You’ve heard this phrase, right?  Find your people.  Havi, at the Fluent Self blog, writes beautifully about it.  I’m not sure if she coined the phrase or if it was in circulation before. Seth Godin also writes about the tribe.  For creative working people, it’s a key element, something that’s tricky, and if missing, a block.

I’m still trying to find my people.  I can’t read fashion blogs, or small-business blogs, or style blogs.  When I was a novice, I could read sewing blogs, but they are less important to me now.  I like to read about explorers.  Thought explorers.  Experimenters –  lifestyle experimenters.  The whole reference point of life-hacking and freedom-seeking has always appealed to me, and I want to see it expanded.  Many of the people who write and work in this field work in a solipsistic fashion-  writing self-help books about life hacking.  Perhaps un-intentionally using sleight of hand to hide the lack of grounded substance.  Self-help books about life-hacking are inspiring on page 5, but ultimately leave me feeling like I’ve been eating only candy.  No nutrition. Most of the current popular researchers on the topic are only writing in a superficial way.  It seems, browsing the bookstore shelves, that this is the preferred offering.  The 60,000 word, double-spaced, quick fix offering.

A book can be short and life-changing.  (The Tao De Jing)  But it’s a trickier proposition.

SELF-DEFINITION

I recently read this post on reinvention (via Karol.)   I love the idea, and especially second the idea of reading lots of books.  Everything I learned, I learned from books.

Why go through a reinvention?  Usually people are forced into them, because the old way simply stops working, but I believe successful people are constantly, effortlessly reinventing.  Once something is developed to a point that it’s no longer inspiring, it’s time to reinvent.   For instance-  a life theme.  A business idea.  An approach to working.  None of these things are static.  They all require constant reinvention.

When I started working again in fashion, after working for a technology company for five years, I felt relief at two aspects of the fashion business (true for any creative industry as well.)  The first is that while there is competition, obviously, and copying, your vision and creation can’t be made obsolete by a change in technology.  Fashion and design are fundamentally different from tech in this manner.  Secondly, in creative fields, competitors are important.  I run a lingerie brand-  it’s important for there to be other lingerie brands-  wholesale buyers want to know how to place a brand, “who it hangs with.”  Same with books-  you wrote a travel book?  Great, it goes in the travel book section.  This sort of complementary competition is awesome.  And it doesn’t really happen as deeply in tech because, in most cases, there is a problem being solved and there really isn’t market space for more than two or three solutions.  When you get a situation where there are six competitors-  say, cell-phone providers-  often anti-trust law is preventing consolidation.  (I’m a fan of strong anti-trust law, don’t mis-read that statement.)

I’m currently going through a bit of a reinvention in our business. We have shifted away from made-to-order and towards stocked inventory.  I want to be freed up to focus on writing and design, and keeping stocked inventory makes this possible.  It’s a scalable model, where the made-to-order model was not as easy to scale, and the margins could slip easily.

As I’ve written before, margins in fashion are pretty cut & dried-  there are brands who are attempting to do a pure vertical model, “cutting out the middle man”  (everlane, warby parker) but it’s tricky without retail stores.  Successful vertical brands (J Crew, Gap) rely on retail locations and volume to offer lower prices on high quality goods.  Everlane and Warby were clearly venture-funded to a fairly comfortable number, and it will be interesting to see if they can turn that around without mimicking the proven Jcrew vertical retail model.

For (too) long, I was interested in building a small, local brand, but the reality is, it’s extraordinarily hard to be successful making clothing doing that.  I’d estimate that 96% of our customers are not local (tourists from out of state or web.)

A controversy of late has been the decision by etsy.com to allow vendors to drop-ship and include factories in the process, as long as the artist’s influence was still present.  (huh?)  I stopped selling on etsy about a year ago, and haven’t regretted it once.  Etsy shoppers tend to be bargain hunters, looking to get a product at what is really the wholesale price, since they are dealing direct with the maker (see, vertical business.)  I’m not interested in making things for the bargain hunters, because, as I’ve written before, that model leads directly to over-consumption and carelessness. In the clothing industry, we talk a lot about the type of people who return things.  Because, among our little crew of fashion friends, we can’t remember returning a piece of clothing.  Ever.  Yet, we all appreciate clothing!

So in this process of reinventing the business, I’m interested in finding people who hold similar values to me.  And I’ve come to realize that “sustainability” as I interpret the value, is quite different from the way others interpret it.  To clarify:  many people interested in sustainability see it only through the lens of stinginess and lack.  This isn’t how I see it.  I see sustainability as appropriately placing, valuing, and making things in a larger context.  The American corporate model of “return it as much as you like, guaranteed for life” is not sustainable. The model of building things meant to last a lifetime can be sustainable, but not everything can last a lifetime if worn everyday.  Like delicate silk slips or lingerie.  There’s a place for delicate things, and if someone prefers to buy from Carhartt, I totally understand.  We don’t make workwear! But thankfully, we have a broad, capitalist, diverse market, and both workwear and silk lingerie are available.  Much to my surprise, sometimes people confuse the two.

Posted by:brook delorme

6 replies on “Flow : Finding your people

  1. Really interesting topic! Fashion and business together. Like you I try to get away from the bargain shoppers (but in the travel industry). It seems like there are masses of people out there in all industries who just want the cheapest thing possible. Whatever happened to quality over quantity? Ok rant over.

    On finding your people I’m really struggling there. It’s all about niche right? But mostly the internet is trying to put people in boxes and categorize you. That’s why I found this post so interesting because it can fit in a lot of different categories. Keep up the controversy!

    1. hey Katherine! Great to hear from you- I didn’t recognize you at first with the new last name! :) congrats, of course. Yes- the niche within a niche within a niche- it’s really too much. Looking forward to reading more of your work as well- thanks for writing. -b

  2. Interesting thoughts as usual, Brook. I think, however, you can’t be too hard on bargain hunters. I mean, one can look for bargains without necessarily expecting them. Like I know Apilco ramekins cost so much and are likely worth what they cost, since they’re made in France, they’re lead and cadmium free, etc. But it doesn’t stop me from trying to find them for less on e-bay, etc. Because they aren’t really in my budget and I don’t want “made in China,” etc.

    And it’s the same with clothes, and shoes (though shoes do seem out-priced, to the point where if I find a pair for $300 I’m like “what a bargain), and so on. I do focus on quality over quantity, though with minimal quantities, stuff gets worn more and wears out more quickly. I got 15 years out of a pair of Armani riding boots (they cost $600 in 1998) but after re-soling them three times I finally had to discard them this winter. And same thing with a Miu Miu sweater that was the most beautiful thing ever until after so much constant wear wasn’t. And of course I can’t replace them so yeah, I’m looking for something just as great but “on sale.”

    That doesn’t mean if I were to encounter a boot maker or a knitter of cashmere that I’d complain about the prices. I don’t expect the stuff I love to be affordable. Which is why my wardrobe consists largely of “found objects.” Because I can’t just go and buy what I love off the rack. And I don’t want to spend hours looking either, because a part of me hates shopping. But now and then I look, now and then I find a bargain, now and then I fall in love and do my best to do without but if I go back to my hotel and I’m dreaming of myself wearing a certain something I opted not to buy because it was too expensive, well, I do occasionally pay full price. Those are the Miu Miu sweaters, etc., that get worn a thousand times. I’ve never regreted money well spent, whereas, when I’ve compromised, out of necessity, and bought something “Not quite right,” I’ve usually ended up giving it away.

    I’ve been trying in recent years to approach my wardobe as a curator. I have a limited budget, but I am definitely focused on quality over quantity. The tragedy of course is when something wears out and is beyond fixing or mending! In response, I’ve taken up knitting – late in life – which is a wonderful way to get a $600 sweater for $100 yarn (and ironically, I’m always looking for the very best yarn, and no matter how much it is, it seems cheap to me because I know how much it would cost me to buy a sweater from that yarn at Barneys).

    As a culture, we’ve gotten addicted to cheap – cheap clothes, cheap food, etc. But you know, it’s not only the poor who are guilty. I know many rich people who go through luxury goods faster than I go through athletic shoes! I’m not kidding. There are people who could be *curating* the most fantastic wardrobes ever, because that’s the kind of money they have, but they’re buying just as unthinkingly as the person shopping at Target. They can afford your stuff, but it doesn’t mean they are investing in your stuff. Of course, you’re right, lingerie is not an *investment* per se, it’s one of those things that doesn’t last, that we’re always having to replenish. But you know what I mean.

    I also wonder if some of it’s not accidental. I don’t know if everyone shopping at Zara because that’s what they can afford starts with the attitude that they are buying a coat for the winter vs. a coat for the decade OR if that mindset is more a result of the stuff they buy not lasting (or looking rather shabby after one season)?

    It raises so many questions about how values are formed (how tastes are formed!) … I consider myself rather fortunate in that I have an eye for quality, I always have. I mentioned a couple of brands, but only half of what I own has a brand. I find things here and there and I make them work. Whereas I know many people who are extremely brand conscious, so they always have a $1000 handbag, with a logo, but I like my battered leather made in Lithuania without a brand much better. I do search for brands on ebay if I’m shopping there because it’s a kind of a guarantee (if it’s one I’m familiar with), but I don’t rely on them as arbiters of quality in general (because they are not).

    All by way of saying that there are bargain hunters who just may share your values, some of them anyway, and luxury consumers who do not!

    On another note – if you enjoy “life hacking” type reading but find it leaves you empty (or, to follow your thinking, un-nourished), you might take up philosophy (not that you need another project). But since you are in everything for the long haul, you could start with the pre-Socratics and just keep going. And everything’s been vetted over centuries so you’re going into it knowing you’re not wasting your time, that the reading will pay dividends. It’s like unprocessed food vs the more processed “7 habits” type stuff.

    1. hey Elizabeth- great to hear from you, as always, and fun to read your thoughts!

      re: bargain hunters….I’ve been looking for a piece of data that explains, in ppp, how much Americans spend today on food/clothing/shelter, compared to 50 or 100 years ago. I know we spend significantly less on food, as a percentage of income, then we used to. (I’ve found the data before but I’m not sure where to re-find it.) My guess is we spend maybe equal or more on clothing- but it’s a lower dollar value per piece. More of our disposable income now goes towards technology, credit cards, etc.

      I totally respect your approach to bargain hunting :) I too rarely buy clothing (for obvious reasons) and so spend substantially less than average on clothing, I’d expect. When you work in an industry, it’s really hard to pay full price for something from that industry!

      love the comment about philosophy as the natural source all this explorer/life hacking stuff came from- when writing this post, I’d actually tried to tie it back to philosophy, but gave up on that tangent, unable to make it work in the writing. But you are so correct- several philosophers are on my bedside reading table right now.

      thanks for writing! -b

      1. Yes, you’re absolutely right that we spend much less as percentage of income on food and clothing – I could find that data for you if you want it. But we spend a lot more on housing, health, and education. And the savings we’ve reaped on purchases of household goods (due to shifts in manufacturing and production, etc., which you’ve discussed) do not begin to make up for the increasing cost of what one might call basic needs, hence the increasing debt load of many Americans and increasing cost of servicing that debt. It is a misperception that credit card debt is a result of people buying more – it is a result of life costing more, period. And outstanding student loan debt is poised to overtake outstanding credit card debt, if it hasn’t already. I think another problem is the sudden (well, in the last 30 years) availability of cheap goods! I mean, when I was growing up a good winter coat was $100 in 1970s money. Kind of freaky that you can get a coat at Zara for LESS than that nowadays. Oh and food – I do spend at least 20% of my income on food, about twice the average!

      2. very interesting, thanks :)

        So, the question I would ask is: if housing costs have gone up, are we getting/choosing “more house” for more money? Same with education. Clearly, higher educational costs have risen. But if we constrain the data to state schools only- are we getting more resources/ options/ choices/ sports teams/ for that higher price? What is driving the price up?

        I’ve long suspected that the reason health care and education prices are going up is because they are products outside of a market. In both cases, emotions drive people to believe they are essential goods. And in both cases, individuals rarely pay for them directly. Most of education is funded through student loans. Health care is a complicated payment system of big insurance company negotiating with various hospitals for a better deal than an individual could negotiate on their own. The true prices in both systems are opaque or diffused or spread out across decades. I think this- this abstract future payment obligation- coupled with more things to buy – more health care choices, more educational choices- is actually what leads the prices to rise faster than prices in the rest of the economy.

        I haven’t counted it up, but I know that we spend an inordinate amount of money on food as well!

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