Tag Archives: journalism

Garment District Incubators

Now that I’m settled down from Sweden, a story this morning from the Wall Street Journal’s Ralph Gardner Jr. fanned the fire under my buns to get back to my reporting in the Garment District. I’m glad he put designer Bibhu Mohapatra in the lede, or he might have lost me with his paragraph-long flashback of watching supermodels strip backstage in the ’80s. Gardner (who professed being foreign to fashion) said the word incubator made him picture “a climate-controlled box,” and many involved with the CFDA’s glossy-floored corridor of 12 glass-walled studios on 38th Street seem take issue with the name. Even a mailman in the elevator there told me, “it sounds like a place for growing aliens.”

A Bibhu Mohapatra gown at his F/W 2010 show in February

These designers may be, um, growing, but they’re well on their way to being established names in the fashion world. Bibhu has been one of my favorite ones to watch. In the months since reviewing his  Fall 2010 show (pictured above), I’ve spent some time with the designer and his staff, as they moved from their studios uptown to their new space in the Garment District.

The Designer in his former Upper West Side studio, March

At work in the new space, April

As Bibhu and his hall-mates have been settling into their new workspace on 38th Street, I’ve been settling into mine on 40th, which was also referred to as “the incubator,” before being rechristened The Center for Journalistic Innovation. From here, I’ll keep reporting on the Garment District, and amass material for a project to address the garment industry’s relationship with our city. Stay tuned this summer. Both in fashion and in media, it’s going to be an exciting run-up to Fashion Week in September.

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What to Wear…When You’re Nervous?

It will probably surprise exactly no one to learn that I deal with anxiety over an event by planning my outfit. (Remember the first day of school?) Suffice to say, then, that I’ve been wondering what to wear tonight for weeks. In a couple hours at The New York Times, I’m going to stand up in front of a crowd that includes faculty and friends from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, as well as journalists like Barbara Walters and Charlie Rose (so apt at public speaking!!), and accept an award from the Dean of the school. I’m so excited for the honor, but after mining my closet and tormenting my friends all weekend, I still haven’t landed on an outfit.

I’m about to hop in the shower, where an assortment of dresses, jackets, skirts and shrugs hang, waiting for the wrinkles to fall out in the steam. (Now that Julie and Lina’s opening film revealed this strange setting, there’s no point in hiding it.)

The Dean might be happy to know I’ve taken a few minutes from this turmoil to work on my speech. Essentially, I’ll talk about CUNY being a place that gave me the confidence to stick with the material I believe in, and the tools to repackage it for the worldwide web. (See: Sweden.Closettour.) I’m hoping for an outfit that can remind me of the same. A solid piece, maybe made modern by an accessory or two, that still lets the story shine through. 

Hit the showers!

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An Introduction: Sweden.Closettour

As some of you may already know, I’ve spent the last few weeks working on Sweden.Closettour, a new site about sustainability and style, inspired by four days of reporting in Stockholm. It’s an alpha version of the sort of stories I plan to produce in the future–like a little swatch of material, presented in a slightly different format than you’ll find here at the blog. Like all the stories and posts from Closettour, its purpose is to put the “wonder” in wondering what to wear.

Erin Dixon wonders what to wear at the Scandinavia House

It all began, as you’ll see in the video below, when an invitation arrived from the Swedish Institute, to meet the curators and designers behind EcoChic, a new exhibit opening this week at New York’s Scandinavia House. 

The subject of sustainability, in the worlds of fashion and journalism alike these days, wears a cloak of mystery. Sweden.Closettour is an experiment in discovering sustainable models in both fields. For the time being, my work is funded by a grant for entrepreneurial journalism from the McCormick Foundation–and this trip had a little help from the Swedes. (See “The Trip” for details). 

Kajsa Guterstam kept us caffeinated and on course in Stockholm

Along the way, I talked with fashion designers and physicists, farmers and factory managers, all of whom shared excellent insight. But the truest one came from Mathilda Tham, a brainy beauty who teaches design in Stockholm and London.

“You can’t be sustainable or holistic on your own,” she said, at the end of our meeting in March. “You’ve got to do it with other people.”

Julie Miller and Lina Plioplyte stick my face on the map

I’ve joked these past few weeks, working long hours on a website about sustainable fashion, that my lifestyle has become less sustainable, and decidedly less fashionable. But, as Mathilda foreshadowed, the project wouldn’t have been possible at all without other people pitching in.

Michael Lanzano shoots fruit and candy for the H&M story

Everyone whose name appears on that About page had a vital hand in getting the website up, and some of them were perfect strangers a few weeks ago. In the end, Grace Koerber helped weave it all together beautifully for the web (if I do say so myself), and the whole project would probably still be an elegant poster-board if Indrani Datta hadn’t helped whip it into shape.

Indrani Datta erases Sweden.Closettour’s to-do list

So, I’ve learned a lot about sustainability (and style), much of which you’ll find on Sweden.Closettour. I hope you find the clothes and characters there as compelling as I did, and that you’ll collaborate too, by sharing criticisms, questions and ideas on the comments page.  

Thanks for your contributions so far. I hope this is just the beginning of the conversation that can sustain itself for a long time to come.

 

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The Web We Weave

Last night at the Loomstate party, I told someone I was a journalist.

“Who do you work for?” he asked.

“I’m independent,” I replied, which is funny, because in many ways, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, my stories are my own and I have no editor to answer to, but lately I get overwhelmed thinking about everyone pitching in to help me with the completion of a website about sustainable style, based on my recent trip to Sweden.

I’ll limit my example to yesterday alone. I’ve asked two of the Swedish designers I’m writing about for additional photographs for the site. One simply sent me a login to peruse her server as I pleased, and the other emailed me selected favorites, including the one below, of her colleague weaving wool in Scotland. I tend to have my Sweden emails in the morning, thanks to the time difference, and these were particularly lovely to wake up to.

But it was time to get down to business. One of my mounting challenges in writing about sustainability, as I’ve noted, is the tremendous task of defining the word. Recently, a Huffington Post reader called Denis Ethier alerted me on Twitter (I get it now!) that he had just left a comment under my article. Indeed, dear Denis had advised  me that in using the term “sustainable growth,” I had employed an oxymoron, and directed me to Dr. Albert Bartlett’s Laws of Sustainability.

Dr. Bartlett, who holds a PhD in Nuclear Physics from Harvard, has been writing and lecturing about sustainability for forty years, and I found his papers to be at once helpful and harrowing.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race,” Dr. Bartlett once famously said, “is our inability to understand the exponential function.” (That’s the green one.) I was experiencing an inability to understand a great number of things, but I was able to perceive an exponentially increasing portion of panic. So I did what any perplexed fashion enthusiast would do, and directly contacted a nuclear physicist. Within moments Dr. Bartlett replied to my email, with his home telephone number and a warning he knew nothing “about fashions.” We had an enlightening chat, which you’ll be able to read about once the Sweden site is done.

New Source: Dr. Al Bartlett

By the time we said goodbye, Loomstate’s Earth Day party was about to begin. Commemorating Earth Day in a basement beneath midtown seemed a little counterintuitive until I walked into the sprawling room and saw Pemba Sherpa, one of my absolute favorite souls on this planet. Edun, my previous employer, was once housed in the same SoHo apartment as fashion brands Rogan and Loomstate. Things have since grown and separated a bit (exponentially? I’m not sure.), and Pemba remains the single employee all three labels share. This speaks to their intelligence, because any place blessed with Pemba’s presence on a daily basis will find their employees learning daily lessons about patient kindness from his example.

Old Friend: Pemba Sherpa (on my last day at Edun)

He used to be a guide in the Himalayas (now he treks between Edun, Rogan and Loomstate’s Tribeca offices, handling all things logistical), so Pemba’s appreciation for the planet comes from a uniquely elevated perspective. He knows I love stories from his native Nepal, and he recently returned, but this time his most exciting revelation was not about the mountains, but about an unplanned pregnancy in his community, which resulted in an unplanned adoption, and now Pemba is the proud papa of Arbin Tshering Dorjee Sherpa. I thought of Dr. Bartlett’s famous lecture on population growth, and how heartily he might approve of Pemba’s adoption strategy. It also occurred to me that if I’m ever reborn, Pemba’s family might be a good one to go for.

Just then, 40 drummers filed in, and took their seats at a mishmash of sets under a white pyramid in the center of the cavernous space. Cymbals began to shimmer. A pelican in slow-motion flight was projected onto the pyramid; and Pemba stood beside me, taking pictures. Before long, a strong reverberation took over the room, and it became nearly impossible to distinguish between the beats of the different drummers. Before they started playing Scott Hahn had introduced the program saying they intended to “shatter the illusion that we’re all separate.” Indeed.

When I got home, I checked my email, and found a message from a reader who had sent a question about organic concert tee shirts a few weeks ago. We’ve never met in person, but he asked if I had been at the Loomstate party, and then later on the L-train! He had recognized me from those seemingly gratuitous photos I post of myself, and even asked if I was free tonight, as he’s found himself with an extra ticket to the opera. I loved the idea of meeting up for the opera, but am previously engaged for a pow-wow with the Sweden site’s new designer/developer –a young lady called Grace, whose surname, incidentally, is derived from the German for one who weaves.

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Spring in Full Swing

It’s going to be a really busy week here at Closettour.

“Where, at Closettour?” You might ask, and you would not be wrong, since the office travels where I do, whether the San Juan Mountains, San Clemente or Sweden. But for the moment, when I’m not wondering what to wear from my closet in Williamsburg, I’ll most likely be here: the newly minted Center for Journalistic Innovation at CUNY.

This is where a few of us working with grants from Jeff Jarvis Entrepreneurial Journalism class will be working. As you can see, it’s still a place in progress (more computers to come), and I’ve been told I’ll be responsible for the layout, as the aesthetically inclined chick in this incubator.

File:Pink peeps.jpg

This is a very different role from my one at Edun, where I simply packed boxes and got out of the way when we moved our offices from SoHo to Tribeca. But here, it’s a wholly different crowd of co-workers. For the last several months, I’ve worked back-to-back with Joe Filippazzo and Tom Clark, who founded Knotebooks, an open-source site for physics lessons.

Yesterday Tom asked me whether I felt pressure to always dress the part of a person covering fashion. And yet, I could have asked him the very same question–see his tee-shirt below, which reads, “No, I will not fix your computer.” Incidentally, that was what I had just asked him to do. Who’s dressing the part now?

Actually we both are.

I happened to be wearing this little Loomstate vest, a favorite layering piece this time of year. On the subway a few days ago, I ran into Berrin Noorata, who I used to share that SoHo office with when Loomstate, Rogan and Edun were all under one roof. Berrin organizes the brand’s parties, and she told me not to miss the one to celebrate Earth Day tomorrow night. I will not, and you shouldn’t either. They even have a school bus for downtowners.

And speaking of Earth Day, it will be interesting to see what comes of the CEO Water Mandate Meeting, also happening this week, over at the United Nations. Henrik Lampa, H&M’s Environmental Supply Chain Manager, who I met in Stockholm, told me one of H&M’s main issues when it comes to water conservation is denim washing, and he’ll be looking at how the clever application of chemistry might reduce the water footprint of a pair of jeans. H&M has had their fair share of environmental missteps over the last few months, but there’s no denying that they apply some serious manpower (and money) to investigating how the fashion industry might leave a lighter footprint on the planet.

jeans H&M Shop Online

It’s a complicated relationship, and one I’ll explore further on a site I’m developing about sustainable style, based on material from Sweden. So, that’s what I’m working on between the lines of the blog here, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of it soon. Assuming I sustain until the end of the week, I’ll be styling pre-loved prom dresses for their new owners on Saturday morning–email operationfairydustnyc@yahoo.com if you’re interested in joining me–or you can always find me right here, wondering what to wear.

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