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.

The Psychology of Fashion.

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Friday edition on the 28th April, 2017.

I remember taking one of my first semester courses at college, The Psychology of Fashion, and thinking what on earth did I just pay money for.  In my narrow-minded purview it ended up being a shortsighted judgment. When you sit and think about it, you realize just how much of an effect the clothes we wear have on psyche. Simply think about the person you become when you get dressed every morning versus whom you are when you put on house clothes in the afternoon.

Alison Lurie puts it like this: “Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age and class to me through what you are wearing—and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires, and current mood. I may not be able to put what I observe into words, but I register the information unconsciously; and you simultaneously do the same for me. By the time we meet and converse we have already spoken to each other in an older and more universal tongue.” (Lurie, p.3)

People constantly speak about the importance and lasting effects of a first impression. When you apply this unspoken language Lurie speaks of you realize the significance of our instincts and initial judgments.

As human beings we interact with dozens of people on a daily basis. Not just those that we physically meet and speak to, but also the people we pass on the street and just make eye contact with. When you really break it down, what you wear becomes significant even to the serious businessman who is always wearing a suit and tie. They may deny an interest in fashion and clothing, but every day for them is carefully calculated based on what they want people to think of them when they walk into a room. The same goes for the person who actively dresses down— they may want people to think that they don’t care about how they look, or that it’s not a priority, and do so by dressing a certain way.

In my own personal experience I’ve used clothing as a way to express myself my whole life. I somehow figured out this unspoken language and learned how to use it when meeting different types of people. Currently, however, I’ve found that I put less and less effort into grandiose outfits and have adapted a work uniform, dark wash jeans and a white shirt, that I wear every day. I realized that even through this I’m saying a couple of things to people. I’m trying to look put together even though I don’t really have the time, but in the same breath there’s also a level of nonchalance in my new uniform that I think comes with the understanding that sometimes it just doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Fashion allows you to become someone, and to get away from the person you think you are, just by getting dressed. It is an opportunity for you to say things you wouldn’t dare say aloud and be something you can take off at the end of the day.

Who are you when you get dressed every morning?

An economy built on carbon copies.

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Friday Edition on the 14th April, 2017.

Guyanese are notoriously shameless when it comes to copying people — or borrowing ideas. Just think about all of the business names and logos that bear a striking resemblance to well known companies around the world. But when do you cross the line of inspiration and venture into the land of imitation?

I was prompted to write this article after an experience I had buying a piece of work from a local artisan that was very similar to that of one in Trinidad. I felt a bit guilty supporting idea theft, so to quell my guilt, I started searching the style; and was pleased to find out that it was, in fact, just new to this part of the world and that similar designs were available globally.

Though imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, authenticity is the truest form of character.

In my own business, copyright infringement and idea theft is something I think about constantly. My fear is not so much in being sued, but in being thought of as trite. Every design that I’ve produced thus far has been done already, Dior’s peplum from the fifties, Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress from the sixties. My point of difference lies in the fact that the fabric, colours and styling, is aligned with myself, and the brand I’m trying to build. I’m constantly reminded of the fact that there really is nothing new under the sun—but that’s no excuse to be unoriginal.

Pablo Picasso once said art is theft. As an artist you become very adept at taking people’s work and somehow injecting it with your own aesthetic with the end product being completely different from where you started. As with everything there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it—or at least a way that leaves you being credible, and your source of inspiration credited.

As disheartening as copycats are they also force new talent to come up with innovative ways to create, that are harder and more expensive to emulate. The more artists I discover here the more I realize just how much the new creative class of Guyana is succeeding in this. Artists like, Nadia Thomas Winter and Natalya Thomas, of Duo Collection, who design the fabrics used in their collections. They are setting a standard of creativity and a point of differentiation that they become known for, and are harder to copy.

I have to leave this graphic that illustrates good theft and bad theft, from Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It would be wise to remember as you create that, though imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, authenticity is the truest form of character.

 

 

How do we change the current state of the fashion industry?

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Friday Edition on, 31st March, 2017.

Over this past weekend, my team and I participated in the ‘Women in Business Expo’ at Pegasus Hotel. It was an amazing opportunity for a startup business like my own to get in front of our target market, speak to the women whom we are trying to clothe and find out if they would buy what we’re selling.

I noticed a few things from all the conversations that I had, and the more I spoke to them the more clarity I gained on fashion in Guyana and what really went wrong.

What impacted me the most was how shocked people were to find out that the collection was made in Guyana. On one hand, it was great to hear that the quality of our finishing was so aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, the fact that it was near unbelievable that they were produced right here was very telling of the type work produced locally.

Given these revelations, I have settled on three areas those actively invested in the local fashion industry can improve right now to begin the process of revitalization.

Improve the quality of your work

This is the easiest step you can take and anyone can do it. Read more, pay more attention to detail, research, ask for help, and get feedback from customers. Vigorously work at developing your craft, whether it’s sewing, drawing illustrations, creating fashion focused content or fashion photography. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours rule in his book Outliers and applies the idea that working at something for 10,000 hours would make you an expert in that area. It is human nature to become better at something by doing more of it. So do more.

Find a mentor

 This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in fashion. It would actually be more beneficial to you and your fashion business if your mentor is someone in a different industry. My very first mentor was actually my boss. All of her experience was in management of some kind, she held corporate titles at Fortune 500 companies. One of my current mentors is a software developer and web designer-- and I can confidently tell you that he doesn't even know he mentors me. I say this to help you understand that fashion business is still a business. You still need market a business plan, market validation, goals and strategies —these are things an experienced businessperson can help you with.

Lobby

 The uproar caused by the parking meter situation has shown us a new side of the Guyanese populous. We are now in a place in Guyanese history where the coming together of a group of people in unison creates a catalyst for change. People are forced to listen when there are multiple voices chanting the same slogan. Fashion needs policies that give broader support of artistic development. The industry needs to be recognized at the cross section of art and business. We need critical structural support that focuses on bolstering an industry as impactful as fashion and the young creative class has to be given the right incentive to commit to Guyana. When I say incentive, I don’t necessarily mean money, but rather opportunity to work and gain experience in their field.

There is a grave misconception about fashion; that it is a frivolous, inconsequential thing. The truth of the matter is it is not. Clothing is what we live our lives in, it’s a necessity that is unavoidable.

I take pride in the fact that I can boldly emblazon made in Guyana on something that holds up to international standards. I also want other fashion business owners here to feel that sense of pride.

What are your thoughts? Are these suggestions feasible? What do you think can be done for this industry? 

Are we culturally prepared to accept a creative industry as a viable business sector?

This article was first published in the Stabroek News Friday Edition on March 17th, 2017.

In my last article I posed a question that got a lot of feedback, so I thought it best to address that head on. As I begin, it’s really important that we are all on the same page in regards to what encompasses a creative industry. According to the British Council, “At the heart of the creative economy are the cultural and creative industries that lie at the crossroads of arts, culture, business and technology. It includes thirteen sectors: advertising, architecture, the art and antiques market, crafts, design, designer fashion, film, video games, music, the performing arts, publishing, software, and television and radio.”

I believe, the easiest way to prove viability of this industry would be to attach an actual dollar value. In a January 2016 press release the UK Government stated that the creative industries is worth almost £10 million an hour. UNESCO published a global map of the creative and cultural economy and valued the US creative industry at $620 billion annually. What shocked even me, was the fact that in Latin America and the Caribbean the creative industry is worth $128 billion, and created 1.9 million jobs.

Here in Guyana things are happening. Last July a young entrepreneur, Jubilante Cutting, founded the Guyana Animation Network (GAN) with the aim of “raising awareness on the opportunities available in the Animation and ICT industries, for Guyanese.”

Ruel Johnson, Cultural Policy Advisor to the Ministry of Education, is working on creating policy that focuses on components of creative industry development, and education as well as ways to finance creative endeavors. He states that there are two big blocks in regards to bolstering a creative sector; first, intellectual property legislation, which is the cornerstone of any viable creative industry environment, needs to be in place and currently isn’t. Secondly, Mr. Johnson says, “A key challenge creative people have is that they are not necessarily business minded and we don’t have the infrastructure in place to help them with the business end of it.”

The Minister of Finance announced in the 2017 budget speech that an Institute of the Creative Arts is in the works that will carry a University of Guyana accreditation and run diploma programs. This is a step in the right direction. The Institute of Private Enterprise & Development (IPED), last year launched a program that set aside 50 million GYD in loan financing for businesses of a creative nature, specifically.

The industry needs help from both government and the private sector. We need better education and training, easier access to funding for startups and what I believe is critical, is guidance and mentorship to grow these young businesses.

What else can be done to progress the creative economy? I want to hear your thoughts and continue this conversation.