Tag Archives: fast fashion

The Broken Fashion Calendar

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. And the fashion industry has a problem: The calendar is broken.

Grace Coddington admitted it in March. Julie Gilhart alluded to it in April. And Plum Sykes investigated further in this month’s Vogue, with commiseration from designers like Matthew Williamson and Tomas Maier.

Even when I worked in fashion, I struggled to understand the reasoning behind a system that kept designers “creating” at a relentless rate, so stores could fill their racks with winter sweaters come July, and bikinis shortly after Christmas.

I was trying to make sense of this at the end of last year, and called for backup. Enter Tomoko Ogura, who oversees the buyers of Barney’s Co-op, and Michelle Goad, a merchandiser for Marc Jacobs. When we had lunch the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the young women were recovering from buying and selling, respectively, the Pre-Fall 2010 collections. But on a personal level, Michelle was in the market for a new winter coat. She had stopped by Barney’s with high hopes, but all the good ones were gone in her size.

That’s because the wool and cashmere coats had been out since July, when the average temperature in New York hovers around 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tomoko said she understood her friend’s plight.

“No matter how much they want a winter coat,” she said of her customers, “they are not going to buy it three months ahead of time.”

But, because Barney’s follows the fashion industry’s general calendar, the designers Tomoko buys from ship her wool coats in July and swimsuits in January. She said she tries to give her customers a reasonable reprieve between the holidays and swimsuit season by pushing those designers to ship swimwear just a few weeks later. But in order for this to be effective, she said, designers would have to ship to all their stores later, not just Barney’s. Otherwise, a Diane von Furstenberg bikini may be in the window at Saks weeks before it hits Barney’s, and no one likes to appear behind the ball.

It’s like an arms race, with tropical printed triangle bikinis as weapons.

Image from Juergen H. Dam

And some of those designers deliver new styles as many as twelve times per year. Each of these deliveries falls into one of four seasons: Pre-Fall, Fall, Resort, and Spring. Michelle drew me a dizzying spreadsheet-like calendar, outlining when those “seasonal” collections are actually on the stores’ floors, which has absolutely no correlation with silly factors like the weather. Also on the calendar, is the ever-important markdown—putting items on sale to make room for new merchandise.

But if Michelle Goad, a Marc Jacobs merchandiser who can hand-draw this absurdist calendar from memory, can’t get it together to pick out her winter coat at summer’s end, who on earth can? (Apparently, Plum Sykes can, but let’s agree she’s an outlier.)

Tomoko’s colleague Julie Gilhart–Barney’s Fashion Director and industry bellwether–told Style.com the seasonal system has been abused. “Whatever we can do to slow it down,” she said, “I’m all for.”

Grace Coddington, Vogue’s Creative Director, sounded pretty fed up  when I saw her speak in March. “We’re trying to speed up all those poor designers so that they have fifteen collections a year,” she said. “And it’s stupid. I mean, how many dresses can you wear? And it makes them do it not so well, or they have a breakdown, or as just very very sadly happened, Alexander McQueen killed himself. And that’s part of that hysteria that breaks my heart.”

If that’s not a wake-up call, I’m not sure what is.

It seems some sort of armistice is in order, but what will it take, for designers and retailers to make a systemic change? And what would that look like? At Barney’s, it looks like more limited-edition pieces with interesting stories–think recycled, hand-made, one-of-a-kind. Remember my favorite winter scarf?

Inoue Brothers Scarves

Tomoko was the one who stocked Barney’s shelves with the Bolivian woven shawls. In fact, after seeing one wrapped around her neck that afternoon, I was driven to distraction with the memory of its rainbow-plaid panes. I called the Barney’s Co-op on Madison Avenue to ask if there were any left.

“No,” a young man told me. “That’s all we’re getting in terms of cold weather merchandise.” The next arrivals would be for Spring 2010. Meanwhile, outside, the first snowflakes of the season had just begun to fall.

So what can we do? Hazel Clark, a dean at Parsons, has explored the idea of slowing down the race, and resetting the fashion calendar to look more like a circle than a straight road.

“A cyclical approach would be to think of fashion and clothes ‘moving around’ a cycle,” she wrote in an email. “This could simply be bringing out clothes from the wardrobe to meet seasonal changes in weather e.g. last year’s warm winter coat – or cyclical ideas like re-making, sharing.”

I love those ideas, but I’m not sure the industry is ready for a fashion calendar that’s quite so revolutionary.

So here’s my proposal. How about a compact, whereby a powerful institution like the CFDA, or even Barney’s, gathers a group of designers in need of a break, and arranges for each of them to take a season off in organized rotation? Barney’s could guarantee to buy their remaining seasonal collections, and the designers’ participation in the program would get them–and fashion’s fast-forwarded production calendar–some good press. It’s sort of like our government paying farmers not to plant corn. Maybe a retreat for recovery and inspiration could even be part of the arrangement, compliments of Donna Karan’s Pure Peru.

And when we’re done doing that, we could do the same thing for journalists.

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Grace Coddington and André Leon Talley: The Need (?) for Speed

Waiting for André Leon Talley in my rainboots, I tweeted last week, sitting at Barnes & Noble where the VOGUE editor-at-large was scheduled to appear with Creative Director Grace Coddington.

André Leon Talley, photo by Heather R. Gregg

Incidentally, en route to the bookstore from Condé Nast, the two creatives were discussing Twitter and Facebook’s ubiquity. Upon arrival, they shared some of their thoughts on the fast flow of media and fashion during a discussion with The September Issue director RJ Cutler.

“I have a Facebook and a Twitter, I’m told,” said the fiery-haired Ms. Coddington. I got out my phone to tweet that but then stopped, realizing I wanted to listen to what she would say next.

Grace Coddington, photo by Heather R. Gregg

“It doesn’t help me in fashion very much. I don’t work that way, and I’m a little old to start working that way now,” said Coddington. “If you do something fast, which is what all those things make you do, because you’re spending your whole time reading and then it’s out of date in ten minutes or something, I don’t think that’s good for fashion. We’re trying to speed up all those poor designers so that they have fifteen collections a year and it’s stupid. I mean, how many dresses can you wear? And it makes them do it not so well, or they have a breakdown, or as just very very sadly happened, Alexander McQueen killed himself. And that’s part of that hysteria that breaks my heart. It breaks my heart.”

Alexander McQueen gown, image from The Metropolitan Museum

At the end of the discussion, the final audience member allowed a question promised she would try to be fast, and then came out with this, seemingly in a single breath:

“You mentioned that you don’t interact much with the Internet and I can understand and that, and I agree with what you said, Grace, about the quality does suffer, with the democratization—but at the same time I think that a lot of people are here and know about the movie through those same channels and I am someone from the generation that does interact with that, but I choose not to. I don’t Tweet; I don’t have a Facebook page and that’s very rare. I may be one of the last people. So, what I would ask you is, do you think it’s something of a fair trade-off, maybe something’s lost but something’s gained: more people know about your industry and I know that you all came to it kind of aspirationally, but it seems that’s not enough for people anymore and they want like that interaction and a lot of designers I noticed are just doing shows online now as opposed to just doing the large runway productions, and that may be a financial decision but at the same time it gives people greater access. Okay, so do you think that there is any value in that, and that it is a fair trade-off?”

“Yeah, I think it’s a fair trade-off.” Grace replied. “I have to say, after that very long question, yeah, that’s maybe good that you’re not twittering or something.”

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H&M Busted Again

I got this dress at H&M a couple of summers ago. It’s got a little inverted pleat in the front, a nice wide hem at the bottom, a woven pocket on the chest, and it’s made of the blackest black knit cotton–the tag says it’s organic. But after the news that a German lab found genetically-modified cotton in 30% of the garments H&M labeled as organic, one has to wonder whether it’s quite so black and white.


I was wearing it one sweltering day at Ellen, a great little vintage shop on the Lower East Side, when the owner complimented me on it, and, as any curious clothier might do, asked where I acquired it.

“H&M,” I said. “It’s part of their organic line,” I added, attempting to justify my guilty foray into fast fashion.

Ellen is the type to smoke incessantly in her store, fawn over you if she likes what you’re wearing, and say something like this if she doesn’t:

“Oh, I am so f—ing sick of that shit.”

Oh! My friend and I were done browsing and struggling to stifle our giggles, so we left without pursuing the conversation. But it seems Ellen was onto something. That day I assumed (never wise) she was sick of would-be customers like me patting myself on the back for my “responsible” choice–vintage might have been better. But maybe it was a witchy ESP of something rotten in…Sweden, although the news broke in Deutschland.

But what exactly was rotten? 

Well, according to the federal regulation of the National Organic Program, to which cotton is subject:

A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology).

Which is to say, if it’s genetically modified (ie: injected with a gene to make it resistant against herbicides or bugs), it ain’t organic.

According to the Organic & Non-GMO Report‘s interview with Terry Pepper, an organic cotton farmer in Texas, contamination can occur fairly easily if organic cotton is processed at the same gins that work with genetically-modified cotton. (Sounds like the disclaimers about peanut in M&M factories, no?) Pepper made a distinction between GMO free and non-GMO, telling the Report that, “GMO-free is not possible, but we can maintain non-GMO with some work.” 

If Terry Pepper in Texas can maintain non-GMO, it seems H&M should be able to do better than 30% for a line they label organic. But who’s at fault when a Swedish company that manufactures clothing from supposedly organic Indian cotton in a factory god-knows-where (not checked the latest labels in the organic collection) to be sold in 35 different countries mislabels their goods?What link in the supply chain should be required to test and prove the cotton is indeed organic, and by whose standards?

And why are everyone’s conventional cotton panties in a bunch over the alleged fraud? Is it because we’ve been lied to? Paid more for an item that might not be all it claimed to be? Just like to see big chains like H&M get busted? Or, are we, as Ellen said, just sick of this shit?

And here I thought it was just a little black dress.

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Disposable Clothing?

This story from Tuesday’s Times about H&M throwing away unsold clothing brings new meaning to the term “throwaway fashion.” What a terrible waste. Kudos to Cynthia Magnus, a CUNY graduate student for reporting it to the newspaper when H&M ignored her queries.

image from Stylefrizz.com

From the story:

During her walks down 35th Street, Ms. Magnus said, it is more common to find destroyed clothing in the H & M trash. On Dec. 7, during an early cold snap, she said, she saw about 20 bags filled with H & M clothing that had been cut up.

“Gloves with the fingers cut off,” Ms. Magnus said, reciting the inventory of ruined items. “Warm socks. Cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor. Men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.” The jackets were tagged $59, $79 and $129.

This week, a manager in the H & M store on 34th Street said inquiries about its disposal practices had to be made to its United States headquarters. However, various officials did not respond to 10 inquiries made Tuesday by phone and e-mail.

Directly around the corner from H & M is a big collection point for New York Cares, which conducts an annual coat drive.

“We’d be glad to take unworn coats, and companies often send them to us,” said Colleen Farrell, a spokeswoman for New York Cares.

In an update posted the following day, both H&M and Wal-Mart pledged they would donate unsold clothing, rather than cutting up clothing and throwing it away. Now that’s citizen journalism.

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