August 30, 2012

Just Declutter!

Here in the office at MBF, we feel the overwhelming amount of clutter just as much as you – from the amount of emails that come in everyday to smartphone notifications to balancing work and play. With the rise of technology and the digital age, things are supposed to be easier, right? Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. We live in times of fast change, demands for ultimate convenience, and an increasing overload of information. How do you balance it all? And when is enough, enough?

photo via NY Times

You never would think so but it seems major, suburban retailers like Wal-Mart, Office Depot, and Target are actually downsizing their stores as they begin to open smaller-scale brick and mortar operations in urban populated communities. Due to space issues as well as zoning regulations, high rents, and saturated markets, it is generally much more difficult to open up shop in a city versus suburbia. Naturally, both city and suburban settings vary, so many of these typically massive-sized retailers need to accommodate to on-the-go city dwellers with smaller, lighter packaging, clear and concise signage, speedy checkout systems, and appropriate product assortments.

photo via NY Times

For many smaller boutiques around the country like Totokaelo in Seattle or Penelope's in Chicago, the majority of their sales are being driven by their widespread online presence. While large retailers can offer free shipping, smaller ones can provide specially wrapped packaging and personalized cards during the holidays. As major competition ensues from both larger retailers on and offline, from Barney's to Net-A-Porter to Shopbop, Zappos, etc, can they really compare to the authenticity, devotion, and intimate relationship with their customers that these more humble boutiques offer? The more competitive the retail arena gets, the more companies are driven to re-define what makes them special. One thing is for sure, you won't be receiving a handwritten thank you note from anyone at Amazon anytime soon!

From baby products to cakes, even the face of E-commerce business is changing as some start-ups have shifted their storefronts and typical websites to Facebook or as it's called F-commerce. Using Payvment, a social commerce platform, businesses can set up shopping transactions, promotions, discounts, and coupons through Facebook. It's easy, cost-effective, and creates a large international customer base for smaller companies, who nonetheless would not have access to this. However, there are major downsides to F-commerce as Facebook owns these businesses' pages and some customers do not feel comfortable purchasing through the site. While both large and small businesses are still trying to understand how to earn a profit from social media platforms, according to Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst at Forrester, "small businesses seem to be having more success on Facebook than larger companies." In the last year, larger companies like Gap, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, and Gamestop have all shut down Facebook stores.

photo via NY Times

So what does this mean for consumers? As a shopper, there are more considerations to take into account now than ever. With access to this online world of social media, promotions, giveaways, product reviews, varying designs, endless assortments, and a plethora of brands, how are we supposed to make a decision on what to buy? Even if you have a specific item in mind – meaning brand, quality, size, color, and/or model – there is still the issue of where to buy from. With this, leads to other concerns of trusting particular websites and doing price comparisons between companies for the best deal. The amount of research we have access to and the amount that we feel we need to do before committing to purchasing is overwhelming in itself. Sure, now we can test products out in stores and throughly compare different products to find the best price and best fit for our lifestyles, but is it worth all the energy, time, research, and stress it involves, for what a couple of bucks? Not to mention, with everything happening so quickly, things move from hot to not before we barely get our hands on them.

Everything has become so much more of a process. Because so much is out there, our ability to make smarter, well-informed choices has definitely improved. However, with all these options, come major complexities. Are these variable actually helping us make better decisions or simply creating more indecisiveness? Will we ever find simplicity again?

photo via NY Times

Luckily, there does seem to be a shift to at least add the term "simple" to advertising promotions as buzzwords like "easy," "honest" and "clear" dominate the airwaves to counteract our forever busy lifestyles. McDonald's "simple joy of a wholesome breakfast," Whirlpool's "To simplify life, we design it," and Coca-Cola's "Simply Orange," are just a few of the companies strategically incorporating the word "simple" into their product marketing campaigns. Even the Got Milk? campaign has brought the word into its tagline, "Real. Simple. Got Milk?" In addition to this, we have started to see design simplifying as well as the amount of products on store shelves shrinking, which we discussed on our past blog, "Simple Minds." According to the managing editor at Real Simple, "Simplicity is the new luxury." We couldn't agree more!

photo via Snob.

As the last official holiday weekend of the summer is upon us, check out this weekend, enjoy the company of family and friends, and simply live!

August 23, 2012

The Modern Silk Road

We talked about Chinese e-commerce back in May, on our blog “The Lure of the East,” and how we will be watching to see what happens next. Since then, it’s just gotten more and more predominant as the potential of this fast growing market and the consumers it encompasses continues to rapidly evolve. In general, global online retail has not reached it's full potential and by 2015, the majority of online sales are expected to primarily come from China, the U.S., India, Japan, and Brazil.

As of December, there were around 500 million Chinese "netizens" and with this growth also comes the need for awareness of internet scams in the form of counterfeit goods, fraud, and spam. For some consumers, it can be extremely difficult to differentiate real websites from fake ones and unfortunately there is still a major lack of online regulations. Even Taobao, the largest consumer to consumer marketplace in China (similar to that of eBay and Amazon), has received more than 8.7 million complaints. Despite, China's e-commerce continues to remain a major interest for western companies.

photo via WWD

From Groupon’s discount deals to major department stores like Macy’s, retailers are aggressively trying to tap into China’s online shopping boom. Just last year, in collaboration with the e-commerce company, FiftyOne, began selling to more than 100 countries worldwide, including China. However, today, as Macy's continues to further push their international presence in Asia, the department chain has invested $15 million in the Chinese based e-commerce firm, VIPStore Co. Ltd., to begin selling their private label, INC via the website For these western companies, it’s not only about expanding their market opportunity, but learning more about who this unfamiliar customer base is through trial and error.

photo via Macaron Magazine

J.Crew in general is skipping straight over Europe and setting up shops right in Hong Kong and Beijing this autumn. While the company does ship internationally via their website, the mid-market retailer solely has a brick and mortar presence in the U.S. and Canada. Through an upcoming partnership with the Asian department chain, Lane Crawford, J.Crew will now face a new route of expansion to introduce their trendy styles, Italian fabrics, and mid-level prices to the Chinese contemporary market.

photo via e-architect

Not everyone is enthused by China's fast growing economy and it just so happens architect, Wang Shu, the recent Pritzker Prize winner is one of them. Wang, who has been trying to preserve Chinese culture for the past 10 years, feels the changing economy is ruining its traditional roots. He continues to wear traditional Chinese clothes and avoid any commercial developments in relation to his work. This rapid surge in the e-commerce market challenges these ideals and maybe as a counter reaction, a shift towards Chinese heritage will arise to balance this online expansion.

photo via Xander Zhou

On the other hand, a new globalized generation is emerging which includes menswear designer Xander Zhou. From his point of view, he doesn't want "the burden to glorify my Chineseness" and his aesthetic   lacks any resemblance to his traditional heritage with edgy silhouettes and experimental materials. For this generation, there is a major importance to stand out for what they are good at and distinguish themselves from solely being recognized by representing their culture.

photo via WWD

Either way, one contemporary market in demand without a doubt is trendy, brand name looking denim, to the point that some Chinese consumers don't even care whether it is authentic or not. For instance, just outside Shanghai at a small shop called 2046 Boy, young men's denim labels like Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger, Dsquared2, Ralph Lauren, and others are sold at super low price points. Whether this shop's product consists of knockoffs or extra stock from factories is unknown and the university students, migrant workers, and blue collar professionals that shop there don't question it. Overall, Chinese consumers are hesitant to spend the cash on foreign designer jeans and prefer style over brand value.

While the Chinese economy remains on the rise and is expected to be the largest online retail market by 2013, there are plenty of challenges facing western companies looking to move into Asia. With price being one of the most important factors when shopping online, Chinese sites have already begun e-commerce wars that compete against quality, retail prices, and express deliveries. Not to mention counterfeit merchandise, internet barriers, and simply learning to understand the more conservative and self-controlled mindsets of Chinese consumers are major obstacles, despite online platforms offering the best approach for western retailers to access Asia. However, looking at the vast market potential, we suspect these obstacles won't be stopping anyone. 

August 16, 2012

A Rock 'n' Roll State Of Mind

So what’s happened to rock 'n' roll? As record sales decline and the controversy of illegal downloading becomes more of a problem than ever, what does the future of the music industry look like?

photo via LA Times

One counter reaction to this growing issue is the rise in music festivals making noise across the country, with more than 20 new major concerts this year alone. It’s not only about the music but the entire experience. One of the largest music franchises on the west coast, Coachella, is making some waves and setting sail on the Atlantic Ocean at the end of this year. The first S.S. Coachella voyages will depart in December from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to two separate destinations, one to The Bahamas and the second to Jamaica. These music excursions will host about 20 bands and by incorporating travel and music together, create an intimate community experience between musicians and their fan bases.

Firefly Music Festival, which debuted last month, had a jam packed itinerary of live music, hot air balloon rides, an arcade, brewery, wine bar, shopping, and food venues. Not to mention, the festival even launched it’s own app that featured the complete lineup, a map, a camera with Firefly themed filters, a customizable schedule, and access to notifications and updates. Just like other over saturated industries, it’s about standing out among fans as they actively have to make decisions about where to dedicate their time and money. Today, it's more than just a compilation of talented musicians but a way to appeal to the changing demands of Generation Y by incorporating technology to enhance the entire performance.

photo via Rolling Stone

Speaking of technology, look at what social media platforms have done to the industry as a whole. Anyone can be a rockstar. Idealized fame is disappearing as the amount of independent artists out on the scene is greater than ever. Not to mention, the way artists introduce and market themselves has completely evolved, whether they are up and coming or completely mainstream. For example, Lady Gaga who recently launched her own invite only social network, Little Monsters has just gone public. The site brings together Gaga fanatics to chat, share, purchase tickets, and share photos with one another. The chat rooms are even equipped with instant translations for multi-lingual conversations among users.

With that said, we've talked about how technology is affecting the industry but what about how the evolution of music is changing fashion? Looking back at history, music has always influenced how we dress from the performers to the fans and lately, there has been a bit of a re-emergence of spunky rock 'n' roll inspired clothing. Observing the streets to the runways, everything from studs, spikes, tie dye, leather, skulls, and grunge are making a comeback.

photo via WWD

The upsurge in festival culture alone has sparked major fashion trends among the different music driven events. For instance, according to WWD, at Lollapalooza in Chicago, there was a huge presence of hipster inspired clothing like neon colors, boho dresses, denim cutoffs, and Converse's infamous Chuck Taylors. Looking to the west coast at Coachella, it was all about flat and low heeled boots in cowboy or motorcycle designs. With music culture making such an impact on what we wear, each festival, with its unique location, lineup, and exclusive amenities is creating its own specific following.

From the streets of New York to Berlin here are some of our favorite looks that we've captured showcasing some rock 'n' roll flair!

The music industry will live on and just as it has, will continue to adapt to the changing market and fresh demands of fans across the world. However, as for fashion, keep a look out for emerging trends inspired by this rock 'n' roll state of mind!

August 9, 2012

Back To School Madness

It’s that time of the year again, when stores are stocked full of multi-colored backpacks and print frenzy notebooks. However, going back to school isn’t what it used to be. According to the National Retail Federation, next to Christmas and Black Friday, back-to-school (BTS) is the next largest spending event of the year and it doesn't just end with school supplies and fall clothes anymore! From flower delivery to skateboards, tanning, cars, and speakers, a multitude of industries are cashing in on the back to school cash flow.

Not to mention, retailers are moving up the back to school madness earlier and earlier every summer. According to a survey by PriceGrabber, about 20% of shoppers said they started buying BTS as early as June, with school barely out! For most consumers, this strategy is the best way to spread out purchases, budget their spending, and anticipate heavier discounts. Despite countless promotions, deals, giveaways, and free shipping the National Retail Federation projects that consumers with children aged kindergarten through 12th grade will spend on average about $688 on BTS merchandise this season.

photo via Teen Vogue

Teen Vogue has even declared this Saturday, August 11th as “Back to School Saturday” (BTSS) to promote consumers to get out and shop for back to school fashion and beauty goodies! On Saturday, students across the country can score discounts and free stuff from participating stores like Aeropostale, American Apparel, Gap, H&M, True Religion (and that’s just the gist of it) as well as a full list of beauty brands like Clean & Clear, Clinique, and Neutrogena via The Teen Vogue Insider App for the iPhone. With this app, shoppers not only earn points toward exclusive prizes by checking in, but can map out local participating retailers in their area.

photo via Sears

Sears is jumping on the BTSS bandwagon with their Team Up To Stop Bullying initiative in collaboration with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. On August 11th, via a 15% off savings pass, up to $70,000 worth of purchases on apparel, accessories, intimates, footwear, fine jewelry, and watches will be donated to charities affiliated with the project.

photo via Staples

Overall, retailers like Staples, Office Depot, and Best Buy are introducing new strategies to gear up for back-to-school shopping. From heavily discounted laptops and printers to fun campaigns featuring celebrities to supporting various charitable initiatives, these companies are pushing their promotional strengths to the max. At the head of the pack is Staples who's Back to School Savings Pass will return which costs $10 and offers shoppers 15% off merchandise until September. Not to mention, in a recent weekly flyer, some of their savings included glue for a penny and copy paper for a quarter!

video via youtube

Recent surveys show consumers are expected to shop more at both department and specialty stores this year compared to 2011. In response, Macy's, who continues to target Millenials, will shift their marketing efforts towards microsites and text-to-enter sweepstakes. And what about J.C. Penney you ask? With major changes happening at the department chain that includes slashed prices, boutique-like mini-shops, and ipad checkout systems on the sales floor, there is major pressure for the retailer to boost sales this month. J.C. Penney has initiated free haircuts for children in kindergarten to sixth grade. In addition, the department chain is also offering free shipping promotions which has become a must-have incentive for parents this season when it comes to shopping online.

photo via eBay

With online shopping at a record high since 2007, consumers will make use of m-commerce more than ever to compare prices, search for coupons, and respond to price matching and in-store promotions. Companies like eBay, are preparing for the BTS season by stepping up their social media efforts via Pinterest contests which include a $5,000 eBay dorm room makeover as well a $100 eBay gift card by creating pin boards of dorm room essentials and backpacks via eBay's back to school pinboards. eBay is also hosting a Facebook backpack drive where it will donate up to 5,000 backpacks full of school supplies to students.

photo via Mr.Youth

In general, social media has revolutionized the entire back-to-school process, specifically for college bound students. From discussing acceptances to room assignments, class schedules, student life, and general Q&A to making friends, research shows that this group is creating online communities via social networking sites starting in March all the way through October. Instead of meeting fellow peers at orientation, today's college bound Freshman can connect the moment their acceptance letters arrive in the mail. With 40% of students logging on to Facebook more than 10 times per day and 58% stating they use Twitter all the time, brands and retailers are going to have to successfully and innovatively utilize this new outlet in order to reach out to these students during their transition into college.

Whatever the strategy is, back to school fever is here! It seems most retailers are not only slashing prices, upping discounts, and experimenting with innovative marketing approaches, but bringing a philanthropic spirit to the season as well! Let the BTS madness take way and enjoy the rest of the summer!

August 2, 2012

MBF Salon at the Kingpins NY Roundup

Well our new platform, the MBF Salon at the Kingpins NY, was a success! Not only did our invitees love the intimate, interactive format, but it was a very informational gathering where professionals could connect with others from various backgrounds and distinct points of view. Quoting one of our invitees, Mariely Estella, a designer at Rocawear, " is all about the experience and savvy consumers and I felt this seminar represented exactly that."

Our guests, Josh Castell of Blabbermouth Media, Ernest Sabine of Ernest Alexander, Mike Radparvar of Holstee, and Paige Boggs of Treasure & Bond (all from diverse backgrounds themselves), did a fabulous job communicating their thoughts, experiences, and insights that not only stimulated conversation, but inspired us all!

Whether our topics of discussion were digital media, the changing retail landscape, or Generation Y, our conversations seemed to return to the same key concepts – honesty, trust, having an interesting backstory, experimenting with new concepts, creating an authentic experience, and learning to edit and let things go. We picked the topics of our Salon to provide an overview of current and future trends and we believe these concepts not only represent the new consumer, but the demands of our present mindset, as well as the future of our industry.

Since the Salon was brought to you by the Kingpins NY Tradeshow, we'd like to point out the most innovative fabric suppliers that were there!

At the Kingpins NY, we saw a lot of colors including neon, brights, and jewel tones that were not only on exteriors, but interiors as well with double face features. Tie dye, florals, and Baroque motif prints were everywhere, printed on corduroy and denim as seen at the Golden Win Group.

Metallic sheens in silver and gold and leather like coatings updated traditional matte finishes were featured at Central Fabrics. Dark indigo shades made a huge presence with super stretch and highly durable qualities. Overall, the trends that we saw very much confirmed our predictions for Fall/Winter 2013-14.

One of our favorite suppliers was Kaltex which produces in the Americas as well as participates in many other green practices like eliminating wastewater pollution, recovering and reusing chemicals, and a zero-solid waste disposal policy, among many other things.

photo via Cordura

Cordura Fabric Denim is all about durability, versatility, and reliability. The denim is made out of Invista's T420 fiber that is engineered to be blended with cotton and cellulose fibers to produce garments that are comfortable, authentic, and feel like traditional denim, but with long lasting durable effects. Now that's tough.

photo via triMirror

At The Continuum Show, which is held in conjunction with the Kingpins Show and was recently featured in an article by WWD, we would like to highlight triMirror, a virtual fitting room technology system. Basically, with this software, users develop their own avatar that is equivalent to their actual body shape and measurements. This technology gives users the opportunity to not only see how clothing looks but how it fits and behaves when moving in real time.

video via DA.AI Technology

We also loved DA.AI Technology, a global eco-friendly brand that produces textiles made of recycled PET bottles. Not to mention, all products from DA.AI can be traced back to their origins as raw materials. As you can see, this company is full of love and ready to spread it to the world!  
Just like our guest, Paige Boggs from Treasure & Bond said, "You have to be in the now, the tomorrow, the next step." We will keep you informed about where the MBF Salon is headed next. In the meantime, please check out our Facebook page for pictures from prep to the finished Salon. And stay tuned for our video in the makes that we'll be posting soon!!!
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