Browse Month by December 2016
Fashion

Victoria’s Secret to Explosive Marketing

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You know about it, I know about it, everybody knows about the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

I’m not certain it can be called a fashion show at this point, it’s more like a production? A blockbuster? In comparison to normal fashion shows, it’s a hundred times different. For starters, musicians perform on the stage and the venue seats thousands of spectators. Really, it’s a sort of sports event, but for lingerie that teens buy in droves at the mall.

But all of that hardly matters when the widely-buzzed about and highly marketed VS Fashion Show rolls around. There are viewing parties and social media conversations. Have you ever seen that kind of conversation for NYFW? PFW?

On my campus there was a viewing party at a local Buffalo Wild Wings and it made me laugh when I thought about livestreaming PFW at a sports bar with a bucket of wings in front of every viewer. Quelle classe!

WHO’S WATCHING?

I began to wonder, seeing the buzz come in, who was really watching the show? For if the viewers were fashion connoisseurs, up on the latest trends and just as excited for Chanel’s pre-fall collection the day after, then wouldn’t it be the same excitement for any other kind of show?

But no, the men are watching too. Without a doubt there are men involved in the typical fashion cycles, but those who don’t pay attention otherwise are rapt and wide-eyed, watching Adriana Lima strut down the VS runway. Women seem to care a significant amount, as would be expected, but again these aren’t the same demographics for fashion’s usual audience.

Why would it be? This is the superbowl of fashion shows.

It has the kind of showmanship of the Superbowl as well, that propels into the mainstream, not to mention that the commodity itself is one that is far more accessible than designer goods. When it’s presented with the same kind of authority and luxury, well, the sales are nearly confirmed on the spot.

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WHAT ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT?

According to quantitative research done on the 2013 VS Fashion Show, men and women both speak on the physical aspects of the models. The difference being that the women spoke on the model’s and their feelings towards them while the men noted both the unrealistic body types on the runway as well as the “hottest victoria’s secret models” as shown by the conversational breakdown diagrams.

Outside of those differences, much was the same for men and women who seemed to watch more for the show and the models themselves than for the underwear being shown.

That’s the point and it’s the genius of the event as well—sell the look, the lifestyle, and the excitement of the brand and you’ve sold the underwear.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

A lot. Much more than your average fashion show that prices in at least 1 million dollars. The VS Fashion has been projected to cost 20 million in 2014 at London. That’s more than a pretty penny, it’s a serious effort to create conversation and sales around this now annual event.

As for the bras themselves, the versions on the runways are not available on the website (they’re reported to be worth millions after all) while the core basics of the collection shown are available. What’s seen on the catwalk is usually bedazzled with precious stones, for example in 2015 Lily Aldridge wore the “Fireworks Fantasy Bra” which cost around 2 million dollars, covered with “over 6,500 precious gems, including diamonds, blue topaz, yellow sapphires and pink quartz, all set in 18-karat gold.”

Such extravagances are fantastic for showbiz, but not much for selling in stores to middle-class customers. It’s just further evidence that this show is hardly about the underwear itself, but about the lifestyle being shown, what kind of woman you’ll be when you buy a bra or some underwear.

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I ALREADY KNEW IT WASN’T ABOUT THE UNDIES

Of course you did. If you’re reading this as a man, perhaps you enjoy watching for the women or for your favorite models or maybe because you love Lady Gaga. As a woman, perhaps you follow Alessandro Ambrosia religiously among the other social media stars featured. It’s on par with the award show crowds; the dresses, the performances, the glitz, and the glamour.

It really is the perfect marketing move. Maybe Victoria’s Secret is a book full of ways to draw in the largest crowd of coed viewers possible for average to low quality lingerie.

But it really is one hell of a show.

Bisous,

Fashion

Fur’s Back And It’s A Hairy Situation

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Though most people would be quick to point out the difference between fur and hair, I hope you’ll forgive the title (I couldn’t resist a semi-relevant pun.)

Ever since Fendi’s FW15 collection last year and its “haute fourrure” theme, the fashion world has met with its familiar fur debate yet again. And, as we’ve seen this past season, it’s not like fur is going anywhere anytime soon, fueled by an army of celebrities and instagram influencers.

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Fendi FW15, fur coat and scarf.

The trend is luxurious and wealthy both in appearance and feel, which due to the new-age celebrities and their exorbitant displays of wealth, plays well into the desires of fashionistas everywhere. Despite the attraction of the high-fashion look, there are a lot of ethical questions that come with wearing fur.

For that reason, organizations like PETA have always fought against haute couture’s fur love affair. It’s a rocky history, filled with fiery protests and snide comments back and forth in the media. Yet recently, PETA and other such anti-fur protestors have remained uncharacteristically silent about fur’s comeback.

As a consumer, it’s difficult to know what to do. The valid protestations of anti-fur organizations is on our minds and the allure of fur is a powerful one (as well as warm!) Without knowing much about either options, the best route seems to be the research one.

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THE FUR INDUSTRY

As a luxury good, it’s not as if everyone has their hands on furs or in deep enough pockets to even have to make their minds up on the subject. But many people default on the idea of a ban or trade sanctions against the fur industry.

The fur industry however, is just that: an industry. It employs thousands among many sectors and cannot be deleted overnight due to animal welfare, which is a valid concern, but not one that can overshadow the livelihoods at stake. One look at the International Fur Federation’s website shows me that the industry is fully aware of its shaky ethics, featuring sections on sustainability, population control, farming in multiple countries, trade regulations, dying practices, and many more that I never dreamed would be explained so extensively regarding such a controversial topic. And from the IFF itself!

Many countries allow trapping and killing (the way in which trappers are supposed to kill animals is also regulated) for environmental control. For example, in the Netherlands muskrats damage dikes (which keep water from flooding out of dams), so the government allows the trapping of muskrats. The fur trade can help with situations like these by using parts of the animal: fur, leather, etc rather than disposing of the animal completely. The meat of these animals is also regularly sold in these situations rather than being discarded.

An easy analogy is in relation to your hometown—I’m from the Midwest—and what animal is constantly overpopulated—for me, it’s deer. Oftentimes hunters are allowed to kill more of that animal to control the abundance of them, as they damage plant life and make some resources dangerously scarce. Plus, the overwhelming fear of hitting a deer on the road and spinning out is all-encompassing for Midwesterners like me!

How is all of this enforced? How are we to know that the fur we purchase, if we do, comes from a place of humane-trapping and pest control?

Fortunately, the EU, Russia, Canada, and the US have all signed on to the Agreement on International Humane Trapping in the late 90s, which among other things, agrees on international standards for trapping, no trade restrictions on signatory countries, testing of traps, and conventions for trapping that extends to conservation of species as well.

Is fur ethical then? Hard to say. Whether or not these standards are held is an entirely different question and the concerns that anti-fur organizations bring forth are not unfounded. Certainly, a large demand for fur is as dangerous as any other obsession of a consumer population—many times these demands can spin ethical practices out of control into less humane practices, despite efforts to regulate the industry.

FUR, THE ETHICAL WAY

If you decide that fur is, in fact, a material that you’re fine with wearing, but you want to make sure that it’s done ethically, there are options out there. Some brands have chosen to use sustainable fur practices and are incredibly transparent in their usage of fur and animal products.

Brother Vellies, for example, is one such label. Aurora James, the label’s designer, has an impressive resumé and since traveling to Africa in her earlier years, saw a need to protect African artisans and their production. Her leather and fur usage is sustainable, working with governmental sanctions on wildlife removal instead of unabated trapping methods.

Even in light of these efforts, PETA has remained uncharacteristically silent. Back in 2015, they were certainly vocal about Fendi, but a quick look at their website doesn’t appear to show a sense of urgency. Perhaps the constant presence of PETA has somehow lessened their shock value or, perhaps, there is something bigger planned for the future—a campaign to address the fur-crazy trend of these years. Maybe, though it seems unlikely, they’ll ride out the lifetime of a trend—five years or so.

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FABULOUS FAUX-SURE

What of the options for those who wish to look trendy and avoid fur? There’s plenty available with new technology in textile production. Earlier imitation furs were poorly-made, the feel of the fabric tacky and false, and the look of it easy to distinguish from the real deal.

But when Shrimps founder, Hannah Weiland, stumbled upon a fantastic imitation fur at a fabric fair and hasn’t looked back since. Her coats and clutches are whimsical and light; sort of the opposite of what one thinks of with fur (dark, alluring, and glamorous). It’s the kind of clothing you’ll think about far too often and calculate your monthly bills while considering if peanut butter is sufficient food for a month. Or maybe that’s the collegiate in me.

A couple other good options are PelushNYC and Unreal Fur. Faux-fur isn’t horribly hard to find, it’s the matter of finding quality pieces, since the process of producing synthetics isn’t fabulous for the environment either (think chemicals and polyester).

And, finally, thrift store finds and vintage options are great for those wanting to extend the lives of fur coats that may have been less ethically sourced. Recycling is helpful in a world diluted by clothing options.

As always, choose wisely and having done a bit of research. It’s good for your wallet, your style, and those who make meticulously well-made garments.

Bisous,

 

Fashion

Made In The USA…And In Sweatshops

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Due to increased global awareness of textile worker’s conditions abroad in Thailand, China, and a collective of other developing nations, most Americans think the clothing that they purchase in the US is above such conditions.

They would be incorrect to assume a “Made in the USA” label meant guaranteed ethics. After all, the Federal Trade Commission’s requirement for adding such labels as “Made in the USA” includes determining the “last country in which a ‘substantial transformation’ took place” (FTC, 1997.), meaning the processes or manufacturing that create a different good than the one existing before these processes. As for advertisement and marketing materials, implications can be made as no origin country is required to be mentioned. Essentially, it’s a very gray area indeed.

The US garment industry can’t possibly be that archaic or third-world, can it?

In fact, it can be. Reminiscent of the 19th century conditions, to make a comparison. The US Department of Labor found a continuation of wage violations in a February 2016 News Release, saying that in the previous five years that they’ve paid workers over 11.7 million dollars back after over 1,000 investigations.

Not that any of these violations are news, this is an old narrative for the garment industry, an industry rife with historically exploited employees. In 2012, a sweep of one building in LA’s garment district garnered a shocking amount of wage violations against the Fair Labor Standards Act. The companies that employed this factory included: “…Aldo Group Inc., Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., Charlotte Russe Holding Inc., Dillard’s Inc., Forever 21 Inc., Fraisier Clothing Co. (Susan Lawrence), HSN Inc. (Home Shopping Network), Rainbow Apparel Inc., Ross Stores Inc., TJX Cos. Inc. (TJ Maxx and Marshall’s), Urban Outfitters Inc. and Wet Seal Inc.” (WHD News Release, 2012.) The investigators went as far to describe the conditions and violations as “sweatshop-like employment conditions.”

woman-sewing

WAGE VIOLATIONS

But what does the Wage and Hour Division mean by wage violations? What is the extent of the issue? According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, workers must be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour with time and a half for overtime (over the weekly maximum of 40 hours). Employers must keep detailed records and time cards for their employees.

The minimum wage in the state of California is, as of January 2016, $10 per hour. What the Wage and Hour Division discovered in 2012 was a piece rate system, meaning that workers are paid for garments that they cut or sew without following minimum wage requirement. According to the 2012 News Release, workers made less than $6.50 per hour on average. At the time the minimum wage was $8 per hour. Since the WHD has continued to find violations and continues their investigations, it’s safe to assume such piece rate systems are still in place.

Federal investigators also discovered tampered time cards and “under-reporting” of the hours that employees worked. None of the workers received overtime pay, according to this 2012 investigation report.

In the next two years, another News Release  revealed yet another slew of violations. That year, 2014, saw 221 investigations of garment industry employers in LA, finding “$3,004,085 in unpaid wages for 1,549 workers.” Coming to about $1,900 per employee, the pay back equalled five times the usual paycheck of sewing machine operator in one week.

WORKERS FIGHTING BACK

Outside of the work that the Wage and Hour Division has and is conducting, the Garment Worker Center focuses on exposing the conditions of garment workers in the LA area, releasing reports  and gathering information from the workers themselves.

In their 2016 Health and Safety report, they report that 80% of garment industry workers never received training for their health and safety in the workplace before beginning work. They also report workers were unable to locate first aid services should an accident occur. Garment machinery, hardly safe and complex at times, needs to be well-understood to be operated properly. However, due to the large amount of immigrant workers in this industry, communication is poor and employers fail to communicate training effectively.

Exits are blocked with items or unknown to workers, with poorly lit working spaces. Should an emergency occur, many workers are at a loss for what to do. As for rest breaks or water, there is a shocking deficiency of both.

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MOVING FORWARD

Both federal organizations along with worker-led groups are making progress in just pay and conditions, but the existence of the continued exploitation of garment workers in the 21st century is shameful in of itself. The fact that it’s a topic of note in the year 2016 in America is one that continues to jar readers, despite all of the information that is available to consumers.

Thankfully it’s the spreading of such information that aids in smart purchasing decisions, with the hands behind the clothing in mind. The issue of immigrant discrimination and exploitation, however complex and deep-rooted, can be abated with the money that we spend on clothing and where we choose to buy. It’s up to consumers to remain informed and use their money as their voice, especially as the holiday buying season ramps up.

Bisous,

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Beauty

Green Faces: The Eco Beauty Wave

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By green faces, I refer not to the hue, but to the environmentally conscious products that keep showing up in stores, on advertisements, and in the hands of beauty influencers.

What’s with the sudden desire for green beauty? Just a few years ago, while working for an organic-focused magazine, I began to discover how important the products you consume, use, and subsequently throw away truly are to the environment and your body.

Surely this is the kind of rhetoric that has diluted public discourse for decades, but I recall excitedly telling my friends about all the gluten-free, organic, and vegan products I was discovering (especially owing to the fact that many of those companies also tend to be charitable, transparent, and equitable.) They expressed their skepticism toward a beauty product that one could, say, eat. To them there was no point of gluten-free, vegan, organic, or environmental beauty?

One forgets the landscape of pores on our skin, the same skin one would hesitate to coat in chemicals normally. When it comes to lipsticks, blushes, and foundations, the importance of the careful screening of materials escapes many people. How many people can confidently say they know what their lipstick is composed of? Much less the lotion they use?

And yet these are the things people spread around their eyes, on their mouths, on their skin, and on their heads. Why not be careful?

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CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS

The good news is that customers are actually being more conscious of these choices, according to a beauty trend forecast by Transparency Market Research; North Americans consumed the biggest portion of organic beauty products in 2013, taking up 34.9% of global consumption that year.

In fact, due to the increased awareness of these products (likely due to publications that support them and emphasis on climate change recently), the market has grown remarkably in a recession economy. According to the Organic Trade Association’s report on Organic Industry in 2016, millennials are driving this change. And it’s a large change at that: 2015 added 4.2 billion dollars in sales and a 10.8 percent rate of growth to the market, which has been steadily growing since the 1990s.

The question remains, however, as to why in a mere twenty years and a handful of generations do millennials feel obligated to live organic and eco-conscious lives? Certainly the environmental crusades of the recent past and the increased scientific study on ecological effects of human beings contributed. Not to mention that the very recent and very public UN Climate Change Conference in Paris underlined global concern for the environment.

One forgets the landscape of pores on our skin, the same skin one would hesitate to coat in chemicals normally.

PAYING MORE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Outside of the health benefits of green beauty, the waste that mainstream beauty products create remains a concern for consumers, driving them to independent brands with creative and less wasteful packaging. Glass, biodegradable, and recyclable/recycled containers are popular in the independent vein of the beauty industry. Lush, the UK based cosmetics company, encourages customers to return the containers they bought to be used again. Customers who do so five times get a free face mask.

Such incentive programs are common for companies who emphasize environmental concern. Seeing as such products are more expensive with or without the added incentive of free gifts, one wonders why the industry does so well. Nielsen’s 2015 global survey measured a pool of global respondents’ willingness to pay more for green products. 66 percent of global respondents would pay more for eco products in 2015, up ten percent from 2014, due to a varied group of reasons.

Respondents consider their trust in the company valuable with a global average of 62 percent saying they would purchase a green product for that reason and 72 percent willing to pay more for those products than they usually pay. As for environmental friendliness, 45 percent of the global average considers it an important factor with 58 percent willing to pay more.

The green beauty industry is carving an impressive and influential niche against economic odds, showing the globe that they’re here to stay.

I intend to ride the green wave as much as possible and, if you’re wanting to come along but don’t know where to start, a couple of good resources can be found here and here. It’s best to decide what’s important to you: cruelty-free, certified organic, etc. to whittle down the list of options.

Stay green, my friends.

Bisous,

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