ModaRévisé

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Recycling - Upcycle and Downcycled

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“Say what…???”

That’s what I get when fashion clients approach my creative studio and ask about incorporating some aspect of recycling into their bags and accessories manufacturing process, and I ask in return, “Do you want upcycled materials or downcycled materials…?”

Fyi -If you want to be a well informed conscious consumer, or just want to sound smart to your peers, read up!

Let’s go back to the basics:

What is recycling? The easier definition is that it is a man-powered chemical process to convert waste into re-usable materials. Right now as we speak, we have the technology to recycle an array of waste materials ranging from fabrics of all kinds, PU, metals of all kinds, papers, and plastic bottles just to name a very few.

Photo courtesy of Lush Home

Photo courtesy of Lush Home

The recycling process consists of 2 parts, upcycling and downcycling.

Upcycling is the process where waste materials, such as plastic bottles, are transformed into another material with higher quality and better impact on the environment. In other words upcycling is a creative re-use of discarded materials for something else, such as building a sturdy home out of old scrap metal melted together with other junk to create a new hybrid construction material.

Photo courtesy of Upcycled Zine

Photo courtesy of Upcycled Zine

Downcycling, on the other hand, is a similar conversion of old material into new but in this case, the new hybrid material is usually of lesser quality. The hybrid polymer created out of two old materials may not bond as well, creating surface weakness that may result in structural breakage.

You may have guessed it by now, the defining difference between the two processes is $$$! Anytime you want to use any upcycled materials the unit price will always be more than the downcycled materials. Now you know why the two handbags made out of recycled materials that you bought months ago at $59.99 and $129.99, respectively, only one is still holding up after months of wear and tear. Chances are the $129.99 handbag is made of upcycled material.

Let’s take Everlane’s Renew Collection as a case study. Its mission is to use recycled plastic bottles as renewable materials in their products and packaging so that by 2021 there will be NO new plastic being used in Everlane.

Judging by the information I can find on their website and knowing the standard of quality of their line of products, I can say with confidence that Everlane most likely will work with plastic bottles that have gone through upcycling so that the new material has strongly bonded polymers that will offer higher quality products and healthier impact on the environment.

Photo Courtesy of Everlane

Photo Courtesy of Everlane

Now go out there and be the well informed smarty pants consumer that you are and hold fashion accountable! Everlane and its Renew Collection is only the beginning, but with each step we consumers take by supporting Everlane’s and other fashion companies’ recycling initiatives, it’ll be another firm step in establishing a mindful and responsible fashion-consumer relationship.



Conscious Fashion = Conscious Consumerism

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When I first started my career in fashion as a young designer who had never been to fashion school and had no idea what “seasonal trend” even meant, fashion was a very curious world full of impossible deadlines and numbers to meet.

There were unspeakable rules set in stone, guaranteed margins that forced factories to eat unfair losses, and poaching of talents and properties on all levels that are hidden from regular consumers. It was also a place where designers hardly slept nor had the time to really design into anything as everything was driven by the fast fashion calendar with 8-12 deliveries every single year. What originality we had was quickly sacrificed by sell-ability, margin, and what is trending. And so it was when I first started, and so it seemed fated to remain.

Courtesy of Sandra Negron Cost of Fast Fashion

Courtesy of Sandra Negron Cost of Fast Fashion

Then something happened in the last 10 years where more and more independent brands and fashion startups such as Everlane, Toms, Reformation, and JW Pei, just to name a few, started to open up their product life cycle processes, becoming transparent and honest not just about how they run their businesses, but also who they run it with. All of a sudden consumers can read and find answers on these brands' websites that openly share with the world about not just what they sell, but who they are partnered with, how much do they make per product, and what type of material they used in each product.

Courtesy of Everlane

The hush hush secrecy and exclusiveness that have pervaded the fashion industry for so long is finally being replaced by a refreshing sense of honesty, inclusiveness, and accessibility of who they are and what their core values are about. And Don't forget the SIZES!! Finally sizes that will actually fit all body types! They also care about the environment and are dedicated to using such alternative materials as recycled plastic bottles and vegan leather. But rather than concocting eco friendly products as merely another seasonal fad to win exposure, they’re staking their entire businesses on it. All I can say is WOW.

Courtesy of Tom’s

Courtesy of JW Pei

It is encouraging and invigorating for me to see the efforts of these independent brands disrupting the industry silent norm and carving out their own way to success and integrity. They have inspired me to be more selective of the type of customers I take on, as profit shouldn't be the only considering factor. Kudos to all these brands who are blazing a new path into fashion!

Courtesy of The Reformation

Conscious fashion = Conscious Consumerism

Conscious fashion = Conscious Consumerism

Conscious fashion = Conscious Consumerism, one step at a time, we’ll get there.



Democratization of Design & Development

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Belated Thoughts On The Demise Of Henri Bendel: When I graduated from High School in tiny Novi, Michigan, my dear mother decided that it would be a fabulous idea for me to give a piano recital to all my friends and family... Not exactly my idea of how to celebrate my graduation, but next thing I knew I was flying to NYC for the first time with her to buy a recital dress from Henri Bendel.

Actually this little black dress is custom designed by ModaRevise for a private client, but you get the idea.

Actually this little black dress is custom designed by ModaRevise for a private client, but you get the idea.

This was back in the early 2000's when Henri Bendel still carried the many brands that made it so famous, and a marquee destination for quality and high fashion products.

Well, that little black dress still sits in my closet as I type, but Henri Bendel is soon to be no more. What happened?

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I'm not here to discuss the 2008 financial crisis that impacted everything from real estate to retail, nor am I going to spend time to re-analyze the slow recovery and many strategic pitfalls HB made in the last 10 years. (You can read all of that on WSJ or BusinessInsider, or BOF.com yourself.) Instead, I want to write from my own experience and my fashion designer's POV of how the fall of Henri Bendel is the signifier of a much larger phenomenon that I consider the Democratization of Design & Manufacturing.

If you are younger than 30 years old, you may not know that the distinction between luxury fashion and mass market was once much more distinct than it is today. Back in the day, Henri Bendal was among a handful of retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales that offered real quality goods with stringent product design and development and testing processes to ensure that the money you spent was truly worth it. The level of designers and labels that were able to sell to these stores were highly skilled in what they do, and would be considered true visionaries in the art of design.

But then, a seismic shift happened where mid-tier contemporary brands emerged and more affordable retailers such as Macy's and Dillard's, among many others, also started to offer private label products with the same level of design and quality at a fraction of the price. In other words, they democratized the design and manufacturing process by setting up a Product Life Cycle Standard Of Operation for all fashion graduate hopefuls to produce with relative efficiency. Indeed, it no longer matters if you have talent or not, nor the precision or vision to be a designer, so long as you can follow through with the system.

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Under this system, a great design and amazing craftsmanship are no longer an exclusivity and milieu of one "star designer.” In fact, the concept of a “rockstar designer” is the thing of the past, YSL v.s. Saint Laurent anyone? Instead, the system now trains a team of designers/merchandisers/product developers that work together not just to pump out designs on a regular basis, but designs to meet all sales objectives, withstand discount seasons, meet on time delivery with quality passing all regulations and tests, AND look similar enough to what's selling in the luxury world to entice buyers to spend less but buy more.

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The advancement of digital retail and technology has only sped up the democratization and boom -we are now in the age of a digitized fast fashion cycle with more than 12 deliveries per year!

I'm the product of this SOP just like countless other fashion designers born in the 80's who started working in the mid 2000's. All of a sudden, designing and producing quality products is no longer an exclusive process exercised by a few fashion giants who have the access and the capital.

When I design for Kohl's vs. Coach, it is actually the same level of design detail, time, and energy demanded of me for both collections. The only difference is you pay $79.99 at Kohl's instead of $327.00 at Coach. Yes, I could probably afford more embroidery flowers on Coach's satchel but not Kohl's, and you may argue that Kohl's is only in faux leather whereas Coach uses genuine leather. But let me ask you, Which bag would you buy without a sweat if they look similar enough? Even if you end up hating the Kohl's bag, you still have some money left to buy a new one.

When the process of producing fashion has become democratized and  inclusive to the point that anybody, including fashion startups can utilize the same Product Life Cycle SOP to offer value and quality of design, anyone can be your competition.

After all is said and done, however, my personal observation of Henri Bendel is that unlike other doomed retailers who were beaten by the new mass market competition both online and retail,  Henri Bendel beat itself by abandoning its branded business that built up its reputation, and tried designing their own products using the same Product Life Cycle SOP created by the democratization of design and manufacturing.

Farewell H.B., you will always occupy a special place in my heart.

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On The Challenge of US-China Tariffs: If You’re Not Solving Problems, Then You’re Not In Business…

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The past two weeks ModaRévisé has been re-assigning our handbag clients, new and old, to factories that have out-of-China facilities, such as Cambodia and Vietnam, in order to allay client fears of reduced margins as a consequence of the current US-China tariff dispute. If approved, US tariffs will affect all consumer handbags, small leather goods, and all other accessory items that are made in China. 

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In case you've been living in the dark ages, this tariff will jack up existing retail prices anywhere from 10% - 23%, depending on the type of materials (synthetic PU/PVC, leather, or fabrications) and the percentage of its usage per bag. And of course, no wise retailer will ask consumers to shoulder this 10% - 23% increase, thus the fear of loss of margin on the retailer's part. 

So ModaRévisé is scrambling to move production outside of China but it's not as simple as it sounds. We need to re-align the supply chain so that factories located outside of China can continue to procure quality materials and meet all delivery deadlines. For those that don't know, China is arguably the only country left that has a massive and well-developed infrastructure of supporting industries for handbags and accessories. From leathers, to Pu/PVC, nylon, canvas, embroidery farm, hardware molding, printing, silicon molding, anything you can imagine on a bag they have the network of supporting industries well established since 20 years ago. 

Dongguan, China

Dongguan, China

As a result, the majority of these components will still be developed in China, then shipped to our various factories in Vietnam or Cambodia. This can become a logistical and pricing nightmare if we don't manage the transition with extreme care. I get dizzy at the mere thought of a misstep, but this is the current reality of our business environment.

Leather may be from Indian but the rest still made in China. 

Leather may be from Indian but the rest still made in China. 

Thank goodness for a couple of things, however:

 1) ModaRévisé is supremely fortunate to have a strong teammates to work with to make this happen, especially our manufacturing partners who were prescient enough years ago to anticipate the risk of limiting their operations to China alone; 

2) If you’re not solving problems, then you’re not in business! This is, indeed, one of the greatest lessons I have learned from running my own business. As human as we are, it’s so easy to freak out when something so beyond our control, such as a looming international trade war, suddenly challenges everything we’ve worked hard to build.

But you know what? The sooner we can settle our fears and identify the things that we can control, the sooner we can see that even macroeconomic issues can be simplified, in a sense, and mined for problems that are within our means to address. In ModaRévisé’s case, for example, we were able to focus on working with manufacturing partners with facilities in countries without tariff risk.

There are certainly challenges with even that solution, but solving problems is what business is all about, isn’t it?