May 25, 2011

Technology Redefines the Norm

Back in the days of when we were in school, getting caught passing notes in class resulted in detention, and using the phone during a meal was unheard of. But flash forward only a few years later, and we notice a huge shift in how our culture has changed through the influence of technology. Many cultural practices which were once considered to be rude and inappropriate are now today's social norm.

We've discussed multiple times in previous posts of how the Internet, social media, and new tech gadgets have influenced both our work and personal lives. Even children as young as two years old are tech savvy and found themselves addicted to the iPad as much as many of us.

photo via: NY Times

Last year, we mentioned universities beginning to incorporate the iPad and digital books with their course studies. And since then, technology continues to be more integrated in the education system as some elementary schools and high schools are beginning to use Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion. Instead of raising one's hand to speak up in class, if a student has a question, he or she is encouraged to type their comment on a monitored microblogging platform. What is known as the "backchannel" in their classes, the real-time digital streams allow students to comment, pose questions, and voice opinions without ever having to speak out loud.

video via: YouTube

Purdue University, in Indiana, also has their own "backchannel" system called the "Hot Seat." Allowing students to post comments or questions, one of the professors, Sugato Chakravarty, uses the system during lectures to pause and answer the most popular inquiries. Stating that it used to be difficult for students to speak up in class, Chakravarty states, "It's clear to me that absent this kind of social media interaction, there are things students think about that normally they'd never say."

A discussion on Today's Meet from Erin Olson's English Class in
 Sioux Rapids, Iowa about a poem called "To the Lady"
caption and photo via: NY Times

While this may raise some eyebrows, there are enough teachers and students supporting this new system to make it worth considering. Kate Weber, a fourth grade teacher in Exira, Iowa states, "Kids are much quicker at stuff than we are. They can really multitask. They have hypertext minds." Rather than being distracted, Weber and many other teachers claim that these online tools help many of their students become more engaged with class discussions, allowing more students to be heard and giving everyone a voice, albeit on screen.

photo via: NY Times

In class or not, our phones, iPads, and laptops seem to be with us at all times. It has become socially acceptable, and a natural instinct for many, to periodically check our smart phones several times throughout the day. With our Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and who knows how many other apps downloaded on our phone or iPad, we always feel the need to be updated with what's going on. And if it's not getting the latest news, there are game apps that are equally, if not more, addictive to keep us up all night.

As we are always "connected" and available one way or another, checking our phones during a one-on-one conversation or a group business meeting has become justifiable for most. And although many may argue that we need to learn how to tune out more often,  editor at TechCrunch argues that social media and smart phones have enhanced our eating experiences, stating that apps spark new conversations and encourage more personal connection.

photo via: NY Times

In America, the typical family night activity is no longer about sharing a movie or playing a board game. More and more, families are sharing a common space, but separately absorbed into a completely different activity through technology. Moms and dads are surfing the web on their separate laptops or iPads, kids are playing video games on the computer or T.V., and no one is talking. The family room has become more of an entertainment hub where families may be together, but not really together.

There are two sides to this matter as some argue that this results in less emotional connection between family members, while others state that separate play time avoids forced together-ness and conversations form more organically.

Overall, whether we like it our not, technology has assimilated into all aspects of our society. We have become so dependent on our gadgets and the constant connection, that how we interact with friends, families, and peers are no longer the same. And while it has helped in some ways, as mentioned before, we always believe that there needs to be a balance. Although texting or checking messages on our phones during a meal or cup of coffee is a habit for some, our personal view is that it should not be accepted. Call us passé if you will, but we still ask house guests to put their phones aside and not answer calls during the meal.

Because no matter how cool or easy it is to communicate between screens, personal face time with friends, family, and peers are irreplaceable and part of what makes us human. After all, human interaction wouldn't really be human if it was always connected to something else, posted online, or tied to a machine, or would it?

May 18, 2011

Innovation or Imitation?

photo via: Gilt

With dozens of online start-ups popping up each year, it is no doubt that online shopping has grown tremendously within the last few years. Gilt Groupe, for example, is one of the most successful online fashion businesses, pioneering the concept of flash sales. Goldman Sachs and Softbank of Japan recently provided $138 million in financing Gilt Group; and with the monetary support, Gilt is now valued at about $1 billion, according to Karen Yau Smith, vice president of Gridley & Co.

Calling the investment "a stamp of approval," Smith states that it is "a sign that Gilt is doing the right thing." With 3.5 million registered members a year ago, analysts value Gilt at around $1 billion based on forecasts that it will generate $500 million in sales this year. With its funds, Gilt plans to expand their business to new countries and further develop their Men's fashion and gourmet foods.

photo via: My Habit

Taking note of Gilt's success, Amazon, the world's biggest online retailer, recently launched My Habit, a members-only discounted online shop. Similar to Gilt, My Habit offers a limited time offer of designer and boutique brands at a reduced price. In a much more modern and sleek interface, My Habit separates itself from Amazon and is aimed toward becoming another competing fashion and lifestyle site.

While the last few years birthed a surge of exciting and innovative ideas of how to shop online, today we see less innovation and more imitation. Instead of developing original ideas, many companies are rather jumping on the band wagon of existing, successful concepts. Amazon's My Habit does not offer anything different than Gilt. And let's not forget all the others who are doing the same: Rue La La, Ideeli, Haute Look, etc.

Although it is true that all of these private sale sites offer their own exclusives, besides the actual product, there is very little that makes them stand apart. Gilt is successful because it was the first of it's kind, but trying to imitate what already exists with very little differences does not necessarily lead to an equally successful future. Customers today want to see something fresh, perhaps even a spin off of an existing idea - never a replicate.

Last year, we also discussed the rising trend of DIY and customization, highlighting several of our favorite companies. Today, we see that this trend has picked up exponentially with dozens of similar sites. From lingerie to jeans, to even a pair of shoes, anyone with Internet access and a credit card can claim to be their own designer.

photo via: NY Times

However, for most, the longevity of these new sites remain questionable as a NY Times editor recently wrote about her design/shopping experience and faced a multitude of problems in regards to fit, customer service, and overall experience.

For example, when ordering jeans, she was asked to evaluate every part of the jean, resulting in an extraneous, time-consuming process that was even more difficult than actually walking into a mall and trying on various pairs. Trying to create a "custom-fit" pair of jeans ended up being too daunting of a task and when the jeans finally came, the denim quality was too thin and unwearable.

While DIY design and flash sale sites will continue to grow and evolve, the future of many sites are sure to end quickly if it cannot offer something truly unique, while also being easy to use.

photo via: Where To Get It

One way to stand out from the crowd is formulating a combination of current ideas in order to create something new. Where To Get It is a new website combining the latest trends of online shopping, including crowd sourcing, personal style blogs, and social media in one, ultimately resulting in a completely different way of e-commerce. Where To Get It lets you find and buy your fashion inspirations by posting an image of a desired product. Members can comment with recommendations of where you can find the exact or similar product. As the site grows with hundreds of "quests," the site functions as a source of both inspiration and online shopping.

photo via: Wing Tip It

Wing Tip It is also a spin off of crowd sourcing and social media, but more focused on peer recommendation, asking for a friend or fellow shopper's advice before making a purchase. Each member can create their own online "closet," sharing their favorites with the site's community to finalize any decision. As online shopping is filled with an array of options, peer recommendation has become almost essential to a customer's purchase.

We all know that online shopping will never be the same as walking into an actual brick-and-motor store. However, we believe that the two can and will co-exist, each offering something that the other cannot. And while there are what seems to be an infinite number of online retailers, there are only a few who have truly brought something new to the table. As online shopping is still relatively a new trend, we strongly believe that there is much more room for potential. Innovative ideas are always out there, and we are sure to keep you updated of the latest (and best) ideas.

May 13, 2011

All Eyes on China

Repositioning itself from manufacturer to brand builder, conformist to experimental, China is rapidly pioneering as one of today's most modern and innovative countries. Whether it's fashion, culture, sustainability, or economics, China is revamping full-force in all markets to win the favor of it's own local market, as well as those overseas.

We've discussed the evolution of China many times in our earlier posts, but knowing how quickly our world is progressing, we bring you an updated report to keep you up-to-speed with all the latest news in the Eastern hemisphere.

photo via: NY Times

With 500 million men and women under age 30, China does not lack in young, ambitious, creative-types who are eager to make their break into the art, design, or entertainment field. As more and more global retailers are aiming to attract the young adult Chinese age bracket, instead of pulling in their own resources, these established heavy hitters are looking to this same group of people to help brand and position themselves in the budding Chinese market.

photo via: NY Times

Although many Chinese artists and musicians in the past used their creative energies to focus on politics, today's generation is more interested in talking business rather than their nation's public affairs. Since the creative arts scene is still mainly underground, NeochaEdge is the first and only creative agency of its kind in China, showcasing the work of the country's best illustrators, graphic designers, animators, sound designers and musicians. As independent artists, its 200+ members are paid per project to work with major clients such as Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Absolut Vodka and Sprite. Scouting local talent and authenticity, NeochaEdge is the first to really help push global brands into the market using an avant-garde approach, specifically targeting the younger generation. While NeochaEdge is China's current leader of the creative industry, it's only a matter of time before we will see a surge of other organizations partaking in similar ventures.

photo via:

The forefront of fashion also has a new slew of Chinese beauties strutting the runway. While Chinese American designers like Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, and Derek Lam are all familiar names, models like Jing Ma, Ming Xi, Lily Zhi, and Sui He are just getting started in the fashion circle. As Ralph Lauren looked East for inspiration on his latest runway show, the designer casted six Chinese models to walk eleven of the looks, making it the show with the highest number of Asian models. New model, Sui He, was also chosen to open the show, making her their first Asian model in the brand's history. We have no doubt that this is just a small shadow of how influential China will be for Ralph Lauren, and presumably other heritage brands.

photo via: Audi Fashion

Liu Wen and Fei Fen Sun are also the new faces for major cosmetic campaigns, appearing in ads for Maybelline and Estee Lauder. Telegraph recently did a special feature on Wen, boldly naming her the "Face of the Future." Male model Godfrey Gao is also growing in popularity as he recently became the first Asian face of Louis Vuitton.

This recent growth of Chinese faces is one of many tactics fashion brands are implementing in order to break into the Chinese market. According to Shaun Rein, the Shanghai-based managing director of China Market Research Group, "savvier companies are using Asian models to penetrate the China market and try to create an emotional bond with consumers, and to give an aspiration that Chinese can look up to." As Chinese models are increasingly being represented for a number of Western brands and designers, Chinese consumers hold a stronger relationship with these foreigners and start to develop a deeper interest in the brand. 

Furthermore, brands may also create a completely new brand for China like Hermes' Shang Xia, or shift their current marketing strategies to appeal to the wealthy Chinese market. Last month's Burberry's Beijing flagship store opening started with a bang as Christopher Bailey orchestrated its largest-ever event. Implementing breathtaking technological tricks and creating illusions with holograms, the audience was floored by a spectacular performance including a live performance by Keane, special celebrity appearances including Maggy Cheung and actress Fan Bing Bing, and an A-list lineup of top Chinese and British models in Burberry's latest collection.

It's definitely eyes are on China as the booming number of middle and upper-class consumers are extremely interested in acquiring luxury goods. Management consultancy McKinsey predicts that within four years, China will become the world's largest luxury market, worth $27 billion, up from $10 billion in 2009. And to support this statement, brokerage and investment group CLSA Asia-Pacific also predicts that Chinese consumers will buy more than 44% of the world's luxury goods by 2020.

Although we have no doubt that China is rapidly growing into one of the top leading nations, we close today's post remembering that the nation also faces many important issues. Unless it resolves the region-wide weaknesses such as corruption, lack of accountability, poor access to justice, widespread income inequality and slow progress in improving innovation and productivity, China may fail to advance in achieving it's full potential. While it may seem that the country is unstoppable in achieving global economic dominance, China must make some critical, wise decisions within the next few years to truly be a long-standing and secure nation.

May 3, 2011

May MBF Favorite Picks

Here at MBF Trend Consulting, we are always looking at the changing consumer and how the apparel industry is constantly adapting to meet the new demands. As businesses present new shop concepts with innovative products, consumers are offered a wider range of goods in unique environments that are better tailored to today's culture. As everyone is now asking questions like where and how things are made, and with what materials, brands are implementing new values entailing authenticity, integrity, transparency, and innovation to cater to this new consumer. In times where news is easily accessible and everything is out in the open, failure to do so leads to poor brand image as the major retailer, Victoria's Secret, for example, was recently found guilty of destroying merchandise.  

As the future of the fashion and retail industry lies heavily on ingenuity and honesty, this month's MBF Favorite Picks highlights a few of the best forward-thinking concepts.

photo via:

1. Thomas Sires
New York City’s Elizabeth Street welcomes a new face to the block as design duo Fiona Thomas and Allison Sires, designers and co-owners of the women’s label Thomas Sires, open their very first store. A boutique-turned-gift shop, the store carries not only their own line, but a wide range of highly-curated jewelry, interior products, and small trinkets sourced from all over the world. After a trip to Paris and Tokyo, Thomas and Sires liked the idea of a lifestyle store and wanted to create a space that can capture the whole feeling.

The focal interest of the shop, however, is the Thomas Sires line as it is both extremely wearable as is fashion forward. Aiming to represent who the two are, Thomas states, “This is who we are and what we wear.” Currently, the line offers silk blouses, crop tops, skirts, dresses, and hand-dyed shibori prints. Ideas for lingerie, swimwear, and footwear are also in the works. All made in the U.S.A, the price point of $175 for tops and up to $500 for dresses is a steal. 

photo via: Holstee

2. Holstee
Holstee launched their brand with Holstee Tee, made of 100% recycled material and a unique holster positioned pocket. Within their first year, the team designed and introduced The Recycled Wallet, made of newspapers and plastic bags collected off the streets of India; The People Pendant, made of recycled acrylic scraps from a Chicago-area sign maker, and their Upcycled line of t-shirts,  highlighting the lasting value of apparel.

Today, the 3-man team offers all of their products on their e-shop, and in addition, carries a selected range of carefully picked sustainable designs that are made with the brand’s similar values. All of their products are sustainably made, and carry a social impact. What is particularly unique about Holstee's online store is that all of their products have a detailed description of what they are made of and how the product is socially conscious. Carrying products that support a wide range of partnerships, including Cameroon Reforestation Project and WaterAid, you are guaranteed that whatever you purchase here is making a strong impact somewhere else. 

photo via: Papermag

3. The Sock Hop
If you are particular about your socks and hosiery, Elizabeth's Street's new store, The Sock Hop, is the place for you! Catering to both men and women, the new boutique holds an excellent selection, varying from contemporary fashion-based brands, vintage, to traditionally crafted heritage brands. Favoring timeless quality of craftsmanship over mass production, all products are carefully sourced from around the world from masters and experts. The store also stocks the Tennessee-based Colonel Littleton's handmade bags and accessories.

photo via: Modo

4. Modo
Quoted by Fast Company as "the greenest glasses on the earth," Modo's Eco line is a radically new approach to eyewear using recycled metal and plastic.  As the first eyewear line entirely made of recycled materials, the company received an Environmental Claims Validation from UL Environment, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories, a world leader in product evaluation. Modo is also partnered with Trees for the Future, an NGO that plants trees in Africa and Southeast Asia. Promising to plant a tree for every frame sold, Modo has already planted an estimated half a million trees by the end of 2010.

Considering all aspects of the product, each frame is packaged in a corrugated box. Inside is also an envelope, encouraging customers to send their old frames to One Sight, an organization that sends opthamologists to Africa and Southeast Asia to provide eye care to people who otherwise would have no access to a doctor. The donated frames are given to people whose eyes most closely match their vision.  Recognizing that their product is not biodegradable, Modo has instead created a product that can not only be recycled, but also be part of a unique story.

photo by:

5. Edith A. Miller
Stripes are a big hit this season, so if  you're looking to pick up on this trend, we suggest you take a look at Edith A. Miller's collection.  Offering a sweet selection of short and long sleeve tees, mini skirts, and maxi dresses, all of their goods are completely American made. From the cotton grown in North and South Carolina, to the construction in a rural Pennsylvania factory that's over 100 years old, Edith A. Miller is truly 100 percent American. The first collection was picked up by Steven Alan, a multi-brand boutique which also carries it's own collection of American made shirtings.

photo via: This One Hat

6. Lola Ehrlich of Lola Hats
With a clear knack for millinery, Lola Ehrlich has been designing sell-out hats for celebrities, runway shows, and hat-loving fashionistas for well over twenty years. Based in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, all of her head pieces are made by hand in her studio.

This season, for her John line of men's hats, she created a group of fedoras stitched out of newspaper. Using traditional millinery techniques, and replacing raffia braids for strips of newspaper, she has produced sustainable and surprisingly durable fashion head pieces. For spring/summer 2012, the designer is collaborating with graffiti artist, Gabriel Decker, to paint the newspaper hants. Like lithographs, the hats are numbered and the wearer can visit their website to see the inspiration for each hat and see how it was made. 

photo via: Phillip Angert

Levi’s latest concept boutique "Made Here," launched on Boston’s Newbury Street offers a finely-edited assortment of high-end and limited edition of Levi’s goods, including the latest items from collaborative projects with outside partners and exact historic replicas from the Levi's Vintage Clothing collection. "Made Here," also offers a selection of hand-made crafts and apparel developed in the USA by emerging artists. The line includes both Levi's and non-Levi's products, all made in the entrepreneurial spirt of Levi Strauss, himself. 

Some of the craftsmen include Schott Apparel, Upstate, Farm Tactic BagsMarlin Spike, and Belts by Austin Jeffers. NYC's Meatpacking location will also offer a "Hand Made" shop, where all the products will be sewn and crafted on site. A symbol of American fashion, Levi's is bringing back the definition of classic American craftsmanship. 

photo via: Dedegumo

8. Dedegumo
Dedegumo watches are handmade by skilled artisans using craftsmanship passed down through the generations by the craftsmen of Kyoto, Japan. Applying traditional techniques to modern designs, Dedegumo offers one of a kind timepieces that is both culturally and fashionably modern. 

photo via: Task

9. Task
Launched in 2009, Brooklyn-based boutique, Task, is another lifestyle shop carrying a wide range of well-designed goods. Everything from hand-woven Turkish hamam towels, hand-woven bags made in the rural villages of Laos, to jewelry made by local Brooklyn-based designers, Task is the perfect place to shop and find a special gift for a loved one, (or for yourself!). Craftsmanship is highly regarded here at this boutique, and the owner goes long distances to find incredibly unique pieces from all over the world. We guarantee that each product here is made with love and care. 
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