April 29, 2009

Going green: Aveda snags Cradle-to-Cradle endorsement

They use natural (and often certified organic) ingredients, create packaging from post-consumer waste, buy wind energy to power their company, and even remake their box comps into folders. And now, reports WWD, Aveda, the Minnesota-based Estée Lauder subsidiary, has gone where no beauty company has gone – to Hamburg, where the Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency bestowed Cradle to Cradle certification upon seven of its products as well as its packaging. The designation, bestowed on only two other companies so far, means that Aveda has considered the entire life cycle of the product in its design and production process, while adhering to principles of social and environmental responsibility. Cradle to Cradle is also the name of a highly influential book about sustainable product design written by EPEA founder Michael Braungart and William McDonough.

April 28, 2009

News flash: Green really might be the new black.

What if sustainable, ethical clothing becomes the norm instead of the exception? As apparel companies focus in on value rather than price in sourcing, that very scenario was floated at the WWD Sourcing & Supply Chain Leadership Forum earlier this month, by no less an industry player than Rick Darling, president of sourcing giant Li & Fung USA.
“I actually think [corporate social responsibility] is becoming very much an assumed trait,” said Darling. “The debates about whether it costs money or doesn’t cost money are no longer valid… I think sustainability will probably be, along with quality, the two main decision-making premises for most sourcing decisions that are going to be made over the next five to 10 years.”
Li & Fung itself is in the process of calculating the carbon footprint of its 10,000 suppliers in 80 countries, no easy task. Meanwhile, at Avon, social responsibility is no longer an optional part of doing business.
“Corporate responsibility should not be an island off the coast of your business,” said Susan Arnot Heaney, director of corporate responsibility, public relations and communications at Avon. “It is how you do your business, and people in the area of supply chain and sourcing are really on the front lines.”…

She warned that focusing on one or two issues, like human rights and working conditions, rather than the entire scope of issues under the social responsibility umbrella leaves companies vulnerable.

“Consumers, advocates, activists, NGOs [nongovernment organizations], the media, legislators — they are all really paying attention to this,” said Heaney. “It’s no longer just nice to do.”

April 22, 2009

The Gap (San Francisco)

The economic downturn has been punishing for many apparel companies and designers, but it could prove to be a new beginning for the Gap. After all, while the economy grew in recent years, the 40-year-old basics chain floundered; but with fashion-world darling Patrick Robinson at the helm, and shoppers increasingly seeking value for their limited budgets, the Gap may just be poised to reclaim its position as America's go-to line for simple, reasonably priced clothes. 

Collaborations? They've got 'em -- and juicy ones at that. Pierre Hardy shoes, Albertus Swanepoel hats, the annual white shirt collections from CFDA/Vogue nominees... and most recently, from the company that continued to crank out mom jeans well into the new millennium, a surprisingly up-to-date new denim collection. Robinson challenged designers from higher-priced denim lines to see what they could produce for the Gap's under-$60 price range, and they came out with a worn-in boyfriend jean and a super-skinny cigarette jean that, at least in thumbnail-size photos, rival any designer version. In a ringing endorsement from the fashion world, Style.com has gone so far as to include the fall collection among the runway shows on their website, alongside such up-and-comers as Josh Goot and Cushnie et Ochs. 

Still, the company's website and in-store merchandising don't yet seem to reflect Robinson's high-fashion-at-low-prices vision. Which makes us wonder: Will we see a gradual roll-out, or is corporate hobbling him? Can the Gap become the Uniqlo of the USA? It could be. It just could be.

April 21, 2009

T by Alexander Wang (New York)

New York's It Boy hardly qualifies as up-and-coming these days, having added accessories and now a T-shirt line to his wildly popular collection of hard-edged, '80s-inspired womenswear. With a CFDA/Vogue award under his belt along with a mentorship under Diane von Furstenburg; his photo in all the party pages; legions of "Wangsters" around the globe replicating, if not always purchasing, his slouchy, slept-in style; his muse Erin Wasson creating a spin-off line for RVCA, what's left to do, short of world domination? This spring, he launched T by Alexander Wang, a line of baggy, misshapen tees and tanks so stretched out they nearly qualify as dresses -- and in our upcoming, increasingly pants-less season, these probably will.

April 14, 2009

News flash: Menswear sales are up!

Yes, you read that right – UP. In this market. 

Tom Ford and Lanvin menswear designer Lucas Ossendrijver declare in Saturday's Financial Times that this is because men shop for necessary things, whereas women shop for recreation. This from the purveyors of extremely necessary $10,000 fur boots and T-shirts "decorated with a bib of wooden beads", respectively…

Still, one can't entirely fault their logic. Let's face it, men have (for the most part) been keeping their closets pared to the essentials, which means that if something wears out, they have to buy a new one, no matter how gloomy the economic outlook. Women, on the other hand, all have giant closets like Sarah Jessica Parker's in the "Sex and the City" movie, and can always dig into their bottomless archives to find something to wear. 

Okay, not exactly; but for years, retailers have been encouraging women to buy, buy, buy for each of the year's 12 seasons, er, months, and for all of the current trends. And here's where that business strategy defeats itself: Women now have enough clothes, and are well able to opt out of shopping when the going gets tough. So they're staying home in droves, and organizing clothing swaps with their friends – bad news for the retailers who sold them too many clothes in the first place! Case in point: H&M, whose sales are currently down 5 percent, apparently due to consumers' developing distaste for fast, disposable fashion.

April 8, 2009

News flash: Openings and closings

The tab for Topshop's opening bonanza last week, rife with celebrities, cocktail parties in-store and at The Box, and two nights of dinners at Balthazar, is estimated at a hefty $1.8 million (and please, did they count the cost of construction -- including moving stairways around -- on that huge space, not to mention renting it for over a year without selling anything?). A much-needed infusion into the New York economy, for sure. And they're not the only new kids on the block: French chain Zadig et Voltaire is officially opening their Meatpacking District shop, and -- any day now! -- Derek Lam is opening a surprisingly huge store in Soho, designed by star Japanese architects SANAA. 

Meanwhile, restoring our faith somewhat in the taste of the American public, Kira Plastinina's last sparkly, pink US store closed last month after the Russian teen's company declared bankruptcy in January, an event reduced to a footnote in a Forbes article about how US customers are choosing H&M and Zara over Gap and Ann Taylor. Sorry, Forbes, but that's not how it works; we seriously doubt that 40-something professional women have suddenly decided they'd like to stop wearing their preppy weekend basics and conservative suits, and stepping out in an XXXL shirt and comfy sneakers, as H&M recommends this spring. Not mentioned in the article was Liz Claiborne, currently resurgent on the charm and design skills of Isaac Mizrahi; let's face it, folks, it's just not all doom and gloom out there.

Photo via WWD

April 7, 2009

News flash: Michelle, notre belle

If you thought Michelle Obama's sartorial choices were being microscopically scrutinized since her husband took office, that coverage doesn't even begin to compare to the breathless adoration that followed her jaunt through Europe. Each time she changed clothes (sometimes en route), all the blogs lit up with the latest designer names: Alaïa! Etro! Junya! Spurned designers morphed into pundits, with a cranky Oscar de la Renta declaring that, with the economy being what it is, the first lady could have made more helpful choices in designers (hmm... himself, perhaps?), and, anyways, who wears a sweater to Buckingham Palace?

Clearly, though, Michelle doesn't need Oscar's advice. The woman has become a fashion phenomenon, generating excitement about designers that -- unlike the manufactured hype of Project Runway -- just might translate into sales, and already has for her favorites Jason Wu and Thakoon. And that, Mr. de la Renta, is what the industry needs more than anything right now. 

Photo via NY Times

April 1, 2009

News flash: Opening Ceremony goes trans-Pacific

We've been saying for months that Opening Ceremony is the new Barneys, and darned if they haven't gone and proved our point by announcing their first international shop opening -- in that edgiest of fashion meccas, Tokyo. 

Since opening up shop on a dingy New York block in 2002, they've expanded their original boutique from a single floor featuring a dozen meticulously selected designers, to, well, two floors featuring a plethora of meticulously selected designers, including classic brands that created new designs especially for them. They've added an in-house line of womenswear, menswear, and shoes; they've collaborated with Chloë Sevigny and Betsey Johnson, and fostered Liberty-print Nikes; they opened a New York showroom and an LA outpost; and now they're off to win over the Japanese. 

Best of luck, Humberto and Carol – but we're pretty sure you won't need it!


Update (4/14/09): A little bird tells us the gigantic Japanese firm Kashiyama is investing in OC. No wonder they're opening in Tokyo!
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