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.
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.