Tagged: book review

New Reads for Summer

This I Wear | Summer Reads 2015

Last summer, I set my expectations too high. I planned to read three books but only succeeded in reading one of them. Dan Barber’s Third Plate was too big to carry in my bag during my commute, so I gave up. Fashion and Sustainability read too much like a textbook, and I lost interest. But I successfully read Let My People Go Surfing and luckily that one was fantastic and a very easy read.

Despite a small sense of failure on my reading last summer, Summer Reading remains my favorite hot weather tradition. This year, I’m making failure impossible and recommending a book I’m already nearing the end of and one that everyone but me may have read already.

Women In Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton
This is not the book you throw in your bag for some subway-commuter reading because there’s a lot of pages.. Yet it is such a delightful read that you will find yourself stealing away small moments just to read a few pages. In fact, I read the majority of it so voraciously that when I realized I was nearing the end, I made myself slow down to make it last longer. The book itself is the result of surveys to hundreds of real women plus interviews, photo stories and random encounters, all on one topic: women and their relationship with clothes. It is a storytelling masterpiece in many small snippets and bits, and if you like my blog, you will LOVE this collection of stories.

What’s truly wonderful about the book is that it’s impossible not to identify with at least some of the women, which also makes it easy to laugh when an interview subject says something that hits truly close to home. The book is also not about sustainability or minimalism, yet the topics come up in beautifully surprising ways from stories of trying to develop a personal uniform, learning about where clothes come from, understanding quality, and our emotional connection to clothes. I think I may in fact give this book to every woman in my life this coming Christmas, because there is something about it that so deeply expresses how clothing and fashion relate to how we view ourselves as women across many different cultures, ages, and orientations. Did I mention that I love it?

And if you read it and want to take the survey yourself, it’s still accessible by clicking here.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Perhaps all of you have read this book already, but I have been holding out for the sole reason of hoping a friend would let me borrow her copy, since I knew people were buying it in droves. I happen to love organizing, and I’m asked repeatedly if I would consider doing it professionally (not at this time, but I’d love to work with you on a one-time project – email me!). But there is always something new to learn and from what I’ve heard, Marie’s process of helping people find joy in what they do keep seems totally refreshing and inspiring. I think I also have a fear that she is advising everyone to throw things in the trash as I’ve been reading news stories of the sheer volume of now-orphaned “stuff” as a result of this book. I’m also very curious if she has tips for people on how to avoid buying more things once they’ve tossed everything out, since that is important too.

So those are the two books I’ve got lined up for the summer. I hope you’ll share your recommendations in the Comments, especially for some light summery fiction (nothing too intense please!), since I’m almost always in the non-fiction section. Happy reading!

Get Your Style Straight

This I Wear | Into Mind WorkbookFinding your personal style is perhaps a lifelong journey, but working through Into Mind’s “Personal Style & The Perfect Wardrobe” workbook was only 5 months long, though it was 4.5 months longer than I expected it would take me.

When this minimalist wardrobe workbook was first released in fall of 2014, I purchased it and shared excitedly about the journey I was going to embark on. But I didn’t realize then that it would take me so long to complete. Nor did I realize it would be so hard. However, now that I’m at a happy place with it, I can tell you that it was worth it.

Some quick context: Anuschka Rees founded and writes a popular blog about creating a minimalist wardrobe, Into Mind. Her posts are expert lessons in garment quality, intentional living, creating a signature look, and so much more. The workbook is no less intensive – each section is an in-depth and reflective exercise to get you closer to finding your personal style and how to manifest it in your wardrobe, but it requires focus and time.

Initially, I found the workbook overwhelming, and I frequently found myself skipping pages after the initial closet dissection and preference finding sections. Yet the further I got into it and the more times I kept coming back to it, I found it easier to answer the questions. In fact, by the time I really had let it settle in (months later), I suddenly had a very focused Pinterest inspiration board that represents my style aspirations, and it felt really easy to explain my style. In “Section 6: Style Concept”, I felt proud to be able to write a single sentence summarizing my style, define the color palette, and identify the essential elements. That might sound silly, but it felt like an achievement.

That said, I don’t think you need to fill out every one of the 85 pages. I also think you should give yourself a long span of time to work on it, knowing that you’ll want to do some work, and then go back to it later to see if your answers hold up.

I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in experimenting with the capsule wardrobe idea that is so popular these days. I would also recommend this to anyone who like me has a disconnect between what they like and what’s in their closet: perhaps you know what you like but still can’t understand why it’s so hard to get dressed in the morning, or you keep buying the same “wrong” thing over and over without realizing it. Or perhaps you have an overflowing closet with many personalities and you’re trying to find the one that feels most right at this point in your life.

If you’re trying to make a wardrobe change and you’re willing to put in the time, I say go for it! Buy the workbook, put a nice printed copy in a binder, and get out your colored pencils and old issues of Vogue. And please tell me how it goes if you try it too.

P.S. Just to be super clear, I paid full-price for the workbook and do not receive any commission if you purchase it. I just think it’s a great tool!

On an unrelated note, I will likely not be posting next week as I’ll be traveling to visit family. See you back here the following week!

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

This I Wear | Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

I brought along the book, Let My People Go Surfing, from my Summer Reading List to the beach, and it quickly became covered in sand. After reading the book, however, I’m convinced that Patagonia’s founder (and the book’s author), Yvon Chouinard, would have wanted it this way as he is perhaps the most adventurous (and outdoorsy) businessman you might ever meet.

The outdoor industry of which Patagonia is an important leader does not view itself as part of the fashion industry and vice versa, even though both industries make clothes. So I can’t tell you how surprised I was that this book challenged my ideas of trends, quality and beauty, but it did.

Chouinard started off as a blacksmith making climbing equipment. At a certain point, he realized that the high quality, effective and popular climbing gear he was making was destroying the very mountains the climbers wanted to enjoy. So he got rid of the destructive model and improved on and then popularized a different, less damaging technology, and it sold like crazy.

He was also responsible for popularizing brightly colored outdoor clothing instead of the gray that dominated the market. But many years on, they realized those neon colors were full of damaging chemicals and so out went the neon colors and in came safer dyes (and absolutely no orange since no safe substitute could be found).

What if all of our trends came out of the pursuit of better technology, improved functionality and environmental stewardship? What if trends were about what is better and simpler rather than what is new and full of unnecessary frills? This idea is not just for climbing equipment but can apply to what we wear everyday. Perhaps the idea of a “timeless trend” is an oxymoron, but what would it be like if the latest thing was simpler and better in quality/design/sustainability than the previous version and that was somehow “trendy”?

Patagonia’s list of values includes the pursuit of product quality “as defined by durability, minimum use of natural resources, multi-functionalism, non-obsolescence, and the kind of beauty that emerges from absolute suitability to task.”

We don’t usually talk about beauty in that way, but I got a few goosebumps when I read that line. For Patagonia, that kind of beauty is the baselayers that save your life because they keep you warm and dry in the freezing cold. In fashion, this kind of beauty could be the perfect linen top that keeps you cool while you’re out on that summer date, the versatile dress that takes you from work to an evening out, the shoes that let you work a long shift without leaving you in pain, or even the suit that gives you confidence in a job interview. It’s beautiful not just because of the aesthetics but because it supports your lifestyle. It’s also beauty that comes from not worrying about whether your swimsuit will fall apart as you get out of the pool.

After what sounds like an intense debate, Chouinard and his chief designer decided that quality is objective and can be defined. This means that for Patagonia, quality does not refer to subjective taste and preferences but instead is a very tangible and objective state. The company’s list of criteria for a high quality product is extensive but a few of the most universal components include:

– Is it functional?
– Is it multifunctional?
– Is it durable and able to be repaired?
– Is it as simple as possible?
– Is it easy to care for?
– Does it cause unnecessary harm?

Chouinard quoted one of his own inspirations who believes that “to make a high quality products is a way to pay respect and responsibility to the customer and the user of the product.” And honestly, I’ve never thought of a high quality item as being particularly respectful, but I really liked this idea. If this is true, then it would be easy to say that Forever21 has no respect for their customers (or their suppliers) by producing such poor quality products. Obviously their goal, unlike Patagonia’s, is not the pursuit of quality, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that they disrespect the customer by negatively impacting the environment and world in which the customer lives and by selling her knowingly insufficient products.

And if we’re willing to buy such insufficient products, what does that say about respect for ourselves (and the environment)? I could write a whole post about just this.

Overall it is a great book and a fairly quick read. And more surprising than any of this is that the book itself is an incredible resource if you are thinking about starting a company that makes products, whether apparel or otherwise. If you read it, I hope you’ll share your thoughts here too.

What does beauty from functionality mean to you? How would you define quality if you were (or are) making products? Share your comments below or tweet @ThisIWear.

Summer Reads

This I Wear | Summer Reading 2014

I did very little reading this spring. I made it about halfway through The Goldfinch and then desperately wanted to stop only because I was afraid of how it might end. But since I’m not a quitter, I just “took a break”, which meant I wouldn’t let myself move on to a new book. I finally did break the self-imposed curse with The River of Doubt, following the stories of Teddy Roosevelt’s reckless adventure in the Amazon. I have just 50 pages left, and I am itching to get back to some reading on my favorite subject (the fashion industry) just in time for one of my favorite traditions of all time (summer reading).

My latest summer reads are below, and don’t forget to check out last year’s reading list here. On the other hand, if reading isn’t your thing, I suggest picking up an adorable bathing suit and some flip flops and heading outside – just don’t forget the sunscreen.

What’s On My Reading List

Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose – This book has been calling my name for months as it has sat unread near my desk at work. Kate Fletcher is a London-based professor, the founder of one of the coolest fashion storytelling projects ever (Local Wisdom), and possibly one of the people I’d most like to meet in the world. Lynda Grose is a California-based professor who has amazing insight into where sustainability and fashion exist now and where they could go. Together, they’ve made a book that covers everything you’d want to know about how to get creative in bringing sustainability to fashion products, systems and design. I’ve been intimidated because it looks like a (skinny) textbook, but it’s time for it to move to the top of my list!

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard – This is Chouinard’s first book about his work in founding Patagonia. If you’re at all interested in entrepreneurship or how businesses can do good by people and the environment, I’m told it’s a must read.

The Third Plate by Dan Barber – After reading an interview with Chef Dan Barber on my favorite food blog, Food52, I immediately added this book on how to make what we put on our plate reflect “where good farming and good food intersect” to my list. It’s supposedly a little bit world food history, a little bit farming, and a lot about finding out how to make and eat delicious food.

Wish me luck! We’ll see if I finish these by the end of the season. In the meantime, what’s on your reading list?

P.S. A huge shout-out to the many of you who recommended Goodreads to me as a way to track my reading. I’m loving it! (Find me here!)

Book Review: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

This I Wear | Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

Welcome to 2014! Lazy days spent with family offer the perfect time to catch up on reading, so we’re kicking off the New Year with a new read! Enjoy!

“In the world of Cheap, ‘design’ has become a stand-in for quality.”

In today’s shopping world, the middle ground is gone. Our options seem to be luxury goods that cause us to be suspicious of price and discounted (but “designed”) items that give us suspicion of quality. As consumers, we often feel manipulated when we shop, because we don’t actually know what we are buying. In fact, according to Shell, “we believe that merchants habitually overcharge us just because they can, and the difference among products represents not a difference in quality but in the varying ability of salesmen to fool us.”

Why are we so suspicious? And is our suspicion warranted?

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, indulges our greatest consumer fears that retailers are taking advantage of us. Starting from the history of the department store and down to the invention of the price tag, she follows the growth of our cheap-obsessed American culture.

Honestly, after reading this book, it feels like unless I buy all of my clothing from that price-transparency movement starter Bruno Pieters, I may never know if the cost of my clothes is the result of the price of the materials, the skill of the labor, the import tax, or some concept of “good design” (which in the case of “cheap” is design for disposability).

So why the pursuit of “cheap”? Well, it’s a long (well-researched) history, but this is what’s going on behind the price tag:

Prices are influenced by emotions, not just concrete numbers. And since human beings are pretty irrational, our emotions get a lot of attention from retailers. According to Shell’s research, “a fair price…is one that is ‘emotionally okay’ with the person doing the buying.” Some of this is pretty visible in stores, hence why $2.99 is more common than $3.00. But what about the fact that humans have a really hard time predicting the needs of their more rational future self? Well, we might not be so conscious of that, but it’s why a deal feels so good now. We don’t necessarily know what things are worth or what will make us happy or fill a need, but we do know how we feel when shopping. And a deal appeals to those emotional highs and lows. Our emotions get played to and suddenly, we’ve bought what the store wanted us to buy rather than what we truly needed.

We assume getting a discount “involves a trade-off of quality for price” whether it’s true or not. Even though we’re chasing deals like alcoholics going after their next drink, we actually don’t like the stuff we buy on sale as much. HUH? Think about it: if we buy something that has been marked-down, we start looking for flaws. Of course, something is wrong with it if no one else wanted it and it’s been left on the shelves. And that means that even something on sale that is of good quality has a lower perceived value, which influences how we treat it. According to Shell, “the less we pay for something, the less we value it and the less likely we are to take care of it, with the results that cheaper things – even if well made – seem to wear out and break more quickly.”

We like brands because we are looking for markers of quality, something (anything!) to explain the price. Most of us have no idea what we’re buying when we’re shopping, but a brand name has historically been a reference for quality. In fact, the idea of a brand or marker of quality is the only thing that overrides the previous point: “Once quality is assumed – as it is for many branded products – a lower price is a plus. When quality is in dispute, as it is when we buy things we know nothing about at flea markets or eBay, low price can be a negative.” So we don’t mind buying our Polo shirts for 75% off, but that Persian rug on eBay better be freaking expensive, otherwise it is obviously no good.

And speaking of discount goods, outlet malls are complete crap. Yes, they started off as a mechanism for getting rid of unsold, damaged or irregular merchandise, but now, most chain stores are designing and producing lines for their outlet stores. Yet, we’re still willing to get in our cars, drive hours, and spend an entire day after the pursuit of a deal. Why? Because we think that because it’s no frills and inconvenient, we’re EARNING a good deal. It is not a deal, guys. I REPEAT: IT IS NOT A DEAL. Don’t fall for the trap. And whenever you’re tempted by the distant glow of the outlet mall, consider the Simpsons reference Shell includes in this chapter, straight from Homer’s mouth at the outlet electronics store: “I know a genuine Panaphonics when I see it. And look, there’s a Magnetbox and Sorny.” (Don’t be Homer…)

And what is the result of all of this? We’ve been conditioned as consumers to look for markdowns, so retailers are now scared to stop putting things on sale. Oh well. I guess we’re all just human.

But Shell ends on an unexpectedly optimistic note that we as consumers can set our own standards for ourselves, demand transparency, and set ourselves free from this low-price death spiral. This optimistic conclusion was surprising given how far I felt pulled down the “all retailers are frauds” tube, but if you are a paranoid consumer or into behavioral economics, this book will have you turning page after page. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to the folks over at Well Spent for putting this book on my radar. While it’s more consumer goods focused than just fashion specific, it is hugely helpful in understanding why we buy what we do, and how the market got to where it stands today, which hopefully will inform on how we can make a change in the future. Or God help us, we’re going to run this ship into the ground.

Share your thoughts! How does price influence our buying habits in more subtle ways? Is “cheap” addictive? How can we overcome the allure of a deal?  Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your views.

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