Geek to chic. That tagline was all the rage on daytime television once upon a decade. Has beens and have nots were given the chance to strut their stuff on national television on shows like Jenny Jones (google if you don't know) and throw their new and improved images in the face of their bullier(s). "Bucked toothed Betty" and "Willie the wetter" became "Betty the buxom" and "Willie the sexy warrior" (ok that's a reach) with a matter of a few clap push ups (or whatever workout routine was the craze), hair and makeup changes, and of course a revamp in the wardrobe.
As a teen I ate those shows up, watching every minute in awe and booing the villains who tormented those now sexier-than-sex souls. Although looking at the before and after photos was a hoot (some of those folks put the bust in busted) what was really fascinating was how a few simple changes in ones appearance can make all the difference in how a person is viewed and treated by onlookers, strangers, friends, homies, comrades, bell hops, bank tellers, you get the drift...
We all traverse our own complicated journeys, trying to find who we are and what we want to represent in this world. Although personality, character, and merit do and should be counted for a majority of that image, physical appearances matter far too much to not put at least a semi effort into what you look like before stepping foot outside la casa.
One industry knows too well our need to "image improve." The fashion industry's lifeblood is through hawking images at you faster than a college student can run up debt on a credit card. Every ad is about selling an image, a possible "new you" that looks as sleek, polished and hungry-thin as the models slouching in their pictures. And this new image comes in a seasonal package, for only $19.99 per item. Who wouldn't grab at the chance to reinvent themselves with each fashion cycle? That new skinny jean/sequined vest/high waisted pant is bound to make your legs/waist/arse look as great as the ads say right? Welcome to the world and purpose of fast fashion..
wait fashion, fast?? This vid will explain this interesting buzz word for you...
Did you watch the whole video? And you didn't skip any parts right? Better not or I am one unhappy blogger, and cyber threats should be taken seriously **queue ominous music**
But all joking aside, the video highlights the major problems with fast fashion: waste, exploitation, and of course poorly made clothes, meant to last only through a few wears. Stores like Forever 21, H&M and Zara are leaders in fast fashion, bringing us the latest trends in greatly priced packages. Yet their business models are far from sustainable, and more detrimental if it becomes a shopper's norm. There is no hard and fast answer to fast fashion, nor am I advocating that you never ever buy another item from your fav fast fashion store again. But stop and really think about that next trendy fashion piece. Do you really need it? Will it last a while? What are you going to do with it once you are bored with the fit/color/shape/feathers on it? And when buying it, remembering what you are supporting through your consumption...
So what do you think readers, is there any problems with a constant image change and buying into fast fashion? If so, in what ways do you try to "green" your wardrobe?
If you really know me, you know that I loathe giving up some (note the word some) clothing items, no matter how ratty tat tatty they become. I kept an infamous pair of sweat pants that were such a pain to the eyes my friends wanted to kidnap them and burn them to ashes (because throwing them away just wouldn't be enough). I used to think "Man, if these tweety bird sweat pants could talk, they would yell at me for spilling bleach on them, cry about the hole I let stretch wide across their leg, and pout about the paint stain splashed all over their arse."
Now cyber friend, don't act like you don't have one clothing item in your closet that has seen some better years and should rest in peace. Think about that comfortable wardrobe piece that has never done you wrong time and time again, no matter how much you disrespected it with stains and wear and tear. If that item could tell you it's whole life story, what do you think it would say? As I have said before, clothes shouldn't talk unless they are in cartoons, but I have come today dear reader to shed light on those silent stories, to tell the untold tale of a c. marchuska dress, and why it's journey is starkly different from less eco friendly wares:
Introducing the C. Marchuska Monika Dress
Monika's journey first began as the brainchild of Christine Marchuska. Frustrated with the lack of clothing options available to wear both to work and outside of the professional office, she was motivated to design classic pieces that held a dual role. The Monika dress, inspired by Christine's ex-finance colleague, Monika Krauze Metzger, was one of those pieces. What set The Monika dress apart from other wares was Monika's entire life cycle from "birth" to finish was an eco-friendly roller coaster ride. I know we keep throwing the words eco friendly and eco fashion around, but let's break down exactly why The Monika Dress epitomizes what eco friendly clothing is all about:
Step 1: The materials matter
Fashion isn't just about the look and style, it's also about the feel. Remember those Hanes commercials, where whole families were frolicking through fields overly ecstatic over the touch and feel of their cotton undies? Those toothy-grinned- sound bites had some grains of truth in them! We are all want great feeling and functional fabric in our lives, but many of the common fabrics used in our clothes require massive amounts of resources, cause immense pollution, and are extremely hard to recycle. Let's take a comparison:
The Monika Dress materials>>
- Uses micro modal material, a fabric made from
reconstituted cellulose from Beech trees
- PROS: 100% bio degradable (won't have to worry about micro modal clothes chilling in landfills for centuries on end), is 50% more water-absorbent than cotton, holds color fast, and is resistant to fading. It seemingly can do no wrong.
- CONS: can be more costly than alternative fabrics.
A dress made from the most commonly used fabrics (like cotton, nylon, and polyester)>>
- PROS: Natural crops like cotton are breathable, wear resistant, and relatively cheap to make. Man made fibers like nylon and polyester are cheap and can resist the wear of many wash cycles, maintaining their color and resilience.
- CONS: cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world, which is not only harmful due to the fumes let off from dousing the crops in chemicals, but pesticides can remain in the fabric and be released during the lifetime of the garments. Cotton crops also take up a lot of land (much of which is needed by locals to grow their food). Nylon and polyester are the evil step sisters of biodegradable fabrics, and will live in a landfill for many years past their wearable dates. They also use massive amounts of water to produce, and emit dangerous green house gases.
Don't let cheesy grins of popular commercials fool you, there are some other materials out there that are far better for the environment and your own health than those popularized in the retail industry. The Monika Dress is one example of great style with even better materials
Step 2: Production Practices
All the design sketches and clothing swatches in the world would only be ideas without the labor of stitching those ideas into reality. As I noted in previous posts (check out Sweatshop til you drop for a refresher;) The retail industry has some of the most controversial labor practices, as a majority of clothes are produced in exploitative sweat shop environments.
After Christine had her ideas sketched by a freelance designer, she sought out a local sewing contractor in NY's garment district, negotiating a feasible cost for each item crafted. The Monika Dress was made in this form, hand crafted by a skilled contracted worker. Although there are many debates about labor laws and what can be done with limited resources in an ever changing economy, knowing where your clothes come from is a step towards better quality overall. And aren't you tired of buying something that dissolves and tears after one sweat-it-out session during a night on the town? Yeah, I thought so!:D
Step 3: Dye it up
Dyeing clothes is no small feat, as it also has large environmental implications. Imagine knowing what color is in season this year by the color of your local river (crazy right? and you thought colored rivers were only willy wonka inspired fantasies). For some folks located near garment production centers, that is reality. I love bright vibrant colors in my wardrobe like anyone else, but at what cost will we pay to have those new hot-double-bubble-pink tights? To minimize the impacts of chemical and dyes, The Monika Dress is hand dyed. This labor of love conserves energy, limits waste, and also protects the integrity of that awesome micro modal fabric.
In a nutshell Monika is a stylish piece that has plenty environmentally friendly clout. The journey of this dress doesn't just end at a hand dipped dyeing session, pick up your own Monika Dress online asap http://store.marchuska.com/monikadress.aspx, because I know you want to get a little touchy feeling with some micro modal fabric!!
That's a wrap eco lovers!
Til we meet again, as always,
Do you remember your first job? For many of us, that memory isn't a glamorous one, full of flashy clientele, business jet setting and martinis. No-the first job reminiscence most likely invokes memories of serving deliciously deep fried items to impatient customers who never know what they want til the get to the front and hold up the whole line (pet peeve #1-what's up with that anyways? How you gonna be tapping your foot aggressively while waiting in line, then get stage fright when it's time to get down to bis and order?!).
My first job brings up slightly fonder memories, as I dodged the bullet of fast food vexation for a tamer route. I was a telemarketer, changing the world one Proactive skin care, Windsor Pilates, and Hooked On Phonics order at a time. Yes, I was the girl who answered your call when you dialed in to your fav infomercial. I learned many a handy thing on that fine call floor-how to type in any combination of 16 numbers under 10 secs flat, how to simultaneously eat a hotpocket and read a call script, and how to make special efforts to avoid that type of work environment later in life.
Don't get me wrong, the work environment wasn't dangerous, but it was structured in such a way that you felt like a teleslave (chea I made that word up), tethered to your phone for hours at a time, with minimal (almost non existent) breaks. All telemarketers sat in stifling cubicles, and were monitored from the big folk upstairs, constantly assessed for how long we stayed on the phones. After almost 2 years of consistently losing my voice, weird prank calls, no pay raises, and long hours, I was dunzo with that place. I even went to the movies on my final day in celebration of being freed from telehell (who knew I could remix so many telemarketing words? lol).
Most of us loathe those first jobs and will never look back (unless you lucked out and your first job was that jet setting martini dream-kudos to privileges lol), but our first jobs pale in comparison to many of the work environments constructed to create our essential household items, wares, and clothing.
Last week, I gave you a rundown on the history of garment making in the U.S...this week let's take a closer look at those work environments we hear so much about but know so little of: Sweat shops
Sweatshop early controversy
The term sweatshop stemmed from the structure of garment making itself. Middle men, known as sweaters, directed workflow of the garment making system. They contracted workers and took the profits from the bulk of the garments made. This contracting and trading structure was known as the "sweating system," thus the workplaces where clothing production occurred were donned sweat shops.
Sweat shop work environments in the U.S. were associated with dangerous health hazards, child labor, long hours, and "starvation wages"-wages that hardly allowed workers enough money for food.
The tension around sweat shop exploitation came to a head with the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which took the lives of 146 garment workers due to locked factory doors, and poor fire escape measures. A majority of the victims were young immigrant women, and was one of the most tragic industrial accidents in U.S. production history.
With a little help from investigative journalists (also known as "muckrackers") doing expose pieces on exploitative businesses, and unions bartering for worker's rights, sweat shops are a rarer thing to see in the U.S. today than compared to the turn of the century.
Sweat shops are defined presently as workplaces "considered to be unacceptably difficult or dangerous." According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 50% of sewing factories in the U.S. currently are sweat shops by this definition. Since our service economy lends itself to our fav brands and items being outsoruced and created in other countries, where labor practices come into question, the problem with sweat shop work environments is most drastic in developing countries.
Anti Sweatshop Arguments
With so many negative consequences resulting from this labor arrangement, there have been many opponents to sweat shop labor work environments over the decades. Although there are activists of all stripes who lead various movements, their arguments against sweat shop labor are similar:
- many workers don't earn enough money to even buy the basic household items they create. For example in 2003, Honduran garment factory workers were paid US$0.24 for each $50 Sean John sweatshirt.
- low wages in sweat shop factories lowers the standard of living for other industries, as businesses reduce wages to compete with sweat shop labor prices.
- Critics also point to the fact that sweatshops often do not pay taxes for the public services they use for production and distribution, and are not contributing to the country's tax revenue
Pro Sweatshop Arguments
Surprisingly, there are a number of sweat shop supporters who argue the following points to justify such practices:
- Sweat shop jobs provide better employement and pay than other jobs in developing countries. Although conditions seem inferior by industrialized nation's standards, they are better than the majority of work alternatives available to individuals in a developing country (such as subsistence farming and maunal labor)
- when these sweat shop production jobs are removed, standards of living actually decrease as unemployment and more dangerous work alternatives are the only options available...
Both sides make valid arguments, but being the Policy Analysis Major that I am, I can't take any subject without a little more research (as you shouldn't either). Sweat shop labor in our present economy is a complicated one with no clear cut answers, with many arguments from all sides either justifying or defaming sweat shop practices.
But we at C.Marchuska believe great clothing production shouldn't come at the cost of exploiting someone who is desperate and has no alternatives. We take great care in how each C.Marchuska piece is produced, and want to spread the word that concious consumption is necessary to make any sort of difference in the fashion world.
Join me next week for a personal account of those behind the brand, the faces of those people who put in the labor to create those many clothing items we take for granted.
Thanks for reading, and remember stay fly;)
The beauty of being born and raised in Utah is the cute, quirky, and mundane life skills only a Utahan could claim. From how to make five different savory dishes from jello, to knowing how to lure, catch, skin, cook, and mate fish, these adorable little skills are more than funny dinner chatter, hey sometimes they come in handy. My first claim to one of those many life skills was through my introduction to the world of sewing. I am not sure how many high schools do this, but back when I was running the halls of Ben Lomond High (Scotties stand up!:) I was required to pass a sewing class to obtain my high school diploma. Definite class requisite throw back right? Who makes kids labor over sewing machines in "home economics" anymore? Don't those fools know we will never do anything more than pray a hole in a pair of pants repairs itself?
Anyways, from the first day of entering the class I knew it was going to be a challenge. Even turning the sewing machine on was an intricate task best left to survivors of the Great Depression and the folks who work for Maytag. Although I experienced many a blunder in that class, I came away with a pair of plaid shorts (which I still rock as sleepwear to this day!) and an appreciation of the privilege of not having to sew my own wardrobe.
Can you imagine what it would be like to labor over every article of clothing you wore? If we were all forced to depend on self sewn wares, there would be a lot more spandex and muumuus (google if you don't know) being worn to business meetings.
Though it's safe to assume most folks think it's great to not to have to sew their clothes, few know the efforts involved in getting that new pair of slacks, or the reasons why they don't have to sew their own clothes like their grandpappies and grandmommies probably did.
Well, you're in luck dear reader. Take a trip with me down memory lane to understand where this retail phenomenon we call fast fashion all began....
The 19th century marked the time when families were solid production units to be reckoned with. Not only did the average family raise their own animals, make their own butter, and bake their own bread, they crafted raw materials into cloth, and stitched that cloth into a workable wardrobe. Yes, the colors were few and the style "durable" at best, but families knew exactly where their clothes came from and had a custom fit. For the more affluent, tailors were available in city centers to craft custom made pieces for large fees, but most people were left to fend for their own attire.
1830s: The "slop shops"
Ready to wear clothing first came on the scene in the most unpredictable form: sailor's uniforms. Life on the sea definitely isn't conducive to getting your sew on, so it's understandable that ready made sailors clothes would be a hot commodity. The shops that threw these pieces together were donned "slop shops" and crafted manufactured materials that were limited in function and style. Fast forward a decade or two, and men's clothing began to see major shifts in production. With a civil war brewing, the military was in need of uniforms made fast. After many soldiers were measured, industry folk began to see common patterns in sizes they believed could be standardized. Thanks to some tweaks to a new found invention done by Issac Sanger, the sewing machine allowed manufacturers to establish a legit textile industry for ready made male clothing in the U.S., using the sizes measured from military troops.
1920s: Those "Flapper" dresses...not quite ready made
Since women weren't really participating in war like that, they were left out of the textile manufacturers' radar for ready made clothes. A few woman's items were available through ready made production (such as cloaks and coats) but a majority of women still crafted their own clothes or sought tailors. Improved industrial techniques, a growing urban professional class, and a rise in regional advertising fueled ready made woman's wear. The textile industry now had a large population to appease, but lacked the research of common body measurements necessary to craft ready made pieces that fit the majority of women. Clothes were being made fast and for cheap, but the arbitrary measurement standards each manufacturer used meant clothes were one step away from being potato sacks.
The terrible turn around on ready made clothes for women motivated the U.S. government to get involved with standardizing woman's sizes. 15,000 women were measured in a survey conducted by the US department of agriculture, which gave standards for manufacturers to use when slapping together those debazzled flapper dresses iconic of the time.
Fast fashion was finally starting to take flight.....
The "piecework" fashion industry
Many benefits were being reaped from the industrial production of clothing. No longer having to hunch over a thread and needle to make their clothes meant people had increased leisure time and a variety of cheap choices for their wardrobe.
This also created a new industry of employment. The textile industry was one of the easiest to break into. All you needed was a cheap sewing machine and a space to layout those patterns and materials. The cheapness and accessibility of sewing machines contributed to a "piecework" industry, where workers were paid not based on hours worked, but on amount of garments produced. The industry was so fragmented and decentralized, workers were given one small piece of a larger garment to work on throughout their day. As many as 150 different operations were put together to create a whole garment, with workers being paid a penance for the amount of labor expended on those items.
As the textile industry grew, labor demands expanded to hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers producing clothes in factories. Most of these workers were recent immigrants, and crafted the fashionably cheap wares in deplorable work environments. Extremely overworked and underpaid, labor unions began to shape the industry and improve standards of these workers, but the gains were very small in comparison to the exploits occurring within the field...
So w hat's going on today?
The U.S. isn't the production powerhouse it used to be, as most industry production is now exported to other countries where labor costs are low and profits can be quickly gained. This sturcture is leading to a new age of controversial sweatshop labor that is surprisingly supported by some but abhorred by many.....
I think that's enough of a history lesson for now, so many facts to take in with so little time..
tune in next week for a continuation of fashion history 101 and to get an insiders perspective of the labor of love i.e. garment making
toodles!! until we meet again