November 4, 2010

Uh Oh, U.O.

Some time ago I "discovered" Carin Wester. I was immediately taken by the elegance and simplicity of her palette combined with oversized proportions and weirdly cozy looking platform wedges.

You can buy all these things on her website. Upon further browsing, I was pleased to discover a section called "Vintage" filled with leftovers from past seasons at reduced prices. Stoked on all these finds, I bookmarked the site in my "designers" folder for future shopping potential. I also showed Mike some of the rad menswear.

And then the [choose one: "inevitable," "unfortunate," "worst thing," "best thing," "moment of my dismay," "moment of my elation," "moment of ensuing profound indifference"] happened: urbanoutfittersdotcom began carrying her line. 

What reactions I felt may be very different than others, and my politics aren't really what I want to bring up at all. It's the fact that this situation incites a reaction that I want to question. Carin Wester existed before, was sold in stores, lauded by the press, and was accessible online. Then a decision was made to sell the line at UO. I have absolutely zero factual knowledge about how this decision was reached, but I am absolutely certain that a decision, a choice between or among options, was made.

We can certainly speculate about the factors influencing this decision. This is where our agency as consumers enters the equation. Is vending independent designers at massive cool-peddling outlets the best way to support worthy, admirable designers? Or have designers become convinced, through amassed evidence, that such actions are the only way to get us to spend money and ultimately to keep their brand afloat, allowing them to live a life of creativity? Surely empty phrases like "democratization of fashion" help ease discomforts while fashion's least credible and most hype-inducing branch, we blogs, fervently, with frothing mouths, spread word. It's harder to popularize and recognize an independent designer. It's much easier to wait for the PR announcement email and copy and paste it's contents and links.

Would I buy these beautiful Marbella ankle boots from urban if I had $403 lying around?

Again, this is not about me detailing the questionable politics of Urban Outfitters, which has been done quite nicely elsewhere for the uninitiated. But if we all know that UO, Anthro, Forever 21 and the like can only exist in such massive spaces by selling loads of cheaply made, glued together junk, likely produced under unfair labor and wage conditions, do independent designers really benefit? Even with the handful of designer pieces available online, UO is profitting largely from masses of wasteful junk. We also tend to recognize that carrying Wester is one of many attempts to seem fashion-credible and move past the slogan tees. Do we just buy in after searching for a coupon code for free shipping?

I may be way off base, but for me Urban cheapens a brand I wanted to like. I believe in a smaller-scale relationship of profit and livelihood, dreaming of a way designers, small boutique owners, and customers can increase personal wealth (not just the $$ kind) while also scaling back on the rampant consumerism. "Retail therapy," isn't helping to spend us out of the recession - we are digging ourselves deeper into global economic inequality.

I don't know if any of this is important. I will dilute content in the coming weeks with lots of pretty outfit posts, promise. For today, though, I leave you with this expert opinion, from the the Korea Times' article "Fast Fashion's Unpretty Life Cycle,":
 "So how can you become more fashionably responsible? Try not to buy as much, experts say."


those tricks said...

I have many thoughts on this, which I am feeling too sunday-in-the-sun lazy to hash out, but I think the topic is very important to bring up and keep in discussion, so glad you mentioned it.
On another note, Urban Outfitters gets away with selling $400 shoes?!

Susie said...

thank you for this comment! sorry i took so long to reply. i especially appreciate comments on my more thought-out posts.

Mike said...

Hmm... so you'd like comme des garcons better if it wasn't sold by 200 vendors around the world? I'm confused. Some designers want their designs to be seen and the 100++ UO outlets provide that. Aren't you happy that the designer you like and "discovered" will also be "discovered" by a larger audience?

Susie said...

Mike, thank you for your critical remarks. To respond, I'll point out first that in the post I said that I was not so much interested in sharing my personal political opinions, but rather trying to raise questions about how and why we consume in the ways we do, and what the effects of certain cross-collaborations might be. Your note of confusion makes me think that I was able to ask questions without providing clear answers. Polemics and ideology are not my aim. Clear answers are often the most suspicious to me.

As for your comments about Comme, I'm not sure where you are going with that, since they recently collaborated with H&M for precisely that reason. (Interestingly, Rei Kawakubo has stated that she will never again do a "high/low" collaboration.) I'm a huge fan of independent design as well as larger "houses" that regularly turn out innovative and passionate work, hence parts of this blog. I also hope that more and more people will embrace such things and learn about work like Wester's. Again, blogging is a part of this exposure, the desire to share things rather than keep secrets.

Ultimately, I wondered aloud in this post where all this blogging and loving of brands and things leads, though. Do we imagine a different relationship of capital flows among designers, manufacturers, garment workers, and consumers, or do we just self-identify with brands in the pursuit of something individuated and self-gratifying with little though of the effects of our transaction? Hopefully I can continue to tease out this complex set of questions a bit more in the future.