Archive for the ‘Fashion Morality’ Category


What is the Fashionista’s Dilemma and What is Your F.A.P.?

In Fashion Morality on January 22, 2011 by Naoko Takano

 woman photo source; items source; composite by me

Since I’ve been reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma* (it’s a fabulous book – I can’t recommend it enough, btw!) I’ve been thinking a lot about the source for the many components of our modern lifestyles.  Food, of course.  But Fashion, too.

I feel that in the past couple years there has been a perceptible shift in consumer attitudes, marked by a more of us questioning the where and how a garment came to be.  According to a November 2010 survey conducted by American Express, 54% of Americans say they try to support their local economy when making purchasing decisions, and over a third (38%) of respondents equate being good and ethical to quality of life – and making “good” and “ethical” buying decisions plays into that.  People also desire more customization ability in their products, and 36% expect brands to be ethical.  Hence the success of Etsy (gross sales went from $166,000 in 2005 to over $200 million in 2010), the rise of organic and eco-friendly fashion, the proliferation of “Made in the USA” labels, the formation of groups such as United Students Against Sweatshops and proposal of legislation such as the “Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act,” [defeated in committee], the “Buy Local” movement, and the growing interest in doing-it-yourself, or DIY.

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And yet what seems to be hardwired into our brains is the quest for new, shiny, and current.  As a species we tend to gravitate towards the newest inventions, the leap forward in technology, anything that we haven’t seen before will hold our interest singularly and collectively.  That is, until the next new, shiny thing appears.  And so it is with fashion and it’s ever-changing trends.


Fashionista: A person who creates or promotes high fashion, i.e. a fashion designer or fashion editor; A person who dresses according to the trends of fashion, or one who closely follows those trends.

(Nothing to do with that 2003 Australian porno, BTW)  My take on this is that it’s almost innate for us to always desire the next, best thing.  Excess consumerism and abuse of resources, we’ve all agreed, is not the way to go.  However, I feel that it’s okay to want to follow these trends and appear to have the next, best thing.  You just don’t always need to buy it.  (And you can buck this tendency and dress “classic” or march to the beat of our own drummer, or however you choose to dress.  But tell me: haven’t you felt that siren call of those new platform shoes, that gemstone-encrusted watch, that It-bag at least once in your life?  And if you’ve decided that yes, you want it enough to have it…well, that brings us to The Fashionista’s Dilemma.

shirt available for purchase here

So what is The Fashionista’s Dilemma?  Akin to that of the omnivore’s, you have to determine how much you are willing to be ignorant of the moral, economic, ecological, and societal impact of your choices when you choose to be In Fashion.

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When it comes to the things that we choose to wear on our bodies and adorn ourselves with, we really only have 3 choices:

1) Buy or get it new (off-the-rack, from a sample sale, from the craftsperson who made it, have it tailor-made for you)

2) Buy or get it used (from a vintage clothing store, charity shop, thrift store, clothing swap, your friend’s closet)

3) Make it (from what you already have in your closet, with raw materials you have on hand or purchase, DIY or customize something bought off-the-rack)

With each choice comes different (and great!) responsibility.  It feels that only in the last 10 years or so many consumers are truly beginning to understand that responsibility each time they want something new.

So what do you choose to clothe yourself with, and where does it come from?  Do you spend a prodigious amount in creating (or procuring) the textiles yourself, sewing the item from scratch?

Or do you DIY – i.e., take something that already exists, invest minimal time and minimal materials in order to satisfy your need for the latest and greatest, without buying new?  Do you bend the rules and work around it so that you can still be on-trend, just not broke while doing it?

Do you buy used and give a home to something that has been pre-loved?  Do you help eliminate waste and extend the life cycle of the garment?  Perhaps find a one-of-a-kind treasure in the bargain?

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Or do you buy new – and support an emerging designer or local craftsperson?  Or buy from a known brand, buy luxury, buy from a low-end push manufacturer? (i.e., one that manufactures a large number of multiples of the same garment, stuffs the stores with products, and then tries to market the styles after-the-fact – like H&M or Forever 21, for example)  Do you support the need to harvest more cotton, use more pesticides, weave more textiles, tan more leather, hire more workers, expand factory size, ship more quantities of goods across the ocean, stuff the stores with more product, spend more money in advertising to convince more people they want the product?  Or do you choose to shop ethically for clothing manufactured with little waste or utilizing eco-friendly textiles?

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With every purchase (or non-purchase), you are using your money to send a message.  I believe that as of late, many people are sending the message that they do not buy into the system anymore.  They want to know that the pieces they clothe themselves with are made locally, fairly, ethically, with minimal environmental impact, by well-paid, well-treated people.

I’m sure none of us can truly create everything we wear from scratch (unless you have a huge amount of time and certain resources at your disposal).  And I think, just as with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, we all have to find our own mix of those 3 procurement processes when it comes to having the next, best thing.

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I’m not saying everyone should have everything.  Obviously a modicum of self-restraint and wisdom is necessary when evaluating whether you should get something.  But what I am saying is you do not truly have to deny yourself something because you can’t afford it, or max out your card to get the look.  If you want and feel that want is justified enough for you to have it, then you don’t have to spend the money on the expensive, new, designer version.  You can 1) Shop smart (with sales, coupons, rebates, buying from craftspeople or tailors); 2) Shop used (thrift stores, clothing swaps, Ebay); or 3) Make it (find something similar and affordable and customize it, or make it from scratch to simply enjoy the process).

image source (I thought I kind of look like her – which is why I chose the piccy:-)

My F.A.P. (or Fashion Acquisition Philosophy – just something I made up;-) for myself is probably split as percentages as 10/25/65 (Buy New/Buy Used/DIY); with 10% being items that I buy and wear as is, 25% being items that I buy or swap used and wear as is; and 65% of new acquisitions that I D.I.Y. or make from scratch.  And that’s how I allocate my clothing budget – since yes, I do love to shop, but I also like to exercise my creativity with how little can I spend and how well can I customize something so that it looks like it cost a fortune and yet is totally wearable and enjoyable.

So what is your personal F.A.P?  Have you felt yourself get more involved with such questions of origin and how something was manufactured in recent years?  Have you seen your spending change as a result of being more aware of the impact of your choices?  Has your consumption level gone up once you began customizing your fashion – but do you value and enjoy your clothing creations much more?

I’d love to know!


*Interestingly, I noticed that in the latest issue of Marie Claire (Feb, 2011), another writer has drawn on the ideas present in The Ominivore’s Dilemma as being applicable to our consumption habits of fashion in the article “The Fashionista’s Dilemma.” (check out her personal blog ClosetTour here if you are interested)  It’s a pretty apt comparison, one that’s been rolling around in my head for awhile, so I wasn’t surprised to see that other people were struck with the similarities our modern industrial food chain has to our modern industrial clothing.  However, I only received my magazine two days ago, and this post was pretty much done by that time…I felt my title was pretty apt, and so didn’t chose to change it even though I’m aware that the Marie Claire article uses the same title.  Just to explain if anyone’s confused!)

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Guilt-Free Fur?

In Fashion Morality,Fur,Newspaper Articles on December 11, 2010 by Naoko Takano

source unknown (Google images)

As many of you may have read, the New York Times posted an article online last month about nutria fur currently being marketed as the new “guilt-free fur.”  The argument is that since the nutria (giant swamp-rodents) are a threat to Louisana swampland and are being killed anyway in order to protect this fragile ecosystem, then instead of thoughtlessly discarding the carcasses it’s better to utilize the fur.  …And make it into fashion.

Found on Flicker

A designer makes necklaces out of the teeth, Etsyans craft merkin panties and jewelry out of the fur…oh, and Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta also incorporated nutria fur into trims and linings in their recent collections.  Saks is currently the largest retailer in the United States that carries nutria fur items (check out this Nutria Fur Jacket from Maison Martin Margiela!).

Remember Elaine’s “rat hat” from that episode of Seinfeld?  That Russian “sable-esque” hat was supposedly nutria, according to the storyline.  And maligned as “not even a good rat-hat.”

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So what do you guys think?  Is real fur in fashion items okay if the animal is killed as a pest anyway?  Is it right to attempt to wipe out a species if it threatens a long-established ecosystem?  Will people begin to embrace nutria and being to rank it on par with fur in general – or is the “ick” factor too strong?

What are your thoughts?  And would you ever buy or wear nutria?

Read the Full Article Here


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"Inspired" Alert! Catherine Malandrino’s Knit Tribal Legwarmers

In Fashion Morality,indie fashion,Inspiration on October 19, 2010 by Naoko Takano

Seen on the likes of uber-fashion blogger Susie Bubble of Style Bubble, and subsequently covered on, Cooperative Designs‘ S/S 2010 crocheted tribal legwarmers leg-accessory thingies have been making the rounds on the blogosphere for some time.  They’re a pretty distinct look.

 Photo from Style Bubble.

That’s why when images of the Lovin Malandrino S/S 2011 show popped up in my inbox, I did a double-take.

Featured on POSHGLAM last month, here’s what they had to say:

Though Malandrino was inspired by Roger Capron, a French ceramist, her pieces were definite original works of art. Leather macramé was the fabric of choice and the most amazing use of it was the over-the-knee gladiator sandals.

Okay so they’re leather, and stylistically they’re a bit different from the Collective Designs version. But do you see an “inspired” design here??

I do!

As a fashion designer it’s so hard not to be referential.  To be less PC about it, it’s so hard NOT to knock anyone else off.;-)

The art of creating beautiful, wearable pieces to clothe the body has been around for thousands, if not millions of years.  Everything by now has been done before.  Everything is a knockoff in some way, in some element.  Many people cite hte safety pin as being the most widely-used knockoff – originally invented by the Romans, not only is it now a functional staple in your standard sewing kit, but it’s also been “re-imagined” by everyone from Givenchy to Subversive.  And no one’s screaming copyright infringement.

The reason why we laud the designers we do, and await their collections season after season, and are not up in arms about “we’ve seen this from ______ (insert other brand name here) already!!” is because there is copying afoot, but it’s cloaked styled in such a way, reappropriated in such a manner, that it’s not immediately obvious.  That is the hallmark of a truly gifted designer – someone who’s able to take that “inspiration” and recycle it into something that doesn’t tip anyone off to its origins.

Me, I believe in giving credit where credit’s due, and if you’ve created an “inspired” piece that’s obvious upon looking and has enough similarities that you go AHA! (when it comes to defining how similar a piece can be to be called a “knockoff,” in Judge Rehnquist’s words, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” or the more popular “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it IS a duck!”)…then you need to say “inspired by” at the very least to lay it all out there and be honest about it.

And I truly oppose large, established fashion houses ripping off from the little guys.  You fashion houses are supposed to be the most forward-thinking and setting the trends!  Don’t look back, don’t do what has already been done.  In fact, I oppose designer copying among each other in general (except when it’s a mass-market brand).

Forever 21 distilling Catherine Malandrino to their store shelves?!  No problem!  H&M being “inspired” by Gucci in their designs?  Bring it on!  But Erin Wasson blatantly ripping off Bliss Lau’s body chains or Pamela Love stealing Arms and Armory’s bird skull pendant?  NO!  This is high-fashion (+high-price), non-mass-market, independent designer lifting from smaller, independent designers.  In my book, this is a big no-no!  If you’re bringing fashion to the masses, it stands to reason that you would lift from the established, forward-thinkers.  Mass market fashion is not, by definition, forward-thinking and in fact, knocking off is expected from them.  Everyone deserves a shot at having more affordable “high-fashion Style” brought to them.  I just think companies should credit the original –  and not create EXACT copies, just “similar to” pieces – and even pay a percentage of their sales to the creators of the original item.

In an ideal world!!  😉

So what’s your take on all this?  When, if ever, is copying or creating an “inspired by” creation okay?  Does Catherine Malandrino skate on by?  Or is this just a case of two separate fashion houses producing two separate accessories during the same year that just have a number of similarities by pure coincidence?  Are there enough differences in these legwarmers that it’s no longer “inspired”?  Or does it “LOOK LIKE A DUCK WALK LIKE A DUCK AND TALK LIKE A DUCK?!”


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Copyright Protection is Bad for Fashion! PBS Coverage

In Fashion Copyright,Fashion Morality,Newspaper Articles on October 1, 2010 by Naoko Takano

 Photo source

PBS journalist Johanna Blakely posted an opinion piece the other day on how copyright protection with literally “cramp our style.”  It’s a fascinating article, and one I COMPLETELY agree with.  (And the crux of why I began Chic Steals in the first place!)  My take on this:

The fashion industry must have knockoffs or else it won’t survive.  

Nothing is truly new or original anymore, it’s all been done.  To claim copyright to a design (i.e., allow big, powerful companies with lawyers and tons of $ to claim copyright to a design) will only cause the industry to stagnate and truly destroy any innovation whatsoever.  It will prevent the formation of new businesses, the rise of new designers, and everything will be a mess of copyrights and infringement lawsuits and settlement payments to companies that are ALREADY rich. 

Fashion is aspirational and there always need to be designers that distill the pieces from the fashion-forward mega-brands and bring them to the public at an affordable price.  

Copying or “being inspired by” is completely necessary to the industry – and to consumers.  An exact copy – logos and everything?  Stitching and all?  Same materials, same size, same design – created by rubbing off the original?  Wrong.  There’s a fine line between “inspiration” and “copy.”  “Copiers” will never be as revered as those who devise the trends and are always pushing the boundaries: the forward-thinkers of fashion.  But they’re equally as necessary to the dissemination of fashion to the public and the health of the industry as a whole.

It’s like I always say – if you’re going to copy, PAY HOMAGE and say “inspired by.”  If you’re a company beyond a certain size and doing a certain volume a year, don’t rip off from the little guys.  You’re supposed to be the innovators.  Innovate.  Don’t hide behind a mistaken and self-righteous “I did it first, so there!  It’s mine!”  And I’m looking at YOU, Ms. von Furstenberg.  Bah.

Read the Full Article Here

Thanks, Jenn, for the link!  You are always so on top of things:-)

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