A market I have to admit I was almost completely ignorant about, but it’s poised to become a very busy, competitive market if it can overcome a few hurdles:
There’s been a digital explosion in the market for pre-owned fashion. In the past year, we’ve seen a veritable land grab in the online consignment and resale space with the number of “re-commerce” sites now exceeding 50 — and many more, no doubt, incubating in Silicon Valley, New York, London and beyond. Several market levels are being addressed: mall/high street (Threadflip, Tradesy), thrift (LikeTwice, NiftyThrifty), upmarket (TheRealReal), haute vintage (Byronesque) and boutique (ReFashioner, my own company).
It may seem like these sites are dealing in a mere by-product of the fashion industry. But no, this is the product. Everything that’s bought becomes pre-owned. A tidal wave is building and it has the power to undermine or even destroy. Indeed, the stockpile of merchandise is overwhelmingly vast. I did the math in 2009 for ReFashioner’s beta, a luxury fashion swap site: $880 billion trapped in closets. And that’s just high-end womenswear in the US.
[. . .]
As with flash sales, this inventory is delimited by the retail market. And it’s wayward. The ROI sucks when every SKU is singular and inventory is locked up — literally — in houses. And there’s something of a standoff between buyer and seller: the non-professional seller, accustomed to seeing 100 percent mark-ups in the real world, wants top dollar for her career basics and contemporary designer wear, while the buyer wants Zappos-like service, Etsy pricing and Net-a-Porter merchandising. There are other issues too: resistance to higher ticket items without fittings, sketchy return policies, knock-off trading.
But there’s more. This merchandise is personal. It’s not just a numbers game, it’s about everything fashion means to us. It’s about honouring the past of the clothes and their place in our lives. If this is going to work, we need to add content and context. Idealistic, maybe. But idealism is how things get changed and idealism can work to the advantage of this category.
Pete Ashton explains how such an item appears on the Amazon.com website:
Nobody made, or approved, the design. This is the headfuck moment that most people can’t comprehend. There’s a completely understandable assumption that someone decided it would be a great idea to sell Keep Calm t-shirts with the word Rape on them and, because they exist (which they don’t, but let’s assume they do) that there’s a reasonable demand for them. This is because we’re used to there being a cost in producing a product like a t-shirt and an economic requirement to mass-produce them in huge numbers. If there’s a significant cost then a decision has to be made whether to spend it or not. We’re looking to blame whoever made that decision, or lament that it was even an option.
But, as we see above, there’s no cost involved. The shirts don’t exist. All that exists is a graphics file on a computer ready to be printed onto a shirt if an order comes through. Still, you might say, someone had to make that file, to type those words and click save. Not necessarily.
The t-shirts are created by an algorithm. The word “algorithm” is a little scary to some people because they don’t know what it means. It’s basically a process automated by a computer programme, sometimes simple, sometimes complex as hell. Amazon’s recommendations are powered by an algorithm. They look at what you’ve been browsing and buying, find patterns in that behaviour and show you things the algorithm thinks you might like to buy. Amazon’s algorithms are very complex and powerful, which is why they work. The algorithm that creates these t-shirts is not complex or powerful. This is how I expect it works.
1) Start a sentence with the words KEEP CALM AND.
2) Pick a word from this long list of verbs. Any word will do. Don’t worry, I’m sure they’re all fine.
3) Finish the sentence with one of the following: OFF, THEM, IT, A LOT or US.
4) Lay these words out in the classic Keep Calm style.
5) Create a mockup jpeg of a t-shirt.
6) Submit the design to Amazon using our boilerplate t-shirt description.
7) Go back to 1 and start again.
A press release describes the changes as the “most radical change since 1970s”:
After 18 months of testing and operational user feedback, production has begun on the Enhanced Combat Uniform for Canadian soldiers.
This product improvement to the combat uniforms includes more than 20 changes which will allow for greater comfort, enhanced protection and greater integration with personal protective equipment, allowing soldiers to more effectively train and perform their duties while deployed.
Some of the major changes are:
a flexible Mandarin-style collar;
integrated soft kneepads;
flat pockets and zippers to avoid pressure points;
an action-back for increased range of motion; and
a flexible waist for improved fit.
“The uniforms are better integrated with the rest of the combat equipment while increasing comfort and providing greater wearing options adaptable to the environment a soldier is deployed in,” says Major Stéphane Dufour of the Director of Land Requirements’ Soldier Systems Requirements section. For example, the integrated soft knee pads provide protection in and outside a vehicle. The flat chest pocket style also removes any pressure points while wearing ballistic protection and fragmentation vests.
[. . .]
The uniforms will continue to use the Canadian Disruptive Pattern, known as CADPATTM, which allows soldiers to blend in with the field environment.
In The Atlantic, D.B. Grady reminds us that some patterns are more deeply dyed than others:
Military combat uniforms have two purposes: to camouflage soldiers, and to hold together in rugged conditions. It stands to reason that there’s only one “best” pattern, and one best stitching and manufacture. It should follow that when such a uniform is developed, the entire military should transition to it.
In 2002, the Marine Corps adopted a digital camouflage pattern called MARPAT. Rigorous field-testing proved that it was more effective than the splotched woodland pattern in use at the time, and the Combat Utility Uniform (of which it was a part) was a striking change for such a conservative institution.
Not to be outdone, the Army drew up digital plans of its own, and in 2005 issued a redesigned combat uniform in a “universal camouflage pattern” (UCP). Three years after the Marines made the change, four years after the invasion of Afghanistan, and two years after the invasion of Iraq, you might think the Army would have been loaded with data on how best to camouflage soldiers in known combat zones. You would be wrong.
In fact, not only did the Army dismiss the requirements of the operating environments, but it also literally chose the poorest performing pattern of its field tests. The “universal” in UCP refers to jungle, desert, and urban environments. In designing a uniform for wear in every environment, it designed a uniform that was effective in none.
[. . .]
Such dysfunction is not unique to the Army. MARPAT was a success not only in function, but also in adding distinction to the Marines wearing it. Naturally the Air Force wanted in on that action, and set about to make its own mark on the camouflage world. It’s first choice? A Vietnam-era blue tiger-stripe pattern. (You know, to blend in with the trees on Pandora.)
After an outcry in the ranks, the leadership settled on a color scheme slightly more subdued. The new uniform did, however, have the benefit of being “winter weight” only, which was just perfect for service in Iraq.
Pairs of fart-absorbing underpants designed to contain the copious trouser cough output from Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers have proved a hit with Japanese businessmen.
Manufacturer Seiren expressed pleasant surprise that their guff-busting smalls had attracted the attention of suits more accustomed to allocating most of their underwear budget to schoolgirls’ used knickers.
Spokeswoman Nami Yoshida said: “It took us a few years to develop the first deodorant pants that are comfortable enough to wear in daily life but efficient in quickly eliminating strong smells.
The United States military is abandoning its recently-adopted pixelated camouflage uniforms, according to articles this week in The Daily as well as Stars and Stripes.
The drab grey digital pattern, known as the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), will be discarded after only eight years following mounting evidence that the colour scheme makes soldiers more visible, not less.
The articles pull few punches in their appraisal of the move to adopt the pattern in 2004.
“Army brass interfered in the selection process, choosing looks and politics over science,” reports Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the United States armed forces.
And while the Pentagon spent $5 Billion on the much-heralded uniforms, some of the earliest attempts to conceal soldiers on the battlefield were considerably less expensive.
The This is War blog has a discussion of the development of camouflage over the last century and a half.
The U.S. Army has decided to scrap its digital pattern camouflage combat uniforms for the more effective, but more expensive, MultiCam. In the last decade, both the army and marines adopted new, digital, camouflage pattern field uniforms. But in Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers noted that the marine digital uniforms (called MARPAT, for Marine Pattern) were superior to the army UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern). There’s been growing dissatisfaction with UCP, and it has become a major issue because all the infantry have access to the Internet, where the constant clamor for something better than UCP forced the army to do something. This is ironic because UCP is a variant of MARPAT, but a poor one, at least according to soldiers who have encountered marines wearing MARPAT. Even more ironic is that MARPAT is based on research originally done by the army. Thus some of the resistance to copying MARPAT is admitting the marines took the same research on digital camouflage, and produced a superior pattern for combat uniforms.
A digital camouflage pattern uses “pixels” (little square or round spots of color, like you will find on your computer monitor if you look very closely), instead of just splotches of different colors. Naturally, this was called “digital camouflage.” This pattern proved considerably more effective at hiding troops than older methods. For example, in tests, it was found that soldiers wearing digital pattern uniforms were 50 percent more likely to escape detection by other troops, than if they were wearing standard green uniforms. What made the digital pattern work was the way the human brain processed information. The small “pixels” of color on the cloth makes the human brain see vegetation and terrain, not people. One could provide a more technical explanation, but the “brain processing” one pretty much says it all.
Scientists charged into the fashion industry this week, unveiling a flexible battery that can be woven into fabric and used to boost the juice of everyday gadgets.
The lithium-ion cells were produced by a group of boffins from the Polytechnic School of Montreal. The team claims their bendy power cells are the first wearable battery that uses no liquid electrolytes, New Scientist reports.
The team sandwiched a solid polyethylene oxide electrolyte between a lithium iron phosphate cathode and lithium titanate anode. These are thermoplastic materials which, when gently heated, can be stretched into a thread.
There is a short-term restriction, however:
The next step is to waterproof the technology before attempts to implement it in future clothing and accessories can go ahead. Backpacks and medical-monitoring garments are said to be the first items the team is planning to add the tech to.
It’d be a bit unpleasant to have your shirt packing “hundreds of volts” discharge unexpectedly just because you broke a sweat …
Yes, it would seem that sometime in the last decade, the American people have become so fat and so happy and so inordinately lazy that they no longer want to put their own wear, sweat and stress into their Levis. Nope, it seems that the entire country will only buy jeans that have already been worn into a shambles, reduced, as new, to the rags I already had at home.
You’ve got new jeans at the Gap that look like they’ve had non-union and unlucky sweatshop employees of Sri Lanka of all shapes and sizes stuffed into them and then dragged for miles along country roads. They’ve got jeans with the off-the-rack look as if they’ve been sandblasted at a construction site in Tijuana — after Happy Hour.
You’ve got jeans that look as if the person inside them was persuaded to run through a scene of “Dirty Dancing” with a belt-sander.
You’ve got jeans that seem to have been stolen out of a wedding reception in Afghanistan after a predator strike went terribly wrong.
And you’ve got jeans that I swear have the finish and light golden color stained deep into the blue that you could only get if you buried them in a Chicago feedlot and let several herds of cattle rain down on them for a month.
Pre-shredded, pre-torn, pre-raveled at the seams, pre-faded, pre-pissed upon and a dozen other industrial or inhuman processes all combined to give me a section of men’s jeans at the Gap that looked like the changing room right next to a mass grave. All displayed proudly and marked and priced as “New.”
The US military has been struggling with their “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy for the last few years. Not every military has the same concerns: the Canadian Forces have reportedly introduced dress rules for transsexuals and transvestites in the military:
As U.S. politicians continue to debate whether to let gays serve openly in the American military, the Canadian Forces have issued a new policy detailing how the organization should accommodate transsexual and transvestite troops specifically. Soldiers, sailors and air force personnel who change their sex or sexual identity have a right to privacy and respect around that decision, but must conform to the dress code of their “target” gender, says the supplementary chapter of a military administration manual.
A gay-rights advocate hailed development of the guidelines as a progressive approach to people whose gender issues can trigger life-threatening psychological troubles.
Cherie MacLeod, executive director of PFLAG Canada, a sexual orientation-related support group, said she has helped a number of Forces members undergoing sex changes, surgery the military now funds.
I’m quite surprised that the armed forces were willing to introduce this policy without being forced into it by court action or human rights tribunal activity. There are one or two members of the armed forces who transition every year, according to a DND spokesperson, and it has paid for the costs involved since 1998.
Changing sex is difficult for someone in civilian life, but it must be exponentially harder in a self-consciously “macho” environment like the military.
I expect the conservative bloggers will have a field day with this announcement.
It’s things like this that reinforce the impression that the military still hasn’t grown used to the fact that women are serving in combat zones:
Over the past seven years, the U.S. Army has responded to complaints from the troops about the combat uniform (ACU, or ACUPAT, for Army Combat Uniform camouflage pattern). But now the army is fixing a set of problems that have long been ignored; how the ACU fits women. Up to fifteen percent of the troops in combat zones are women, and the new uniform recognizes this. The older ACU just assumed female troops were one of the guys, which they are not. Women have a different shape, and that is very true when it comes to ACUs, and their placement of the waistline, many pockets and pouches for things like knee pads. What worked for the male body, did not work for female troops. Everything was just a little bit (or a lot) off, making the ACU much less comfortable for women doing the same jobs as the guys. So the army simply designed an ACU version based on the shape of the female body. The first prototypes were given to women to try out, and after a few hours, all the female troops asked where they could buy some more of them. Unfortunately, the female ACU won’t be available for another two years. Lots of additional tests have to be performed to make sure all the details are correctly incorporated.
Perhaps the physical variation among “average” women is relatively greater than that among “average” men, but it’s still surprising that the US Army is only now taking that into account.
The Hells Angels are apparently going to war with British fashion house Alexander McQueen after accusing the couturiers of infringing on their trademarks.
The California-based motorcycle club, whose fearsome reputation includes the sudden and brutal application of trademark lawyers, believes the dressmakers, and its retailers, have overstepped the mark with a series of clothes and accessories featuring a skull and wings death head design.
Alexander McQueen, whose eponymous founder committed suicide earlier this year, allegedly sold items including a $495 Hells Four Finger Ring and a $1595 Hells Angels Jaquard Box Dress, the Hells Angels charge.