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Will Forever 21 Forever Keep Knocking Off Indie Designers?

by Rachel Lang

I know the title of this post sounds a bit incriminating, but that is the gist of something we read yesterday in the fashion blog, Jezebel. In her post, author Jenna Sauers writes about the fast fashion chain’s blatant rip-offs, showing photographs of designer clothing next to the knock-offs sold by Forever 21.

Fast fashion conglomerates regularly infringe on the intellectual property of independent designers who cannot afford lawsuits against the corporations that steal their ideas. Unethical practices plague this industry, and the more awareness we can bring to the ways in which independents are marginalized, the faster we can make fast fashion a thing of the past.

Now, I remember being a college student when Forever 21 opened its doors in our local Midwestern mall. My closest friend called me and said, “There’s this new store that sells really cute clothes for cheap.” That was her exact quotation! So, being on a college student budget, I checked it out. She was right- the clothes were cheap. They were cute, but after one wash, they fell apart, losing buttons or fading. I bought probably close to $100 worth of clothing that trip and felt like I had gotten the deal of a lifetime. Cute clothes, yes, they were. I remember seeing “John 3:16” on the bottom of the bag. I thought to myself, a company that puts forth such blatant Christian image must be ethical, right? I mean, what would Jesus do and all of that…

So, I investigated. I found no incriminating evidence, but I had this feeling when I walked into the store that there was something terribly wrong with the whole business model.

That was more than ten years ago. Now, the company has grown exponentially, and other fast fashion venues have popped up in the malls and lifestyle centers. What this means for independent designers is that at any time, anywhere in the world, their ideas and inspiration can be taken and recreated at a factory where workers are paid minimum wage (if they can sew 55 pieces in an hour.) Then, these knock-offs can be sold for a third of the price. Good-bye creativity and craftsmanship, hello cute clothes for cheap.

I’m not a radical. I wrestle with shopping choices. I love a good deal, and I love fashion. We are all faced with philosophical choices- in life and in fashion. How will we present ourselves? The comments posted after this article about Forever 21 show this clearly. I think the bottom line is that we need to keep ourselves informed. If you are reading this blog, you are certainly ahead of the curve in that respect!

So, here’s an idea! Buy one bag- one dress- one piece of jewelry- that you love from a Project Artisan designer. (The fact that the product is on Project Artisan means that it was produced ethically.) Wear it, tell the story, and post a picture of it on your Facebook or Tumblr page. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Our Manimal ribcage earrings are $20 a pair-and made from scrap materials, eliminating waste! We encourage you to help us spread the word- to be the ambassadors

Ribcage Earrings by Manimal Moccasins $20.00

for change and originality. Rather than promoting “cute clothes for cheap,” you can promote luxurious, one-of-a-kind products made with love and care. Become a PA personal shopper and help us change the notion of luxury and the face of fashion.


Welcome 1 Per Diem

A friend of Project Artisan introduced us to designer Vanessa Espinosa’s line 1 Per Diem, insisting that we would love the highly curated collection of beautiful bags and cuffs.  She was right! When we saw the collection and learned of Vanessa’s story, we knew she would be a perfect fit for Project Artisan.   Living in New York, Vanessa works with a family-owned, small manufacturing company. She keeps all production local.

Born in the Philippines, Vanessa was inspired by the voyage of literary traveler Isabella Bird, and ten years ago, she packed her life in two suitcases and moved to the U.S.  She transitioned from a career in diplomacy in Washington, D.C. then came to New York in 2005 where she began to pursue her career in design. Vanessa’s line, 1 Per Diem is a collection that honors her ideals. Each item is made with the most care and highest craftsmanship available. Her accessories are meant to last with enough durability for an active lifestyle.

Each piece in the 1 Per Diem line awakens the adventurer within. Perhaps that is because Vanessa, the line’s creator, is bold and adventurous. The bags and cuffs have a rustic-luxe aesthetic that we love.

Vanessa stays involved in every aspect of production, making sure that her local manufacturers are attentive…and at the same time, happy. Integrity and quality are sewn into the finished pieces.

We look forward to seeing new work from Vanessa. We have been informed that she has just developed a line of custom made spring colors that will brighten any wardrobe. This is one designer who finds new ways to reinvent herself and her collection. We can’t wait to see what she thinks of next!


Robin Keyser for StyleBlueprint

Project Artisan founder Robin Keyser was a featured guest blogger for StyleBlueprint today.  Here is an excerpt of what she has to say.  For the full story, visit StyleBlueprint.

“Ok.  I will admit it.  I shop at Target.  There I’ve said it.  I enjoy a bargain like anyone else.  However, I also admit I feel guilty.  I don’t know anything about my $5 t-shirt except that it will fall apart before it goes out of style.  I don’t know anything else except that I probably don’t want to know anything else, and I can’t resist Isaac Mizrahi for Target.

robinkeyser profile Project ArtisanAuthor of this post, and Project Artisan founder Robin Keyser

These days, I find myself rapidly adding to a list of things I used to care about, which really don’t matter to me anymore, like being right instead of happy or owning the perfect “it” handbag of the moment.  Some things are starting to matter more; I want quality in what I buy.  I want to know where the product was made and under what working conditions.  I want to know the story.

I started Project Artisan as a place where established and emerging designers, making products of quality and craftsmanship, can reach their customers. Customers who care about what they buy.  Especially customers like myself with a bad case of Target guilt.  I like to think that the story, even the DNA, of the people involved in making the fashion we wear is woven into the fabric.  Clothes made by people who are treated fairly and who love what they do just feel better to buy and to wear.” Read More

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© 2011, StyleBlueprint. All rights reserved.


My New Year’s Resolution: to put shopping on a diet

There is definite connection between eating and shopping. Both are sometimes necessary and more often an indulgence; both are about consuming, after all.

We eat for energy and for entertainment…we shop for necessities and for recreation. You get my drift.

Fast fashion is a lot like fast food: cheap, mass-produced,  a quick fix… but not very satisfying.

In 2011 I resolve to think more about buying less; to value the story behind the merchandise and less about the bargain I bagged.

I am drifting away from the lure of the sale; now if only I can remain under the influence… of soulful shopping.  Help me, y’all!


Tuesday’s Favorite has a Holiday Twist

On Tuesdays,our blog post features our favorite things. Today’s blog will be a little different. Rather than focus on just one thing, we want to share our Project Artisan festive favorites in honor of the holiday season. These items are holiday must-haves and will make your season so much brighter.

The Heidi Merrick Griffith Pants have enough pizzazz to make a statement at your holiday celebrations yet are comfortable enough for lounging by the fire. Small sequins form dazzling patterns on the soft, stretchy cotton jersey fabric. No wonder Lucky Magazine says these are the must-have pants of the season.





Protect yourself from winter chills with this vintage coat from Zuburbia Vintage. The elegant lux fabric is like a rich velvet. And who doesn’t love a good animal print? This one is subtle. Overall, this coat is guaranteed to turn heads.



For an accessory that will bring smiles to someone on your gift list as well as someone living afar, consider KeoK’jay’s bracelet. These bracelets are hand-made by women in Cambodia who earn livings for themselves through making the eco-friendly (and fabulous) clothing and accessories in this line. At only $10, this bracelet is kind to the environment as well as to your budget.



Finally, for every holiday party, you definitely need a “statement” accessory. So, we suggest the Mercer Clutch. This simple clutch is large enough to hold your holiday essentials, including your iPad, yet small enough to fit cozily around your wrist. The bag is a conversation-starter. You can talk about designer, Vanessa Espinosa, who traveled from the Philippines to the US and then started her line in New York. Or you can talk about how exciting it is to own an original creation by an independent designer. The conversations are endless.


Keep shopping Project Artisan to find your own holiday favorite.


Christmas Reflection

We only have one week until Christmas, and so we are a bit reflective.  This season is all about love, giving, and connecting (…the inevitable family drama aside). We started Project Artisan with that same spirit.  So, we wanted to share with you two of our artisans that are giving back to their communities and to the world.

Krochet Kids identifies some of the most vulnerable residents of a region in Uganda living in extreme poverty. Many are young single mothers; young adult orphans heading one or more households; those formerly abducted; those affected by HIV/AIDS; or those displaced from their homes. The Krochet Kids team then trains them to crochet and provides them with quality materials to make products and make a livelihood. Crocheting empowers these individuals toward future independent entrepreneurship. They learn how to manage their income and support their families.

KeoK’jay employs HIV positive women in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to make environmentally friendly fashion. Every step in making a KeoK’jay product is carefully considered with the customer, the producer, and the environment in mind: from design, to materials, to production, to packaging. . Employment with KeoK’jay makes a big difference in the lives of its producers and their families who have gained a higher standard of living, improved health, and self-confidence. Some are able to send their children to school for the first time, and all have a gained a support network and work environment free from unsafe conditions and discrimination. Buying KeoK’jay products supports this work.

We invite you to shop Project Artisan and see how all of our designers do their parts to change the future of fashion and make a difference.


Tuesday’s Favorite Thing

Today, our favorite thing is more like a concept than a thing, and it is one that continues to change and evolve as we  learn, grow, and shop.  Luxury.  The very word conjures up thoughts of Italian villas, high-priced cars and leather handbags.

According to a new report issued from the Boston Consulting Group, consumers’ ideas about the traditional notion of luxury have changed during this Great Recession.

In the 1990s, luxury meant owning the right brand.  However, thanks to the Internet and availability of information, the average consumer began to ask for more- we became pickier and more influenced by experience.

When the recession hit, consumers felt a certain guilt about spending money and started to steer away from name brands.  Substance ruled over style.  According to the report from the Boston Consulting Group,”Consumers want something genuine, even meaningful, from their luxury purchases and have become more willing to pay for services or experiences that make them happy.”

We could not agree more!  The report also states that things like tradition, craftsmanship, spirituality, locally grown products, the environment and ethics are sharply rising values.

While there is still demand for fast-fashion and high-priced manufactured items, the trend-setting consumers are changing the way they shop.  They are “moving to a more introverted kind of consumption that involves family and living well.”  This makes sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, how luxurious do you feel when you know your gorgeous handbag was made by someone treated unfairly?  It just feels better to know that you are paying for quality and integrity.

We have been saying these things since Project Artisan was just a dream in the making, so reading this report confirmed for us that we are joined by others in moving to a more ethical definition of luxury.

The designers we feature on Project Artisan all focus on quality craftsmanship and value ethical manufacturing practices.  Many of them make one-of-a-kind items in limited quantities.  They maintain integrity in all aspects of design and implementation.

The very notion of luxury may be changing to meet today’s consumer.  We invite you to see what this new wave of luxury is all about.

To shop the style, click here.
To read the entire report, click here.

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