Fashioning change through collaboration: Shasha Designs for Pieces & Things Boutique

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Business Section, 10th November,  2017. 

Some of the most lucrative moves designers have made in the past were to partner with a fast fashion store and release a capsule collection that’s available strictly through that brand. This has become one of the highlights of H&M’s retail year. For over a decade they have joined forces with Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at French fashion house Chanel, Versace, Alexander Wang, Balmain and my favourite of them all Lanvin. Doing so allowed H&M to capitalize on each design house’s brand awareness, brand presence and their strong luxury reputation, and marry it with the commercialization and massive reach of a fast fashion giant.

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(Image)

The sell through for these collaborations was spectacular, in most cases 75% and upwards in the first twenty-four hours. Fashion fiends were lining up in front H&M stores up to twelve hours before the launch, and the website often crashed from the vast increases in traffic.

These collaborations were extremely symbiotic-- H&M got access to luxury consumers that may not otherwise be seen in an H&M location, at the same time keeping their regulars coming back with the exclusivity of luxury product. On the other hand, the design house got a quick influx of cash with the hefty payouts they received for the collaboration and more brand exposure through the massive marketing push associated with an H&M launch.

This past July I was thrilled to hear that one of Guyana’s leading designers would be teaming up with a popular local boutique to create a line of clothing released in time for the Emancipation Day celebrations. The designer, Keisha Edwards of ShaSha Designs, and business woman Ashaka King owner of boutique, Pieces & Things, launched the Asa Collection, which was a bold mix of traditional Kente fabrics and modern carnival wear, with a focus on wire bras in particular.

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Isis wire bra & short set $10,500GYD (Image)

More interesting to me than the actual collection itself was the research and development that went into it. The collection was birthed from a research project Edwards was completing on fashion trends within the Caribbean region.

The target markets of both ShaSha Designs and Pieces & Things overlapped in several demographics. This allowed the overlap, their core target market, to be catered to directly and created an opportunity for all the outlier demographic to be exposed to something they otherwise may have never seen. ShaSha Designs was able to retain creative control of the collection, but because the designer label and boutique host were such a good fit, Edwards and King were able to work in tandem throughout the design process to achieve an optimum product to bring to the market. Neither Shasha Designs nor Pieces & Things had to compromise on their aesthetic, taste level or quality of materials and finishing.

Launching a very small capsule gave both the design house and boutique the ability to see how profitable collaborations like this could be. They could also get vital feedback from customers in regards to what they were and weren’t looking for from local designers. Some of the critical information they collected included the sell through of collection pieces over others—the wire bras sold the best-- as well as having a better idea of size ranges to stock-- size large was the most requested. The Asa Collection sold out completely and next year’s collection is already in the works.

 

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Aja Dress, $11,980 GYD (Image)

So beyond feedback on buying behavior this collaboration invalidated the argument that Guyanese are not willing to buy clothing from local designers. They are willing as long as it is a unique product offering, at a suitable price point that is accessible to them. Furthermore, given the millennial generation’s distinct taste for customization, which is evident with every passing graduation and prom season, the time for local designers to capitalize on this growing segment is now.

Let me know how you feel about collaborations like this. Would you buy garments that are made here in Guyana? Do you currently frequent any Guyanese designers? Were you one of the early adopters who secured pieces from this collaboration? 

Wearable technology... What does that even mean?

 

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Business Section on the 20th October 2017.

There is a point where fashion and the arts meets business and the two collide head on with technology. This point is what I consider my sweet spot, talking about them makes my heart rate increase and my mind goes into overdrive. Being able to utilize technology in a way that optimizes our efforts when doing something as simple as wearing clothes every day is ground breaking. Add that to decreasing the impact an entire sector has on the environment, that is truly exciting. This is wearable technology.

What is a wearable anyway?

According to Techopedia.com, a wearable device is a type of technology that is worn on the human body. This type of device is small enough to wear and includes powerful sensor technologies that is often used for tracking a user's vital signs or pieces of data related to health and fitness, location or even his/her biofeedback indicating emotions.

When you first think of wearable’s you may consider the Fitbit, or the Apple watch-- these fitness trackers became exceptionally popular in the past few years with dozens of different brands coming out with them.

Blind ring image

Most of these trackers do similar things with different interfaces, track your daily activity-- steps and workouts-- your heart rate, sleep, and then sync with an app on your phone that summarizes all this information so that you can easily understand it.

There are bracelets and other jewelry that do much of the same. The most interesting I’ve found recently is the Blinq ring that allows you to filter out notifications that are distractions on your phone-- it will block notifications that you haven't pre-approved. It also has an S.O.S Emergency feature that is activated when you repeatedly tap the ring on a hard surface; once activated it will send a text to your emergency contact with your current location. This is a fantastic example of problems that wearables can help to solve, now and in the future.

(Image via Blinq Kickstartr)

 

In terms of clothing, one notable and highly publicized wearable is the Google and Levi Jeans collaboration, Jacquard. Made available in September 2017, the two companies spent three years in research and development on this jacket that is made out of a fabric that has conductive yarns in it-- to break that down, the technology is woven into the fabric itself. Designed specifically for bicyclers in city centres, this allows the jacket to let you tap on your forearm to answer calls, helps you to navigate without checking your phone screen and lets you control your music while cycling. Innovative? Yes. User-friendly? Still to be seen.

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(GOOGLE x LEVI Jacquard Smart Jacket via jacquard.com)

This is where wearables are now, but what does the future hold? In much the same way that Google and Levi reimagined a denim jacket at the fiber level, consider the applications that are now available. Designing and developing smart fabrics-- that is fabrics that integrate conductive fibers directly into the weave of the textile itself, can really change the way we wear clothes and what our clothes do for us.

Smart fabrics open the door to clothing that helps athletes perform better by responding to your muscle movement, protective layers that can resist the blade of a knife and sustainably produced fibres that drastically reduce the impact apparel manufacturing has on our planet.

At a most primal level clothing is just meant to protect us from the elements. When you look at it from a psychological standpoint clothing often becomes an outlet for creativity and free speech. From a sociological point of view it becomes an unspoken language we use to tell the world who we are.

 

The fashion and apparel manufacturing industry happens to be the fifth biggest pollutant in the world according to Copenhagen Fashion Summit. They are also one of the most resource-intensive industries in the world, both in terms of natural resources and human resources. So strides being made by developers to create fabrics that not only help make life easier or add value to our daily lives are both exciting but more importantly vital to the growth and modernization of one of the oldest industries in the world.

Being able to use technology to decrease waste, and increase the functionality of the things we wear on a daily basis is the real future of wearables.

It was extremely difficult for me curb my enthusiasm and keep this to 700 words. Where do you think fashion and technology together are headed? How can we apply these concepts and materials in a country like Guyana where early adoption is very low? I am dying to hear from you, let me know what your thoughts are.

The Modern Womans’ Battle with Archaic Dress Codes.

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Business Section on October 6th, 2017.

I have spent weeks considering the content of this article; reading numerous articles that were scathingly critical of the archaic way the image of the public has been managed over the past few years. One of my favourites was  by writer Akola Thompson, she says, “In a country with only two weather patterns, one would expect our clothes to suit them, but instead we have a stringent dress code, which takes none of this into consideration. Before I go on, I believe I should make the point that I believe that rules and codes are necessary. However, if these rules serve no discernible purpose other than to please a society, which is slowly outgrowing the archaic ideology they were founded upon, then maybe these rules or codes need to be revisited.”

When I started working again in Guyana last year, the biggest re-adjustment I had to make was dressing work appropriately for this heat.  Working at a factory I am held to little standard of dressing, other than a minimum of decency and the ability to move around freely. I have days outside the factory that require me being either business formal or business casual, and I quickly adopted armless dresses and sleeveless blazers. The sleeveless blazer was a cool business casual concept that I tried to sell to numerous women here, but they refused to buy into it because in 2017 a vast majority of employers don’t allow women to bare their arms.

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The sleeveless blazer (Image via pinkklipstick.com)

 

Is it far-fetched to consider these codes as opportunities to control how women appear in public? It is widely understood that we live in a patriarchal society, last week alone three strangers addressed me as Mr. Brooke Glasford via e-mail. But anecdotes aside, there are a finite number of hours to achieve the goals of your business each day, how many of those hours are you willing to spend policing your employees outfits?

Last July, dressed in a sleeveless sheath from her very vast collection of the style, First Lady Sandra Granger took a stand against these dress codes that still plagued  many of Georgetown’s establishments, both public and private. Her argument was that there are no actual laws presiding over the issue and that the change could be as simple as taking down the signs. She says, “When you want to invoke something like sleeves, it makes no sense in a tropical country. It makes absolutely no sense and it does not raise my level of decency over somebody else’s by wearing sleeves.” How do we now address the mental conditioning of years past, to get people to understand the length of a sleeve, dress, or skirt has nothing to do with a person’s ability to complete task or any effect of the quality of work produced.

 

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First Lady Sandra Granger (Images via www.caricom.org )

On the heels of the First Lady’s comments, Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) lifted their dress code to the public in July 2016. The Chairman of their board told this to Stabroek News, “ We don’t want the taxpayers to feel as if we are turning our backs on them… and more so if they are coming to pay their revenues.” This is both pragmatic and succinct. I remember very vividly a trip to GRA last July just after the lift on the dress code; a young lady who was visiting from the US was walking into the building in a camisole and a pair of short shorts. In that moment I thought to myself, “why would you go into a government building dressed that way?” To this day I’m not sure if that thought came from honest critique or conditioning. What she was wearing really affected no one and had no bearing on the transaction she was going to conduct.

With my background in fashion, I definitely see a need for a level of respect to be upheld when entering somewhere to conduct business. An organization trying to maintain a minimum sense of decency on their premises is not too much to ask. However, instead of dictating to the public what not to wear, perhaps it would be more effective to inform them on what would be more appropriate for different aspects of their life.

In, on average, thirty degree Celsius weather, should we really consider styles that we are now programmed to believe acceptable or do we adopt style that will help us survive the day without fainting from dehydration?

As always I’d love to continue this conversation on buildingbrooke.com. What are your thoughts on the topic, are these dress codes principle or just a pain?

Building a Sustainable Fashion Business

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Business Section on July 7th 2017.

A young designer reached out to me this week to ask some advice on starting a clothing line here in Guyana. Based off of the questions they asked me, I understood that they were lost as to how to begin and were a bit overwhelmed by it all. I empathized with them because I’m seven months past the launch of my own collection and I still feel overwhelmed by it.

Because of this I thought it necessary to talk about a few things a new designer should look at and plan when they decide to launch their own business. It would be wise to note that these are not principles strictly for fashion companies, but can be and have been applied to any business.

According to an article on Business of Fashion about building a fashion business, you only spend about 10% on design. The other 90% is taken up with design & development, production & supply chain, marketing and PR and finally, sales and distribution. Even if you are a company of one, to build a sustainable fashion business you have to think about all of these things from the start.

Design & Development

From my own experience, the first thing I learned on this path is the value of data research and understanding who you are selling to and their mindset. Narrowing down your target demographic is a crucial part of planning your product offering. Your collection, the fabrics and designs you’re selling tell a story, your target market is the broad profile of whom you are telling that story to.

For example, the Brooke target market is a contemporary, professional women living in tropical regions, between the ages of 25-65, who are looking for well-made & versatile work-wear. The fact that we are designing for tropical regions impacts a lot, the designs need to be heat friendly and the fabrics chosen have to be cooling. Also our age range is quite large, but it is based off of the fact that the retirement age across the Caribbean is 65, and that these women still want to look fashionable at work.

Developing your idea, pre-launch includes talking about it. Guyana is fraught with idea theft, but letting people know that you’re working on something already makes it known that it’s your idea. So get it out there, create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and post it on Facebook and Instagram, or physically get out and speak to people who fall into your target market, this will be critical to any costly decision making down the line.

 

 Image via  ConversionXL .

Image via ConversionXL.

 

Supply Chain & Production

 Your supply chain consists of all the sources of your raw materials; fabric, thread, buttons, lining—all the things required to make your product. Beyond this being a huge factor in your costs, supply chain management has also become the subject of many lawsuits for fast fashion companies because of questions of their ethics and sustainability.

In the same breath you need to consider production, will you be making every garment you’re selling? How long can you sustain that along with every other thing you’re in charge of as the business owner? You have to consider early on, whether you need to outsource and whom you need to outsource to. Remember making one dress is easy, having to scale that to 10 or even 100 dresses that takes skill. Reach out to garment manufacturers or seamstresses that you can pay to produce your garment at cost.

If you are just starting out with your business idea, whether you are the designer or the business person, consider getting a business partner whose strengths are your weaknesses. If that isn’t possible reach out to experienced people and seek mentorship.

We aren’t finished yet, the next article will continue on this tangent. There was so much content I had to split this in two for Stabroek News-- part two will be live on Saturday July 29th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do we value One?

Quality vs. Quantity

Mass production and fast fashion have created for buyers a slaveish addiction to cheap clothing. Driven by price we easily overlook details like colour, fabric, and quality of construction because what’s in front of us is so cheap. I’ve been guilty of this also—my last job in Toronto was opposite one of the cities largest H&M’s. Perusing the racks was one of my favourite de-stressers; I almost always left with something that was marked down from an already low price.  In December 2015 I watched a documentary on Netflix about the garment industry called The True Cost—and by the end of it I vetoed all my H&M purchases. This was when I really began taking sewing seriously, and indirectly how I started my company.

 

I had a very interesting conversation with my Editor, Mr. Adams, which led me to this topic. He observed, when walking on Regent Street, three or four women wearing the same dress. He went on to expand on the buying behavior when there are concerts and shows here, and the need for something new to be worn to the event—and that in most cases by the end of the night the item is falling apart.

By buying something that’s made locally you empower a lot of people and add to a huge economic value chain.

 

Can a dressmaker or tailor survive in a market like this? When you can buy a ready-made garment, in some cases, for the cost of fabric alone. How does a designer venture into a market that doesn’t necessarily understand their offering? Should designers compete with a $2500 dress? Or bow out gracefully?

If we were to compete with the Chinese stores here we seem unsustainable, and we are. But what is less plausible is to think that buying a garment that Is coming undone at it’s seams, made using fabric from mills that aren’t bothered by dye regulations, to be worn twice and then added to Guyana’s growing garbage issue. There are so many steps involved in making a garment-- design, sampling, sourcing fabrics and notions, production, packaging and distribution. By buying something that’s made locally you empower a lot of people and add to a huge economic value chain.

 

So how do we value one? I love asking people what they look for when buying clothes; 98% of the time I know what the first answer will be. Quality. My follow up question is always, “How do you define quality?”. The responses usually lack depth, because when you don’t know much about the topic, you don’t know what to look for.

 

Some things I look at that are extremely easy to understand:

1.    Seam test: Pull at the point where two parts of the garment are joined, for example, in the case of pants—the crotch which takes the most stress and wear and tear.

 

 image via  bozbaby .

image via bozbaby.

 

2.    Button holes: Try to button up the shirt or pants—is the button hole cut through properly and finished? Or is there still frayed fabric around it, and difficult for the button to pass through?

 

 

3.    What I think is one of the easiest ways to tell quality, is to look at the pattern of the fabric, does it line up at the seams? Ensuring they are lined up is extremely time consuming process during cutting and production and many fast fashion producers just avoid it.

 

 Image via  Spier&Mackay .

Image via Spier&Mackay.

 

Have a look at some of the clothes in your closet, see if you can find signs of good or poor quality-- and whether what you paid for the item is justified. You can also read through this BuzzFeed article that has eleven more ways you can judge quality.