Quotulatiousness

October 27, 2014

The invention of the suit

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

A.A. Gill had an unplanned meeting with British Labour Party leader, but the article isn’t about the politician himself, it’s about his suit:

Suits are malevolent magicians’ sleeves for socialists, full of patrician loops and tricks, small, embroidered, cryptic messages of deference and privilege. They are ever the uniform of the enemy. They are also the greatest British invention ever. That’s not hyperbole or jingotastic boasting. It’s the plain, double-breasted truth. Nothing else that comes from this pathetically stunted island has had anything like the universal acceptance, reach or influence of the suit.

Look at it as if you’d never seen one before. Nothing about it makes sense. It’s not practical; it’s not particularly comfortable; it doesn’t work; it’s not decorative; and it doesn’t make us look good, rather like the establishment it represents. And, like most things in this place, it arrived through a series of accidents, mistakes, misinterpretations, good intentions, conventions and slovenliness, all of it growing out of radicalism.

The suit is the polite taming, the socialising, the neutering, of riding and military kit. Those pointless buttons on the cuff were moved from lateral to vertical. You used to be able to fold the end of your sleeve over and forward and button it like a mitten, for riding in the cold. Incidentally, the buttons on the cuff should correspond to the number of buttons on the front, not for any practical reason, but just because that’s what they should do. The vents at the back are made for sitting on a horse. The slanting pockets are for easy access when mounted. The suit that we wear was, in essence, invented by Beau Brummell – an obsessive, highly strung, socially insecure, thin-skinned aesthete, snob and genius. And, of course, an Etonian. He wanted to simplify the extraordinarily otiose decorative court dress to give men an elegant line. When the bailiffs finally broke into his rooms, they found only a simple deal table with a note that said, archly, “Starch is everything.” Beau escaped to France, where people said he looked like an Englishman and he died in an asylum.

We have to thank the members of the Romantic movement for the sober colours of suits. It was their love of the Gothic that put us in grey and black but the suit stuck. It said something and it meant something to men around the world; it said and meant so much that they would discard their local dress, the costumes of millennia, their culture and their link to their ancestors, to dress up like English insurance brokers. There is not a corner of the world where the suit is not the default clobber of power, authority, knowledge, judgement, trust and, most importantly, continuity. The curtained changing rooms of Savile Row welcome the naked knees of the most despotic and murderous, immoral and venal dictators and kleptocrats, who are turned out looking benignly conservative, their sins carefully and expertly hidden, like the little hangman’s loops under their lapels.

October 14, 2014

A new view on cosplay – as a symptom of a seriously weakened economy

Filed under: Economics, Japan, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:06

A certain amount of this rings true:

Imagine you’re a college graduate stuck in a perpetually lousy economy. That’s a problem Japanese twenty-somethings have faced for more than 20 years. Two decades of stagnation after the collapse of the 1980s real-estate and stock bubbles — combined with labor laws making it tough to fire older workers — have relegated vast numbers of Japanese young adults to low-paying, temporary contract jobs. Many find themselves living with their parents well into their twenties and beyond, unmarried and childless.

Then again, they do have plenty of time to dress up like wand-wielding sailor girls and cybernetic alchemist soldiers from the colorful world of anime cartoons and manga comics. Indeed, Japan’s Lost Decades have coincided with a major spike in “people escaping to virtual worlds of games, animation, and costume play,” Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor at Chuo University in Tokyo, recently told the Financial Times. “Here, even the young and poor can feel as though they are a hero.”

It’s hard to blame them. After all, it’s not that these young adults in Japan are resisting becoming productive members of the economy — it’s that there just aren’t enough opportunities for them. So an increasingly large number of them spend an increasingly large amount of time living in make-believe fantasy worlds, pretending they are someone else, somewhere else. This is a very bad thing for the Japanese economy.

And guess what: America has a growing number of make-believe “cosplay” heroes, too. Many of the 130,000 people who attend the San Diego Comic Con every year invest big bucks in elaborate outfits as a way of showing off their favorite Japanese characters, as well as those from American superhero movies, comics, and “genre” televisions shows such as Game of Thrones. And this trend is growing — the crowd at Comic Con was one-third this size in 2000. In 2013, the SyFy channel even created a reality show about the trend, Heroes of Cosplay.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

October 2, 2014

The Aral Sea, Uzbek cotton, forced labour, and the clothing industry

Filed under: Asia, Environment, Health — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:07

As reported the other day, what was once the world’s fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea, has almost completely dried up due to Soviet water diversion projects of the late 1950s and early 1960s:

In the early 1960s, the Soviet government decided the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the east, would be diverted to irrigate the desert, in an attempt to grow rice, melons, cereals, and cotton.

This was part of the Soviet plan for cotton, or “white gold”, to become a major export. This temporarily succeeded, and in 1988, Uzbekistan was the world’s largest exporter of cotton.

The Soviet government made a deliberate choice to sacrifice the Aral Sea to create a vast new cotton-growing region in Uzbekistan. It was clearly quite successful, depending on how you choose to measure success.

The disappearance of the lake was no surprise to the Soviets; they expected it to happen long before. As early as 1964, Aleksandr Asarin at the Hydroproject Institute pointed out that the lake was doomed, explaining, “It was part of the five-year plans, approved by the council of ministers and the Politburo. Nobody on a lower level would dare to say a word contradicting those plans, even if it was the fate of the Aral Sea.”

The reaction to the predictions varied. Some Soviet experts apparently considered the Aral to be “nature’s error”, and a Soviet engineer said in 1968, “it is obvious to everyone that the evaporation of the Aral Sea is inevitable.”

The drying-out of the Aral was not just bad news for the fishermen of the region: it was a full-blown environmental disaster, as the former lake bottom was heavily polluted:

The receding sea has left huge plains covered with salt and toxic chemicals – the results of weapons testing, industrial projects, and pesticides and fertilizer runoff – which are picked up and carried away by the wind as toxic dust and spread to the surrounding area. The land around the Aral Sea is heavily polluted, and the people living in the area are suffering from a lack of fresh water and health problems, including high rates of certain forms of cancer and lung diseases. Respiratory illnesses, including tuberculosis (most of which is drug resistant) and cancer, digestive disorders, anaemia, and infectious diseases are common ailments in the region. Liver, kidney, and eye problems can also be attributed to the toxic dust storms. Health concerns associated with the region are a cause for an unusually high fatality rate amongst vulnerable parts of the population. The child mortality rate is 75 in every 1,000 newborns and maternity death is 12 in every 1,000 women. Crops in the region are destroyed by salt being deposited onto the land. Vast salt plains exposed by the shrinking Aral have produced dust storms, making regional winters colder and summers hotter.

The Aral Sea fishing industry, which in its heyday had employed some 40,000 and reportedly produced one-sixth of the Soviet Union’s entire fish catch, has been devastated, and former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyards. The town of Moynaq in Uzbekistan had a thriving harbor and fishing industry that employed about 30,000 people; now it lies miles from the shore. Fishing boats lie scattered on the dry land that was once covered by water; many have been there for 20 years.

"Waterfront" of Aralsk, Kazakhstan, formerly on the banks of the Aral Sea. Photo taken Spring 2003 by Staecker. (Via Wikipedia)

“Waterfront” of Aralsk, Kazakhstan, formerly on the banks of the Aral Sea. Photo taken Spring 2003 by Staecker. (Via Wikipedia)

So, tragic as all this is, what does it have to do with the clothing industry? The Guardian‘s Tansy Hoskins points out that due to the murky supply chains, it’s almost impossible to find out where the cotton used by many international clothing firms actually originates, and the Uzbek cotton fields are worked by forced labour:

The harvest of Uzbek cotton is taking place right now — it started on the 5 September and is expected to last until the end of October. The harvest itself is also a horror story, on top of the environmental devastation, this is cotton picked using forced labour. Every year hundreds of thousands of people are systematically sent to work in the fields by the government.

Under pressure from campaigners, in 2012, Uzbek authorities banned the use of child labour in the cotton harvest, but it is a ban that is routinely flouted. In 2013 there were 11 deaths during the harvest (pdf), including a six year old child, Amirbek Rakhmatov, who accompanied his mother to the fields and suffocated after falling asleep on a cotton truck.

Campaigners have also managed to get 153 fashion brands to sign a pledge to never knowingly use Uzbek cotton. Anti-Slavery International have worked on this fashion campaign but acknowledge that despite successes there is still a long way to go.

“Not knowingly using Uzbek cotton and actually ensuring that you don’t use Uzbek cotton are two completely different things,” explains Jakub Sobik, press officer at Anti-Slavery International.

One major problem that Sobik points out is that much of the Uzbek cotton crop now ends up in Bangladesh and China — key suppliers for European brands. “Whilst it is very hard to trace the cotton back to where it comes from because the supply chain is so subcontracted and deregulated, brands have a responsibility to ensure that slave picked cotton is not polluting their own supply chain.”

September 16, 2014

Coming to Kickstarter real soon now…

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Frequent commenter Lickmuffin sent me a message that I thought was amusing enough to promote to a full post:

Speaking of writing like someone else, your Three Men In A Boat posts made me read that work and the similar-in-style Leacock. I’m starting work on a Sunshine Sketches-like book updated for modern times: Oxycontin Delusions of a Ditchpig Trailer Park.

That’s the working title — I’ll clean it up when I set things up on Kickstarter.

Speaking of Kickstarter, the wife wants to start a My Daughter Is Not A Skank campaign there to see if we can get some decent girls’ clothing manufactured. Went shopping on the weekend for the first time in a long time and it was kinda scary to see what’s being marketed to pre-teen girls. Most retailers only have two jean styles available for girls: Boot Cut and Skinny. In terms of actual cut and fit, they are identical. Old Navy is the only retailer with a third option: Boyfriend Skinny. Actually, that’s not quite true — Sears also offers a style called Mommy’s Little Money Maker.

I’m thinking that burkas actually make a lot of sense.

April 9, 2014

The rise of the bloodmouth carnists

Filed under: Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:13

ESR has a bit of fun at the expense of a militant vegan:

Some weeks ago I was tremendously amused by a report of an exchange in which a self-righteous vegetarian/vegan was attempting to berate somebody else for enjoying Kentucky Fried Chicken. I shall transcribe the exchange here:

    >There is nothing sweet or savory about the rotting
    >carcass of a chicken twisted and crushed with cruelty.
    >There is nothing delicious about bloodmouth carnist food.
    >How does it feel knowing your stomach is a graveyard

    I’m sorry, but you just inadvertently wrote the most METAL
    description of eating a chicken sandwich in the history of mankind.

    MY STOMACH IS A GRAVEYARD

    NO LIVING BEING CAN QUENCH MY BLOODTHIRST

    I SWALLOW MY ENEMIES WHOLE

    ESPECIALLY IF THEY’RE KENTUCKY FRIED

I am no fan of KFC, I find it nasty and overprocessed. However, I found the vegan rant richly deserving of further mockery, especially after I did a little research and discovered that the words “bloodmouth” and “carnist” are verbal tokens for an entire ideology.

First thing I did was notify my friend Ken Burnside, who runs a T-shirt business, that I want a “bloodmouth carnist” T-shirt – a Spinal-Tap-esque parody of every stupid trash-metal tour shirt ever printed. With flaming skulls! And demonic bat-wings! And umlauts! Definitely umlauts.

Once Ken managed to stop laughing we started designing. Several iterations. a phone call, and a flurry of G+ messages later, we had the Bloodmouth Carnist T-shirt. Order yours today!
Bloodmouth Carnist t-shirt

March 17, 2014

Tokenism watch – PhD models

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:06

Martha Gill is underwhelmed by Betabrand’s use of PhDs as runway clothing models:

‘Hey ladies, you might have PhDs, but really you all want to be models’

Is there no job you don’t need a ludicrous set of qualifications for nowadays? Clothing company PhD, in a fairly ill-defined attempt to, I don’t know, raise awareness or something, have hit upon a novel concept for a fashion shoot: recruiting only models with PhDs.

“Our designers cooked up a collection of smart fashions for spring, so why not display them on the bodies of women with really big brains?” founder Chris Lindland said in a statement. Supporters have greeted it as a feminist move, saying it helps to promote “different kinds of female role models”.

Hmmm. Does it? I’m really not so sure that it does.

[...]

I mean, I see what they’re trying to do. They are trying to broaden the public’s idea of models, make them more representative, and show that being intelligent is something to aspire to, too. They just haven’t managed to do this. In any way.

You see, what I think they’ve done here is confuse the term “role model” with “clothing model”. The drive to make models more “representative” (see also Dove’s “real women” campaign) is actually setting up modelling to be far more aspirational than it is. It takes as read that being a model is the pinnacle of feminine achievement, and all we need to do to make girls feel good about themselves is to tell them they, too, can all be models. Even if they’re PhD students.

But models are just models. Really, really, ridiculously good-looking people doing what, when it comes down to it, is a fairly crap job.

The photo chosen to accompany the article in the Telegraph is why I originally wrote “runway model” instead of “clothing model”. The photos in the Daily Mail taken from the Betabrand website are much less … ridiculous than the Telegraph implies. They’re just modelling ordinary clothing for ordinary women, not the weird and totally impractical stuff some clothing designers foist on their runway models at fashion shows.

Betabrand PhD model example

I’d say there’s no story here (despite blogging about it), but there is. It’s just not quite the drive-by that the Telegraph‘s photo editor wants it to be. Betabrand scored a lot of free advertising and (probably) got its clothing line modelled on the cheap as well. It’s rather amusing that the Daily Mail is significantly more realistic in their coverage of this story than the Telegraph.

January 11, 2014

Poll on women’s head coverings in Islamic countries

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:17

From this graphic, you’d have to draw the conclusion that most people in Islamic nations are scandalized by the appearance of women’s hair:

Click to see the original report (PDF)

Click to see the original report (PDF)

An important issue in the Muslim world is how women should dress in public. A recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research conducted in seven Muslim-majority countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey), finds that most people prefer that a woman completely cover her hair, but not necessarily her face. Only in Turkey and Lebanon do more than one-in-four think it is appropriate for a woman to not cover her head at all in public.

The survey treated the question of women’s dress as a visual preference. Each respondent was given a card depicting six styles of women’s headdress and asked to choose the woman most appropriately outfitted for a public place. Although no labels were included on the card, the styles ranged from a fully-hooded burqa (woman #1) and niqab (#2) to the less conservative hijab (women #4 and #5). There was also the option of a woman wearing no head covering of any type.

Overall, most respondents say woman #4, whose hair and ears are completely covered by a white hijab, is the most appropriately dressed for public. This includes 57% in Tunisia, 52% in Egypt, 46% in Turkey and 44% in Iraq. In Iraq and Egypt, woman #3, whose hair and ears are covered by a more conservative black hijab, is the second most popular choice.

Update: Of course, no discussion of the oppression of women in other countries can be considered complete until we’ve managed to find an angle where Western culture is significantly worse:

Studies have found that the average woman in the UK spends £26,500 on her hair over her lifetime, with 25% of respondents saying they would rather spend money on their hair than food. And women don’t just spend serious money on their hair, they spend serious time on it. On average, British women spend just under two years of their lives styling their hair at home or in salons.

Whether it’s covered by a veil or coloured by Vidal Sassoon, hair is a feminist issue. Indeed, hair is so bound up with ideals of femininity that, to some degree, the measure of a woman is found in the length of her hair. In the semiotics of female sexuality, long hair is (hetero)sexual, short hair is non-sexual or homosexual, and no hair means you’re either a victim or a freak. When Natalie Portman shaved her head for a film role she summed up these stereotypes with the observation that: “Some people will think I’m a neo-Nazi or that I have cancer or I’m a lesbian.” But Portman also added: “It’s quite liberating to have no hair.”

[...]

In a sense, women’s hair in the west functions as it’s own sort of veil, one which most of us are unconsciously donning. The time and money women spend on their hair isn’t just the free exercise of personal preferences, it’s part of a broader cultural performance of what it means to be a woman; one that has largely been directed by men. Rather than fixating on what the veil means for Muslim women, then, we should probably spend a little more time thinking about our own homegrown veils. Because it’s still an unfortunate fact that, across the Muslim and non-Muslim world, women are often judged more by what is covering their head that what is in it.

November 15, 2013

Near-future investment advice – get out of retail clothing businesses

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 16:19

As Charles Stross makes clear in his most recent blog post, the way we buy clothes will be changing markedly in the near future:

Fabrican is a unlikely-sounding spin-off of the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Imperial College (which in case you’re not familiar with it is one of the top engineering/science colleges in the UK; formerly part of the University of London) — at least, it’s unlikely until you begin thinking in terms of emulsions, colloids, and the physical chemistry of nanoscale objects. It’s basically fabric in a spray can. Tiny fibres suspended in liquid are ejected through a fine nozzle and, as the supernatant evaporates, they adhere to one another. If at this point you’re thinking The Jetsons and spray-on clothing, have a cigar: you’ve fallen for the obvious marketing angle, because if you’re trying to market a new product and raise brand awareness among the public, what works better than photographs of serious-faced scientists with paint guns spray-painting hot-looking models with skin-tight instant leotards? (Note: the technical term for this sort of marketing gambit is, or really ought to be, bukake couture.)

[...]

What are the implications?

If you don’t think printing woven fabric is a big deal, DARPA beg to differ; DARPA is pumping serious money into robot sewing machines. But automating garment assembly from traditional fabric components turns out to be a really hard problem (as this possibly-paywalled New Scientist article on a €23M project to build a sewbot explains). Cloth is slippery, changes shape if you drop it, wrinkles, and has to be stretched and twisted and folded as it is sewn. Note that final word: sewn. If you can print fabric in situ out of fibres in a liquid form, you don’t need to sew components to shape—especially if you can print more than one type and colour of fibre at a time: you can fabricate your “stitches” (inter-layer connections) as part of the process, with minimal hand-finishing to possibly add fasteners (zips or buttons).

Add in a left-field extra: the rapid spread of millimeter wave scanners for airport security. These devices caused a bit of a to-do, earning them the nick-name “perv scanner” in some circles, because of their ability to see through clothing to the skin beneath, in order to check passengers for hidden contraband. But if you put the same machine in a clothes shop, it allows the establishment to obtain extremely accurate measurements of its customers without requiring a strip-tease and manual measurement of all the relevant saggy, lumpy bits and pieces. By use of surface-penetrating wavelengths (possibly high-intensity laser light, or infrared) it may also be possible to automatically distinguish between fatty tissue, musculature, and underlying bone structure. All of which are relevant to the construction of clothing.

So here’s my picture of the chain store of the future. You go in, go to the scanning booth, and do the airport-equivalent thing in a variety of positions — stretch and bend as well as hands-up. You then look at the styles on display on the shop floor, pick out what you like, and see it as it will appear on your own body on an avatar on a computer screen. You buy it, and a machine in the back of the store (or an out-of-town lights out 24×7 robotic garment factory) begins to print it. Some time later — maybe minutes, maybe hours or a day or two — the outfit you ordered comes to you. And it fits perfectly, every time. Some items are probably still off-the-shelf (socks, hosiery, maybe even those cheap tee shirts), but anything major is printed, unless you can afford to go to the really high end and pay a human being to make it for you out of natural fibres. Oh, and the printed stuff doesn’t have seams in places that chafe or bind.

September 16, 2013

“This is Britain. And in Britain you can wear what you want.”

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:14

In the Telegraph, Dan Hodges defends the right of women to wear whatever they want:

The debate about “The Veil”, is neither necessary, nor is it complex. In fact, it’s very, very simple. This is Britain. And in Britain you can wear what you want.

Obviously there are practical exceptions. I can’t turn up to my local swimming pool and jump in with my clothes on, for example. When I tweeted about this earlier today a number of people asked: what about people going through airport security? And in that instance obviously veils should be removed. In the same way that when I pass through security, my shoes occasionally have to be removed. But that doesn’t alter the basic fact that if I still want to wander round in my pair of battered Adidas Samba, I’m free to do so. And any women who wishes to wear a veil is free to do that too.

“You can’t wear hoodies in shopping centres, or crash helmets in banks”, some people have pointed out. Fair enough. When the nation is trembling from an onslaught of Burka-clad steaming gangs I may reassess my view. But until then the rule remains; we are a free society, and we are free to wear the clothing of our choice.

I understand those who express concern about the cultural implications of veils. Indeed, I share them. My wife and I regularly drive through Stamford Hill to see relatives. When we do, we invariably reflect on the local Hasidic Jewish community, and how great it is that London is so rich culturally. But it’s noticeable that all the women, (and indeed the men), are essentially dressed in the same way. That’s great to look at from the outside, and reflects a strong sense of heritage and identity. Yet it also reflects conformity. And conformity is a bad thing. It stifles personal identity, and by extension freedom.

But from my point of view, that’s just tough. If I were to advocate passing a law that said Hasidic Jewish women should be banned from going out unless they’re dressed in bright, vibrant colours, I’d rightly be regarded as having lost my mind. And it’s no different to advocating we should start punishing women who decide to go out in a veil.

September 15, 2013

Back to school shopping fails to rescue the clothing chains

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:18

We all spent less than we were supposed to last quarter, and the clothing business is feeling tight:

Fantasies about a strong back-to-school shopping season had already gotten slammed when teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters, back in August, chopped its second-quarter earnings in half and confessed to lousy sales — down 2% overall and 7% on a comparable-store basis. CEO Robert Hanson blamed weak traffic and women who hadn’t bought enough of the stuff on the shelf. “The domestic retail environment remains challenging,” he concluded.

Competitor Abercrombie & Fitch reported its quarterly results the same day. While total sales were down “only” 1% year over year, booming international sales — up 15% overall and up 60% in China on a comparable store basis — papered over a debacle in the US, where sales plunged 8%. CEO Michael Jeffries summed up the US phenomenon: a “challenging environment,” “weaker traffic,” and “softness in the female business.” While “consumers in general” might be feeling better, he ventured, “that’s not the case for the young consumer.”

Alas, by today, his “consumers in general” had gotten the blues too, according to the University of Michigan/Thomson Reuters consumer-sentiment index. It plunged from 82.1 in August to 76.8 in September, the lowest since April. “Economists” on average had expected a flat 82 — they don’t get out much, do they? Particularly brutal was the collapse of the economic outlook index from 73.7 to 67.2, the lowest since January. So, a retail recovery in the second half? Maybe not so much.

August 24, 2013

It’s still August … media struggles to fill gaps between the ads

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:16

In Maclean’s, Emily Senger goes after the biggest issue facing Canada today:

On Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s annual tours of the North, like the one he undertook this week, photographers know to be quick with their cameras whenever Harper mounts an ATV or gets down on the ground to fire a .303 Lee Enfield rifle. Whatever the photo opportunity, though, one thing is constant — the big, blaring CANADA brand frequently emblazoned across his chest or back.

The patriotic clothing line, from the Bay’s Olympic Collection, has become a staple for Harper at events where his go-to sport jacket and open-collar shirt are still too formal. During his 2011 election campaign, Harper wore the jacket for many a stump speech and to photo-ops, sporting it as he posed with preschoolers and bowled with seniors.

Apparently it’s now a big problem that the Prime Minister happens to like wearing a certain line of clothing. We’re back to our media’s sense of shame about anyone showing the slightest pride about Canada (see their collective whingeing about our Olympic teams, for example).

Then we’re treated to a quick review of how “proper” political leaders dress:

We don’t see U.S. President Barack Obama wearing a jacket emblazoned with a screaming bald eagle against a backdrop of stars and stripes (though, we wish he would). Instead, The U.S. president is known to clip a stars-and-stripes pin to his suit lapel. Likewise, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron keeps his sartorial patriotism subtle, and has been spotted wearing Union Jack cufflinks.

See, rustic Canadians? Real leaders of real countries don’t need to advertise! You’re such yokels!

May 18, 2013

The booming market in pre-owned high fashion clothing

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:14

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.

H/T to Virginia Postrel for the link.

March 4, 2013

Admit it, you probably know someone who would wear this “ironically”

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:20

Amazon Keep Calm and blank T-shirt

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.

H/T to Cory Doctorow for the link.

January 23, 2013

Canadian Army introduces updated combat uniforms

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 15:46

A press release describes the changes as the “most radical change since 1970s”:

Canadian Army uniform improvements

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.

January 18, 2013

Camouflage patterns and the patterns of inter-service rivalry

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

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.

MARPAT woodland patternIn 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.

UCP patternNot 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.

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