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Monday, June 11, 2012

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Why Buying From Emerging Fashion Designers Costs More Money (and Why That's Okay)

When my business partner Claire and I launched our website Of a Kind, where we sell limited-edition pieces from emerging designers and tell their stories [Ed.: we interviewed them last year!], one of the questions that our cohort asked us time and time again — and, honestly, something we frequently asked ourselves — was, “Why is this stuff so ‘spensive?!” We long to be in the fiscal position for everything in our closets to be, well, special, but we’re not there yet, and frankly we get excited about $80 boots. Though we do try to avoid buying from mass-retailers who are blatantly single-white-femaling designers we aim to support, we do shop at the Gap, love ourselves a good Target collab, and get all psyched when Madewell picks up one of the up-and-comers we’ve featured.

But we’re here to make a case that you should — at least some of the time! — buy something that’s a little more expensive. Like, $200 expensive! And not because it bears some logo of Italian pedigree or because it hung on the wrist of Rachel Bilson, but because it’s worth having a few quality things in your wardrobe that you want to hold onto for years and years. An investment piece doesn’t have to be a black blazer — it can be a super-sick ring made by a baller emerging designer who is all about craftsmanship and somehow manages to keep those creative juices flowing while running a business that involves mind-numbing things like bookkeeping, package-tracking, and invoicing. For me, it’s a pair of custom Lulu Frost earrings that I picked up from the designer Lisa Salzer herself at her apartment (!!!) and full-blown ridiculous Alexander Wang peep-toe booties from his first shoe collection — both scored back before we started the bizness.

It’s legit to look at a hang tag on some design and think, “Really?!” We still do so when we’re flipping through lookbooks and line sheets, trying to determine what pieces should make their way onto our homepage. But we’re here to explain the costs in hopes of validating the line item on your Visa bill. As Fiona Thomas of the classically cool clothing company Thomas Sires (their shirt is pictured above) explains, “We’re not charging a price because we’re making some crazy profit. We’re charging what we have to charge in order not to blatantly give it away.” Here’s why you pay more for such goodness, and why you should feel awesome about doing so. 

1) The people behind said wares live in neighborhoods like yours and work with factories that treat people like people.

The designers behind the lines we feature on Of a Kind work from their homes in places like Clinton Hill in Brooklyn with their assistants (okay, dogs), or from no-frills studios in Highland Park in L.A. or Chicago’s West Loop. And they need to make an income that allows them to live in those cities and buy the requisite amount of Trader Joe’s yogurt and $9 wine.

A lot of them — especially those in the accessories realm — make pieces by hand, which limits productivity in a very real way: How many necklaces can one girl make in an hour, really? If they don’t produce themselves, they likely work with local factories that employ people who also have to earn a living that holds up in a major metropolitan area. Big duh here: made-in-America is a big deal — and a pursuit worth supporting when you can, because it has a very real impact on all our day-to-day lives. Hillary Taymour, the designer behind the slick handbag line Collina Strada (above), explains, “Deindustrialization is a huge problem we face, and it continues to grow out of control. Purchasing USA-manufactured goods can help reverse this.” But making that decision to manufacture locally isn’t a cheap one: in Hillary’s case, labor costs are $20 to $80 more per bag vs. going overseas.

We all know what the mega-producer, windowless-factory side of things can look like — we were kids during that whole Kathie Lee and Nike debacle, and read the Foxconn coverage on our iPhones. That’s hardly to say that there’s a production horror story for every denim shirt in your closet, but there’s a lot less room for error (and exploitation) when you know the person conceptualizing a dress is also going to the factory herself in Midtown Manhattan.

2) Nice materials are pricier.

No one in the history of anything has ever described rayon as "luxe." Not once. Same goes for PVC, polyurethane, viscose, acrylic, and all sorts of other cheap materials that hold up for approximately half a spin cycle. And not to get all cost-per-wear on you, but if a pair of patterned pants are going to look like Ke$ha vomit after two nights out, suddenly $59 is expensive. Silk, leather, cashmere, however? That shit sounds fancy for a reason. It’s built to last.

Oh, and: organic or sustainable anything is pricier than the regular stuff: Tara St. James, who works in eco and fair-trade fabrics for her line Study (above), says, “An organic cotton shirting fabric costs about 20% more than a similar non-organic shirting — for example, I'll pay between $4 and $5 a yard for a shirting depending on quality and country of origin, when I could get a standard cotton for $2 to $3. Once you get into the hand-woven or fair-trade, it's pretty much up there in luxury-fabric pricing. In my experience, the difference between hand-woven and machine-woven for similar textiles can be about 30 to 40%. Because fair-trade manufacturers work on a much smaller scale than large production houses, their output is smaller, so cost is generally between 20 and 40% higher, but that really depends on the type of product.”

And all that is just for materials you can buy off-the-rack, so to speak. If a designer wants something custom-printed with a motif she’s dreamed up herself — something that makes the thing ultra-special — that’s a whole other story that Jesse Kamm (above), who has a cultish namesake line, is game to tell. “I come from a printmaking background and was hand-printing everything myself. When my son was born, I decided to outsource some aspects of my business because I wear so many hats. I found a place in California to do my printing, but it was so expensive. After I create the design, there’s a $300 to $500 setup fee just to get screen made. Sampling is a $75 setup plus a $35 per-color fee and then $5 per yard of fabric you have printed. If a dress takes two yards of fabric, then the print is $10 — and that’s not including the fabric itself or the sewing costs, tags, and whatnot,” she explains. “I visited a fabric supplier who said, ‘Jesse, why is your printing so expensive? We do ours overseas. They don’t have the EPA overseas.’ It was profound. So what you’re not factoring in is the cost on the environment — which will come back to get you. It was so much cheaper that I had to think, ‘Is this that important to me?’ Then I was like, ‘WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? This is all that matters.’” When manufacturing locally, those environmental costs have to be offset at the very least — you can’t just go dumping chemicals in the Gowanus in 2012.

3) There’s this thing called scale.

If you buy a shit-ton of anything, it’s cheaper — see: Sam’s Club, beer by the keg. And when you can buy up all of the denim that a supplier makes (see: Uniqlo), you’re in a much better position to negotiate on price than if you are in the market for 50 yards.

In fact, the disparity can be so great that it can seem borderline insane. “T-shirt fabric can be really expensive for us, which would surprise someone who’s producing on a really large scale,” notes Fiona Thomas of Thomas Sires. “But to order something like 300 yards, we’d need to be selling in two department stores — which is much bigger than where we are now.” That is, if the fabric is a possibility to begin with: “The minimum order for a lot of fabrics is out of reach to a small company,” Fiona’s business partner Allison Sires adds. “Assuming the mill does small orders, a 30% per yard surcharge is common.”

That’s the math ‘n business side of things. Relevant to your interests is the fact that if there are a million units of a floral dress out there, the odds are significantly higher that you’ll bump into some shiny-haired, Flywheel-assed chick wearing it than if your dress is just one of 100. (Okay, I guess that’s math, too.)

4) The designers care. So much.

Caring takes time, and time is money — that’s what people say. An unwillingness to accept fabric flaws or an insistence upon casting a brass cuff until it is just right means that there are costs that contribute to the finished product that you can’t exactly see when you’re squinting at a price tag. (To say nothing of marketing, PR, insurance, rent, internet, and all kinds of other basic expenses that fall under “The Cost of Having a Business.”) This sort of dedication to making things that people will love and hold onto means that every creation is personal and is infused with PRIDE of the sort that Tim Riggins could get behind.

Erica Cerulo co-founded Of a Kind with her friend Claire Mazur — they still love each other because they don't see each other on weekends. Before she did that, she was an editor at Details and Lucky.



251 Comments / Post A Comment

Mariajoseh

Just wanted to say that I really liked this!

lenka_V

This article makes me feel poor. Maybe it's because I'm still in college, but $59 for a pair of pants is an investment for me. I mean I can definitely appreciate the designers' visions and love that they stick to their ideals, but for now I can only dream of buying from them...

Judith Slutler

@lenka_V Yeah, same here! I basically thrive off of thrift store shopping. But I totally encourage these designers to do their thing, and do my best to support friends who have small labels by at least bartending at their events or whatever.

rianne marie

@lenka_V So agree! I can't remember the last time I spent $59 on an article of clothing. It felt like a big splurge when I recently bought a couple $40 dresses.
I would love to be able to spend a couple hundred bucks on a few quality pieces, but right now upgrading from Old Navy jeans to American Eagle jeans is where my budget is at.

rianne marie

@rianne marie Oh, and getting excited about $80 boots? If I was excited about $80 boots it would be because I was giving myself a huge lovely indulgence and they had better be very exciting boots.
But I'm a banquet server trying to break into the only slightly more profitable world of yoga teaching so I have to keep my tastes cheap.

Stephanie Press@facebook

@lenka_V , I totally hear where you are coming from. I think vintage is a really great alternative to select things that are extremely well-made, while honoring past artisans and even the lives of the people you've shared the items with.

If you find a special piece that's new by an artisan, how about for a birthday or holiday, asking friends and family to pitch in for you to have it? I do believe it's important to support your community artists and invest in things that are lasting and have meaning, even if you can't do it 100% of the time, it's never too early to begin!

Caitlin Young@twitter

@lenka_V Yeah, on the one hand I would love to be able to buy something handmade from quality materials and support someone's dream of making it as a designer, etc., and on the other hand I'm examining my budget to see if I can splurge on a new summer dress in the $40-$50 range this month.

Chipster

Oh man, true dat. I would love to buy more stuff from emerging small designers and when I have the money I totally will. I always imagined myself grown up with a real job wearing Romance Was Born in a sea of Armani suits (or whatever snobby rich conformists with real jobs wear). Loved this article.

MilesofMountains

I spent pretty much all weekend debating something similar with myself. I try to shop local, but the problem with living in a small remote town is that the markups are large and the clothing is pricey. I can't afford to buy much clothing when a cotton sleeveless shirt costs $80 (but it was so pretty!), but it's supporting my town and letting the people who work at the store, who I see every day on the streets, make a decent wage so it's a tough choice.

Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter

This is SO interesting, thanks!

It also made me wonder how does anyone get a small business off the ground these days? The money involved just staggers me.

OxfordComma

@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter : Loans. And since a lot of banks are freaking the fuck out about signing loans, small businesses are dying. It's really, really horrible.

@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter I have a few friends who started on Etsy and then went from there.

remargaret

@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter Also, Kickstarter! This is basically what it was made for.

stuffisthings

@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter Rich parents.

Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter

@OxfordComma
That's what I was thinking was happening with loans these days; small businesses have always looked like hard work to me but these days it just seems virtually impossible to get off the ground in the first place.

@stuffisthings
It is so unbelievably selfish of my parents not to become rich so that they could fund a small start up for me. I shall have to have words.

Joops

@Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter If you're wondering about Of a Kind specifically, the founders have publicly stated that they raised $100k in investment capital from "family and friends." I think if you rounded up all of my family members and friends and emptied their bank accounts by force I probably wouldn't reach that number.

WhyHelloThere
This article makes me feel poor.

Yeah, well, a "neighborhood like mine" is on the outskirts of a smallish Midestern city, directly adjacent to a trailer park, three hours from the closest Trader Joe's and its delicious yogurt, so this article makes me feel poor and like a hick. But I'm all for supporting emerging designers.

Mary McKenna@facebook

@WhyHelloThere
Yes, this article simplifies the issue, and I'm glad to see commentators pointing out that it's more complicated. I'd love to think that we should all be able to live in cities like New York if we want and produce and consume our goods locally and with care. But I find this article a bit condescending to suggest that the reason we're still buying cheap is that we don't understand that it costs a lot to produce things ethically.

skyslang

@Mary McKenna@facebook I thought the idea of the article was just to answer the question: why is this so expensive? Which, if you don't work with clothes and clothes manufacturing, you might not know. Before I worked for a small designer, I thought prices were high so designers could get rich, it's not to trick us out of our money...there are reasons.

Mary McKenna@facebook

@skyslang Fair enough. The authors address a simple question, and maybe they are not responsible for any wider reflection. But if the concerns raised in the comments go beyond the "why is this so expensive" question that's because there are bigger economic issues influencing how people spend their money than simply misunderstanding why artisanal goods have higher price tags. And I think those issues are important to acknowledge and discuss.

boyofdestiny

I couldn't give a toss about fashion, but I think it's nice that the author appears to be wearing that striped shirt at the top of the post in her avatar photo. Leading by example!

KatieWK

As someone who buys about 30% of her clothes from emerging/small designers, I would say that just because something is produced on a small scale and/or by hand does not mean that the quality will be better, as a rule. It’s a crapshoot, just as buying off the rack is, which is why I will only buy things in person and not from, say, Etsy.

In general, every point on this list makes sense, but am I the only one who gets a little…irked by some of these arguments? Like yes, I understand the problem of scale and the added cost of producing/buying American, but do all these people really have to handknit their sweaters in Brooklyn? Wouldn’t it be easier to access materials, cheaper to rent, etc by moving out of the city? Also, I’m not sure how many of these small producers actually DO want to scale, which is fine (I know many people who sell clothes and crafts who wouldn’t want to get bogged down in the business end of things 24/7), but supporting a bunch of small producers who make no attempt to bring prices down through efficiency doesn’t make for a sustainable market on a mass scale. Buying clothes from independent designers more like buying art, in my opinion—a great thing to do if you have the money and interest but not something you should try to put on others as a moral obligation.

nyikint

@KatieWK Yeah, the only thing that really swayed me were the details on the additional costs of trying to produce clothes in an ethical way. But the discussion was so wrapped up with luxe fabrics that it was hard to distinguish between unnecessary luxury and ethics.

stormageddon

@KatieWK That last sentence is a killer, and so true.

Vicky

@KatieWK There are many good points in there, but it came off to me as at least partially an ad for the writer's business. I mean, it's a great business! Definitely worthwhile, and this is a wonderful way to explain how it all works. But I was kind of surprised to reach the end and not see a sponsored post disclaimer.

Whitney@twitter

@KatieWK

I'm also irked by this. Why do they need to do production in one of the most expensive places on earth? You don't even have to go to bumfuck Alaska! Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Austin, etc. are all cool cities with fashion culture but are cheaper than NYC.

Heat Signature

@Whitney@twitter Bumfuck, Alaska, is actually one of the most expensive places to live and work in that area, I shit you not.

DoctaJones

@Whitney@twitter No expert, but perhaps it's because NYC has the textile factories in place already? Add that to being a fashion capital where the locals in general have more money than someone in Charlotte and maybe it just seemed like the better place to be. But honestly, I don't know, I'm just guessing. I know that a lot of old, big cities back in the day had massive textile industries versus a much smaller place that made it's money on shipping (like, say, Charleston) so that's my only reasoning behind this.

Mary McKenna@facebook

@DoctaJones
Yeah, and because a mark of distributive justice might be that the producers are part of the community of their consumption. We evoke "efficiency" as a virtue of business, but more often that not it just means that the people producing luxury goods and services are excluded from their consumption.

whateverlolawants

@Mary McKenna@facebook Ooooh, very well-put.

PistolPackinMama

@all

So this comment originally went to the wrong place.

Maybe some of this is an issue of who is the audience? I was a seamstress in college and did a small business project for a class. My partner in the project and I hand painted/dyed and sewed garments from patterns we had drafted.

The amount of "but, I could buy that at the Gap for X dollars" we got from our classmates and J Random people we met on the street was astounding.

Granted, this was in the late 90's-early aughts that his happened. It was certainly before the era of Etsy and craft/artisan sewing and knitting making a comeback with younger people.

For those of us who are more educated consumers/producers, this is pretty Artisanal Buying 101 information. And, at the same time, it's conflating the lack of information with the other considerations, such as accessibility and quality and ethical standards and such.

I guess what I am saying is, just like the localvore movement, where the words "but it can be so cheap to eat organic" make my skin crawl, it's an issue of what you know, how much you can/care to prioritize the issue, and how accessible products actually really are to you given location, time, and budget.

I am also with Mary McKenna on the quality issue. I am really glad people are out there making stuff and other people are out there buying stuff. But, I would be really reluctant to purchase garments off Etsy without being able to really see what's going on there. Because hoooo boy, there are some things people will sell that... I just... my seamstress boss would never have let them out the door.

There is def. a difference between producing for the pleasure of one's self and learning a skill and and producing really skilled products.

Sinéad Doyle@twitter

@KatieWK The reason small designers produce locally isn't usually by choice. It comes down to scale. I could make a shirt for ten times less doing it in Portugal instead of Dublin but I'd have to make 300 shirts instead of 15 and buy the fabric for those shirts etc... and I don't have the money for that so not having money means I have to do things more expensively. Really frustrating.

One good example are shirts I had to stop making even though they were really popular. The fabric was about €15 per shirt as the quality and print was amazing. Buttons- made to order and interfacing, labelling etc... added another €6 per shirt. Having the pattern graded cost €125 and this might have only been split between 30 shirts that were produced. Having the cut pieces sewn together locally cost me €45 per shirt (and she wouldn't even sew in the buttons!) so this was nearly €80 before I even made any money for my time designing, cutting the original pattern, making the sample, prepping the fabric for cutting and transport (not to mention the studio running costs while doing all this and the marketing) Now the standard mark up here is 2.7/2.8 so if I wholesale this, not charging for any of my own work just adding VAT, it's going to cost over €200 at retail!! I got over this selling it directly for about €145 ( although 23% of that would go to the government in VAT so the profit was very low especially with the added direct selling costs..) The shirt was an amazing pattern that fit a bust really well and I'm asked about it al the time but because I couldn't buy my fabric in a huge bulk and manufacture in bulk, I had no choice but to discontinue it.

Phew!
Also, everyone asking why emerging designers don't do basics... same reason sort of. Could never afford to compete with GAP etc... I'm too poor to make inexpensive clothes and if someone is going to spend the money I have to charge then they usually want something special.

PistolPackinMama

@Sinéad Doyle@twitter This was so interesting. Thanks for posting it!

sarahmcl

Of a Kind is my favorite place to buy presents - makes me feel like a conscientious and fashionable gift giver. Which is the best kind!

datalass

I so fervently agree with each of the numbered principles above and in just about every other area of consumerism, I try to support them. And yet, I only own a few pieces from small labels/independent designers. The reason is I REALLY, REALLY need basic pieces. I need black trousers, white shirts, gray suits, nude pumps, brown handbags, tan skirts, gray sweaters. It's all so workaday and commonplace that I can entirely understand why emerging designers don't or can't spend their careers designing and creating these things. But there's the catch: I can just about afford to spend real money on pieces i could wear, uh, multiple times a week (I know, I know). But a beautiful but really distinctive piece that will elicit enthusiastic compliments every time I wear it? In my small, conservative workplace, I could wear a piece like that about once a month. So, for the time being, I just can't justify it.

bocadelperro

@datalass I feel similarly, which is part of why I try to buy jewelry from small designers. It's a helluvalot easier for me to pair (for example) fun earrings with my work clothes (and thus easier to justify the premium paid) or put a unique brooch on my blazer, than it would be to pay a premium for any of the clothes above, which would only be appropriate for me to wear on the weekends.

datalass

@bocadelperro Exactly! The only pieces that I own from small designers are jewelry and cufflinks.

Judith Slutler

@datalass Oh I hear you on this. All I can say is, consider looking for some emerging-designer menswear, which is more likely to include nice basic pieces like sweaters and blazers and such. It's kind of bizarre that stores ranging from major retailers to tiny boutiques, often seem to imagine we women have our basic wardrobe put together already and are hunting for fancy accent pieces only.

Also everyone I know wears their basics multiple times a week. It ain't no thing.

The Lady of Shalott

@datalass I don't own anything from fancy emerging designers. I need dress pants and jackets and button-down shirts, and I need them at a decent price, because...young and broke, you know?

One day. One day, maybe.

bocadelperro

@datalass ditto. Plus scarves.

MilesofMountains

@datalass Can I just say that I HATE the idea society has that we must not ever repeat outfits/wear an item more than once every few weeks? Like, why do people judge you if you wear something memorable every week or two? My work wardrobe is three skirts, two pairs of pants, two dresses and about a half dozen shirts/blouses, so I pretty much wear the same pieces every week. It's enough that I can easily wash things, but few enough that I can buy good quality clothing so it SHOULD be fine, but I totally feel like people are wondering why I always wear the same dress or like I should have more clothes.

WhiskeySour

@MilesofMountains I think it's really women who society says must not repeat outfits. Most dudes I know get away with having a Monday work shirt, Tuesday work shirt, etc. that repeats on a weekly basis. But heaven forbid this lady wearing the same dress two weeks in a row.

Mira

@WhiskeySour To be honest, though, aside from one coworker who has the same dress I do (which therefore registers for me), I have no idea what anyone I work with is wearing on a daily basis. Maybe my office is just really low-key, but you could probably wear the same thing to work all week and I doubt any of us would notice. I think a lot of this pressure is self-inflicted/the result of glossy magazines and fashion blogs that make it seem like what you wear is really important. In reality, most people just don't notice other people that much.

bocadelperro

@Mira I've basically been living out of a suitcase for the past 10 months, and no one has ever remarked on the fact that I repeat my clothes weekly.

themmases

@The Lady of Shalott By the time I have money for more clothes after my cheap-ass basics, I usually need to replace at least some of those cheap-ass basics. The solution is so obvious! Yet, until they start letting me come to work clad in nothing but a lab coat and underwear I've had since college, that's the way it is.

harebell

@MilesofMountains All the more reason to ignore this rule. I totally repeat work outfits -- as long as I don't wear something twice in one week, I feel fine -- and seriously doubt anybody notices. If they do, I hope I am defining a new normal for them, then! because otherwise, it gets ridiculous.

Also, as you already know, accessories can make the same clothes feel very different.

bocadelperro

@harebell And if somebody does call you out on repeating outfits, you can use my standard response "oh don't worry, I've washed it since then," which usually shuts people up.

PistolPackinMama

@all

I also would like to see really high quality clothes from emerging young designers made for fat women. Because as far as I can tell, a LOT of the plus size stuff from small producers is still ployblendrufflerhinestonesdroop and the "ethical producers" think what?

I don't know? they can't afford the extra fabric for fat people, or that we don't want terrific statement pieces? Or that because we are fat we must be the kind of people who would never want organic cotton or sustainably produced shoe materials? Because we are wasting resources and oil and things by being so fat all the time? Or like everyone else they just don't want fat people to be seen in their boutique designs?

(In which case, they can take both their ethical consumerism rhetoric and the somehow non-applicable concept of the Earth Mother idea and take a long walk off a short pier.)

In the end, I am usually really just grateful to have clothes that fit, never mind clothes that fit are fashion forward and are made by local workers and designed by emerging designers.

(All links to fat-people clothing producers who break that mold ha ha welcome here.)

thisiswater

@datalass I also prioritize work-appropriate clothes when it comes to spending more money than I generally prefer, and I find Emerson Fry (http://www.emersonfry.com/) to be a good source for fundamental pieces. The current spring line is more casual, but they should be rolling out the more basic skirts and jackets -- the former of which I own and love -- and such soon.

stormageddon

I just got an order in the mail last night from a major retailer, full of poorly-fitting clothing. So, since I was already going to return 3 $30 baggy yet transparent shirts, I decided to try upgrading, and ordered one of the windowpane tees. I guess I'd rather have one nice thing than three crap ones. I'm cheap as hell, so this is new territory.

I hope to god it fits.

Angie Gochis@facebook

Thank you so much for posting this - it's a catch 22! I'm doing custom orders right now only for people who can afford it and really appreciate hand made clothes. In reality you can buy anywhere, and I mean anywhere else. But hand-crafted items have to have a place somewhere and it costs so much money to buy quality fabrics in small quantities (I work out of my apartment). Angie www.harveyexit.com.

apples and oranges

‘Jesse, why is your printing so expensive? We do ours overseas. They don’t have the EPA overseas.’

That is so freaking screwed up.

Xanthophyllippa

@kangerine Welcome to mass-market consumer goods, sadly.

whateverlolawants

@kangerine And "they" (Rick Perry, Koch brothers, et al.) say we should dismantle the EPA. Mitt Romney thinks it's out of control, too:

From Politico: “I think the EPA has gotten out of control for a very simple reason: It is a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private-enterprise system,” Romney said in a December Fox News interview, charging that the current administration wants to get in the way of fossil fuel development, favoring solar and wind power.

Sorry if I'm dragging this into overly political territory... I tend to do that...

hotdog

This is a real issue, but truly-aren't most of us just treading water right now? I'm over 30, and I definitely thought I'd be able to buy the clothes I've wanted since I was 20, but I can't. I need to pay all sorts of adult bills, and yeah, I get why things are priced more expensively-my boyfriend is a woodworker, so I completely get it-but I just may never be able to afford it.

aphrabean

Ok, I am all for supporting artists, and doing away with disposable clothing, etc, but let's be real: consumer activism does not effect anything in the short or long-term except your own pocketbook. If you're concerned about sweatshops and environmental depredations, start supporting global labor reform. Spending $200 (if you can afford it, which is a giant "if" in this day & age) on a shirt isn't going to do a dang thing except make you poorer. When No Sweat still sold retail clothing, I would purchase their slightly more expensive and relatively unfashionable t-shirts & sneakers with the understanding that this choice was not actually an answer to globalization. The arguments laid out here are a marketing ploy and not much more.

I also humbly submit that the very concept of an "investment piece" is a scam of the scammiest order - not to mention the fact that each of the items pictured in this article (while lovely!) are very of-the-moment, and if I were to purchase them with long-term usage in mind, I'd be super bummed out in a couple of years. Also I'm sorry to sound so confrontational, but the tone-deafness of the fashion world chaps my hide like nothing else.

Mira

@hotdog Yeeeeah. If I'm spending $200 on a sweatshirt (!!!), it had better be made from unicorn tears, pour my coffee and give me foot rubs. I don't know, I have a lot of feelings about this post. Indie is great, but I don't really care that a "baller emerging designer" has to "somehow manage" to do bookkeeping and invoicing. That's not some virtuous extra work I should feel good about paying for; it's just part of the job.

I'm a knitter, and I make yarn too, from wool right off the sheep, so I'm intimately familiar with how long it takes to do this stuff by hand, ecological values of locally-sourced fabrics, yada yada yada. Which is why I don't sell what I make, because I'd have to charge $1500 for a sweater just to cover the cost of my time. I can't buy handmade stuff like this on the regular, because I also live in an expensive city and need yogurt, and my daily wardrobe needs are basic - button-front shirts, lightweight cardigans, plain well-fitting trousers. I'm all for small producers and I truly do appreciate the higher quality of certain fabrics, but seriously, who has money for that? On a day-to-day basis?

(Also, I have bought some "indie" items and let's just say, the quality of some of this stuff is worse than the three-year-old, $25 jeans from the Gap Outlet I'm wearing right now, which have yet to fade or fray. Just because it's local/small doesn't mean it's better, or better value, or even worth buying.)

aphrabean

@aphrabean So full of sass! BUT SERIOUSLY. Super tone-deaf.

Heat Signature

@aphrabean You are not alone, my friend. Every time I read articles like this, whether online or in print, it drives me bananas. I was really holding back in my own comment, because what I really wanted to say was "Are you fucking serious? Would you like to see my bank account and monthy expenses?" and then something about consumerist bullshit.

billie_crusoe

@hotdog Seriously. I doubt I'll ever be able to afford to own a home, much less buy extravagantly nice things. (Which, yes, I grew up poor, and $200 is extravagant to me. Hell, $30 is usually my upper limit for anything but professional clothes.) Thrift stores and sale racks for me,

@aphrabean Yeah, they are very 2012-trendy. I think if I spend more than $50 on an item, it needs to be pretty timeless (Little Black Dress, nice suit).

Also, even if I COULD afford to spend much on clothes, I don't want to because it won't fit forever. I've stayed within about a 20 pound range since I was 19, but, still, that's a couple of sizes.

Mira

@aphrabean Also, probably worth mentioning that when people owned clothes made from local, handwoven fabrics, they probably had two outfits, total, maybe one extra dress for fancy occasions.

Anything I consider an "investment piece" is going to be one of the following: basic black dress, beautiful and warm winter coat, really good dress up/dress down boots, high-quality black or nude pumps, or wool suiting. And it will be bought on consignment, which is where I find good-quality basics I can afford. I'm sorry, I'm still blown away by the TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR SWEATSHIRT THAT WILL BE OFF-TREND BY SEPTEMBER.

And thank you for pointing out the fallacy of pocketbook activism. It helps, but let's not kid ourselves here.

datalass

@che Ditto on the $200 being extravagant. I remember during the 2009 inaguaration festivities hearing some commentators gush about how Michell Obama wore high end pieces but also affordable J.Crew pieces as well. And I thought about how, for years, the J.Crew catalog might has well have been the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog because I couldn't afford anything from either.

billie_crusoe

@datalass RIGHT? Hell, I love me some Gap jeans (they fit me the best), but I will.not. buy them new. I will only buy them for $15 or less, thrifted.

aphrabean

@Mira Oh, yeah, the two-hand-made-outfits-per-person thing! That is true, and real, and never factored into these discussions. Aaaaand, in the case of most of the small producers in the place I lived when I knew small producers (Portland), you would not only be supporting their Trader Joe's needs, but their cocaine needs and their-living-off-their-parents needs. Perhaps because of my personal experiences, I'm reading a level of entitlement into these arguments that is very unappealing and makes any discussion of the ethics of global manufacturing ring even more hollow. My own biases aside, we are not generally talking about particularly underprivileged people when we have these conversations. Also I am particularly cranky today, so my apologies. (That sweatshirt did not help with my crankiness all.)

Mira

@aphrabean That sweatshirt made me so ragey! It's the Bob-n-Eli of wardrobe advice.

billie_crusoe

@aphrabean Also, how do you even verify that things are made ethically, etc.? I just bought a cute backpack for grad school at Cliff's Variety Store when I was in SF because it was made by a local company. But the company's website says " We practice ethical and sustainable manufacturing. Go us!" and, UGH. Besides the smugness in that statement, they tell you NOTHING that verifies this claim. Anyway, when I do buy things new, I try to buy from not-terrible companies, but, really... getting rid of sweatshops and stuff would require much more than conscientious people with extra dough buying the occasional handmade shirt. I don't pretend I'm saving the world just because I bought something from Etsy instead of Target.

Mary McKenna@facebook

@aphrabean
Ug, yes. Thank you for your crankiness, it helps mitigate my own.

Mira

@che Not to mention that unless the Etsy seller grew her own cotton (organically, natch!) and had it milled, spun, dyed and processed locally, you're not necessarily making that much of an impact buying her shirt vs. buying it at Target. Like, great, you screened a squid onto it in Billyburg instead of a nine-year-old doing it in Bangladesh. But there are a lot more elements of that shirt's supply chain that have a much larger impact than where the final design was stamped on top.

...this article is pressing All Of The Buttons, clearly I should step away. But yeah, you can't usually verify that anything is made ethically. Even the "fair trade" labels are usually suspect.

@Mira I have similar issues. I tend to go for more classic, traditional lines (read: pencil skirts, tshirts with actual shape when you hold them up, simple yet timeless jewelry, etc), and the new hot cool designers are not doing those things, and so I highly doubt any of these things are investment pieces.

The reason a black blazer is a typical investment piece is because when you buy a nice one, it will last for YEARS. You can dry clean the hell out of it. You can wear it with anything. It won't fall apart. But also, it will have silk lining to absorb sweat and keep it nice and will hold its shape for a long time. It also packs a LOT of punch. I mean, really, slip that black blazer over a tshirt and jeans and go to dinner. A tshirt will not do those things -- it will get pit stains, it will fall apart even with awesome craftsmanship because it's jersey knit, and it will inevitably go out of style unless it's something like a navy blue polo or a classic white tshirt.

And quite frankly, let's be real: No, I'm not going to support your dream to live in Brooklyn. Sorry, but no. And your Trader Joe's yogurt or your $9 wine. If you need people to make an "investment" so that you can do things like buy $9 wine and avoid shopping at Safeway... ugh. I can't even. That is not just being able to live like me, that is being able to live WAY BETTER than most people your age. No, not people your age in Brooklyn, but way better than a whole shit ton of grad students and law students and young people with student loans. The ones who live in boring yet cheap neighborhoods and shop at Safeway.

I get it. I really do. And I was so totally on board with this article until I read the bit about Trader Joe's yogurt and $9 wine and living in Brooklyn. It's not that I don't think designers/artists should be able to live this way, but the tone of this one sentence took me from "oh awesome, how nifty" to "get a job."

stuffisthings

So if only we can put all the factories in the Third World out of business, the workers there will be better off. Or are we strictly taking care of our own at this point?

aphrabean

@Mary McKenna@facebook All my Crankinesstm is organic, free trade, and inexhaustibly renewable!

@datalass Oh god YES to J. Crew being extravagant. I wear J. Crew a LOT. That does not mean I have many pieces, but that I wear them a. to death and b. in many different ways. I recently looked at my wardrobe (I spend summers interning across the country from where I usually live, so I pack up my whole closet every year), and was like "wow, I can fit everything I love and wear often into 2 suitcases," including shoes, gym clothes, PJs, a wool coat, etc. Most of it is J. Crew. A lot of it is J. Crew from 3 years ago when I had a real grown up job and wasn't in law school. Most of it I'll have for 5 years (dude, I have a Jackie cardigan from 2006 that I wear all the time).

I also buy most of my tshirts from Target. And my sweatpants. And my underwear.

But yeah, I'm more likely to buy a plain black pencil skirt from J. Crew for $80 than a tshirt from an unknown "designer" that will inevitably fall apart and go out of style in a few seasons.

thisisunclear

@S. Elizabeth Not to mention I feel good when I buy what I can from my local farmers market in my small not-as-cool neighborhood, and avoid overspending at TJs, but that's a different article I guess.

@thisisunclear When a designer starts to tell me that they just really want to live in Flushing and be able to buy good veggies at a farmer's market a few times a month and pay their bills, I will get behind that. But oh GOD hipster malarky, no thank you.

schrodingers_cat

@che Probably the only "locally made" item I have is a Tom Bihn backpack, which I bought from their factory storefront in Seattle. And it has lasted me all through high school and college, and quite frankly I'm getting bored with it. I bought it because my mom was paying for it, and I knew it would last a long time. My clothing? Comes from thrift stores and Target

stuffisthings

@schrodingers_cat I have some slightly defective jeans from a Wrangler factory in Turkmenistan (made with locally-sourced cotton! Totally good for the environment if you ignore the whole Aral Sea thing!). Unfortunately, the folks who made them are not Artists and so don't deserve to live in Brooklyn or drink $9 wine, but they have still held up remarkably well.

schrodingers_cat

@stuffisthings Jeans! I wear jeans 3-4 times a week. If I could afford to buy things that are made in the US then I would look for jeans. But the money makes it kind of a moot point. Also, if we were to get into cotton growing and how it affects the environment I think we would come to the conclusion that if we wanted to be environmentally friendly we should just not wear cotton, ever.

Xanthophyllippa

@schrodingers_cat I think if we wanted to be environmentally friendly we should just not wear clothes, ever. I could get behind that.

Well, okay, we should all still wear underwear. For health reasons.

whateverlolawants

@S. Elizabeth I tend to keep my clothes until they fall apart/look pretty bad, stop fitting, or are simply way out of style. (I also probably keep things around longer than I actually wear them, and continue to buy too many new things, but at least I know how to find classics and hang onto something that works!) Hello darling melon-green cardigan I bought in 1999 in the kid's section at Target... I hope other people don't think I'm ridiculous for still rocking that regularly...

PistolPackinMama

@Mira My grandmother went to one high school and her sister another. One reason for this was, between them they had five total day-dress outfits. (She also made beach pajamas out of curtains, O'Hara style, I guess.) If they shared their wardrobes, then they could each wear something different to school each day of the week. Those dresses lasted a few years, as well.

The reason people could ever afford to have more than that, really, is because we entered a global marketplace where ridic. labor was the tradeoff for abundant options of affordable clothing.

Early examples of this? Women's shirtwaists. As in, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. As in, famous wealthy educated labor and women's rights lady Inez Mullholland worked in an early No Sweat movement at her college, where elite young women promised to only buy shirtwaists from ethical consumers.

This was is and around the time of the garment workers strikes and the industrial accident festival that was New York in the early 20th c.

And since I am on a soapbox, which I promise to get off in a second... if you buy commerical tomatoes for your salads in an American grocery store, chances are very very very high you bought them from one of the three big salad tomato companies in FL. That produce most of said product. And were convicted of actual slavery charges, like chains and keeping people in refrigerator trucks slavery.

Unions. Who needs 'em? Bah! Scott Walker was right all along.

(no, he wasn't)

stuffisthings

@PistolPackinMama My gut feeling is that innovation and productivity increases probably explain at least 60-80% of the drop in real clothing prices, with the rest explained by the increased use of cheap labor especially over the last 30 years. Recall that apparel companies like Levis and Converse were able to keep manufacturing in the United States into the 21st century at similar price/quality levels to their competitors.

There is also a vibrant economy of small-scale specialty textile, leather goods, and tailoring businesses in North Italy that, like Midtown Manhattan, is able to thrive in today's global marketplace thanks to their ability to achieve the exacting quality standards demanded by high-end fashion (of which "emerging designers" are just a tiny portion).

PistolPackinMama

@stuffisthings I think one problem, too, is that cost of labor for tomatoes and t-shirts can often be the make-or-break cost, even for large scale producers.

If your profit on a pound of tomatoes is $.03 and your profit for a down jacket from Eddie Bauer (in 2002) was $3.00, the cost of labor is critical in maintaining viability.

tessamae

@S. Elizabeth

JACKIE CARDIGANS FOREVER. I own probably about 8 of them. I've been collecting them for years, snapping them up when new colors are cycled in and older colors go on sale for like $40. And that still feels expensive for a cardigan, granted, but those little fuckers last forever and are such a great cut. I, who am terrible at laundry (so lazy, wash and dry everything together and often), think it is a mark of quality if a product can survive in my care and those things seem indestructible. A little fading, maybe, on the darker colors, but that is my fault with the way I wash.

J.Crew is my jam though. And though there price points have risen over the years, their quality standards still seem higher than other retailers. Plus, everything goes on sale within about a month and so I manage to find things within my meager budget. Too many things if you look at last month's bank statement.... :( / :)

Oh, squiggles

This might be something I would pursue if "emerging small designers" bothered to design or produce clothes for the larger side of society. I have a hard enough time finding somewhat decent clothes, in my price range, that actually fit, in a chain store. It would be lovely to buy something like what was described in this article, but frankly, I don't think they want my business, since they don't bother to design for me.

Just constantly feeling like the underlying message is "you are fat, you don't deserve nice things".

SarcasticFringehead

@Awesomely Nonfunctional That's always my first thought when I see something like this. I mean, I love accessories too, so I would buy jewelry and scarves and whatnot from designers like this, but I don't even bother to look at the clothes anymore because I know there's no point in getting my hopes up.

remargaret

@Awesomely Nonfunctional
Savannah Red . She is a cool lady and a badass designer. I don't know about her pricing and availability, but she's makin' waves!

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@remargaret AH! I love that she uses actual fat women as models. Awesome.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@Awesomely Nonfunctional Yeah, me too. I'm thrilled as fuck to support smaller designers (LucieLu, Miss Phit/Kristin Miles, b&lu, etc) who acknowledge that I exist, but I have zero time to spend supporting designers who think fashion stops at size 12.

WhiskeySour

@sudden but inevitable betrayal Holy crap! I'd never heard of LucieLu or Kristin Miles before; so pretty! Now I want to spend all the money. See designers, larger ladies want to give you money!

KatPruska

@Awesomely Nonfunctional Absolutely! I have more money to spend on clothing than I realistically should, but American clothing designers don't seem to want it, so whatever. I spend way too much money buying overpriced (plus the weak-ass dollar exchange) things from the UK instead.

I had an awesome fat girl thrift store in my neighborhood (RIP, brick-and-mortar Re/Dress!) which I guess couldn't make the rent, and now there's a freaking Buffalo Exchange (super hipstery thrift/consignment store) location in its old storefront. I'm enraged by that for so many reasons that I don't think I can actually articulate beyond KAT-SMASH!, but mostly it feels like an enormous kick to the crotch from the universe.

I'm in a really depressed mood today. This doesn't help.

Citizen Cunt

@Awesomely Nonfunctional Agreed, that was my first thought too. I'm a size 14 and couldn't wear any of the clothes on their indie designer website. Not what the article was about, but supporting emerging designers becomes pointless when you can't wear them.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Citizen Cunt Even beyond the pointlessness of it all, I don't _want_ to support indie designers if it turns out they don't see my money as 'good enough', especially if the reason for me to spend so much money is because they're marketing themselves as Social Justice Artist.

anachronistique

@Awesomely Nonfunctional THANK you. Whenever "investment pieces" come up in fashion talk I want to laugh and then cry and then drink. Who is making investment pieces for fat ladies?

sony_b

@Awesomely Nonfunctional Yep. I spend this much money on nice clothes (and they are definitely investments that pay off), but my rule is if a place sells both clothing and accessories, and none of the clothes fit me, I'm not buying their accessories either.

sony_b

@anachronistique I do have a few - my work "uniform" is dark wash jeans or black slacks, a camisole or turtle neck depending on the weather, and an Eileen Fisher sweater. I wear a 3x/26, and have spent $200-$300 each on a wardrobe of 7 of those sweaters in different colors and weights. Those puppies don't go on my body until the last possible second, and they come off the second I'm in my car or out of public view. I also have purchased a couple of really nice dresses from Igigi, and there are a couple of boutiques here (San Francisco-ish) that do great one-off pieces. I still go to Lane Bryant or Avenue for jeans/sweats/t-shirts, and Junonia for workout gear.

Roaring Girl

@anachronistique I make my own, if I can manage it. I've got sewing shirts that fit my tiny shoulders and big bust pretty well figured out, but I have yet to manage a pair of pants that fits quite right. With the learning curve, I have yet to save any money doing it this way, but I am filled to the brim with tenacity and grim determination, dammit.

Xanthophyllippa

@anachronistique Or short ladies who aren't twiglets. I'm a muscular short chick with a bit of a midsection, and forget finding just about anything that's both big enough across the hamstrings and biceps and short enough in the inseam and sleeves.

PistolPackinMama

@sony_b ME TOO.

There is a reason my most cutting edge clothing is... shoes. Because shoe designers often don't make owt but shoes, and shoes are things I can buy that are bats and colorful and Investment Pieces.

But BCBG and whoever else can suck it. Because if I can't buy your t-shirts, I a'int buying your scarf to dress my Target T up, yo.

Chesty LaRue

@sudden but inevitable betrayal Not only that fashion stops at size 12, but as someone who is a size 14-but-sometimes-12, when I try on those kinds of clothes, and they don't almost-fit, they are at least a size smaller than a 12 from a store.
Also, designers clearly don't go into the sale section of stores and see just how many 0s and 00s are still there, waiting to be sold for 70% off, but all the 10s, 12s, and 14s have been long gone. You'd think someone would notice that is what people are actually buying, but...

Heat Signature

I am in wholehearted agreement with all of you who are making the point that, while these arguments are lovely in theory, the economic reality of many is that we simply cannot afford "such goodness" although we dearly wish we could. Many of us cannot even afford Target ($30 for a skirt? Are you effing kidding me?) and look to thrift stores for our outfits and accessories.

Jane Err

@Heat Signature Exactly. Articles like this mean nothing to me. I have ZERO pity or empathy for 'small designers', for so so so many reasons, all of which have been mentioned by other 'Pinners.

(Especially the ones about small designers not making clothes that will fit anyone over a size 10 anyway.)

stuffisthings

@Heat Signature Jezz moneybags, thrift stores? I make all my outfits from mud and bark.

Heat Signature

@stuffisthings If Obama has his way, we'll ALL be wearing mud and bark, amiright?

stuffisthings

@Heat Signature Or burning American flags.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Heat Signature Yeah, I kinda feel like maybe this website wasn't the best venue for this article. Did the author not notice big hits like "Ask A Humanities Grad Student"? This site tends to be more for people who wish they could afford all this stuff, not for people who actually have the money to buy all this stuff.

PistolPackinMama

@stuffisthings well, at least you will be nice and toasty warm.

caprette

Although I want to point out that rayon CAN be luxe... It's borderline a natural fiber because it's made from trees (but heavily processed). And I have a vintage Ralph Lauren dress that is made of rayon and it is so soft and swishy and wonderful and is probably my favorite thing in my closet.

datalass

@caprette I had the same thought. I've definitely seen it described and presented as a luxe fabric in vintage print advertisements.

ormaisonogrande

@caprette Part of my job right now is listening to an elderly lady read coffee table books about important designers out loud. We are currently reading a biography of Elsa Schiaparelli. You better believe that she thought rayon was a luxury fabric. Half of her collections in the 30s were made of that stuff. She liked acrylic a lot, too.
Among lots of other critiscisms I have of this article, this one stood out because it just made me think that the author is not as much of an expert as she would like to be.

bocadelperro

@caprette not to mention the fact that something being made of silk or cashmere does not necessarily mean high quality.

Gef the Talking Mongoose

@caprette : Oh, for sure. Yohji Yamamoto gets into his "rayon, but super luxe" phases (see here, for starters), and "boiled polyester" is virtually a signature fabric for Comme des Garcons.

@datalass : The pre-Talk-of-the-Town advertisement in almost every WWII-era New Yorker is an ad for luxe rayon womenswear. It's pretty great.

Gef the Talking Mongoose

@ormaisonogrande : That sounds like either the greatest job in the world or the absolute nadir.

ormaisonogrande

@Gef the Talking Mongoose It's only an hour a week and it is way closer to the greatest side of the spectrum. She is a kickass old lady who speaks four languages, used to be/still is friends with a bunch of famous Italian designers, and occasionaly lets spill gossip about said famous designers and models. So basically I get paid to learn about fashion and listen to gossip.
Another bonus is that although her English is really good she absolutely cannot remember how to pronounce the word "gown." She ALWAYS says it like "gun."

Gef the Talking Mongoose

@ormaisonogrande : Definitely greatest, you lucky etc. etc.

Doesn't good fashion writing basically beg to be read out loud to someone else? I'm halfway through Kennedy Fraser's Scenes from the Fashionable World, and my inner monologist is getting a serious workout.

Poubelle

@caprette One of the only designer dresses I own (thank you clearance rack!) is rayon, and it flows like water. Only more pretty and dark and colorful and less see-through.

It's also really comfortable in the summer heat. I don't know from luxury, but I know what I like.

Roaring Girl

@bocadelperro And can we bring up the fact that the cashmere trade is effing horrible for the environment? So much for ethical practices.

bocadelperro

@Roaring Girl I'd actually be interested to hear this. I was not aware that cashmere was any worse for the environment than wool.

the angry little raincloud

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Since you brought up other avant-garde designers... Maison Martin Margiela is doing a collaboration this fall with H&M. My mind is blown.

tessamae

@Roaring Girl UGH. Cashmere. I honestly feel like this is one of the biggest scams in fashion.

bocadelperro

@tessamae my favorite are the soaps with "silk and cashmere proteins." WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!

tessamae

@bocadelperro It means nothing? I'll bet you the rayon dress I'm wearing the ingredients in your favorite soaps that make you love them so are something along the lines of sodium tallowate, sodium palm kernelate or some other unpronouncable thing.

Gwdihw

So, what would be the difference between buying from one of these designers vs buying something from Etsy? Especially when sometimes the emerging designer stuff is sold in boutiques with unpleasant sales people and Etsy stuff is not ( or at least it might be less apparent).

I feel a bit conflicted, I guess because I still perceive this to some extent as an exclusivity thing. Am I off-base?

bb
bb

@l'esprit de l'escalier I wouldn't speak for the author here but I imagine Of A Kind to be kind of a curated etsy? In that some of the designers can't be readily found in even unpleasantly staffed stores. The huge problem with etsy is it's very hard to find the well made, even legitimately handmade things within the masses of stuff on there - not that I think etsy should change but other outlets will pop up to help sort things out. Of a Kind does have a much less open feeling to it, I agree - but a site like Poketo has a more downbeat, affordable, but still independent-artsy feel, for example (as an example, though a bit different in focus/type of products).

okaycrochet

I have nothing to say but Money! Aesthetics! Morality! Conscience! From what I understand, these are the kinds of problems people have had forever, even before they were aware there were problems, and I wonder if this is the kind of problem we can fix sort of mostly, or one that will perpetuate itself and morph along with society.
Also, this is relevant to my interests.

PistolPackinMama

@okaycrochet That probably depends on who you ask.

If I were Karl Marx (let me channel Marx here) NO! THERE MUST BE REVOLUTION AND SOCIETY MUST BE REORDERED AND CAPITALISM IS THE END OF ALL THINGS GOOD.

If I were me (let me be me for a second) I would say, individuals have always had to struggle with their place in a bigger group. Including what to do about the fact that we as a solo person may feel one way, and the structure/system we live in may be organized another way.

It's always going to be like that.

But I do think the fact that we live right now, when we do, makes some of these choices particularly fraught. Neoliberal capitalism hasn't been good for most of us.

JennyM

Have you guys ever checked out this Hourly Rate Calculator? (Maybe I first learned of it at the Hairpin? I forget) It's designed to help freelancers determine what hourly rate they should charge in order to make their desired profit, and factors in all kinds of stuff (health insurance, yearly travel, website maintenance, rent). I think you could apply it to this discussion pretty easily, and I wonder if designers use a similar calculator when deciding how much to charge for their wares.

punkahontas

Am I the only one that went directly to the site to buy that Study tee and was sad when it was sold out? I still managed to find an awesome silk polka-dotted top though.

Also, I used to make and sell stuff but basically had to stop because I couldn't afford to keep it up. It's so hard to compete with people who are willing to use overseas production.

liznieve

RE: costs of production and location of production... as a few people have mentioned above, there *are* ways of manufacturing outside of major (i.e. expensive) metro areas, it's just tough to set up. It's easier to go to the fashion district in Manhattan and throw a stone and pick a factory than to try to find one in Middle of Nowhere America. Both of the examples I can think of that do manufacture not in cities (Billy Reid in Alabama and... oof, maybe this was a while ago, but Project Alabama... also in Alabama) had to set up their own proprietary manufacturing process and facilities, which is a shit ton of overhead. I think the whole thing is just tough... the one thing clothing producers can do is if they're going to manufacture outside the US, make sure the factories conform to ethical and environmental standards, which is a whole other layer of work.

The Hons

I'm actually a little sick of being told Why Nice Things Are Nice. I don't mean only this article, because they bring up some good points, but as some commenters above have noted, people have their own reasons for not buying a product that have nothing to do with how educated they are about the manufacturing process and how great a particular designer is. Believe me, If I could afford it, I would have a closet full of unique pieces from independent designers. But I can't. It doesn't mean I don't appreciate them or know about them or understand the quality and craftsmanship behind them. It means I can't afford them. And there is a little bit of snobbery surrounding this topic, I think, or maybe I'm just very sensitive about it. People who can't spend so much on clothes aren't unable to grasp the concepts of designer quality and people getting paid fairly for their work. Ironically, many people I know who appreciate the arduous process behind creating beautiful, unique pieces are the least able to afford them because their line of work is similar.

stuffisthings

@The Hons Up until quite recently (and even now in many countries), most people would have only a handful of outfits including one "nice" outfit. Clothes also used to be so expensive that a common plot point in 19th century novels is for the impoverished protagonist to pawn his shirt collar or overcoat to pay rent.

Not saying that means anything to your argument, but it's interesting how things have changed.

The Lady of Shalott

@The Hons Yeah, this. It would be lovely to be able to have a closet full of carefully-crafted pieces. But I'm not buying them because I can't afford them, not because I don't know anything about how businesses work, how manufacturing works, what makes a quality item, and the concept of ethical consumerism.

It's just that when I weigh all those things next to my paycheque and my rent/food/bills, I need "something to cover me" and not "a beautiful piece of quality clothing that will last me ten years."

The Hons

@The Lady of Shalott And, as has also been mentioned, let's be real about how far that godawful sweatshirt is going to take us. The more I think about this post, the more irritated I am. None of us are going, "wheee, let's buy clothing that won't last that long from manufacturers with questionable ethics! We never think about stuff, we just like to buy the cheap pretties! What is a Karl Lagerfeld? What social justice? Is Wealth of Nations a new cover band? Oh, wait! This sweatshirt has shown me the light! Thanks, people from Brooklyn!"

julia

@The Hons This made me snort and it applies to so, so many other aspects of lifestyle proselytizing framed as a [distributive] social justice Thing. And I think some of the stuff on the site is very pretty, and I enjoy buying something nice for myself made by a real person when I can. But I hope I don't pretend I'm smarter because of it.

B. Arthur

@The Hons Thanks to you and everyone for your considered responses to this. I de-lurked just to tell you all how much I appreciate this commentariat. Even if I was well-off enough that $200 was an accessible price point for a single piece of clothing, I would still almost never spend that, because that’s not in my value system – and I really like clothes. It is ok if it’s part of your values, but I resent being told I should follow suit. Living and working in New York means being barraged every day with the “shoulds” of Madison and Fifth Avenues. Resisting the jealousy and rage that comes with being excluded from that is a daily struggle. So seeing these ladies first plastered all over this site with actual advertising (which, fine, do your thing) followed by this thinly-veiled advertorial, which tells us we’d *be* better if only we’d *shop* better (and by the way, we “should feel awesome” about it), is about as alienating as a Saks campaign.

Also, economically speaking, the concept of clothing as investment is ludicrous.

themmases

@B. Arthur I work off of Michigan Avenue in Chicago and it is so hard to come down here every day feeling like the one schlubby lady who doesn't even have the excuse of wearing scrubs.

Didn't DIY and thrifting and putting together personal things from items that are meaningful to you used to also be values? Because I feel like the messages I get about fashion lately (like the one above) really sap my creativity to do that. The clothing recommendations I get are more expensive all the time, but when I try to rein that in and look at Target or something their stuff keeps getting uglier, and their policies more evil, for what I can afford. And the message is that, to be attractive or good, I need to understand how to run a business so I can buy things from other people who have talent and vision? Definitely not that I could have those things myself. Depressing.

Springtime for Voldemort

@B. Arthur Clothing as an investment is ludicrous. Even if I could afford this stuff (which I can't), I'm still someone who spills, falls, is somewhat klutzy, and has cats. My clothes just won't last as long as "investment" pieces should, because it turns out I'm wearing them, not keeping them in my vault in the bank. (I kid, I obviously don't have enough money to have a vault in the bank.) (OR DO I????!?!)

lenka_V

@themmases I don't know, when I saw that grid-printed Tshirt up there my first thought was "Oh man, I could make that right now with some scissors and bleach." But yeah, I used to love Target because they had cute stuff that held together reasonably well, but the last few times I've gone in there I've just been really unimpressed with the quality and just overall attractiveness of the clothes. They're going the way of walmart, I'm afraid.

whateverlolawants

@stuffisthings Wow, remembering that makes me feel extraordinarily fabulous and privileged to have a ton of clothes, even if they were almost all cheap. Thanks for the reminder! At least I'm not stuck choosing between the dress I wore yesterday and the dress I wore the day before, both of which brushed along the filthy dirt/cobblestone streets all day.

the angry little raincloud

@stuffisthings It's all those cheap clothes-- mass manufacturing-- that allows us to have so much stuff. In the 19th century, the only options were costly. Now if your shoes are in tatters you can go to Wal-Mart or Payless and buy replacements off the sale rack for a few dollars, not $200.

If I had to outfit myself exclusively from purveyors of Awesome Artisanal Stuff, I'd only have two outfits as well!

Chesty LaRue

@stuffisthings I just finished A Girl of the Limberlost, which is set in 1908, and Elnora's mother scoffs at her new dresses, because Aunt Margaret wants to wash them after two days. She's like, "Bitch please, they'll fall apart and fade with THAT kind of special treatment"

lenka_V

@Chesty LaRue This makes me feel like we should blame the deodorant companies for making us self-conscious of our stink. Otherwise the two outfit wardrobe doesn't sound too bad, if a little dull.

Okay, no, it actually sounds kind of depressing because I do like my clothes.

stuffisthings

The economics and social impact of the textiles industry are extraordinarily complicated and morally fraught. Just shop for quality, materials, fit, and workmanship -- and, of course, whether or not the thing looks good on you, and you should be OK.

filthyunicorn

@stuffisthings ...and price of course. I work for a long-time US apparel manufacturing company and I have no idea where to even begin on this issue.

Heat Signature

I feel like we're all making really good points, everyone. I am super proud of us. Good work, hit the showers, etc.

Xanthophyllippa

@Heat Signature Congenial ass-slaps all around!

brista128

"That’s hardly to say that there’s a production horror story for every denim shirt in your closet..."

A denim shirt being produced in 2012 is a horror story in itself.

stuffisthings

@brista128 I'm trying to think of a good title for a denim-based horror story.

"The Thing That Wouldn't Dry?"

stuffisthings

@stuffisthings "It Came From Beyond Manhattan"

Chesty LaRue

@stuffisthings "Family Picture Day in 1995"
(based on true events)

Diana Mitchell@facebook

As a designer who manufactures in San Francisco, I love this article! My favorite part of the production process is visiting the factories and talking to the workers, who are all treated fairly and paid a fair wage. Getting to go through the garments as they are being made really helps you ensure your clothes are of the highest quality. I know we're not used to paying a lot for clothing, and as someone who is in year one of my business I totally get that sometimes we need to shop at cheap stores. But I think it's super cool that people are starting to veer more towards domestic manufacturing and trying to get more of those pieces in their wardrobes.

hotdog

whoa, let me also add: that's a hell of a lot of white people designing things on that website. Diversity, it's like, a THING, you know?

Not to mention that t-shirt: the bottom is not even finished!!! Nor is the pocket! It looks pretty in the pictures, but I definitely expect more from a $78 t-shirt, yo.

stuffisthings

@hotdog “We met at an Upper East Side Christmas party.”

maevemealone

@hotdog I think they chose some really horrid examples to illustrate their point. I wouldn't spend $20 on any of those items.

Apocalypstick

So, why isn't this marked "Sponsored Post"?

Julia Himmel@facebook

Ok, about the Brooklyn thing -- I think the point was not "you must support my privileged lifestyle and fancy yogurt habit," but that there is value in buying from designers and artists who live like you and belong to your actual community -- whom you see at the store every day, etc. And if you do live in Cobble Hill, well... That doesn't have to go for everything, obviously. But there is value in that.

stuffisthings

@Julia Himmel@facebook I've spent a lot more time in developing countries than in Brooklyn, does that mean I can keep buying stuff from Target/H&M/Express/Gap?

themmases

@Julia Himmel@facebook Yeah, I think that was the only part of the article I really liked. Artists definitely live and work in my neighborhood, and unless they're in the fancy lakeshore apartments or something their lifestyle is probably not extravagant. People who contribute to society-- and artists definitely count unless their art is really boneheaded or offensive or something-- deserve a standard of living in the same ballpark as mine. If other people can't expect to live like that, that's the real problem, not that some artists expect to be able to have a drink once in a while like people.

The examples were bad though. A quick search confirmed that unless I snatch up a deal on a secret cheap apartment, I can't afford to live in the West Loop, and I am hardly living in some garret. I'm definitely not writing rent out of my budget so my new $200 sweatshirt can help someone live in the West Loop.

wee_ramekin

I understand why a lot of Pinners don't like this article. I really, really do. $80 for a pair of boots is a lot for me, too, and every item on Of A Kind's gorgeous website is sadly quite far out of my budget.

But.

I think a lot of the people calling out the author for her "condescension" are off base. I don't think this article is condescending at all. I often wonder why the actual heck clothes like this are so expensive, and this article gives some solid evidence as to why that is. Yeah yeah, I know that 'Made in America' costs more...but I didn't realize how much more until I read this article. I have an idea of how scale affects manufacturers' prices, but didn't really realize how large that effect is until reading this post.

I think that a lot of folks who are wiggin' (whiggin'?) about the perceived tone might be bringing their own ax to grind to the reading of this particular article. While nothing in this article is going to convince me that $200 dollars would be better spent on one transparent T-shirt rather than rent/gas/food/a Dyson vacuum cleaner, I also feel much more informed about the nature of the business. I know I'll consider the points this article made the next time I see such high price tags on emerging designers' clothing.

skyslang

@wee_ramekin Just what I wanted to say! I don't think this article was meant to convince anyone to buy emerging designers, or convince you NOT to buy cheap clothes. It's only meant to answer the question: why are these clothes so expensive.

Heat Signature

@wee_ramekin I would agree with you if the authors didn't explicitly say "...you should--at least some of the time--spend a little more", and then cites a $200 item as an example while going on to talk about "investment pieces".

planforamiracle

@wee_ramekin I agree with you, to the degree that the article presents a question and (sort of) answers it, factually: what are the costs involved in making clothes on a small scale, that the average clothes-wearer might not know about? That's something I'm interested in knowing about in a "How It's Made" kind of way.

But I do agree with the other commenters that the tone feels a little too soapboxy, especially knowing that the writer has a vested interest in people buying clothes from independent designers (such as, oh I don't know, herself.)

nyikint

@wee_ramekin It's also that many people are disagreeing with the points themselves.

1) Clothing from independent designers is not necessarily better quality.
2) Buying a $200 printed sweatshirt is not a good investment.
3) Independent designers' clothing is not necessarily better for the environment or for workers.

stuffisthings

I feel a little bad for my mean comments above, especially since I didn't realize they were going to be part of such a tidal wave. Then again, what @nyikint said.

filthyunicorn

@wee_ramekin I agree. As I said above, I work for a US-based apparel manufacturing company. Now that big-box stores are everywhere, I find the general public expects big-box policies/prices everywhere they shop. Although, I may be bitter about entitled customers who really have no real interest in why prices are so high and just want to make snide remarks regardless.
tl;dr Nevermind, customer-service shell-shock.

Mira

@wee_ramekin Full disclosure: in addition to being a (small-scale) maker of clothes myself, I also study environmental and social impacts of supply chain problems for a living. So this article annoyed me not only because of the absolutely ridiculous recommendation to "invest" in a $200 screen-printed sweatshirt (and feel good about it! It's Made In America!) but because (A) like many 'Pinners, plenty of whom have other backgrounds, I already know this stuff and (B) much of it isn't accurate. (Cashmere! Cashmere is definitely not "built to last"; it's a short, fine fiber that has to be treated with care, now often comes from starving Mongolian goats causing desertification in China, etc. Whereas acrylic, while perhaps not "luxe," actually can be an extremely sturdy fiber.) These issues are really complicated, much more than "My website good, Target bad!"

Ax to grind? Maybe, maybe not. My objection to this piece is that it's inaccurate on the facts and, honestly, insufferably smug and condescending in tone. ("There's this thing called scale," really? Thank you, I've heard of this mysterious thing called "economics.") And that's a shame, because I actually consider myself to be largely in agreement with the author - I'd love to see more environmentally responsible American manufacturing, etc. But I don't have a duty to buy $9 wine and organic dog food for every professional sweater knitter in Clinton Hill, and I resent the implication that I should feel one.

And also, I think this should have been labeled as advertising.

Mira

@Mira Dial it down a notch there, killer. Sorry, wee_ramekin, I'm not objecting to you personally! I guess I just wish that an article about these issues - which really are important - could have been more thoughtful and less generally glib and irritating.

Midie

@wee_ramekin; @skyslang
I also think it's important to notice that the premise of the article isn't just "why are these clothes expensive" but ALSO "why that's ok". To the extent that some readers feel a little excluded or condescended to being told it's "ok", their concerns bear upon the author's claims.

hotdog

@wee_ramekin I don't think this author is trying to be condescending, I think she is just terribly out of touch. I read an earlier article about the author, in which it referenced her living or shopping in DUMBO-the rent for a studio in dumbo is $2500 on average. Brooklyn (NYC) sometimes sort of puts you into a weird money hinterland, where a $200 sweatshirt seems more like just a thing you do, and the choice is between buying an independent designer for 200, or a mass produced for liiike 150. I say this as I stare at my purse, which I bought in Brooklyn for $100, and thought it was like an amazing deal because it was not $250 like originally priced. However, from my non-NYC perspective these days, um. It's still a $100 purse that I did not necessarily need. The condescension is kind of inherent: let me educate you about WHY you should buy from independent designers, making the assumption that we don't already know that.

filthyunicorn

@Mira Your job sounds fascinating (and depressing)! I'd love to read your version of this article because I agree, these are real problems that are almost never discussed/acknowledged by the general buying public (myself included).

Mira

@filthyunicorn I actually work on a different and far more depressing set of supply chains - textiles are just a side thing because I like to knit and one thing leads to another! But I agree, this stuff is really important and it's usually never discussed, there just has to be a more productive way to do it than to say, well, here, buy a crazy expensive "statement" sweatshirt and Feel Good About It.

viola bruise

@Mira Thanks for all your comments on this article. You've done a rad job of bringing up the myriad issues related to this post in a knowledgeable and witty way.

Mira

@viola bruise Wow, thanks, that's really nice of you! I thought I had kind of tipped into Rant Mode there, so I am very grateful/appreciative.

roadtrips

@Mira I agree! I think you've done a great job of thoughtfully providing a knowledgeable perspective on this topic. I've sort of wanted to chime into this discussion, but honestly I think it's been pretty well-roundedly discussed. Thanks for you input - you've articulated the gut-level issues I had with this article much better than I would have done!

Xanthophyllippa

@Mira What @roadtrips said! (And if you ever have the urge/time to share more about your work, I'd be interested, as it overlaps with some of my own research.)

SuperGogo

@Mira I agree with @all: Thank you for your knowledgable and thoughtful response on this topic. You sound like you're already a very busy and productive person, buuuuuut if you were to write an informed counterpoint piece and pitch it to Edith, I would read the hell out of it and send the link to all my family/friend. Just sayin.

vunder

I'd love to see a website/portal type of thing where I could find emerging designer lines with some better searchable content, maybe some price ranges as well. As someone else said, I'd like to get into better or individually made clothing, but I tend to shy away from what I perceive to be really trendy looks that I don't really like.

Springtime for Voldemort

@vunder And, where you could search by size (as measured in actual inches/centimeters, not a vague "small-large" label).

aubergineshriek

Did anyone else immediately sing the author's name upon seeing it? Like 'Jasonn Derulloooo'?

...no? Just me? Okay.

Citizen Cunt

I'd love to buy some fancy, investment-grade $70 chambray pajama shorts from the linked website, but unfortunately my fat money isn't good enough - the Large has a 30" waist. Right on.

The Lady of Shalott

@Citizen Cunt ARE YOU KIDDING? [Five minutes.] Man. You're not kidding. Wow, that is some....ridiculous bullshit, right there. Sizing that's "extra small, 27 inches" and "large, 30 inches" is....nowhere near helpful. Hey, maybe these designers could find wider markets if they weren't designing solely for tiny people! (Disclaimer: I am a tiny lady and I am still pissed off.)

Mira

@Citizen Cunt You had me at "$70 chambray pajama shorts." What.

ormaisonogrande

@Citizen Cunt Wait? What!? I mean, even if we want to pretend that 30 inches is a large, which just no, it is not, how can the extra small be only three inches smaller?

Megasus

@ormaisonogrande Even when I was a size 8, my waist was not 30 inches!

Xanthophyllippa

@Citizen Cunt So that means I'm out $140, then - one pair for each leg.

tessamae

@The Lady of Shalott This is absurd. Maybe the reason they are still small-time designers is because they design ridiculous products like chambray sleep shorts and then size them for no one whilst charging $70. Sizing is not complex and with pretty widely accepted (with small variances) industry standards. XS, S, M, L, XL are never separated by one inch. If that is how you want to separate your sizes, then you either go by waist size numbers (27,28,29) or women's sizing (6,8,10,12). So dumb.

VolcanoMouse

As a very, very small-time manufacturer of sewn products (for a niche market: I'm not doing fashion manufacturing), I FEEL for these arguments. I spend a lot of time explaining to folks why I deserve to pay myself $X/per hour and why I need to raise my prices to cover the Social Security tax I have to surrender. I hate the high minimum orders for fabric.

But as part of a grad student household, I still can never justify spending $200 on anything that'll depreciate as fast as a cotton sweater.

If I went into fashion design and started a small line, I'm sure my prices would have to be just as high, because you need to build up capital, cover shop and material fees, and pay yourself a living wage.

But maybe the question that we're missing is "do these emerging fashion designers intend to keep producing on this small (and necessarily inefficient) scale, OR will prices be adjusted downward once they get enough business to outsource/buy wholesale materials/afford enough machines and employees to speed up their production?" And should we, as consumers, feel bad if we can't (or won't) pay for the privilege of providing capital to small businesses?

I dunno. Maybe I'm astoundingly ignorant and wrong about this, or maybe I'm just a bitch who believes that business is Darwinian. Hm.

hotdog

So...what's the deal with everlane, then? Because their clothes are all made in USA, smallish batches, and of decent quality-yet the bookbag I got (which is AWESOME) was $50, and their T's are $25 I think...also pretty decent quality. Riddle me this?

VolcanoMouse

@hotdog I am very intrigued and looking at them right now. I have a fervent hatred for cheap tees, but I'm too poor to buy expensive ones. Fabric is a big thing for me, and I can't tell from the pictures: are these flimsy jersey or a slightly better baby rib knit, or what?

filthyunicorn

@hotdog They seem to have a pretty specific list of reasons on their website about how they are able to keep such (relatively) low price points. I don't think their designs are exclusively manufactured in the US.

steponitvelma

@hotdog yeah, not entirely US made, http://tumblr.everlane.com/post/24549062224
Not that I have a dog in this fight, just like research.

Donovanesque

I like rayon. It's a versatile fabric that first became popular in the 1930s, when swanky society types would wear it made into drapey gowns, and ordinary ladies would wear it made into bright patterned frocks, with bakelite jewelry.

I would love to support up-and-coming designers, but they don't make things I want to wear to work, it's hard to find the romantic and feminine designs I like, and it seems like lots of them only make teeny sizes. I'm sure the designers do care about their work, but I don't think many of them care about me.

@Donovanesque Exactly. EXACTLY. When hip young designers start making pretty, feminine, wearable clothing that will fit my size 12 ass and giant boobs, I will think about buying their stuff. Until then, that sweatshirt is GOD AWFUL.

StandardTuber

I was raised to believe that investment pieces are shoes and jackets/coats, maybe a nice dress. Not sweatshirts, t-shirts, jeans, etc.

redheaded&crazy

@Mabissa This is an excellent point. I have a winter coat that I paid hundreds of dollars for. It's lasted in excellent condition for years both inside and out, and I bought it when I was living in Montreal where winter is serious business. No regrets. I love it still. It will probably last for years.

It's kind of one of those things where you break the cost down by how often you use it and it works out?

StandardTuber

@redheaded&crazie: Exactly my thinking. If I plan to get more than one season of wear out of it (i.e. more than one winter, or using it in spring, summer, and fall) then I am more likely to spend over $50 on it. Otherwise, it has to be something very special, like a fancy dress or shoes needed to match an outfit for a special occasion.

Xanthophyllippa

@redheaded&crazie I literally do this every time I buy new clothes or shoes: "How many times do I have to wear this to make it worth buying?" If I'm looking at a $40 skirt and I think I'll only wear it once or twice a season, that's too expensive; if I'm looking at a $40 skirt and it's gorgeous and comfortable and matches everything I own so I could wear it once a week and I don't even want to take it off long enough to buy it because it fits so well, then that's dirt cheap.

For my Naot sandals, the $140 I paid was ridiculously cheap, because I wear them literally all year round (only inside in my office during winter, but still - the boots come off and the Naots come on). I bought them in Fall 2008, so have paid less than 1¢ per wearing. They have held up BEAUTIFULLY - I've yet to have to take them for repair.

(When I was a grad student working a series of hourly jobs, I translated everything I wanted to buy into how many hours I'd have to work to pay for it. A new t-shirt? Two hours. Lunch out with friends at a restaurant with actual waitstaff? Three and a half hours. A pair of pants at JJill? A day to a day and a half. This really puts a perspective on consumption.)

@Xanthophyllippa Ahhhh I did this too!

Megasus

Sorry, but my weight fluctuates way too much to really make a huge investment in clothing. Oh, and smaller producers rarely cater to my size. Shoes and bags yes, I will spend monies on them. Well, shoes I have to.

chloe lum@twitter

I'm an artist and generally broke to extremely broke , the idea of buying *any* piece of clothing for 200$ is so far out of reach for me, it might as well for 20000$. I'm not down with sweatshops either , that's why everything I buy is from a thrift or vintage store. My budget for summer dresses is more in the 5-15$ range.

That said , as much I think folks should support creatives (um hi , I am one) , looking at clothing as investment is rather puzzling to me. I mean even if something is really well made , that doesn't mean it's not going to go out of fashion or that your style or weight won't change.

lavenderbones

it's all expensive to me, but if more of the clothes were made in my size, i might invest in them!

(spoiler alert though, they are not.)

insouciantlover

When I first read about Of a Kind, I immediately followed them on tumblr or whatever you do. I like the idea! But as many others have pointed out, the clothing is... it's almost insulting.

Why is the current style to make such incredibly boxy, cropped tops with no shape? That's very of the moment - not investment pieces. And truly, a good 85% of the clothing that I just saw on the site fits that description. Then I saw this "three way dress" which is a very short silk tunic that comes in two sizes... the xs/s has a 35" bust and the m/l has a 37" bust. How myopic is the designer to think that this is an option for people?

Listen, here's my totally unsolicited advice. You want women to buy your independent designs, try making clothing that flatters and fits women. Try making some cotton blend wrap dresses, ones that are long enough to cover someone's crotch. That's a piece of clothing that's versatile, comfortable, flattering, and it seems like it's an easy design to make in a wider range of sizes. Plus, it will never go out of style, you could dress it up, dress it down... THAT I would save up $200 for.

papillon

I had to de-lurk because a lot of the defensiveness and the anger on here really surprised me.

I think the authors of the post are guilty of not picking terrific examples of clothing to encourage people to buy from local designers. I wouldn't buy that $200 sweatshirt either, but that doesn't mean I'm going to not buy from any other local designer because they don't all make super trendy stuff that won't last.

The larger issue here for me is that the authors could maybe have elaborated more on the fact that if you want to buy "Made in America" it's getting increasingly more expensive to do, even if you're a small clothing designer living in Brooklyn. This NY times article is a great example of the way that knitting and clothing production machines are being sold increasingly overseas, because the textile industry is going broke in the US: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/magazine/boom-time-for-the-going-broke-industry.html?pagewanted=all

If you want to pay an American worker a fair wage to make your stuff, it is going to cost more than if you sent it to Asia, period. This is non-negotiable. And to the person complaining about having to pay for a designer's $9 wine and to live in Brooklyn, I think you're attacking the wrong person, and way to smear every indie designer with the same brush. Sure, some people making clothing are subsidized by trust funds, or maybe don't work as hard as you think they should, but by and large, most people out there are just trying to make it, and get by, the same as you and me. They put a heck of a lot of effort into their work and should be paid a living wage for it.
By spitting out hate towards fashion designers (like the one person who said they would never, ever buy from them) you're confusing the issue, and attacking someone for doing what they love and trying to make a living at it, just because it's fashion and not, say music or graphic design.

Just like everything else in life, buyer beware. Some indie designers are going to make great quality stuff that lasts and lasts. Some are not. Some mass market stores are going to make great quality stuff that lasts and lasts. Some are not.

But, you are not entitled to low prices, and you can all hate on me for saying so, but I feel like a lot of the people commenting here feel that way. The person who can afford to buy a couple $40 dresses from a cheap store can only do so because someone in Asia gets paid $1 a dress, works in a factory, sleeps in the staff quarters at that factory and has very few rights. And the cost of fuel is still cheap enough to justify making that dress in Asia and shipping it to North America. This may not always be the case. I'm not entitled to have anything for that price, I'm just used to paying that price when I want new clothing so I begin to feel that I deserve it.
It's the same for food - the actual cost of food in North America is DIRTY CHEAP and we forget it. I lived in Australia for a while, where bananas can cost more than a $1 a kilo, (or over $2 a pound, which it never does here, maybe like $0.29 a pound) because farmers are paid fairly for their crops. So they can live and buy food and clothes for their families.

I get it - the fashion industry can be ridiculous and shove ridiculous thing down our throats. We haven't even begun to rant on the $1000 handbags. But I think some of the anger and the defensiveness I see in this post needs to stop. The authors weren't saying ALWAYS buy from local designers, ALWAYS pay more than you can afford. They were saying here's why this is more expensive and maybe think about supporting the girl who lives down the street from you, slaving away to make something great, because cheap mass-market clothing is not always the answer.

Okay rant done.

Mira

@papillon I'm glad you posted this (although this piece fell short of the mark for me, I think everyone's comments have been so interesting, so I'm really happy for the conversation). I think I'm the person you referred to "complaining about having to pay for a designer's $9 wine and to live in Brooklyn," so I just thought it would be good to respond.

I don't care if an independent designer has a trust fund, wants to live in Brooklyn, drinks wine, or doesn't work as hard as I think they should - which is itself not something I would ever say, because most of us work only as hard as we have to. (Like, I should be dealing with some spreadsheets right now instead of talking about this.) Good for them, seriously. Nor am I entitled to low prices. But the fact is that no one's entitled to be paid what they think they should be paid for their work, either. I think I should make at least three times what I do for the hours I work and the value of my expertise, blah blah blah, but the fact is that I made a choice to work for a nonprofit and they're not going to pay me what I could be making at, say, a management consultancy. Similarly, if you're an independent label selling a $200 sweatshirt or a $400 blazer, you need to recognize that the vast majority of your customers could buy that item either (A) much more cheaply or (B) from an established brand they trust.

So then it becomes about how you convince your customer that it's worth paying more for your product, and that's basic marketing, which is what this post was (both for artisan clothing generally and for the author's business specifically). Most people will find a few arguments convincing: Made in America (or other developed, post-industrial country) is a good one; an argument for greater environmental sustainability is another; and higher quality (and therefore better value, since the item will last longer) is a third. Reading this thread, most people seem to agree that those things are important, and worth paying for, when possible. I certainly do, and when I have some extra money, I try to use it to support products that are compatible with my values. Not everyone has extra money to spend on those things - that doesn't mean they feel "entitled" to low prices, or that they're bad people because many Asian factory workers have terrible living and working conditions that, in any case, aren't going to be addressed by a couple of hundred people not buying Target T-shirts. (Factories, I might add, that supply fabric far and wide - there's no guarantee that an indie designer is using anything more responsibly produced than a Target supplier, though of course some do.)

The problem with this article is that it fails to make any of those arguments in a convincing way. Made in America matters to me because it provides decent factory jobs and helps shore up our devastated middle class, not because I think it's important to subsidize people who want to live in expensive neighborhoods while they struggle with boring stuff like bookkeeping. So hard, to keep those creative juices flowing! I mean, anyone who managed not to roll their eyes at that is a much nicer person than I am.

Likewise, sustainability matters to me a lot, but this piece doesn't address that in any significant way, and in fact implies that cashmere (e.g.) is "better" than, say, rayon. (It's not, necessarily.) (Or take the jewelry: that paint-dipped coral necklace is so pretty! But where's the coral from?) And finally, the value equation is hard to calculate with the kinds of pieces the author suggests we ought to "invest" in. There are some beautiful things on the Of a Kind site, none of which I could wear to work, and none of which would therefore qualify as a useful investment for me. And I say that knowing that I'm lucky I could even fit in them - look at all the complaints on this thread from the ladies who can't.

Anyway, I didn't see any "hate" for indie designers here, just a lot of extremely useful free market research for Of a Kind and the designers it works with. I really do think this stuff matters, so I hope they take advantage of all the free advice to make better arguments about the value of artisanal craft work.

commanderbanana

@Mira This is a great response - if I were from Of A Kind, you can bet I'd be doing some careful parsing of the responses here! And I agree - nothing on that site was work appropriate. My investment pieces are handbags, shoes, coats, and classic workwear, not sundresses, etc. Frankly the clothing looked like something the characters in Girls would be sporting, and I don't mean that as a compliment.

You want me to drop $200 on a piece of clothing? It needs to be a perfect blazer or versatile, non-trendy winter coat.

And this doesn't apply to me, but yes, plus sizes. They're a thing. Look into them.

Mary McKenna@facebook

@Mira agreed. The only thing close to "hate" I noticed being expressed here was directed towards a particularly ugly sweatshirt, and that hardly devalues the substantial criticisms which dominate this discussion.
@papillon The suggestion that the commenter's criticisms express a sense of entitlement to low prices that come from exploitative labour is insensitive to most of what was actually said here. Of course, this kind of misunderstanding about basic economics IS often part of the problem in general, is easy to forget day to day, and something those who could afford to buy ethically produced goods should remind themselves when budgeting. But I think a lot of people reading this post genuinely don't have an extra 200 bucks sitting in their bank account, and can't afford to live the NYC lifestyle which the author of this post seems to think is universal. I think that as long as we're discussing the moral imperatives of responsible consumption it is more than fair to point out that the author was making some inaccurate assumptions about her audience, and I don't think that expressing this should be confused with having a sense of entitlement.

papillon

@Mira I'm glad you wrote back. I think everything that you said is basically what I was trying to say once my irritation wore off.
You're right that article didn't do a good enough job in laying out the reasons for buying from indie designers. I think that since I work in a creative field as well, and want to get paid enough for my hard work to not have to live off of ramen noodles, I get concerned when I think people in other creative industries might be getting sold short or having to work basically for free. But then, I wouldn't put out some of these articles of clothing and expect to be paid what these people are asking, either.

nyikint

@papillon

I'm one of the people that objected to this piece for its inaccuracy.

Firstly, I don't even agree that it is somehow better to buy American goods. The standards of living are much lower in India (where I'm from), and textiles produced there create jobs for underprivileged women and give them greater economic freedom. When done ethically, that's something I want to support.

If this piece elaborated on how each designer ensured that exploitation was not occurring through their supply chain, it would have been a fascinating read, and I bet many commenters (definitely me) would be willing to pay a premium for such goods.

However, equating independent designers with responsible consumption was just not accurate. Exploitation in the textile industry doesn't just occur due to Target.

Mira

@Mary McKenna@facebook I actually kind of like the sweatshirt! If I had a spare $200 in my budget line item, "Pricey Things To Wear A Couple Of Weekends A Year While Bumming Around With Nothing To Do" (spoiler alert, there is no such line item), I would even buy it. It's just not an "investment piece" for the vast majority of people, at least we non-creatives who can't show up to the office wearing sweatshirts or unhemmed pocket tees.

@papillon I'm glad you wrote back, too! I've been talking a lot (/too much) all over this thread but it does genuinely fascinate me, because this topic raises so many important issues.

And, well, now I know about Of a Kind, so mission accomplished, I guess!

@papillon So I think a lot of my issue with this piece (and I am totally a "you're writing about $9 wine, areyoufuckingkiddingme?" people) is not that I don't think creative people or design people or cool hipster people or whatever should make a living. Dude, I'm going to be devoting my career to art/entertainment law, I sure as hell want artists and writers and filmmakers and designers and actors and performance artists to make a living -- not just because it will allow me to make a living, but because I think the arts are important and beauty and aesthetics are necessary and I want the world to be a better place for everyone, and I think the arts are a good way for that to happen. I have thought long and hard about art and design and why I want to do what I'm going to do (work at world's most awesome law firm).

However, my issue has to do with the tone of the article and how out of touch these people are. It's not a bad thing that the sweatshirt is $200. It's not a bad thing that people are willing to pay $200 for that sweatshirt (which I think is awful and ugly, but we'll carry on). The issue is that the author is citing a pretty outrageous price point for a garment -- and that's not because I feel entitled to a $20 sweatshirt, but because $200 for a sweatshirt is outrageous for most people to spend on that kind of garment, and what people are willing to spend on a garment is important.

Furthermore, it does come off as entitled when one cites Brooklyn (i.e. expensive hipster area). I'm guessing these ladies do not live in the sketchy parts of Brooklyn or in the projects or even waayyyy out in Red Hook. I imagine they live in Williamsburg and Park Slope. And there's nothing wrong with that UNTIL you go on the Hairpin and tell other 20-30something year old women to buy your shit to support a lifestyle many of us cannot support ourselves, and backing up that request with a poorly researched "we do things ethically!" statement. I mean, really, this "there's a thing called 'scope'" condescension is even more ridiculous when you wonder if they've researched whether or not those fabrics they're buying by the yard have been made ethically, have been sourced ethically, if the cotton was picked by adequately compensated workers, if the locally sourced cotton is depleting natural resources, if the equipment used to farm cotton is contributing to polluting local rivers, etc.

So yeah, I'm still not pleased with this article. Because the research isn't compelling, is incredibly political without having many facts to back up the claims about ethics and economics, and giving someone enough income to live comfortably in Brooklyn is not a compelling reason for me to spend an outrageous amount for a probably not very well constructed sweatshirt.

WhyHelloThere

@papillon Nobody should have to live off of ramen. Decent, nutritious food is not some special privilege that should be reserved for the "creative". The American economy is fucked up: lots and lots of us are barely getting by. Some people aren't really getting by. My friend's husband got laid off, and now she has to figure out how to support her family of four on her $35,000-a-year salary. And she's supposed to invest $200 on a "super-sick ring made by a baller emerging designer"? People in my neighborhood work double shifts as janitors and nurses aids and still have to rely on the free summer lunch program to be able to feed their kids, and they're supposed to feel sympathy for the poor suffering creatives who have to do mind-numbing work like tracking packages and creating invoices? Seriously? Creative people, like everyone else, deserve to be compensated fairly for their work. But we are not going to solve the inequities of the American economy by buying the occasional artisanal sweatshirt. These are systemic problems that require systemic solutions if they're going to reach all of us, including the people who don't live in the hipper areas of LA, New York and Chicago. And it's offensive to assume that everyone in your audience is in a position to buy expensive stuff or to demand that the rest of us, with our equally-ill-paid, precarious non-creative jobs, are responsible for subsidizing the lifestyles of the people who really matter. We all matter.

Donovanesque

@papillon I have zero problem paying a lot more money for ethically produced clothing. Make something I like that fits me. That's all I'm saying.

commanderbanana

Dang, who knew this post would inspire such strong feelings??

Firstly, I totally get why some commenters (commentors? No..it looks weird either way.) got annoyed - while I think it is interesting to know where prices for things come from, and to learn about the supply-side of products you buy, I did think the article came across as condescending, preachy, and weirdly oblivious. I would think most readers here understand why organic, handmade, yadda yadda clothes cost more than a T-shirt from Target.

And yes, the line "having a few quality things in your wardrobe" that will last does not make me think "striped cropped sweatshirt" or "kind of shapeless T-shirt." I looked at Of A Kind's website and frankly none of the clothes appealed to me - they all seemed trendy, not classic. And no amount of do-goodery is going to make me want to drop $200 on something that just doesn't appeal to me.

Frankly I liked seeing everyone's opinion, even if some of those were 'angry and defensive.' They were honest. This article really hit a chord with a lot of readers, for many different reasons.

And, finally, thrift stores. I'm just sayin.'

treeskier170

I think it's really interesting to hear about all of the work that goes into making the products the author discusses. However, I have no desire to spend $100 on a cotton t shirt. I'll take my $6 v neck any day. And if it gets ruined even just by regular wear? I'll get another $6 t shirt. Nobody needs to buy a $100 shirt, period. Quite frankly, it makes you sounds snobby.

commanderbanana

@treeskier170 I don't think the authors meant to come across as snobbishly as they did, but it was just a tone-deaf article. Sure, nobody needs a $100 T-shirt, and I don't need all the vintage Coach purses in the land (yes I do). Some people choose to spend more money than others on certain things, and there's nothing wrong with that, insert usual caveat about not beating down old ladies to steal money for purses, etc. etc.

It just rubbed me the wrong way that instead of being like, "here are interesting factors about production that you may not have considered," the authors were all, "shopping, you're doing it wrong, stupid peasants!"

@commanderbanana "Shopping, you're doing it wrong and hurting all the women in the world and you're ignorant and we need our yogurt, peasants!"

commanderbanana

@treeskier170 Hey, I am a lady, and everyone knows that ladies need yogurt. It is the probiotic lifeblood of our atomic power.

Just the whole tone irritated me - yes, I know the organic sustainable woven by unicorns shirt is better for the environment, but it's still ugly and I still can't afford it!

hialison

Something I just realized on the size issue -- why are XS items so much easier to find than XL? Hmm, America?

I for one am so grateful that "shapeless and baggy" is in, because it's more likely that I'll fit into some conventionally sized piece.

MYRTLE@twitter

I'm a retailer that only carries independent designers, so I'm on board with this article in a MAJOR way. @papillon posted a fantastic reply that covers many additional great points and I thought I'd add some direct examples:

For office-appropriate clothing, Curator (formerly SheBible) carries pieces that are in the same price range as J. Crew and made in San Francisco.

For plus-size clothing, Gisela Ramirez (http://giselaramirez.tumblr.com/) is a size-18 designer who makes and sells original plus size clothing with a Hairpin-friendly body-love message.

There are endless examples out there, it just takes a little more searching if it's something you believe in.

@MYRTLE@twitter And when Curator starts making clothing I can wear at a law firm, I will consider shopping there. Part of the issue that people are raising is that tshirts and sweatshirts and colorblocked jersey dresses may be cute, but they're not $200 cute, especially when you cannot wear them to work. Even at a fairly laid back workplace, those dresses will not cut it. And paying $150 for poly/rayon/lycra is not the same as $150 for cotton, wool, or really nice rayon knits.

I get what you're saying -- that in citing competition like J. Crew for workwear as an okay price point to work from, you can provide a local option for a similar price point. But I challenge you to find anything I could put on my body and show up to a client meeting in that would make me look professional (without adding a black J. Crew blazer). Part of the issue is that the pieces aren't versatile as work clothes for a lot of the people who can afford to buy them.

insouciantlover

@MYRTLE@twitter oh my god, I got a SheBible tank top from a sample sale a million years ago and it was the softest thing ever. I didn't know they had changed their brand name, so that's great to know.

commanderbanana

@S. Elizabeth Thank you thank you thank you! I can't wear the filmy sundress as often I could wear, say, a black wool pencil skirt with a lining. I feel like these designers are making the clothes THEY would wear to their sooper dooper casual creative blogger-media-communications-whatever jobs.
I don't want the clothes they want to wear. I want the clothes I want to wear. Use some freaking imagination, and by the way, not everyone who needs to be clothed wears between a size 0 and a size 6. This is some Lena Dunham, I can't imagine writing about anyone other than people who are exactly like me shizz right here.

Mira

@S. Elizabeth, @commanderbanana I think you're exactly right, these are clothes for designers and their friends. I perused Curator's site (although most websites with a separate category called "Jumpsuits" are unlikely to be relevant to my interests?) and every single dress is too short, too ruched, or too strangely fitted for work. What's considered work-appropriate here in DC is more staid than what you could get away with elsewhere, but if I showed up to a meeting in one of those, I'd get laughed out of the room. Maybe a couple of the tops could work - under a black blazer. Basically, if it looks like something a character on Girls would wear, there's a 98 percent chance I'm not going to. Ever. But especially not to work.

And although many of the items are silk or organic cotton, which is worth paying for, I'm not dropping premium cash on some poly/spandex blend, no matter how many indie designers I'm supporting. Bad fabric is bad fabric, and indie clothes that drape funny and fall apart after a year aren't any better than the kind you buy at H&M.

@Mira Comparing Curator to J.Crew is like comparing squishy overripe oranges to the fruit of Eden.

commanderbanana

@Mira Haha that was totally my first reaction - like, "Oh mah Gawd, this looks like something Lena would wear with seasonally inappropriate black stockings and visible socks." I just don't think that Hairpin's demographic is one that is going to respond well to stuff like that - I think the authors badly misjudged their audience.

nyikint

Regarding the tone of this article, it mirrors the writing style of a lot of fashion magazines (like Lucky, where the author worked at), who tend to dumb down their writing. I'm glad to see it doesn't fly here.

roadtrips

@nyikint Yes, agreed! I've actually returned to the comments several times because I think the ongoing discussion is so interesting, important, and respectful. Ethical fashion (and on a larger scale, consumption) is so very very relevant and such an essential conversation to have. It's something that I think many of us would love to have better resources for. It's something that I myself have spent a considerable amount of time navigating. I think one of the things that people are responding to negatively in this article is that it tries to solve these incredibly sticky problems with hugely reductive tactics. There are problems with consumption, period. It doesn't mean that we need to stop buying things, but we do need to realize that we aren't absolved from the quagmire of non/ethical consumption when we buy local designers who use organic cotton. As with anything, it's so important to be critical and ask questions - which I think the comments of this article did a really great job at. I would really like to see the Hairpin use the conversation generated by this thread as a starting point to run more thoughtful and critical articles about consumption, fashion, and economics. Just a thought.

@roadtrips I was really disappointed that this article was published on the Hairpin -- what is published speaks to the perceived quality of the readership. We are not a Lucky Magazine crowd.

aphrabean

@roadtrips I would love to read this, I really would. Maybe a series penned by some of the very excellent folks on this very thread?

Mary McKenna@facebook

@aphrabean
Yes, I'd be all about reading a series that addresses these issues more responsibly. In particular I'd be interested in hearing about any movements or businesses working on creating accessibility to ethically produced clothing for lower-income consumers. - Thrift stores can be great, but their merchandise tends to be hit and miss and finding the right thing can be quite time consuming. So it isn't always a feasible alternative for those who don't have loads of time to spend shopping for themselves, and also don't want to wear their poverty on their sleeve in the form of worn out/poorly fitting/obviously outdated clothing.

Midie

@Mary McKenna@facebook

The fact that the issue of accessibility didn't come up in the original post, might be because it runs counter to the whole privilege of looking special/standing out from the crowd/avoiding the humiliating experience of running into a girl wearing the same flower print as you (gasp!) that these women are selling. And while I'm not calling for commie-style grey jumpsuits for all (even if they are local and organic!), I don't fully buy into their sales pitch. I tend to think that actually having a cool style of your own is rare and as far as I can tell shopping at "Of a kind" will only help you look like a typical hipster in the eyes of most people. But that's sort of beside the point.

aphrabean

@Mary McKenna@facebook If we're making suggestions for the editors, I would LOVE to read an article from someone who talked to the folks over at No Sweat Apparel and asked them their opinion on how to maintain a responsible supply chain AND sell non-$200 sweatshirts. They folded their retail operations several years ago, and are now wholesale only, and I think they'd have a very unique perspective. Or let's also have "Ask a Union Member" about the realities of organizing in developing countries. There are so many really excellent ways this subject could be tackled, and I think it's pretty clear from this comment thread that the interest is there.

alexis

As an artist, and someone who would like to buy many things that i cannot afford, and support many things that i cannot afford to support, this article was flat-out insulting to me. Who DOESN'T want nice things? Why would the author be led to believe that the hairpin community would not understand this concept or want to support "emerging designers" or local businesses. I did not like the patronizing tone of this article. I agree with everyones comments here about the pros and cons of buying clothing from an indie designer, and hey, if i liked a designer enough (AND HAD THE MONEY) i would LOVE to support them. INSTEAD i support my local coffee shops, and art stores, and book store, to help out the people who I KNOW LIVE WHERE I LIVE. I would rather support my friends, so that they can grow to do bigger things like this company. But please don't tell me what i should be doing when i am already doing it. the only difference is i am not giving you my money, right?

Thea Chacamaty@facebook

as much as i love finely-crafted clothing, this article is pretty tactless.

these clothes are for rich people.

sorry, no other way to put it. if you can spend $200 on a shirt, you are a rich person. that's more than i spend on groceries in a month. like, way more than i spend.

cocoloco

Absolutely positively spot on in addition to being witty, well-worded & fun to read. (I have always appreciated this kind of direct, sharp style infused with wit tho I realize it's not everyone's cup of tea. I didn't find it insulting ----how can it be when it's not personal?) Kudos for taking what could easily be a very dry & boring topic & making it humorous at times. Keep on keeping on! Peace, Luv & Sol ~Susan (founder & designer)www.solinspired.net

rosshoodies

Well, it is true that it is okay to pay for quality. However, this isnt' the case for majority of buyers who have a tendency to buy on impulse and most purchases are based on designs and brand or even the latest trends. I personally prefer items that can last me for a very long time like shoes and bags that you could own, perhaps two to three pairs or pieces throughout the entire year. Clothings and apparels on the other hand require constant replenishment as we change our attire daily. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean we need to buy a new pair of pants daily. We can limit our spending and do it maybe once every 1-2 months. http://www.myshirtshack.co.uk

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mrd916192

It is a fact that designers who use standardize materials is pricier than who use cheap, so the price of the cloth is dependent upon many factors.
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