following trends

Yesterday, we read an article in the Huffington Post about the fall of luxury lines and the importance of emerging designers and socially responsible shopping within the fashion industry.  It’s funny because we talk about this very thing in our PA meetings and how every design, pattern, and piece has a story.  Think about all of the hands that touch a garment or accessory before it gets put out for sale in a retail venue.  It is as if the very DNA of each person is woven into the pieces you wear.  Each item, each thing you buy has a story.

I saw this firsthand when repping a line of gorgeous embroidered shirts from Brazil.  Let me say first that I fell in love-at-first-sight with the work (shirts, dresses, shorts- you name it!) designed by Gisele Barbosa, and if you have not heard of her work, I highly suggest you look at her site! So, I started to find a way to bring her products to the US for distribution.  What inspired me more than the clothes themselves was the way she employed hundreds of women in her manufacturing operations. Many of these women had no other opportunities for employment, given their skill sets, the availability of good jobs, and their own domestic responsibilities.  Gisele provided for them a livelihood.

Gisele says, “In our society, in our world the most important thing is each human being.  I just try to help them my way, showing that they are really capable of doing something beautiful, something different, that allows them to improve themselves.”

For many of our PA designers, manufacturing is not an afterthought.  In fact, it is what makes the products.  Care goes into each detail.  A pair of Imogene + Willie jeans has been designed by co-founder Matt Eddmenson, patterned by renowned Nestor, and hand-sewn by one of several people in the Imogene + Willie shop, including Gloria, who has sewn and finished denim for some of the largest brands in the world, or Allen, an ex-inmate who learned to sew in prison.  For this boutique brand, the products are loved because the people making them love what they do and are paid fairly.  That’s why a pair of jeans can cost between $200-$300.  If you look at the story of the jeans, it’s hard to imagine paying any less.  However, we have been taught to look for the sale, check the clearance, and find a deal.

In fact, like many shoppers, I used to anxiously await emails from sample sale sites such as Haute Look and Gilt Group to find out what kinds of deals I could find on luxury items like Gucci bags and Marc Jacobs sweaters.  Let’s face it; I love these fashion and luxury items.  We who love fashion get it.  But when I see the discounted price, the mystique surrounding the brand gets tarnished. Seeing the incredible mark-up, I have to wonder: What’s the story?

We know that some of the products (not all) are mass-produced in factories with unfair treatment of the workers.  We know that these brands are not all socially responsible.  It’s easy to look past that when shopping.  After all, we don’t see it firsthand.  But we are wearing that energy of struggle and industry. We are wearing the formaldehyde sprayed on mass-produced products leaving a factory in China.  It’s sinking into our skin and changing us.

Like being on a strict raw food diet, it is difficult to stick to socially responsible shopping all the time.  It can be expensive. Plus, it’s tough to find.  You have to dig through the Internet to find emerging designers and socially responsible shopping sites. That’s why more and more of us (as referenced in this Huffington Post article, among others) feel it is so important to buy one-of-a-kind artisan products when you can.  Like a diet, if you stick to it about 50% of the time, you’re doing good and making a difference.  80% of the time- wow! That can change the world!

It’s amazing how many notice when I wear a Lorraine Pennington sculptured necklace or any of the other products I have from Project Artisan designers.  I feel a certain pride in talking about the pieces because I feel the love that went into making them…and I think it shows.  In fact, I know it does.  People want to touch them. Seriously, they do.  It’s the funniest thing. But it makes sense that they want to soak up all of those positive vibes.

My heart and soul go into selecting Project Artisan designers- both the emerging talent and the ones already established.  Because my mom and grandmother were factory workers in a garment factory, I know the sweat and love that goes into the creation of the clothes we love to wear.  Likewise, I see how our ideas of luxury have changed with the recent recession and extreme sale sites.  That’s why I’m committed to making ethical luxury more accessible.  I’ve picked out some of the best emerging and established designers to include on PA so that you don’t have to dig to find them.  And my hope is to help change the way we think to shop so that we can eventually help more workers have access to fair wages and happy work environments, helping them live their own dreams—just like the Brazilian women in Gisele’s shop.


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