July 29, 2009

News flash: NYFW turns into a catfight, er, catwalk fight!

We've all heard plenty of gossip about rivalries between designers (Yves vs. Karl, anyone?), editors (Anna vs. Carine!), models, and even retailers, but this is something else – dueling New York Fashion Week venues! For September, Milk Studios and M.A.C. beauty products have teamed up to offer an alternative to the Bryant Park tents, and have snagged a bevy of hot young designers, including Alexander Wang (pictured), Proenza Schouler, and Peter Som. Best of all, the new venue is free for the designers. That's right, FREE – a $26,000+ savings over Bryant Park.

Lest IMG's Fern Mallis feel that M.A.C. is stealing her thunder, Estée Lauder group president John Demsey points out that all but of these designers don't show at the tents anyway; M.A.C. is simply consolidating them under one roof. And IMG is providing a shuttle bus between the two locations – provided, that is, that the shows don't conflict with IMG's.

Hard as this may be for IMG, it's great news for designers, who can concentrate their budgets on staying in business in these tough times rather than putting on shockingly expensive shows. And this Meatpacking District location is a great replacement for Bumble & Bumble's dearly departed venue, which featured up-and-coming designers showing in the hair empire's flagship location.


July 22, 2009

Berlin trade shows go green: an MBF exclusive report

Photos, from left to right: Hedda William S/S09; a bag from Royal Blush; Blue Notch S/S09.

MBF brings you an overview of the Berlin womenswear trade shows for Spring/Summer 2010, where we talked with quite a few companies about sustainability and shifts in the marketplace. We were most impressed with the two eco tradeshows: Green Showroom, featuring 16 sustainable collections from the high fashion segment, and TheKey.To, with 40 collections from the streetwear and sportswear segment, including the Green platform at the Premium Exhibition.

For Magdalena Schaffrin and Jana Keller, co-founders of Green Showroom, it was their objective to give like-minded designers and buyers a press platform for high-end collections by creating a trade show that would be both eco and luxurious. At other eco fairs, they felt, there was no fit for high-end fashion lines, because they were mixed in among yoga collections and lower-priced collections.

At the showroom’s debut event, one could see amazing collections from designers such as Julia Starp, who uses peace silk and organic cotton for her line of dresses and coats; Liv Lundelius from Blushless, an avant-garde bridal collection with eco fabrics; and Reet aus, an Estonian designer who is represented by Mica Lamb, the founder of Agent for Change, a London sustainable fashion showroom. This particular collection is very feminine with an antique feel, incorporating delicate lace, organic dyes, and re-used fabrics from a textile recycling centre in Estonia. Other standout collections were Van Markoviec, a Dutch designer working with Japanese cotton certified by JOCA, the highest standard for certified fabrics and production; Jana Keller, designing Royal Blush, a handbag and jewellery collection made of vegetable-tanned leather sourced in Italy; Magdalena Schaffrin, whose men’s and women’s wear collection has a long-lasting, understated design; and Hessnatur, which has used eco fabrics since its founding in 1970, and added fair trade in 2005, growing their own cotton in Africa. After hiring the designer Miguel Adrover, they feel they have all the elements – eco fabrics, fair trade, and design – to make it a successful company.

TheKey.To, another first-time eco-trade show, co-founder Gereon Pilz van der Grinten explained that the show was created because eco collection exhibitors were asking more and more for their own independent platform. Down the line, he sees TheKey.To becoming the eco-Bread and Butter. Highlights from their first show included Redesign, which uses only recycled materials; 1000-2000 tonnes of textile waste per day comes back to the recycling compound where they are buying materials to design new garments. At Slowmo, we talked to founding partner Melchior Moss about his nearly 4-year-old label, which uses eco-fabrics and produces in Berlin with a fair price strategy and high quality. Their biggest challenge these days is how to become even more sustainable regarding packaging, transportation, and energy usage. For them, it is very important that everything they do is coming from their heart; Slowmo's version of sustainability must include great design.

At the Premium Exhibition’s Green Forum, two collections in particular stood out. Odd, an organic design house based in New York, fuses everyday objects and innovative Japanese textile engineering for their soy cashmere and milk fibre-wool blend fabrics. This collection will soon be sold in a major department store in New York, Paris and Tokyo; 1% of their revenues go to charity via 1% For The Planet. Raffauf, a rainwear collection, uses organic cotton and banana fibre fabrics that are treated with beeswax or natural rubber coating to make the coats and jackets water-resistant.

Surprisingly, Bread and Butter did not have a green platform; still, we did see some labels moving towards sustainability in their own ways. Just to mention a few, Braez, from Holland, sells a collection of tops and tunics that changes only in colours and fabrics from one season to the next. Sack’s, from Israel, also makes very plain, almost seasonless clothes; Skunkfunk, a Basque-based company, is introducing 50% of their collection with sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton. Mikel Elozo, the general director, tells us that a lot of their clients ask for organic pieces. Although they use eco fabrics, they are not marketing the eco aspect of their collection, as they fear being accused of greenwashing since they have not yet achieved complete transparency in their production process. Meanwhile, cosmetics line Uslu Airlines presented a charitable initiative: a collection of 11 up-to-the-minute colors of nail polish, from which 90 cents of each bottle’s sale would go to help underprivileged children in Berlin.

The Premium Exhibition had a very nice, relaxing atmosphere, with a more upscale overall feeling to the participating brands. Again, we saw a shift happening in the different ways to apply sustainability: Philo-Sofie, a cashmere collection of 50 sweaters, hats, scarves, and capes, is produced sustainably in close partnership with their Chinese factories. Blue Notch Jeans, a South Korean label that launched in the US two years ago, is making skinny jeans out of organic cotton denim from Japan. Hedda William from Hamburg designs simple styles meant to last: 20 tops and blouses each season, each offered in 12 colours. Instead of using a factory, her knit pieces are made by a family in Thailand.

The managing director for Germany at Filippa K, Norbert Reipert, proclaimed that they incorporate their values into the product, making it true, sustainable and reliable. They are using eco fabrics for some garments, and fair trade is a must, but their low-impact strategy still wasn’t comprehensive enough to qualify them for the green platform. Nonetheless, Reipert had strong feelings on the subject:

“We know there is a consumer out there called the LOHAS in Germany, who are really knowledgeable. But the masses just know enough to make a choice, and these masses will count in the end. [People will question,] why would you eat something based on chemicals? Why would you wear something that harms you?”

On the whole, we could see a definite shift in consciousness taking place, with many young and not-so-young labels expanding the boundaries of ethical production methods and sustainable materials, both traditional and high-tech. Needless to say, a lot of work is still to be done: What will it take to move sustainability from a trend to a lifestyle?

Want to read more? Click below to purchase the full PDF version of THE ECO TRADE SHOW REPORT JULY 2009, complete with lots of photos and in-depth designer interviews:

For a breakdown of the trends we observed at the trade shows, click below to purchase the full PDF version of THE BREAD AND BUTTER/PREMIUM REPORT SS 2010:

July 21, 2009

Presenting the new green giant: Wal-mart!

Pilloried in the media, and notably in Barbara Ehrenreich's must-read Nickel and Dimed, for its low, low pay and appalling lack of benefits, Wal-mart has cleaned up its act. Okay, conditions for workers may not have improved so much, but perhaps they will: surprisingly for a company whose employees often have to supplement their incomes with welfare, the mega-retailer recently announced it's officially supporting an employer mandate on health care.

Which would be great in and of itself, but another announcement has knocked that one out of the water: Wal-mart is creating a (self-reported) scorecard for its 100,000 global suppliers detailing their impact on energy and climate, natural resources, material efficiency and people and community, which will then be converted into an index – a number, for example – to label the product in stores. With one main challenge of sustainability being the difficulty of standardizing eco-claims, this project could be a huge boon to many companies looking to go green, as well as consumers looking to compare the relative claims of various products. Wal-mart will not own the index, which it says is a collaboration with universities, NGOs, governments, suppliers, and retailers.

Meanwhile, Wal-mart isn't just regulating its suppliers – they're greening their own stores, too. Lately, they've cut their energy consumption 15% by installing a "daylight harvesting" system that dims lights when natural light streams in from windows and skylights.

July 14, 2009

Saving the world through social media

Nonprofit organizations can be many things: caring, diligent, altruistic, painfully earnest. One thing they rarely are, though, is chic. Enter charity: water, started by Scott Harrison, an ex-party promoter who leveraged his natural flair for marketing into a group that, in only 5 years, has helped provide clean water to almost 1 million people in third-world countries.

With only 11 employees, charity: water has raised money (over $10 million so far!) in ways so catchy, for-profits can only dream of catching up: asking people with September birthdays to request donations in lieu of presents; holding "Twestival" gatherings on Twitter; and producing videos, including the one above. The group has nearly 600,000 followers on Twitter — slightly more than the population of Washington, DC.

Declares Harrison, “Guilt has never been part of it. It’s excitement instead, presenting people with an opportunity — ‘you have an amazing chance to build a well!’ ”

Via Nick Kristof in the NYT

Update 7/21/09: Social media can be a winner for for-profit businesses, too. A study in PSFK today shows a correlation between engagement in social media outlets and financial success for companies including Starbucks, Dell, and eBay.

July 8, 2009

News flash: Less is more, again

Looks like minimalism is back – both as æsthetic and business strategy.

This summer, Camilla Stærk's sudden, unannounced closing of her Soho boutique set off alarms, but it turns out she was conserving her resources to regroup for the recession in a clever way: by creating Stærk Signature, a tiny line consisting of the 8 essential pieces that her customers demand from season to season.

Like designer, like retailer: stores, too, have begun paring down their inventory, as WWD reported yesterday. The still-suffering (and possibly for sale to Uniqlo?) Gap learned years ago that too much merchandise can mean smaller profits, as customers learn to wait for sales instead of buying at full price; a lesson missed by many retailers who have been offering deep discounts since before Christmas. Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, was recently rated the most valuable luxury brand in the world – thanks largely to its tight control of distribution and its strict no-markdowns policy.

July 7, 2009

News flash: What recession? SS10 fashion weeks defy expectations.

With all the design houses going out of business lately, one might have imagined September's upcoming fashion weeks would be tragically quiet, underattended affairs. One would, in that case, have been utterly mistaken: IMG is reporting that the number of designers wanting to show at New York Fashion Week is up this season, while the British Fashion Council is staging a concerted – and so far quite successful – effort to lure back local designers to London's much-ignored fashion week.

Prodigal sons and daughters returning to the British Isles for SS10 include Burberry, Matthew Williamson, Pringle, Jonathan Saunders, and Clements Ribiero. Next step: Bring back the editors. WWD barely even bothered to cover last season's shows; this time around, PR diva/reality star Kelly Cutrone has been charged with filling London's front rows with American buyers and media. Will it work? Let's hope so – London has always been a hotbed of fresh talent and wild prints, and it would be a shame to lose its quirky charms.
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