much. While I was trying to walk off my food coma, I noticed a commonality across NOLA tourists and locals alike…trilby hats. There were a few Panama hats (much larger and a wider brim, all turned down) and a good number of porkpie hats (much smaller, with the brim all turned up), they were vastly outnumbered by the trilby.
I haven’t been to NOLA in several years so can someone tell me if this is recent or old hat? Pun intended…
I don’t know about you, but I got sick of hearing about the royal wedding about three days after it was announced. Enough already! But I had a small class assignment the other day that was, to me, to the only interesting aspect of the upcoming nuptials – thinking about what Kate will wear. Here are my recommendations…
1. The Rehearsal Dinner – I want to see her wear something a bit more proper for this, so I really like this dress and jacket from Elie Saab…plus, it just looks beautiful! I also like the how the creamy grey color references her status as the bride, without being so spot-on obvious.
2. The Wedding – Ok, I know I am so predictable here and, apparently, completely in line with other fashion speculators, but I think Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen should design the wedding gown. I’m not saying this gown, per se, but this gives an idea of how Burton can combine historical references in a dramatic and flattering way…modern, but still beautiful.
3. The Honeymoon – This Chanel gown seemed out-of-place with the rest of the Spring 2011 collection, but I think it would be perfect for the warm, relaxed evenings one has on their honeymoon. It’s glamorous, but in a casual-luxe sort of way, plus I love the colors.
Recently, M. has been asking me to write a post about men’s fashion in the workplace – which surprised me because the poor guy is already so hen-pecked on the topic. When getting dressed for an event, he pops in for inspection and generally gets one of three responses: 1) “Ummm, no.” (this includes a small head shake with eyes closed) 2) “Honey! Are you kidding!?” or 3) (small sigh) “Let’s go to your closet and start over”. So maybe M. is trying to save other men this experience – he’s a giver!
The most common comment I hear from men about workplace fashion is, “But I work in a conservative office!”. This post has nothing to do with being trendy or looking like you work for someone named Klaus who makes abstract hats for hairless chihuahuas. It’s about looking as good as you can in your clothes, including those you wear to the office. If I had to prioritize the first things to fix about men’s office clothing, there are three things men should stop doing:
1. Stop wearing oversized clothes.
Unlike women, who tend to wear clothing that is too tight, men usually err on the side of wearing clothes too large for their frames. Perhaps they think it will make them look more like a football player. The net effect is actually sloppy and they look like a pudgy child wearing their father’s clothing. It also seems like the oversize of clothes is proportionate to the oversize of the wearer – i.e. the bigger you are, the looser you wear your clothes. Unfortunately, this makes you look even bigger.
The clothing item most prone to this error is the blazer or jacket of a suit. The shoulders are generally too boxy and the body of the suit is too loose.
2. Stop with the pleated pants/puffy button down look.
This is related to the prior error, but still different. Men who dress like this remind me of giant figure 8’s walking around – puffy ball on top, cinched in with a tight belt at the waist, then the clothes balloon out again into the pant pleats and loose, baggy legs. The effect, when wearing khakis, is that of a giant ice cream cone. Use the mental image of a rectangle when buying and fitting your shirts and pants. Keep the shirt material trim around the waist – not puffing out – so shoulders and waist are in line, the waist could even be more narrow than the shoulders. On the pants, make sure the width at the top of the pants is roughly the same width all the way down the leg. No pleats and try to keep all the junk out of your pockets.
3. Stop wearing black shoes with navy suits.
I actually debated about including this because I thought this problem disappeared years ago. Black suits became very popular, and the topic became a moot point. However, navy is on the upswing and, just this morning, I saw a dapper gentleman in my building with a navy pin-striped suit and black dress shoes. There are two words I always think of when I see this look – “Close enough”. As in, “Black and navy are both dark, I can wear these shoes and it will be close enough. No one will notice.” Close enough sucks. Wearing a deep caramel or ox-blood (dark ox-blood) lace-up with a navy suit is brilliant. Both of these pictures show brown shoes with navy suits, one pair darker than the other.
I’d love to know what you think about this topic. If you could change one thing about how men dress for business, what would it be?
Oh, and if you need some inspiration, definitely check out The Sartorialist. He makes me happy…the brown shoe pictures above are from his new book.
I had a good laugh this morning while (can I say ‘whilst’? I’ve always wanted to say ‘whilst’) reading J. Crew’s latest quarterly earnings summary. The company outperformed other retailers, even beating their own projections and chalked their success up to running a better business and offering several successful clothing items (“Minnie” pants, toothpick jeans…i.e. the same clothes everyone is selling). I find it interesting that there is no mention of a little business booster named…wait for it…MICHELLE OBAMA.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like J. Crew. I think they are one of the few companies that offers decently priced but good quality cashmere. Their shoes are usually made in Italy and fit nicely. In fact, I have more than my fair share of their wares. However…J. Crew has consistently turned out similar looks, season after season. I could exchange my current catalog for any month from the last four years. I have been in many J. Crew stores around the country and nothing much has changed – same merchandising,
same selection, same rude staff. So I find it hard to believe that J. Crew suddenly figured something out and I find it really easy to believe that the numerous mentions of Michelle Obama shopping at J. Crew and Sasha and Malia wearing CrewCuts coats at the inauguration might have played a strong role in their recent success.
On top of all of this, J. Crew reported that the Madewell stores are not doing so well. On one hand, I’m not surprised. Every time I go in that store, I get depressed. Droopy, sad clothing in need of a good steaming. They may have great jeans, but when they lay around in giant, intimidating piles, I am less than motivated to try them on. On the other hand, given the high-handed pushing Madewell gets from fashion mags, I’m surprised that they are not doing better than they are. You would think that Madewell is the answer to all your fashion dilemmas when, in fact, I can’t find a single thing I’d want to wear.
So, cheers to you J. Crew. Keep up the good work, but take a loooooong look at what’s driving your success so you can stay alive without a celebrity spokesperson. Would love to hear what others think – let me know!