- We’ll explain how the fast fashion industry has kept prices low and profits high by swapping out yarns, cutting out details, and making copies of copies, while walking through the design process of most big retailers/brands.
- We will unpack why it’s really difficult to find sweaters made of natural fibers.
- Amanda will explain how natural fibers aren’t the “cure” for the impact of overconsumption.
- We will give you advice about how to choose the right sweater (hint: read those content labels).
- Dani will give you advice about how to care for your sweaters properly.
Welcome to Clotheshorse, the podcast that is pretty excited that it is now officially soup, hot tea, and sweater season!
I’m your host, Amanda and this is episode 183. My special guest this week is someone you all know and love, someone I also love and consider a leader in the slow fashion community, Dani of Picnicwear! Today she and I are going to talk all about why sweaters are well, not-so-great these days. Dani is the perfect person for this conversation because in addition to being a major sweater aficionado, she is also a sweater designer! And as I’ve mentioned in the past, certain categories like denim, activewear, and sweaters are very specific niches and areas of expertise within the fashion industry. Fortunately I have managed the sweaters category at various different jobs, so I don’t want to brag too much, but I kinda think we are the ideal pair to break down the decline of sweater quality during the fast fashion era.
Now, we ended up talking for about 2.5 hours. I edited this down to 2 hours (it was very hard because obviously I enjoy talking to Dani way too much). I thought about splitting this into two episodes, but it just didn’t work that way. So today’s entire episode will be our conversation. There will be no audio essays or other info from me this week, but I can assure you that this episode will be super educational!
Before we jump into, I wanted to share one other bit of news with you: Dustin and I have officially signed a lease on a house back in Lancaster County, PA. And we will be making that move at the end of the year…which is a lot sooner than you think!
Okay, let’s jump into the conversation!
You’re like a regular in my mind. Right. And I like I feel I consider you one of the founders of this like modern slow fashion community that we live in. But you haven’t been on the podcast in like two years.
It’s crazy, I cannot believe it’s been that long. I realized it was that long though, when I was thinking back to when we were talking about doing an episode together. And it was about, we wanted to do one on trends and trend cycles. And then I told you, I was like, my mental health is not there right now. I can’t really, I don’t really feel like I can do this without crying.
because I was like found out I was pregnant but also did like my insurance was cancelled like when my insurance company found out so that’s a whole long story but yeah when I was thinking about when I was and then before that it had been like a year so now that’s been or maybe it had been six months or something so yeah over two years yes long and short of it
Oh god, yeah.
We should really do that trend episode someday.
We actually should, yes, I agree. I have like, since we started talking about it, I’ve had like so many thoughts on what we could talk about.
Yeah, seriously, I like whenever you want to. I think that would be really fun because I was actually thinking it was weird. I was thinking about trends this morning as I was getting dressed because I was thinking like I put something on and I was like, is this like uncool? And then I was like, who the fuck cares? But but like, you know, you know, because you when you work in this industry for a long time, you’re like seven.
Yes, who cares?
seven years ahead of everybody else sometimes and you like by the time something is the trend you’re like, I’m so over that right
Yeah, for sure. But I feel like I’ve been making great strides at unpacking that because I had a moment this weekend where I put on an outfit. And I was thinking about each article of clothing I was wearing and first of all, let me preface it by saying I looked in the mirror and I was like, I look fucking rad. But then I realized, wow, all the clothes I’m wearing are very old. Some of these I’ve had for six years.
like this, you know, whatever, like all these things I had acquired pre-pandemic and yet I still felt awesome and like not uncool. So thank you.
Yeah, now I was, people are always asking me like, oh, where do you buy clothes, blah, blah. And I’m like, I actually really don’t buy clothes because I have a ton that I really love. And when I look at what’s in my closet, to me they are trendless. And it’s the ones that were the most attached to a trend at the time that I ended up selling on Poshmark or something. And it’s just all propaganda, right? Especially as, today we’re gonna talk about sweaters, spoiler everyone, but.
100% yeah completely.
I’m gonna go.
As I was looking through websites looking at sweaters today and yesterday, I was like, you know, sweaters really like, kinda doing the same thing they have been for a long time and it’s… Right? So, I’m gonna go ahead and do a little bit of a quick recap of what I’ve been doing.
I was thinking the same thing when I was doing some research. I haven’t really looked at those websites in a really long time. And I started looking and I was like, and I even looked at some of the brands I used to work for. And I was like, wait, this isn’t actually that much different from what I was designing five years ago for these brands. And that kind of shocked me because like, I think, you know, honestly, like a lot of it could be the same design, but the chances are that the person who bought that thing I designed five years ago doesn’t have it anymore. But
whatever reason they might be buying this new one and it’s like well there are many reasons why they don’t have that old thing but it’s I don’t think it’s specifically because it wasn’t a good style or something but we’ll get into the reasons why they don’t have that sweater anymore.
We’ll get into that for sure. I’m excited to talk to you today about sweaters. And this whole thing happened thanks to the power of the internet. When you sent out an email from Picnicwear, your business, when you talked about a recent Amanda Mull piece for The Atlantic, which most of you by now who are listening to this have probably read. But if not, don’t worry, I’m going to share the link in the show notes. The article was called Your Sweaters Are Garbage. Approximately 9000 people on
social media sent it to me in a 24 hour period, which was good because I might have missed it.
got it sent to me by my dad.
Oh, wow. Yeah, so I read it, you know, and I, we’re gonna talk a lot about it. There’s nothing wrong with this article and I’m glad that we’re having this conversation. Anyway, so Dani sent out an email in which she talked about it and why her recent sweater collection is different. And I posted a screenshot of it in Stories because I was like, this is a really good email, right? It’s educational. This is like the grossest, like analogy, but I use it all the time when I’m giving people business advice, was like, sometimes you gotta show
sausages made, right? To explain why your business works the way it does and I thought it was like on point. And I, you know, I shared that and then you were like, hey, should I just like go on closed source and talk about this or whatever? And then I was like, great, okay, sold. Let’s set this up. But I’m excited for us to talk about this because I will tell you like since even you and I talked to prep for this episode.
In the past week or two, I have been seeing more and more conversations specifically on TikTok where I spend more time now than I used to, which before was zero time. So it’s all relative. A lot of conversations coming up about like, why are clothes so crappy now? You and I have been living in this for a really long time. So we saw it happen. And the clothes have been crappy for a long time. I want to assure all of you. Someone did a TikTok.
a content creator named Meredith Lynch on TikTok. And a ton of people tagged me and were like, you should ask Clotheshorse Podcast why clothes suck. And then I was like, okay, well, I’ll make a video and I’ll explain like how this all happened. And it’s just been like starting this larger conversation. And I even was on Reddit yesterday and someone was like, have you guys noticed that clothes suck now? So I think we’re at this like moment of reckoning, I like to believe.
We’re finally figuring it out because I will tell you, as I said in my reel about this, that clothes have been crappier for a long time and on the buying and design side, we assumed at some point customers would get sick of it, but they like never did. So we just kept doing it. Not like nefariously, you know, but just like, why wouldn’t we?
Mm-hmm. Yeah, which is right. It just became habit. Like this is what we do now. But it is interesting to me that like, you are seeing this emerge as well because I’m seeing people respond in this way. And to me, I’m just like, yeah? Like, what? Of course they’re garbage. What are you talking about? Like, yeah. So it’s just so, I’m really wondering what that tipping point was for people.
They’ve been garbage for so long.
to realize that I’m here for it, but it’s just really interesting to me that it’s like kind of taken this long and yeah, I hope more people realize it and question it and consider how that can affect their own shopping habits.
Totally, I think it’s one of those things where you kind of have the feeling that things aren’t as good as they used to be, but you don’t say it out loud, and then you finally do, and then everyone around you is like, yeah, I was thinking the same thing, you know?
Also, yeah, and I feel like people also, I mean, people don’t understand how clothes are made. You’ve said this a thousand million, quadrillion times, and they don’t know what makes a good garment from a bad garment. But if you have two next to each other, you’re looking at both, most people who are not educated in clothing construction or what have you will be able to be like, oh, that one’s shitty, this one’s well-made, and not really know why, but it’s just this like,
you can just tell. But like, I wish that people could be a little bit better versed about like what makes clothing good and what, you know, good quality and what doesn’t. So obviously we’re gonna talk about the specifics of sweaters today. Yeah.
Yeah, I know it is, you know, I said I don’t buy a lot of clothes. When I do buy clothing, I try to shop secondhand. And regardless of whether I buy something or not, I try on a lot of clothes at thrift stores. Like, I’m an avid thrifter and I just like to know what’s up. So if I see something that is labeled with my size and it still has the tag on it, I’m like, I got to know what is the fatal flaw of this garment. Right. And it’s always just the most ridiculous fit. Like, I tried on this Shein dress.
Yeah, good call, yeah.
Okay, it was really cute. I was like, is this am I gonna thrift a she and dress? Because Dustin was like that is a really good dress And I put it on and my arm wouldn’t go through the armhole above my elbow. I was like Okay, like I know why that’s here and it was like a fatal flaw to that garment. Like there was no fixing it, you know Um, and that’s how I see a lot of really bad fit really weird sewing that doesn’t make any sense. And of course Just like a lot of bad
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Fabrics that are already snagged and the tags are still on so it’s pretty it’s pretty bad out there right now I gotta say like I don’t know if it’s really gotten worse Than it did was five six seven years ago, but it’s been going strong And I will also say this listen. I have many issues with shein I do not support shopping there if you got to do what you got to do like no shame, right? but I will tell you that
the Shein quality is no worse than the quality I’m seeing on other labels at the thrift store. The one thing that is consistent, yeah, it’s just all not good, right? And so when people are like, I don’t thrift Shein, I’m like, I don’t know. If you’re thrifting other brands, you should just give it a try. If it fits you and you like it, you’re going to wear it.
Yeah, gotta back that up, I agree.
It’s true, I completely agree with that. And like, you know, I think unpacking like what, what creates the like the price tag that’s on the clothing, like demystifying that, which you do a lot, will kind of help people understand that it’s like, just because this top is $9 from Shein, but like this other top from like Zara is like 29, doesn’t mean that the $29 one is automatically.
better quality, it’s just like, think about, for example, just one example out of many, like marketing budgets. Like Zara has like beautiful photography, their website is like, oh my god, I’m shopping at like a contemporary brand, you know? You’re paying for that in that $29 garment. So like, yes, we’re talking about two cheap brands, but like, at the root of it, like, there doesn’t have to be much difference between the products themselves because you’re paying for other things too.
And I think that’s a really good call out that we’re going to be coming back to you time and time again as we unpack sweaters today that you cannot spot quality or lack thereof by the price tag because plenty of things that are expensive are the same as the lower price stuff. That doesn’t mean that like there aren’t great things out there that are high quality long lasting that are higher price point. Right.
When we assume that the dividing line, the way we can tell is price, we are wrong, for sure. And I think that there are a lot of brands out there that sort of trade on that, that that’s part of their branding, that somehow their stuff is exceptional. And it’s not, it’s not, because it’s the same factories, it’s the same fabrication, just better branding.
Yeah, I mean, luxury fashion is the like, the perfect example of that, like just the most insane inflated prices. But it’s described as luxury, which I feel is very unfair that they get to use the word luxury because it’s like, what gave you the right to call yourself luxury? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Like, yeah, yes, exactly. And it’s like these crazy price tags. And I’m like,
Oh my gosh, and so much of it is polyester.
You know what’s luxurious to me? Being able to buy from a small business or a maker and know that the person who’s emailing you is the person who made your garment. That is luxury to me. Not like buying something with a logo on it that’s made out of polyester but costs like $3,000. But everyone knows you spent $3,000 when they see you wear it. That’s not luxurious. I don’t know how that’s considered luxurious, but it’s certainly not my definition of luxury.
Oh my gosh, I know.
Absolutely. I mean, let’s normalize shopping small and from independent designers as the true luxury, and not this nonsense that, I mean, yeah. Anyway, so we were inspired by the Amanda Mole piece, and like I said, I’m going to share it in the show notes. And I know, Dani, you have some caveats that you want to share there. I just wanted to read one little passage from it that I think, like, I’m going to start by saying…
I enjoyed this article. I’m glad it exists. I think it opened people’s eyes. I kind of wish that Amanda would have talked to people who actually work in the industry as designers and buyers because I think it tells a stronger story than this actually. But she did talk to Imram Islam, who is a textile science professor and knit expert at FIT. And I’m just going to read this little.
Yeah, me too.
It was at FIT or was it at a North Carolina University? Because I’m like, I DM’d that person, so.
I’m pretty sure she said FIT in the article. Let me see, what if it was the Fashion Institute of Technology of North Carolina? Oh, it’s a different person. Yeah, Andre West is the other person she talked to. And like, so, you know, they obviously have a broad range of knowledge to share here, these two professors, but ultimately like there is something to be said for like working in there and like seeing how this stuff goes down. And so today I hope that
Okay, sorry, I could be wrong.
It might have been another I’m so suck.
we can shed a light on that. But this passage I think was like getting closer to where we are right now. Right? So according to Islam, if you push down retail prices with cheap labor, they’ll no longer bear the use of quality materials. If you push down retail prices with cheap materials, they’ll no longer bear the wages of garment workers with more skill and experience. If you push down both as much as possible, you stand a pretty good chance of gaining market
you know, the whole story of clothes wars practically, is that we have become kind of addicted to clothing being cheap. Like our concept of the value of really anything at this point is so messed up by the era of fast everything, which is like new stuff as much as possible, as often as possible at low, low prices, right? And so every industry has jumped on this. In fact,
The theme of next year for Clotheshorses is gonna be unpacking fast everything, not even just fast fashion. But we know that our sense of value is skewed, and clothing specifically is cheaper now than it was in the 1990s. So to get sweaters to be cheaper, to fit in and be successful in the era of fast everything, you have to keep the prices low. You have to lower, in fact, lower them, right? And so you have two options here. You can…
push on the actual cost of producing the garments, which means suppressing wages for all the garment workers involved, the yarn factory, all this stuff, pushing down on that, or you, which is where we always start in apparel buying, you swap out the materials, right? So you switch to cheaper materials. And basically what Imran Islam is saying in this article is,
that if you push too hard on the wages, you won’t get high quality product. If you push too hard on the quality of the yarn itself, then you also won’t get good product and people, no matter how skilled, won’t be able to make good things out of them. So it won’t be successful. So you kind of got to push on both of them at the same time and then you can be successful because neither will be too bad, right? Yeah, so we’re gonna talk a lot about that today and kind of…
how we get there. Now, Dani, you had a caveat about this sweater article and I want you to lay it out there because you’re right and you’re an expert.
yeah i mean this is i kind of spoke to you in more detail about this i didn’t put this in my in my newsletter because it was like a little like kind of just defeating the purpose of the whole article but my whole point was that she so Amanda maul what she does in the article is that she basically says that this whole conversation started because some comedian shared a photo of billy crystal next to a photo of what is the actor’s name
I don’t know, I’m terrible at actors.
I don’t remember, some modern actor, and both of them are in the same pose. Basically, this modern actor is mimicking the pose of Billy Crystal, and they’re both wearing ivory cable knit sweaters. And she said, and it brought up the question of, why are sweaters just so poor quality now? And she’s comparing the Billy Crystal one that was from the 80s or what have you, and then the current one, which I believe is a $400 Ralph Lauren sweater or something. And…
While I totally agree with her point, I think what was interesting is the examples that were given because just by looking at the two sweaters, the one on the left to me that Bailey Crystal is wearing is like a very lofty acrylic sweater. Like I can see that sweater in a thrift store. I’ve seen it time and time again. And the one on the right is a very expensive cable knit. It’s got different cables across the sweater, which is more expensive.
to knit and it’s densely knit, which is more expensive to knit, which we’ll get into that a little bit later. So when I look at them, I’m like, oh, the sweater on the right is like, would absolutely be more expensive to produce. So in a weird way, she’s kind of defending her point is that like, we don’t really know what a expensive sweater like a beautifully made sweater is anymore. And so it was just like…
No. Oh, absolutely not, yeah.
To me, I loved the article, but I just kept getting stuck on that point because like I could tell just from looking at it that the sweater on the left was like probably a hundred percent acrylic if not like fifty acrylic fifty cotton or something like that. But I just thought it was really interesting.
Yeah, and I will say, like, sweaters are definitely crappier in general now than they were in the 80s when Billy Crystal was wearing that sweater for a lot of different reasons and in a lot of different ways that we’re gonna talk about. But sweaters being a mix of synthetic and natural fibers is kind of nothing new, because that’s where customers tend to cast their vote, which we’re also gonna talk about today. Because I’ll tell you,
A lot of people who sent me this article were like, yeah, I don’t know why we can’t all switch to natural fibers. And I’m like, y’all don’t want nice things, okay? Like we’ll talk about that today, but you know that I’m right, Dani. I was like, when you included that in your email, I was just like, thank you, thank you. Okay, so first things first.
Yeah, yeah. Yes!
I would like to ask all of you, are you reading the content labels on the things you buy? And are you looking on the websites before you make the purchases at the content? Which in most cases is there, but not always. I kind of question how often people are looking at that because in my experience,
People choose sweaters and pretty much everything else they wear by how it feels. Right. And I say this all the time, but people think the 70s was the golden era of polyester. I mean, you can close your eyes. I can like feel a 70s double knit polyester garment like in my hand. Like I it’s so visceral.
Mm-hmm. You could spot it from a mile away in a thrift store. Like, you know it from across the thrift store. Like, you can see it.
Totally. That fabric doesn’t really exist anymore.
But we actually live in the golden era of polyester right now with about 65 to 70% of all garments made being polyester in one way or another. And it’s because it’s cheap, right? Now, as a review for everyone, what is polyester? Well, polyester is made from fossil fuels. It is literally the same fibers that you would find in a plastic water bottle, that PET fiber.
sponge, stretched, all kinds of things to make it, to turn it into fabric, right? But it starts in the same way, which means it’s not biodegradable. It means, yes, it literally is plastic. I don’t even want to, sometimes I start to get into like a mental health spiral thinking about what polyester clothing could be leaching onto my body as I’m wearing it. It certainly sheds microplastics every time you wash it, even sometimes when you’re wearing it. And it’s not a good story, but it has become the way
clothes are made because it is cheap.
And when we started in my career to really start shifting into polyesters around 2008-2009 after the recession during the recession We thought it would be a temporary thing because we really thought there was no way that customers would be into this long term And guess what customers didn’t care. So we kept doing it and I’ll tell you polyester the technology for it is so good
1970s that you can’t guess polyester by looking at it or feeling it even you know unless you’re a major textile expert because
And I think another note on that is like, when we talk about the content labels is, you’re saying polyester, but it’s kind of more encompassing than that. It’s like synthetic fibers in general. Like to be totally honest, like with sweaters, like I very rarely, like you said earlier, most sweaters are right now are like a blend of like a lot of different fibers. Yeah, sometimes it’s like six in a row and you’re like, wow, that’s crazy.
Mm-hmm. A lot. Yeah.
But it actually is pretty seldom that polyester is in there. And so there are other synthetic fibers that are 100% made up of chemicals just like polyester is that come under different names like polyamide, PBT, nylon, spandex, also known as lycra, elastane. The list goes on. So you will probably more likely see.
those fiber names in your content label than like polyester itself.
It’s true and I was looking across the internet and getting myself riled up looking at sweaters. And one thing that I noticed time and time again is that in many cases, the retailer would, like the description, the name for the style would be like such and such wool sweater, such and such alpaca sweater. And when you clicked into the content, alpaca or wool would be one of the most minor parts of the blend or comp, it might be 33% polyamide.
and then 33% wool, you know, and then a bunch of other ones following that. But the likelihood of you going online right now, I mean, and they exist, right? I saw it on Everlane, I saw it on a couple of other sites. There are places that are selling full, like, full natural fiber sweaters, but not a lot. And not a lot of full natural fiber sweaters, right?
Mm-hmm. Yeah. One of my faves at one of my previous jobs was we had a sweater called the Hint of Cashmere Sweater. Would you have to give it to them for saying hint of? Because 3%? Yeah, I would say that’s a hint. That is like maybe even not worth noting, but let’s just put it in the title of the sweater.
It’s a dash.
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. So you don’t get your expectations too high. And yeah, I mean, all of these synthetics start as petroleum and it’s like melted, spun, smooshed around, all kinds of things happen. But ultimately…
The technology is so good that you could almost feel some of these fibers and think, like, wow, this feels like a cloud, right? This feels soft. And that brings me, now you’re gonna use a term that gives me major traumatic flashbacks to being a buyer.
tell you that as a buyer we rarely would sit around in meetings with designer production and no one would say this is 12% cashmere and 37% dilaud of you know 40% polyamide no one said that right that didn’t happen we pass it around and we feel it and it’s like oh this feels so nice this feels so cozy we feel so go ahead and say it say it Dani
Ahem, yummy. Mm, so yummy. I love this yarn, it’s so yummy.
Yeah, yeah, the yum factor, right? You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a bunch of adults sit around a table, passing around swatches going, mmm, yummy, yum.
Yeah, it’s real. And it’s like extra gross when you think about it now because you’re like, oh, y’all are like rubbing plastic and you’re like, mmm, yummy, oh, so good, right? But this is like the more yums it got from the, everyone in the meeting, the more likely that sweater was gonna be a best seller because customers would come in. Yeah.
Because that’s how the customer would feel when they smush their hands into it.
Absolutely. I mean, I would also hear things like mmm, it feels so expensive Okay, the moment said someone says this feels so expensive. That means it’s ridiculously cheap Looks so expensive same thing. Oh, it’s so luxe also not good not a good red flag
So true. Yes, Lux. I was going to say Lux is the other one. Yep.
Oh, so gross. And really like what it is, it’s all about is like, OK, we got to hit this price, but we also have to like appeal to the customers like sensory. I don’t know, just like sensory needs once and.
I say this all the time, I was so glad you said it in your email, Dani. Customers think they want wool, they want alpaca, they want natural fibers. But that is not actually what they will buy. And it has been the bane of my existence my entire career.
Yeah, me too. It’s so, so frustrating. I am like a wool addict. Like I love a scratchy wool sweater. Like not that all sweaters, wool sweaters have to be scratchy, but like, you know, you layer that and it like looks amazing, keeps you warm as hell, still breathable. You like literally don’t have to wash it and it won’t smell for like a long time. Let’s be real. Yeah, wool is like amazing. And yet like, we would
design, like we would pick out a yarn that we loved and it’s like 5% wool or something and we would get so many bad reviews that like this sweater is so scratchy and I’m like did they receive the same sweater? Like I don’t understand how anyone would describe this as scratchy, like what is going on here? This is absurd, it’s 5% wool, everything else is synthetic, like yeah, it’s tough.
Yeah, yeah, it sucks. It sucks. Like in my experience, people really go for the most plasticky yarns. They’re lofty, they’re fluffy, they’re soft, they’re cozy, they’re yummy. There was this fabrication we sold for years at Urban Outfitters that was called Brushed. And it wouldn’t have been like in the sweaters area. It was in like heavy knits. That was like the buyer who managed.
Yeah, no, we like brushed Hatchi. Like we, sometimes that fell into the sweaters category because even though it definitely wasn’t a sweater, like to the customer, they might call it a sweater. So it was always kind of like juggled back and forth. Can I just make a comment though? You just said when I used to work at Urban Outfitters.
Oh yeah, so Dani was like, why don’t you ever say Urban Outfitters because that’s where you worked or the other places you worked. And I was like, oh, I don’t know. Like, you know, back when I started Clotheshorse, I had just been let go from my job at Newly, which is the rental brand that is, thank you, that is owned by Urban Outfitters. And as part of my…
Yes, I’m so proud of you, Amanda.
severance agreement, which they gave me, you know, I’ve said this famously, they gave me two weeks of severance and cut off my insurance in the middle of a global pandemic when I wasn’t going to get a job for like a year. I almost didn’t sign this agreement because it was like only two weeks of pay, but I was like, I don’t know what’s going to happen to us next. So I am going to sign this agreement. And they were like, you know, as part of this agreement, you can never say anything bad about the company publicly or even tell anybody unless they are completely,
connected to your financial management how little severance we gave you. So I am like you know Dani was like that was years ago like you got to be set free. So I’m setting myself free. If I get an ugly letter you’ll all be the first to hear about it but we’re not saying anything. No I don’t I mean
Yeah, are you just making me culpable of this now? Like you’re telling everyone that I’m the one to blame.
Okay, so last year I talked to a lawyer about this because it had been on my mind specifically, you know, like, like it felt unfair because people stay on these brands that are under the urban umbrella. And it felt like I was complicit with my silence in a weird way. And I talked to a lawyer who was like, honestly, this severance agreement, should they decide to try to take you to court is not going to stand up because the balance of power is so messed up at this point that it’s like a global pandemic.
for a long time, it’s very clear, right, that you would be like kind of forced to sign this agreement. So, and it’s a really bad look for them. So anyway, so yeah, so when I was working at Urban, back in the day, we would sell a lot of this brush fabrication and it was like candy for children.
Yeah, I mean, totally fair.
Like we, the first year we debuted it, like people could not get enough of it. And it was like 900% polyester.
I’m literally sweating thinking about the fabric.
Oh, it was so gross, but it was very fluffy because it was brushed. After the fabric was woven, it was brushed to give it this lofty layer on top of it that felt cozy. It’s not unlike all that polar fleece kind of stuff too. That’s all plastic as well. But that was like, people, I mean, we just couldn’t keep it in stock. And it was one of those things, you wear it once or twice and it pills to all hell.
part in the washer, that kind of thing. And I always, when I think about like what customers or not what, but like how customers choose when they’re shopping for clothing, especially when we talk about sweaters, heavier fabrications like that, that always comes up in my mind is like the prime example of how customers choose hand feel over anything else, always.
Yeah, and it’s also, especially when it comes to sweaters, that is a very tactile type of garment. So it does make sense in that regard, but also we have to say like, you know, people aren’t educated, people don’t understand. Like I, you know, I understand that when you brush the fibers on a fabric, you’re bringing those fibers to the surface, right? And when you bring, like, what is a pill?
first of all, a pill is what happens when the friction of fibers rubbing up against each other, right? So if you’re bringing all those fibers to the surface, and it’s kind of just all sitting there on the surface with this brushed effect, you’re basically like giving those fibers a place to move around and like rub up against each other. And so, yeah, and by bringing them out of the,
Yeah, yeah, you’re giving them a head start on pilling.
woven or knit fabric itself, you’re also like, how to put it, like weakening the actual structure of the fabric to begin with. So you’re bringing it to the surface, which promotes it to pill, but you’re also removing it from the structure, which makes it weaker, thus susceptible to holes, to bagging out, to just like…
just normal wear and tear that should take a long time to happen, you’re basically like, like giving it a kickstart, yeah, like you said.
Yeah, yeah, so it is a garment with a short lifespan. Now, do I think the designers and buyers and production people who worked on that think of it that way? No, of course not, right? They’re just like doing their jobs.
The people who sold it to you in the store aren’t thinking that either. But that is the reality of these kinds of garments is that they have a very short lifespan right out of the gate no matter how careful you are when you care for them. Some of them are just like these brush fabrications, for example, are going to pill just from existing, just from you wearing your coat over it to go out and run an errand. So it’s it’s.
It makes me sad and it’s like often when people are like, well, if we just switched everything to natural fibers, everything would be better. Like when I hear that and like that’s just like not how it works. You know.
Yeah, and I also want to say that like, pilling is not innately a sign of a poor quality fiber or garment or something like that. Pilling is natural and it will happen over time and even natural fibers will pill, cotton will pill, hello, cashmere will pill. Like, pilling is natural, but it’s like, when you combine all these different traits together.
It’s like the pilling is one of many things that make that a poor garment or a poor, like a, you know, not a long lasting fabric or fiber.
Totally, totally. I mean, I told you that like, when I was working for NuLi, sweaters were a really big category for us. People really loved renting sweaters. And the pilling was so bad that people on my team went out to the warehouse and shaved pills off of racks and racks of sweaters. But that’s…
to make them good enough to go back out to another customer to rent, right? But that’s not like a long-term fix because you can only shave your sweater so many times before there’s nothing left there. You know?
Exactly, because just like what I was saying, just like brushing, shaving is like taking parts of the fiber away. So shaving your sweaters is great. I wouldn’t tell people not to do that. You should absolutely do that if you’ve got pills, but it’s not something that should be done all the time. Like if you’re having to shave a garment after every single wear, eventually…
fibers are going to weaken so much that they’re going to create holes because there’s no more fiber keeping it together. So yeah, that makes total sense that it would withstand one more wear from the consumer, but once it came back ultimately like I wouldn’t be surprised if there were holes. So yeah.
Yeah, yeah. So there’s no easy fix for this other than changing how sweaters work. But, you know, we’re gonna talk about how sweaters come to exist as they are right now, but I’m gonna tell you.
I think that our brains, our human brains, we often want a quick fix, an easy black and white fix where we’re like, oh, if we do X, then Y won’t be a problem anymore. So like, for example, people, if I, every time I post about like some sort of labor issue overseas, right, someone will say, well, if we made everything in the United States, that wouldn’t happen. And it’s like, oh, you’d think that. But actually,
LA has tons of forced labor and wage theft and everything else. So nope, not a fix either, right? Or another one that comes up all the time every time I talk about polyester or any synthetics is, well, if we just started making all of our clothes out of natural fibers again, we wouldn’t have a problem. And actually, we would have a major problem because…
We cannot continue to consume clothing the way we do now, no matter what it’s made of. And if we shifted to wool, cotton, other natural fibers, what we would have is a different environmental emergency on our hands, which would be like lack of farmland, a water shortage, and so much more. So there is no like, oh, well, if we just do X, then Y is fixed. No, unless the X that we’re gonna do is buy less stuff in the first place. That’s like the only solution, right?
Exactly. What is that? You used to always share this quote, quote meaning like you used to always say it yourself, something like there is no magic fiber that we can like that allows us to continue to consume at the rate that we are now. Like something I can’t remember exactly what you said, but
Exactly. Yeah, that’s you said pretty much exactly what I would say, that there’s no magic fiber or magic fabric that lets us overconsume without repercussion. Like it all has a catch, right? And I almost would say, because I’ve read studies about this, that if we switched everything to 100% natural fibers, but we continue to buy and consume the way we do right now, it would actually be worse for the planet.
than it is with us over consuming all of these synthetic fabrics, believe it or not, because that’s how intense the impact of cotton, for example, is and a lot of other natural fibers. They are so intensive in terms of water and land use.
Well, also, I will add that when synthetic fibers were first coming into the scene, like turn of the last century before that, whenever that was, one of the great things about it was how much more accessible it was. Because back then, shipping like silk or wool from wherever it was produced was really, really expensive. But with synthetic fibers, you could
anywhere because all you needed was chemicals basically and you didn’t need all of the human power to raise the crops, to card the cotton, etc. It was like a lot of automated things. So if we were to switch to all natural fibers, there would be a lot of human cost within that too because of course in order to make it affordable, we’d have to have like…
massive exploitation to make it as easy to produce as synthetic fibers are.
Absolutely. I mean, some of the most egregious human rights violations in the garment supply chain happen in the area of cotton. In India, we have a lot of schemes that exploit young women, like these dowry schemes, where they come and work in a cotton mill for a few years in exchange for a dowry. And then they’re basically trapped there for years. And then when they leave, they have very little money, because they’ve been nickel-and-dimed from their agreement. We can’t not talk about the Uighur Muslims
China and really like many other religious groups and dissidents in China are put into these work camps where they’re cultivating cotton or doing other manufacturing that’s actually now also happening and has actually been happening for quite a while in the synthetic fabric realm in China too. But I mean cotton is like across the world. There’s a lot of forced labor involved in cultivating cotton. So we like the.
The only simple answer is that we need to buy less stuff. But it’s like, you know, what does that do for the economy? Like, no one’s going to like there’s no money in saying y’all should buy less. Right. But that’s the reality. It’s not a sexy story, but it’s a true story.
Exactly. But you know what is a sexy story is like yarn made out of tires, like old tires or something. So like that’s the thing that we get pushed all the time is like these really crazy regenerative yarns that are like super sustainable and circular. And it’s like, no, like what does it take to make a yarn out of a tire? I’m tired. I really hope there are no yarns made out of tires. I have no idea. I believe it though.
I know, I just had this visceral moment, like the smell of a tire and I was like, wah! Ha ha ha!
Yeah. But like, let’s be real, like no matter what these things are, like it is a huge chemical process. I mean even like, you know, I’ll be honest, my sister like is always telling me like, oh yeah, but it’s bamboo. And I’m like, Simone, bamboo is rayon. Like bamboo is a tree. How much do you think it takes to like make that like that bark, that tree pulp?
into a soft, luxurious fiber. A shit ton of chemicals and processing. So I think that there’s also a lot of greenwashing in that regard too, because I see bamboo as being on these, on so many different things that make it seem like it’s a really good, sustainable fiber to use when it has so many issues as well.
Yeah, like there’s just no easy solution because, or I should say, there’s no easy solution that just lets you keep shopping. And unfortunately, like if you’re like Nike or any other retailer out there, I think Nike, because I think they made stuff out of recycled tires. That’s why they’re on the top of my brain. But like, if you’re one of these brands, you can’t say like, hey y’all, just like buy less stuff. It’s the best thing for the world. What are the shareholders gonna say?
You know, so instead it’s like, here’s this other scheme that actually might be worse in the long run. And yeah, it’s just it’s like the genie. We let the genie of overconsumption out of the bottle and we need to jam it back in. And it’s really, really hard because I like honestly, like, Dani, I think about this a lot. And I think we all of us, our community, we need to
Unfortunately, it feels unfair. We’re going to have to do the work to put that genie back in the bottle because the industries out there are not going to do it.
Yeah, I know. I mean, I’ve said this, I think I said this in a thread a while ago, is that it’s like, it’s very frustrating that like the labor, a demystifying, like what goes into garment production, what, you know, the ethics, the process, the like environmental toll, all that, like education is put on the backs of small businesses.
and like makers who nobody’s paying them to do this work of educating. Nobody’s funding that. And to be honest, like most of us aren’t really making money off of the things we’re selling anyways, but like it’s our job to share it because no one else is going to do it. And like we do it because we want to and it’s vital and this is our cause. And it’s like…
We’re desperate for people to understand and they’re not learning it in other places because it’s just not out there for them to hear.
Yeah, it’s really, really hard. And you know what? I was thinking about this recently, because you know, like.
I met you back in like 2020. That’s when I started Clotheshorse. I feel like that’s when a lot of us started doing this work. I’ve seen so many people kind of disappear from the movement since then. And no shade on them because I understand it. Ma’am, this work is exhausting. It is unpaid. It is like 24 hours a day. People want to fight you on the internet. People want so much of your time. It is very, very exhausting. And there are times when you just feel like,
against this huge machine that will not stop moving. And I’m just, it’s hard. You’re like as an individual, right? But I also think like, man, we need everybody we can to be having these conversations and telling the people around them so that we can share this work and reach more people. But it is hard. It is really, really hard. It is.
It’s really discouraging and like, yeah, cause I mean, there’s like so many sides to it. It’s like, you know, in some respects, I’m like, you don’t know if you’re actually having an impact on anyone also, like truly having an impact. Like people that are like close in my lives to me, like my family and friends, like I see them continuing some of their shopping habits. And I’m just like, what have I been like, you know, putting all this energy into if like,
these people that are closest to me are still have their like Amazon subscriptions. You know what I mean? Like I know that’s such a little trivial thing, but I’m like, it’s just exhausting. And like, yeah, at the end of the day, like, like I don’t know why people think like we get paid a lot of money to do what we do. Like we literally are like not making any money. So it’s like, eventually like I do get why so many people
No, I know, I know.
I’ve used this expression so many times with my husband, but like why so many people are quote throwing in the towel? Because it’s funny, just so you know if you’re a listener and you don’t know, picnic wear does a lot of things made out of vintage towels. So I over the years have said to myself many times like, okay, I’m ready to throw in the towel. So it’s a little joke myself. But anyways, yeah, it’s really, really freaking hard. And
Mm-hmm. Ha ha ha.
right now. Like, I’m telling you guys, listening, if you’re not a small business owner, listen up. Your small business owner friends are suffering, are really, really having a hard time. So if you’ve ever said like, support small business, like, you gotta actually show your support every once in a while. I know it’s hard, but like, I am so tired of seeing like small businesses, small shops, like
makers etc say like, sorry i can’t do it anymore. like it is so sad to me. i’m sorry, i thought that was a tangent i didn’t mean to go on but like…
No, I think it’s a good one that people need to hear. Like I, you know, you know, Tuesday Bassin is going to is closing down her store at the end of the year. I know it’s really sad, right? And I looked at one of her posts about it because also like I follow Tuesday Bassin, but damn if Instagram is ever going to show me one of her posts. Seriously. Exactly. So I was I heard about it and I went to her, you know, her profile and was looking at the post and someone said, oh,
He didn’t know that.
Yeah, that’s why I haven’t seen it. I don’t think I’ve seen her stuff in forever.
Man, I wish I would have known that I would have bought something from you. Oh my God, guys. Like, show your support. If you don’t have the money, fine. Show your support in other ways. And like, honestly, it’s the same thing for Clotheshorse. I had like a total meltdown last month where I was like, I’m ending Clotheshorse at the end of this year. I have since backtracked on that, but I was like the level of work that comes with this with like literally no reward sometimes is really, really hard. And
I just I think that people take the work that we all do for granted, unfortunately, sometimes. And reading that comment on Tuesday Bastin’s post was like, oh, if I would have known that it’s really hard to run a small business, I would have bought something. Like if I would have known you would go out of business, I would have bought something. Like don’t let that happen, everyone. Like I know it is really hard for all of us out there, but let’s do all the things we can to support one another right now. And kind of always.
Yeah. It’s also really, really hard to like, to admit that to your following, like, I’m about to go out of business. Like, I don’t think you’re gonna see that often, because also, let’s be real, like, like every marketing thing I’ve ever read, like, basically says that, like, people don’t want to buy from you if they think, like, out of pity, you know what I mean? Like, they’re not going to want to purchase, so that does more of a disservice, to be totally honest, to like…
Yeah, I know. Well, cause that’s not the world we live in. No.
announce that. So if there are small businesses that you would like hate to see go away, like you got to show your support.
Mm-hmm. You got to show up for them. And, you know, there are a lot of ways you can do that. Right. But I do think like we’re totally going off in a major detour here. But I think that we all tend to keep like take for granted that all of these people who inspire us, who educate us, who make us feel part of something are going to be around forever. And we can’t we can’t we can’t assume that. I think like 2023.
has been a turning point for a lot of people who started doing this work in 2019, 2020, of them being like, I’m burned out, all I do is work, and I have nothing to show for it. And we’re just beginning to see that change and people disappearing. So we gotta all rally together because otherwise, we’re just gonna keep seeing our friends buying sweaters made out of tires or whatever the heck is gonna come next.
I think it’s amazing that we’re having these larger conversations about why clothes suck now. Let’s keep having them and getting more and more people in our lives to move away from those companies that sell us all this bad stuff and do bad things for the world. I saw my sister-in-law share her Amazon wish list on Facebook today and I just got so sad. I was like, man, I can’t even reach the people in my near orbit.
I don’t know.
Yeah, it’s really hard. It’s really, really hard, right? And you know, so we all have people in our lives who listen to us, who care about us, who like to hear what we have to say, say it, say things. This is the truth about sweaters. This is the truth about this. This is why things are bad now. You deserve better. We deserve better. The planet deserves better. Our kids deserve better. Everyone deserves better. Let’s make a change collectively, you know? Okay.
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Yes. Yeah.
Well, let’s continue talking about sweaters. That’s a nice little intermission. All right, so I thought we could talk a little bit. This is something I talked about in my reel about why clothes are not as great right now. And now with both of us here, we have a buyer and a designer. If we had a production person here, we would have the triangle of clothing dilution complete. But, you know.
Be golden. Yeah.
I’m gonna go.
I wanted to talk about kind of how, where we start in the design sample process and where we end up, like with what’s actually in the stores and all the websites for customers to buy and how that happens. Because, I don’t know about you, but I was never like, you know what I would love to do for a living is make really disappointing stuff. Right? But.
Oh my god, no, I’ve never said that in my life, but man did I do it.
Exactly, exactly. Inevitably, that is what you do. And it’s interesting, I noticed the people who had been way higher level than me in buying early in my career, they never wore clothes from Urban Outfitters. They never even really wore clothes from any of the other sister brands. They bought luxury clothes and stuff. And I was always like, that’s so weird. We make so much cute stuff. And then I work in it for a couple of years, and I’m like, oh, god.
everything we make is terrible, it breaks my heart. I will say like an urban, it was never as extreme as it was at Nasty Gal, where we would start with this stunning sample. And by the time we finished, it was like a plastic nightmare. But I thought we would start with that. So my experience as a buyer is like often, we on the buying side, we’re doing a bunch of like data analysis and we’re kind of coming to the table with design and saying like, hey, we need this many designs, this many colorways for this period, right?
And we might even say, like, specifically, this one needs to be sleeveless, this one needs to be long sleeve, this needs to be turtleneck, right? And we would give you all the kind of framework for what we need, and that’s all based on what we sold last year. Now, one thing you’ve got to remember, in any company, but especially in the world of fast fashion, this year’s sales have to be higher than last year’s, and next year’s sales will be higher than this year’s, and that’s just what you have to hit, and also, everything has to be more profitable than it was last year. So…
we really lean heavily into like what’s performed before. How can we make that again, get people to buy it who already have it and have it be more profitable while also sprinkling in some new stuff, right? I think that’s a pretty good summary of what it is to be a buyer.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s a real- I’m like really shocked by how easily you summed that up. Yeah. Mm-hmm.
I mean, I’ve been doing it for a really long time. So then you’re the designer, right? You’re our sweater designer. What do you do next?
Woof, oh my god. Okay, so typically we will have references of the things that the buyers loved because they made us lots of money. So we will be very clear in what those items are. We will also be very clear on the dogs, the things that didn’t sell. And we will also be very clear on why the buyers felt like they didn’t sell.
and we might not agree with those reasons. And when I say we, it could be like me and the other designer or whatever. Like we also don’t agree, but like there are so many different variables between these sweaters. So how can you really nail down the reason why one didn’t sell and one did sell? And so much of our shopping habit is emotion, you know? Like you can’t get into the brains of the customers. And most of the time if you did, they wouldn’t even be able to explain why they love the thing. It’s just yummy.
No. Yeah, it’s like as our job as buyers is to try to get as close as possible using data. And like for me, always about like observation, going out and watching people interact in the stores. You know, like the thing is, especially if you work for a company that has stores in addition to a website, there’s what sells or doesn’t sell sometimes is a little bit of a roll of the dice because.
You know? Like, doesn’t mean anything.
If the corporate merchandising team doesn’t give the direction that style should be like focal or used on mannequins or have a good spot in general, it could be jammed back in the corner. And no matter how much you and I love it, it’s not going to sell because no one’s going to see it. And so that’s the other thing. When you’re a buyer, you’re kind of like, why didn’t this sell? Because you got you’re going to be asked a million times why it didn’t sell and what you learned from it. And so you have to you have to come up with some sort of excuse. Yeah, but it’s hard.
Yeah, because you’re like basically your career is contingent on things selling and so you know you kind of really have to know how to talk and explain and understand and even if you don’t understand you have to sound like you do.
Mm-hmm. You do. Because no one’s going to, here’s the thing. You can’t ever say, like, I remember being in a meeting where there had been just this epic East Coast blizzard. And the whole last week, the East Coast had been like, everyone was snowed in, right? So stores were technically open because our company was like evil overlord in that way and expected people to come into work. But no one actually went shopping because they were snowed in. And so our sales were terrible. Now, any person would say, well, your sales were terrible because of the blizzard.
But instead, we had to be like, well, we think sales are slow because of we didn’t have enough long sleeve turtlenecks in the store yet, but they’re on their way. You could never use weather as an excuse, the economy, nothing like that. So you have to come up with a reason. And when you’re a buyer, literally, if sales aren’t good, you are to blame. Someone was asking me, hey, why did you get yelled at so much at your last job?
Someone always has to be to blame, basically.
like were you missing something? What was going on? And I was like, oh, because sales were bad. And it was like completely out of my control, but it was my responsibility.
And you also, I have to say you also can’t say like, even if you have a wonderful memory for meetings and interactions, you can’t be like, oh, well, the GMM said that we should change the yarn to this yarn and it made it really shitty. Like you can’t say that, even though that’s the truth.
You can’t say that. I mean, this thing I cite all the time as, you know, like when you’re in a buying interview, it’s always like, what’s the biggest mistake you made in your career? What did you learn from it? And I always have the same story, which is when my GM made me buy 10,000 straw fedoras, even though I said, listen, that was the thing last year. It was great. We made a lot of money. The tide has turned on fedoras.
It’s embarrassing to wear a fedora now. There are memes. Do you want me to explain what a meme is? Like that’s how I felt when I was talking to him. There are memes on Tumblr about fedoras. We cannot sell fedoras anymore. And he was like, if you don’t go back to your desk right now and write a PO for 10,000 straw fedoras, you can consider your job done. And so I went back to my desk and I wrote a PO for 10,000 straw fedoras. And guess what? They never sold at all. Not at 25% off, not at 50% off.
Not at 75% off. We literally had to job them out and donate them. And all season long, why are hats missing their sales? Why are hats missing their sales? Well, the GM said I had to write 10,000 units of Stradfidora and I had to cancel everything else that was on, I was planning an order and that’s all we have and no one wants them. No, I can’t say that.
Such a common scenario. And then, I mean, this was still pretty early in my career, so I hadn’t learned that you cannot win, right? In my performance review, I said, I feel really frustrated because I’m not being allowed to make decisions on my own, but then I’m accountable for the decisions that other people are making, and I cited the Straffadores thing, and my boss was like, I think you should look somewhere else for a job. And so I did. But yeah, I mean, that was really happening. I didn’t get my bonus, I got yelled at for six months straight. This is…
such a common, common scenario.
The way you summed that up though, like I never, like I never really thought about it that way, but that’s exactly how I felt in my career too. But like, like kudos to you for like having the foresight to like put that into words, despite how it was received. Like that is, that perfectly encapsulates how I felt so much of my career.
Oh my god, totally. And I will tell you that, once again, like I was saying earlier, we don’t sit in these meetings and we’re like, what’s the crappiest thing we could make? Hey, hey, we’re so excited. But unfortunately, so many of these decisions are out of our hands. That we bear the responsibility of them, but we knew it was a bad idea to begin with. We had no choice. And I know design, even when I was a buyer, an executive would walk by and put a tear from a magazine on my desk and be like, make this.
And I would be like, uh, I think that’s a bad idea. You know? It’s so similar in design. Because then you’re also, depending on who your buyer is, you’re dealing with that too, right?
Yeah, I mean, you basically just, the past little conversation we just had just described the design process, basically. So if any of you are wondering what it’s like to be a designer, like Amanda, you just described it. Because I was like, how do I summarize what the design process is like? And that’s pretty much it. If that didn’t make any sense to you, then perfect, you get it. Like, yeah. Yeah, it’s just like.
Yeah, pretty much. Good summary. It’s just really weird.
everything’s out of order, nobody makes sense, you state your opinion and you’re really confident about it and you back up with tears and with stats and you explain, but then someone says no because somebody walked into the room wearing something from Zara and it was really cute and why don’t we have that on the wall? And so here’s our collection now that’s being bought.
Oh, it’s a-
Okay, so that’s a great call out. So basically the next step is sample review. Well, maybe sketch review, depending on where you’re working, where you would sit down with your sketch ideas and show them to your buyer and you’d talk it through. But then next is the samples are on the wall. And I was telling you that over my career, I found more and more when I would go to these sample reviews, that over time all the samples on the wall weren’t even samples that we’d made yet.
They were things that someone had bought somewhere else that we were gonna copy. And the last sample review I did before the pandemic, four sweaters, every single thing on the grid, which I was like, oh, these are all so cute. And someone sat next to me and like, don’t get attached to them, those are bought samples. And I was like, oh, they’re gonna look nothing like that. Cause that’s the other thing. So you’re gonna get pressed to copy more and more stuff.
They’re gonna look nothing like that.
Um that it’ll be like here’s this five hundred dollar sweater. It’s like Marc Jacobs. It’s fully cashmere It’s like hand knit by like a person Uh, yeah, we want that but we need it to be 58 Retail retail, right? And so you get into this quandary where you’re like being expected to create these things that are not feasible
Yeah, and then in many cases, you’re at the same time as being told, copy this directly, but make it like 300% cheaper. You’re also having, maybe this is just one of my jobs, but this was like definitely a common thread. You’re also going to have to attend meetings where you talk about how we can’t copy things and we need to make sure like, have you ever heard the bus stop?
blink test or something, like two people at a bus stop, like if you blinked your eyes, would you be able to tell that they were wearing the same sweater or something? I don’t even freaking remember what it made no sense. But like, yeah, but like, so you’re being asked to like take these classes and commit to not copying things. And then somebody’s putting a tear on your desk and saying like, we need to make this exactly. And you’re like, what exactly? You mean like inspired by? No, exactly.
It’s something like that. It made no sense, yeah.
Right. Or your GM just went to Europe and came back with $10,000 worth of things he bought. And yeah, exactly. And he’s like, make these. This was like this has happened everywhere I worked. It was so egregious at Nasty Gal. It would be like, here’s this $10,000 Givenchy jacket that we rented. We can’t even afford to buy the sample. Let’s make a $200 version of that. Oh, that seems like that’s going to go well. And the same thing would happen in sweaters everywhere I worked.
like from Givenchy and stuff and yeah.
Yeah. Oh yeah, that makes sense.
Mm-hmm. Heh heh heh.
And once again, you go into the meeting, the whole wall is stuff you’re supposed to copy. And at the meantime, even as a buyer, I was telling you back at Urban, back when Urban was like, there was this blog called Urban Counterfeiters, which I don’t think exists anymore, but it was basically like where they would show stuff that Urban had copied. They made us all sign an agreement saying that if we were ever even suspected, like something that we had bought was suspected to be a copy, we would immediately be terminated.
Oh, I remember that. Yeah.
without conversation. But then at the same time, you sign the agreement. Five minutes later, your boss walks by and puts a tear on your desk of something they want you to copy or something they buy in LA or whatever. And so you’re like, what am I supposed to do here? And then so we have sample review. We’re like, oh, we’re going to buy all these things. Of course, we can’t afford any of them. But we’re going to put in prices for them and plan it. So then the samples come back. And this is usually like,
is just so crazy to me.
You know, the first pass in my experience is production has tried really, really hard to stick to the vibe of the original garment. But at the same time, like design is there like, hey, I made these things to make them different, right? Because we’re all trying to be ethical people here. And so they’re hanging on the wall. And two things happen in that meeting. One, the DM or the GM are like, I liked it when it looked like the original better.
And you’re like, yeah, we can’t buy that because then we would be getting sued. Yeah, but the original was better. Okay, well then maybe we shouldn’t do this style. Can’t you just make it look more like the original? So that’s one thing that happens, right? Or maybe everybody’s like, these all look amazing. I can’t believe we pulled it off. We copied all these things and no one will ever know. And then production’s like, yeah, but the thing, right. The thing about that sweater is in order to hit your margin target, it’s gonna have to be $300.
Here are your prices.
And you’re like, okay, cool, it needs to be 68 because that’s what the best seller was last year. So what do we do there? And this is when it starts, right? We’re like, okay, we’re gonna sub out the yarn, right? First thing, right.
Yeah, yeah, okay, yes, yes. This is the juice of it. So, and this is where I can’t remember if you already mentioned this, but like where like the conversation of like what the content of the yarn is, is kind of not really important. It’s more so just like what does it feel like when you touch it and look like, yes, and look like. And, but however what layers into that with sweaters
and look like and look like right? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
experiences in sweaters is the duty rates. So even if on its face you’re looking at three different yarn cards and one of them is, let’s say it’s good, better, best, so cheap, you’ve got one that’s super cheap, one that’s medium, and one that’s expensive, let’s say. It doesn’t necessarily mean that whatever…
like the garment you make out of the first one is gonna be the cheapest because there’s so many factors that layer into it. And like I was saying, one of them is duties. So I don’t know if this has changed a lot in the past few years, but something that had like over 50% cotton would have a lower duty rate when it was imported into the US than something that was like over 50% synthetic. And there are also different rates for like over 25% wool or something like that. So it’s like,
not very cut and dry when you look at things. And then on top of that, one distinct difference between sweaters or knitted garments in general and cut and sewn garments, whether they’re woven or cut and sewn knit, is that with sweaters, with knitted garments, you are paying for yarn and literally creating the fabric. So with cut and sew garments, you have a roll of fabric, you’re
laying it out and stacking the fabric layer over layer and you’re cutting your pattern pieces out of the fabrics. But with a sweater, as long as it’s fully fashioned, of course there’s cut and sew sweaters as well, you’re knitting the yarn into the fabric into the shape of the pattern pieces. So that’s one distinct difference and you have a lot of control over what that fabric looks like. So you
but there’s so many things you can do with that yarn, which is the exact reason why I love sweaters so much. It’s so much fun, but we’re not getting into that right now. But what I will say is like one of the big things you have control over that can result in like different price sweaters is tension. So like how tightly you knit or how loosely you knit.
this is actually a really good place to bring it back to that photo of the Billy Crystal and the other fellow, was that on the left, like I look at Billy Crystal’s sweater and it’s very, it’s like pretty lightly loosely knit so it’s pretty lofty. It comes out feeling very like soft and like lofty is like kind of the best word I can use to describe it, whereas the Ralph Lauren sweater on the right is like tightly knit.
which means that it’s a hell of a lot heavier, but it is much, much more expensive as a result of being heavier. It takes longer to knit. So it’s the yarn itself is more expensive because you’ve got more of it, but it’s also a lot longer of a process to knit. And of course, like the knitting time.
can will play into like the cost of the garment because the longer it takes to knit the more expensive it is. So and then to add on to that as well you how you knit that yarn will also play into the pilling of it so something like that feels really nice like you see it dare I say hanging we don’t like sweaters hanging just so you know you see yes exactly
No, interestingly though, we hang them constantly in the office. I know.
Exactly. So you see a sweater hanging in a store and you feel it, it feels like light and lofty and you put it on and you feel like you’re wearing a cloud. Well, that lightness is actually part of what’s going to cause the pilling as well, because like I said about fibers and how they rub up against each other, if they’re very loose, there’s lots of space to move if the tension is loose. So that can create more pilling as well.
So, but all these things, like at the point in conversation that we’re talking and we’re finding, oh, like this sweater’s gorgeous, but it’s really, really expensive. Oh my gosh, it’s like this many kilos of yarn per dozen. Like, how do we make it weigh less? Oh, well, we can loosen the tension. So, you know, you’re loosening the tension, which, you know, can be for cost. It can also be for hand feel, but that’s one of the things you can do.
Absolutely, and you can change up the yarn. So we’re not sitting in the meeting saying, oh, can you add 5% more nylon to it or something to bring down the price? But certainly, the production people are going back to the factory and saying, hey, can we lighten this up? And so probably, they’re going to add more nylon. And I always say that some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with in fashion are the production people, the production managers, coordinators, et cetera,
to lower the price.
They’re the ones who really are pulling out all kinds of charts and figuring it out and saying like, okay, well, if we reduce the cotton content in this and replace it with nylon or poly, the price of the yarn will change to this, but then the duty will go up to this. And they’re exploring all the other options. And so it’s not unusual to have, as a buyer, the production person come by your desk with a piece of paper with all these different yarns taped on them and be like, which one do you like the best?
and you hope it’s the right one and they’re like, okay good, that one’s the cheapest, it has the lowest duties, the lowest cost, what have you, right? And they’re like, you know, they’re making, they’re taking all this data and working with the factory to like figure out where they can hit. But that is like number one and in any other garment that’s not a sweater, it always starts with like, we’re gonna change up the fabric, right? Like we got to figure it out. And then if you’re still not there, which in a lot of cases when you like, you’re going into a
as a bought item that is way more expensive than your price point is, you’re not gonna solve it all just by swapping out the yarn or the tension, right? So then it’s like, let’s crop it. Let’s take off the sleeves. Let’s take off the details. Let’s do this. Let’s do that.
Yes, when we were talking before, I hadn’t even thought about it until this point, but you were talking about cropping sweaters and I was like, wait a second, is that why sweater vests are in style right now? Like seriously, like did somebody go like, oh, if we cut off the sleeves, we can hit the margins we need and like, like talk about like trend episode, like that’s it.
I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised.
that’s where your trend started. Like I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why like it started that way, you know?
Oh, for sure. I was saying to you that like, I, all these years of swimming in this stew of pricing and data and all that, I often wonder like,
Do the trends start with the people or do they start in the buying offices with what we can afford? Because I have seen us play into that. I was telling you at Nasty Gal, we were like, shear dressing is sort of a thing. The Kardashians are doing it. Let’s just make everything sheer and then we can afford to do anything else we want because we’re not putting a lining in. It cuts so much cost. And I’ve seen that with crop tops. I’ve seen that with sleeveless things, mini dresses.
that are so cheap to make, but have a high perceived value to the customer. I was telling you early in my career when I was managing scarves and hats, chunky, chunky knits became a thing. Lofty, huge yarn, huge stitches, very lightweight despite these huge stitches. And that was because it was the loftiest yarn. It was practically a cloud. And I would develop a scarf that was seriously like 20 feet.
long and two feet wide of this extra chunky lofty yarn and the pricing would come in at like three dollars but it looked expensive there’s that term and I could sell it for 50 bucks
Yeah, yeah, and that, so that I, I talked about this with you earlier, that’s what’s really interesting is like, a lot of that is to do with like the knitting speed as well. Because like, okay, here’s an example. Say you have a very fine gauge sweater. So it’s like really like you look at the stitches, and they’re really, really tiny, right? Okay, so that’s a fine gauge sweater. And then you look at like a chunky sweater, like a cable knit sweater or something like a
Irish sweater, which traditionally are hand knit, so not exactly the same, but imagine that those were both knit on a machine. You knit one row of stitching on the chunky and you have like three quarters of an inch, right, of fabric. You’ve created three quarters of an inch of fabric. You knit one row of stitching on the 12 gauge machine and you have an eighth of an inch, right? So you have to knit
many more back and forth courses to get the same amount of fabric as you did with the chunky. So the knitting speed, even though the yarn is finer and it utilizes less fiber per inch of yarn, whatever, your knitting speed is so much slower on the 12 gauge versus the chunky. Obviously there’s so many other factors within that what makes it slower fast.
but that kind of summarizes why for that scarf it was so cheap because they probably like busted those out so fast and they were using like a cheap acrylic roving yarn or something. So yeah, that’s another reason why you can’t really like, it’s so hard to discern quality. And I understand why people are challenged by it because it’s like, think about how many years you and I have been working in this field
continuing to gain knowledge. So.
Absolutely. A couple years ago, I saw all these blankets at Target. They were massive. And they were huge stitches with very lofty yarn. Let’s say the whole width of the blanket was 40 stitches. That kind of thing. And all I could see when I was looking at them, they were marked at a pretty high price. There was no way it cost. This must have been a 95% markup or something crazy. And all I could think about is that blanket in a couple
weeks is either it’s probably not gonna get pilly what’s gonna happen is it’s start gonna start compressing itself and feel plasticky which is what it is right though it sort of loses its loft yeah
or also snagging too, like when things are loosely knit, when there’s like large spaces between the stitches, like it can catch on something and create holes or pulls, you know, and so those are other reasons why those sweaters are, quote, garbage.
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s…
It’s so disheartening to think about all those meetings I’ve been in my career where we have started with something that seemed like a really great idea and by the time it hits the stores, it’s completely different. And it happens in all categories. Like we might be like, oh, we love this jumpsuit but we can’t afford the make. It’s too much sewing to make it as a jumpsuit so let’s turn it into a dress. Or in sweaters, it would be like, okay, we cannot get this. Am I thinking of the right term here? It would be like fully fashion.
or something when it’s when it’s fully knit by the machine right fully fashioned
Yeah, and well, like I was saying earlier, like it’s knit into the shape of the pattern pieces versus just being knit into like fabric yardage.
Right, so we would say we cannot afford this as a fully fashioned knit. Let’s move it into cut and sew, which is like a fabric that is like a sweat, sweater knit. I always love that word, sweat. We would often move like stuff into sweat, which is substantially cheaper. And it is literally this like knit fabric that is cut and sewn together. But that stuff is even lower quality, in my experience, like snag-a-roo, right?
Oh yeah. Yeah, snag-er-ific for sure.
Yeah, yeah, and just like fully polyester at that point, but much less expensive. And as a customer, you would have no idea that that’s, that it wasn’t knit in the same way, right? So yeah.
I have seen so much product hit the stores that was so far abstracted from what we wanted, where we started. And here’s the thing, if that style sells really well this year, then next year I, the buyer, am going to be the meeting and I’m going to say, Dani, we need to bring this back or update it, but we also need it to be a dollar cheaper this year. And so then here we go again, we’re going to water down the idea.
And we have to make it look different enough that the same customer wants to buy it again, but not be so different that it’s like a different item.
Yeah. What a good time. It just brings me back because you know, you’d be sitting in a meeting and be like, OK, well, this is like a basic button up cardigan. It’s nice. Like, how do we make that different?
Yeah, it’s got like an armhole and it has no buttons. It’s so basic. Do we change it to a raglan? But the customer doesn’t really know the difference between a set and sleeve and a raglan. They’re not gonna see that difference. Okay, do we add buttons? Ooh, no, because buttons is gonna cost a lot more. Okay, do we make it shorter? No, no, that’s a different sweater. Yeah, exactly.
It’s gonna cost more. We gotta bring down, we gotta, oh, wait, I have an idea. Let’s make it a Henley. We did so many Henleys for a while, because it’s like, oh, it’s like cheaper than a cardigan, because there’s less buttons. Yeah, so many Henleys. Yeah, yeah, so this is just like what happens, and you do this for five years, 10 years, 20 years, and suddenly the sweaters that you get to buy.
But it has that like detail that makes it look expensive or whatever. Yeah.
are extra crappy because they are like a dilution of a dilution of a dilution of like just for years right they’re so far from where they began and that’s where we are right now but here’s the thing that wouldn’t continue if people weren’t buying them and I think like that’s the thing is like we don’t know what we don’t know as consumers when we’re out there looking for a sweater and
I hope that this is starting to open some eyes, us talking about this. So I thought, Dani, we could talk about how we could not buy crappy sweaters. What should we look out for?
Mm-hmm. I think that where this starts, like anything, is education. So obviously, like, what we’ve just talked about is hopefully helping you, like, helping demystify things a little bit. But I also think that there’s, like, something to just, like, just looking at garments and turning things inside out and questioning things yourself and, like…
I always say this when you have something in your closet that’s been there for years and years and years and you continue to wear it and you continue to love it, like question why? What is it about it? Is it the aesthetic? Is it like, you know, has it like held up really well? Turn it inside out. Look at the seams. How is it made? Like, you don’t have to be a fashion designer to be interested in how things like garments are made. And I think that that’s kind of one thing over time.
most memorable moments at FIT, for example, was when we got to go to the FIT Museum and they showed us garments, beautifully made garments. Just seeing how things were made and what makes a well-made garment well-made is something that you can just learn on your own by going to vintage stores, thrift stores, go to an expensive store and you might see things in there and you’re like…
Holy crap, like the video you were referring to earlier, like they pulled out a Rami Brooke dress or whatever, and we’re looking at it in detail, and they’re like, how is this any different than something at Zara, but yet it’s $400, you know? Like those are things that like, you should just always be questioning and looking at. You know, it’s hard, because even in a thrift store, there’s so much to see, so we’re all just like flipping through so fast, but if something catches your eye and you stop on it,
and maybe it’s not something you want to wear, it’s not your size, but you’re like, why am I responding to this? Why is this so beautiful? Like, think about it. Like, how were the seams made? Like, how is it finished inside? Like, what are the things that to you make it feel good quality? Like, break it down yourself. You can do it. I believe in you. So that’s my number one thing is like, because like, you know, I think you mentioned this before, like price.
is not a deciding factor on whether something’s good quality or not.
Yeah, I mean, I actually have some examples that I found on the internet for us because I do think, and I get it.
I hear, I see this being repeated all the time online and I know that like we’ve had it kind of drilled into us from a young age. The idea out there, the thinking is that if it’s a higher price, it must be better. Must be better quality. And sure, I think that there were times where that was true. That is definitely not the case in this century. And you know, like we see $5,000 designer dresses from luxury brands that are 100% polyester. Like it’s just a different time, right?
We kind of have to be detectives when we buy something. So.
I pulled a couple examples from the internet. I was like, I’m gonna go out and look for sweaters that are over $100 and kind of see what I’m getting. Like what’s out there for us? And the theme was the same over and over again. So the first dress, the first dress, the first sweater we have here is from Free People. It’s called the Fireside Tunic. It is $168 and I can tell you, it’s a really cute sweater with like an intarsia pattern. It’s like long, it looks super cozy. Yeah, it’s really cute, right? And I bet that yarn is so yummy.
It is. The silhouette’s really cute.
I can tell too. Yeah, and you look at this and you’re like, oh, this is obviously a really nice high quality sweater. It’s $168. It’s super cute. It looks yums. Whatever. Here’s the thing. On the Free People website and on most websites, but not all, you can see the fiber content. Now…
Oh my god, it is so yummy, I can tell looking at it.
IRL if you were shopping in the store, I would urge you to look inside the garment. It might be by the lower hem, but it is required by law here in the United States that any clothing that is imported into this country for sale, which
at Free People or just about any other retailer right now, the vast majority, if not all of the clothing, is imported into the United States, right? It’s made overseas. It is required by law that the tag inside the garment must show where it was made and what kind of fibers are used.
If you’re shopping and you don’t see that, obviously thrifting is different. I cut a lot of tags out. I have sensey skin, okay? But if you are in a store buying something brand new and that tag is not there, this, that brand is up to some next level of fucking around. I don’t even know what to say, right? Next level of shenanigans, they’re up to something. Because that’s illegal. So IRL, you always wanna be looking for that tag. And I sometimes look for it before I even start feeling around because I don’t wanna get caught up in the emotion of it. But if you’re shopping online,
No good. Yeah.
which a lot of us do, you should be able to go into like product details, product description and figure out what the fiber is. If it’s not there, then you need to email them. But I will tell you if they’re not telling you, it’s definitely not a good story.
I also found from looking, doing the same sort of research myself, sometimes it’s really hard to find. Like, and that’s purposeful. They make it such that it’s hard to find the information about a garment. Like, they want you to just buy it based on the pictures and the price. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Totally, and most people do, right? So read that stuff. It’s there for a reason. Like I said, not all retailers are doing that the way they should be, but it’s there. The other thing that you called out, which I think is really important to Dani, is what brands are saying in terms of country of origin. What did you find quite often? Yeah.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, so I was finding specifically on the Free People website, and I can’t remember where else, but it was basically just saying imported. It wasn’t clarifying where it was imported from, which is like, it’s really pretty shady to be honest, because like if you think about it, like it’s just messed up, because like the word imported sounds fancy. Let’s be real, it sounds fancy. Oh, this is imported.
But if it said made in China or made in Bangladesh, would it sound as fancy to you?
Right, right. And my guess is this particular sweater that we’re looking at right now is probably made in China based on the fabric composition, the pricing. I’m like, this is the wheelhouse of China. So the fiber content here on this $168 sweater, you look at it, you’re like, oh, it’s cozy, it’s soft, it’s cute, it’s probably wool, cashmere, that kind of thing. You’re like, it’s got to be a natural fiber because it’s so yummy, right? 19% polyamide, which is like a plastic fiber, 9% polyester.
another plastic fiber, 1% elastane, that’s for a little bit of stretch, also a plastic fiber, 45% cotton, okay, there’s our natural fiber, 26% acrylic. So it is mostly plastic, right? And probably it is 45% cotton solely to game the duty is my guess, right?
Yeah, I was just gonna say that. I can’t remember if it was like, it has to be over 50% or whatever, but sometimes like the cheapness of the yarn overrides those high synthetic duties anyways. So if the yarn is like so, so cheap on its own, then they can afford the duties because it still makes it cheaper than if they use like a chief cotton yarn or something like that.
Totally, totally. So the next one, this is something that really grinds my gears. And I see it all the time. This is from And Other Stories, which I think people consider to be a more high end brand as well, like Free People. It’s actually owned by H&M, and all their stuff is made in the same factories as H&M’s stuff. It’s like the same supply chain. This sweater says, knitted sweater, responsible alpaca, responsible wool. It’s got sort of three dimensional dots all over it.
It is $129 and I’m like, oh wow, it’s responsible alpaca and wool, okay. This is great, tell me more. Maybe I finally have found my sweater that is fully natural fibers. Composition, polyamide 33%, wool 32%, alpaca 32%, spandex 3%. So it is once again, the most synthetic fibers are taking up a big part of this fiber content.
but it’s sold to you as an alpaca and wool sweater.
but also like what the fuck does responsible mean?
Ah, such greenwashing, right?
Like tell me what responsible means because like, I’m responsible for doing the dishes in my house. Like that doesn’t make me like good at doing dishes or something or like do them properly or like doesn’t mean that I actually do them every day like I should like responsible like means nothing.
Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Actually, the way the choices of words in greenwashing and like ethical washing campaigns really flip a little switch in our brain. They have evolved. They have, they have. They can’t say sustainable because people would be like, I don’t know, sounds boring. But if you say something like responsible or conscious or ethical or anything like that, it gives the customer, it like sort of.
have evolved. Yeah, but they’ve evolved so much.
unlocks this little part of their imagination that says that if I buy this, I am a responsible person. There is something about human nature where we kind of like, one, we want to feel superior. Okay. And, you know, we actually have to do a lot of work to like undo that, right? In our day to day lives. But we want to say, oh, I’m not like all those other irresponsible people out there. I bought this responsible sweater because I care, right? It’s something like I’m more conscious.
that kind of stuff. I really feel there is so much like, I don’t know, superiority that can be a part of the sustainable and slow fashion community that I work very hard to dismantle. I don’t like it. But these brands play into that because they know human nature.
Yeah, they are, they’re manipulating you. Okay, so the next sweater, this one’s from Madewell and it kind of reminded me of the Billy Crystal sweater. So I was like, okay, let’s take a look here. Okay, so this one is actually, I think, no, the Free People one was our most expensive one so far. This is our second most. It’s $148, cable knit oversized sweater. Now, first I’m gonna read the copy that came with it. There was a lot more copy, right? I’m just gonna read you one sentence from it, but then I’ll tell you the content. Okay.
Yeah, they’re taking advantage of you. Yes.
Yeah, that’s so true.
Um, made of textural slub yarn. First off, what customer even knows what that means? That’s some Slim Flammary. You and I know what that means, but a customer’s like, I don’t know, it sounds fancy. Made of textural slub yarn blended with responsible wool fibers.
Oh my god, I hate this already, I can see it.
You’re right, it’s in, re is in parentheses, thank you. I was like, what are those things called? So it’s re-sponsible wool fibers ostensibly, I think. I don’t know, I was looking at their site and sometimes that can mean it’s a recycled fiber, but sometimes it can mean that is like, more like ethically sourced or something. It’s interesting that Madewell and other stories are basically using the same word, right? So responsible trending, everyone, okay? Okay.
Okay, hold on, we need to clarify. It doesn’t just say responsible.
Responsible full fibers. It has a crew neck, an oversized fit, and drop shoulders. First of all, I don’t even think the average customer knows what a drop shoulder is either. Anyway, so you’re like, hear this, and you’re like, oh, so this is like a sustainable, ethical sweater. It’s responsible. And it’s wool. It’s 75% polyacrylic, 25% wool. It’s not a wool sweater.
You know, so I was telling you when you and I were prepping for this, like on food labeling, it is the law that the first ingredient is what there’s the most of in that food. And the last one is what there’s the least amount. And in some of these, I have seen companies leading with the fancy fiber. Yeah, and I know it’s just so, I don’t people, there’s sketchiness going on across the internet. So the last one I called out is this brand Cezanne.
Oh, interesting. Yeah, I thought that was illegal.
which has been coming up a lot in conversations about sustainable, ethical brands. It sort of positions itself as sustainable luxury, and it’s French. And I found a cardigan on their site. Now I will tell you, they did have some stuff on their site that was fully natural fibers, right? It was a pretty good mix. So this could be an option for you if you’re looking for natural fibers. Just read the content, because this sweater…
didn’t look any different than the other sweater that was next to it, and that sweater was 100% cashmere. This one, the Angelique cardigan is $150, and oh my gosh, I made this way too small. I have to zoom in so I can read this. It is, oh come on, don’t do this to me.
Oh, geez, I can’t even read it. OK, it is 33% mohair, 33% viscose, no? 33% wool, then something percent polyamide, and then that elastin. It’s like in all the sweaters now. OK.
Discos? Oh no, no sorry, I made that up.
Yeah, I can explain that. That’s typically in the cuffs. So in the first few courses of the cuffs and maybe the ribs of the hem too, so that it stays cinched together and like it prevents it from over time stretching out. Yeah.
Interesting. Okay, so this is still though like the vast majority of this one as well or maybe It’s like a pretty good mix of synthetic and natural fibers But I mean it’s got a lot of polyamide in it Like it’s not going to decompose is what i’m saying And the other thing that’s important to call out is i’m sure you noticed i’m throwing around all kinds of percentages in all these blends Even though a lot of them have the same assortment of fibers in them
And that renders them basically unrecyclable because there’s like, right? There’s like too many blends and I don’t know how you separate them anyway.
Yeah, I was just gonna say that.
It’s funny you say that because yeah, I’ve been doing like a workshop on circularity. If you’re interested in having me speak, contact me. But yeah, so that is a big thing that’s being like talked about within circularity is mono materials versus multi materials. And so yeah, all the sweaters you listed are multi materials. So like end of life cycle for these is basically the garbage because you
it’s very, very difficult to recycle a blended material. But I actually met someone here in Danville, Virginia, who has a company called Cirque, and there’s a few companies who are emerging who are actually pioneering technology where they can separate the fibers, which is pretty fricking cool. But that’s a whole other thing. But right now, for the most part, most of these things are just…
like there’s just no way to properly recycle them.
Yeah, yeah, it’s just like a dead end basically, you know? Hold on one second, Dani. I just need to respond to a text. Hold on. Did you figure out which jacket sold? Sorry, it’s from one of my clients. Okay, anyway. Yeah, I think like, I guess my question for you, Dani, is like, we know how this industry could be better, right? But like how for customers like…
If you come up on this and you’ve read all these content things like we just did, what do you do? Like, what do you do next?
Well, I mean, it depends. Are you, like, do you need to buy a sweater? Yeah.
I mean, that’s the number one question, because I kind of wonder, right? Do you, like there were times when I would be managing sweaters at work, and I would be like, why do we keep selling so many sweaters every year? How many sweaters these people have? You know?
Yeah, I mean, like I think I said this in like our first recording together, but like one of the like moments in my career where I was like, wow, I don’t know if I want to do this anymore to be a part of this was like, when I had a very quote unquote successful moment in my career, and I got a huge order placed against
a style that I designed. And we’re talking like, I mean, this was actually my, our units were smaller when I was at Urban than they were later at Express, but it was like 40,000 units or something. It was like the, my biggest order at that point. And I was like, 40,000 units? 40,000?
Like that is like, makes me squeeze my knees together in horror, you know? Geez, yeah.
Like 40,000 people were, I mean, obviously, a caveat to that is that like, were we expecting to actually sell 40,000 units or were we buying 40,000 because it gave us a reduced price? Like there’s so many layers to that, but still 40,000 were being produced. We’re hoping that 40,000 people buy them. And that’s one.
single sweater out of our entire assortment.
why do you need so many gosh darn sweaters? Like I like buy one sweater every couple of years, maybe more if I’m like buying it at a vintage or something like that. But like I am a sweater designer and I am so passionate about knitwear. And I, you know, I, a good example is like when I moved to New York and I like, you know, my
my salary got vastly increased and I was like, I’ve never felt like I had the opportunity to buy a nice piece of clothing for myself. When in reality, I always actually did have the money, I was just squandering it by buying things 40% off at Urban Outfitters whenever we got the discount. For real, even though I didn’t have a high salary, I could have just bought 90% less than I already was and got some really nice quality garments.
The money I would spend during employee appreciation, which is when we got 40% off of everything, including sale, shameful.
Yeah. I know. And so when I moved back to New York, I was like, I, they gave me a sign on bonus and I was like, I’m going to buy myself a really nice sweater that I’m going to like wear for years to come. And guess what? That was 2015. It’s 2023. And I wore that sweater yesterday, because it’s one of my favorite sweaters. And
it’s, you know, one of the buttons fell off and I have to find a new button to replace it with and it’s a little bit pilly but like it’s still delicious and I love it and that was like a big learning experience for me and how I shopped because I had that for years and I still love it so
Yeah, I mean, I think that is that’s a great question. Ask yourself, do I really need a sweater and how many sweaters do I need? And really consolidating that spending into a couple really key pieces. Yeah, I think that’s really smart.
Yeah. Yeah, and like, and always asking the question to yourself that I am constantly saying, like, is this future vintage or future garbage? And somebody asked me in an interview recently, like, how do you decipher the difference between like an item that’s trendy or an item that’s just, um, like, I can’t remember how they put it, just like really special and like, exciting. And like, only you can decide that. That is only
for you to decide because if something is trendy now but you freaking love it and you’re gonna wear it five years from now then it’s not, then you’re not like subscribing to the trend. You saw something that you liked and you bought it, you know? But if you’re gonna only like it for a season and next year you’re not gonna wear it again then yeah, it’s probably a trend that you should dismiss. But like some of my favorite items in my closet I’ve had for…
decades and I still look at them and I get excited and I get butterflies. So I think like personal style and knowing what really excites you and looking at your closet and thinking like what are things that have been in here for a while and why is like the best way that you can approach shopping. And if somebody like shares something, a small business or something and you like freaking love it and like
a week later you still love it and like months later you still love it, like that’s probably a good sign that it’s something that like you’ll love for many years and will end up being like future vintage hanging in your closet or folded in your closet, sorry. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Yeah, don’t hang it. We don’t like that. It gives you your own weird drop shoulder actually. You know, I think that’s really great advice. And I think it’s also a good transition into talking about your sweater collection, Dani, because we’ve talked for like two hours now about why and how sweaters have been sort of.
This is a term people use to describe apps, and I really like it, how they’ve been inshitified. Yeah, it’s like the inshitification of Instagram, et cetera. And nowhere has this phenomenon been more obvious than the world of clothing. And so you have had to make these difficult decisions over the years that basically just diluted your vision. And probably, I mean, they suppress your creativity.
Oh, I’ve never heard that, yeah.
And they’re depressing. You get depressed. I think, I mean, there are many reasons why working in fashion is really, really hard mentally, specifically, like how detrimental it is for your mental health. But one of those things is you go in with this creative vision and you never actually get to execute it, right, because of all the things we talked about. So now you have your own brand. And this year, you made sweaters. So.
Yeah, yes, yeah.
Why don’t you tell me about why they are different and why you made the decisions that you made.
Yeah, thank you. I’d love to talk about them. I actually when I like decided on the name picnic wear for my brand, it was like my desire for it was for it to be a sweater brand. But when I looked in like I did some like domestic factory like tours and stuff and I realized like financially I would not be able to do it. But it
was always a dream of mine to be actually able to design a super tight collection of sweaters that were without the restraints of what the industry, like my jobs, had been pushing on me and all that dumbing down that you speak of. And through talking to people, I felt like so many people were like, why can’t I find a cotton sweater anymore? Which tell me I’m wrong from our research. It is very hard to find.
Yeah, yeah, I didn’t find one at all, by the way. I’m not one, yeah, like I went through so many sites and I didn’t see a single one anywhere. And I, you know what, I’m gonna tell you, like early in my career, we still had cotton sweaters, even at Urban Outfitters. Yeah.
cotton sweater. And it… no, me neither to be honest. Yeah.
Yeah, totally, for sure. But I think back to the weight conversation there, I think that that’s a big part of it. Synthetic fibers can be, like we said, really lofty and light and therefore cheap, whereas cotton is pretty naturally heavy. There’s so many different things you can do with a fiber, so it doesn’t have to be, but generally speaking it gets quite a bit heavier.
than a synthetic yarn does, so it just ends up being more expensive. So like a lot of people think of cotton like, oh a cotton sweater should be cheap because it’s cotton, which is a little twisted. But in reality it’s like, it’s that’s not the case at all. But yeah, I felt like it was true. There aren’t a lot of cotton sweaters out there and I totally respect that some people don’t like wool as much as I do and as much as I, you know, I designed this collection and it was
Mm-hmm. I know.
was produced in Peru and as much as I wanted to use like alpaca, I was like, oh gosh, like I know that so many people have issues with wool. So I was like, you know, cotton is just lovely and feels amazing. But of course, true to the ethos of my brand, I only use materials or vastly only use materials that are existing. And so I teamed up with the Endery who, um,
sources dead stock yarn that’s otherwise destined for the landfill and they rescue it and they and they’re already died because it’s literally left over from a doll factory. Yeah.
That’s incredible. Also just like, who doesn’t love a nice doll factory leftover? I love, I love it.
Exactly. I’m imagining that these, I haven’t actually seen the dolls, but I’m imagining like they’re like a knitted Peruvian doll type thing, not like a plastic doll or something, obviously, because it’s cotton. But like the, what was great about that is that like because they’re dolls, they’re all these amazing colors. And of course, I gravitate towards colors. And I feel like when you look at the landscape of sweaters out there, it’s actually very hard to find like…
a beautiful, brightly knit statement sweater. So, and I also, like I was really inspired by the towels that I’ve collected over the years so each sweater is inspired by a different towel that I love the graphic of. And the process was just really cool and fun because, well first of all it took a year and a half, which is like very slow but like, you know, it was very thoughtful and
Um, but yeah, so when the time came that I had to color the sweaters, they told me which colors were available and I had to work with what was available. So I am so psyched on the color combos that I came up with, but it’s even cooler to think that like I was making them out of just like what was, I didn’t have like a paint box of colors where I could mix and match or whatever. It was like
I was restricted to a certain color palette, which was just like probably one of my favorite things about being an upcycled designer is that creativity that it pushes you to have to like push your boundaries and think outside of the box. It’s not like, oh, I’m sitting at my desk and dreaming up this thing and it’s gonna have a huge ruffle. It’s like, what can I do with the materials that are in front of me? And that’s so much more fun. Yeah.
It really is. I feel like it helps you, it makes you more innovative, but I think it also helps to have yourself sort of hemmed in and it makes you able to be more creative, you know?
Yeah, and it’s like weirdly having those parameters, like those boundaries are kind of like, put you in this like safe, cozy space where you like know like what you’re working with. And it’s like, cause sometimes having like the sky’s the limit is like impossible to like, to like put yourself in that position where like you could literally do anything. So having those restrictions are like, are very inspiring to me.
Yeah, it really is. It really is. So OK, so these sweaters are on your site right now for purchase. And they’re all 100% cotton. If someone is inspired by our conversation to go buy one of these sweaters from you, how can they best take care of it to extend its life?
I mean, to be honest, I don’t really wash my sweaters much. I pretty rarely do, but I’ve also had moth situations, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask for with that. But basically, hand or machine wash cold. And what you should be doing with all your sweaters is not putting them in the dryer and not hanging them to dry. What you need to do is lay them flat.
So oftentimes I’ll like lay out a towel on the ground or something or like I personally I bought these This like hanging mechanism thing. That’s like these mesh layers of mesh So when I’m washing sweaters because I often like will purchase and wash like vintage sweaters I will lay them on that so it’s laying flat, but it has like the A place for the air to like circulate and let the
moisture drip out. So yeah, I mean that’s not hard. Like, like laying something on a towel is certainly not hard, but I would also say like just don’t wash them that much. Like they’re not going to stink the way a synthetic sweater does.
It’s true. It’s true. I mean, honestly, like
It’s interesting. The irony is never lost on me that we have so much synthetic clothing now, right? That makes you stinky, that you have to wash more often, that also doesn’t hold up to washing. It’s like a cycle, right? I mean, it’s like there’s all this like planned obsolescence in clothing that’s kind of like accidental planned obsolescence. Like we’ve never I’ve never sat in a meeting and said the great news is that this is going to be such low quality that they’ll have to buy another one. Right. But it just is.
Yes. Yes, so true.
That’s a really good point. Yeah, what’s interesting is actually like we, like at Express, we did like wear testing to make sure the stuff would withstand like friction and wear, et cetera. And I was just like, this is really twisted what we’re doing. It’s like, we don’t know what kind of brand we wanna be because like we’re like not sourcing fibers that will last a long time. We’re wanting our customers to purchase over and over again, but we wanna make sure that they.
I mean, I think that’s part of it, right? It’s like, this is also the era of like plenty of stores who have opened like the container store to help you organize all the stuff you overbought, right? But it is interesting because I’ve worked a lot of places that did wear testing and it was almost like we want people to just be able to wear it long enough that they won’t be mad when it stops being nice anymore. And it’s about that fine line. Yeah, yeah. And so it’s true. Like we never sat around and we’re like, I think like honestly,
last two? Like, did these people just have never-ending closets to contain all their clothes?
That’s a really good point. Yeah, that probably sums it up, yeah.
As you know, when I would be working on wear test stuff as a buyer, I wasn’t thinking like, oh, we just want this to hang on long enough. But I actually was like, I’m doing the best job I can to put the best stuff out there for our customer. I really felt that way. It’s just that’s not how it ends up working out, right? Yeah.
And the big difference between planned obsolescence in the technology world or whatever and in the fashion world, it’s more perceived obsolescence. So we’re relying on the perceived obsolescence on paper, not necessarily it being uncool now, versus it being broken is what’s being really pushed a bit more thoughtfully. Not that that’s really considered so much. But like…
Yeah, that’s what it is.
It is, it is, it’s so weird to think about. I think that’s the thing, when I talk about all of this stuff and the evils of fast fashion, it’s like I always wanna be really important to call out that the vast majority of people working in this industry are people like me and you who we have the best intentions and we wanna do the best things and we are also trying to survive as well because you know what, we’re not paid well, we’re overworked.
by this endless cycle of trends, that is what we’re doing.
career progressed it was like I was doing the jobs of three or four or five people you know because the company didn’t want to spend the money and our benefits were bad and yet we still were like if we don’t hit these numbers in terms of profitability and sales we won’t have a job next year and so you’re just trying to survive and it’s only like when you get to step outside of it like you and I have had that luxury of doing that you start to see how broken it all is.
Mm-hmm. That’s a really, really good point. Yeah, for sure.
Like we weren’t in there like, let’s make the worst sweaters ever. You know, yeah. And well, thank you so much, Dani. This was so fun.
No. Hell no. Never.
Thank you, can I, I just wanna say one more thing to your audience. I don’t know how to put this because I don’t wanna make you like uncomfortable. But like, I just think that I wanna thank you for like opening up this community and giving people a platform to speak. And like, you do such hard, I’m like seriously gonna get emotional Amanda, you do such hard work. And like.
Oh my god, you’re gonna make me cry.
I’ll be honest like over the like I’ve been a patreon subscriber for you from the beginning and there have been periods of time Where I’m like, oh my god, I’m literally like I can’t afford this anymore. But I’m always like no Amanda is always doing the work. She never stops. It doesn’t freaking matter And I will say I’ve had over the years even though it’s been years since I was on your podcast Like I’ve had people come to me and say like oh I learned about you from Clotheshorse.
And I just like the community that you’ve brought together is just really wonderful. And so like, even though I’ve had those moments where I’m like, oh, can I afford this anymore? I’m like, no, it is so important to me that Amanda is doing this work. And like, I just I just everyone like if you can like support Amanda on if you like listen to this podcast a lot like.
Thank you, thank you. That means a lot to me, Dani. I know, I mean, I’m so grateful for all of you small businesses who support me, and honestly at this point, that is what has kept Clothes Force going because it’s expensive to do this. It’s not just like I talk in a microphone. And I don’t get paid for this label. I know.
I like seriously about to cry like you really like please support her patreon
regardless of like the money you put in it like you’re you put so much time and energy and expertise and like Heart like you put so much freaking heart into this
Yeah, I do, I do. I’m, you know what, Dani, I’m like so grateful that you said that, even though I feel like really embarrassed right now. But it is true, and I, it feels really important to me to have your support and have you recognize that. And you know, there are so many people, you included, who have become my friends.
thanks to Clotheshorse, you know? And so for me, it’s been this amazing phenomenon that was born out of, I wouldn’t say it was one of the darkest times of my life. The darkest time of my life was the like, you know, few months after my partner died and before Dylan was born. That was like a time I’m not excited to ever repeat. But the months surrounding when I started Clotheshorse were hard. I mean, for like, for so many of us, you know, it was 2020, I’d lost my job. I, we had to move out of the city
we couldn’t afford to live there anymore. I didn’t know what was gonna happen next. I was so afraid of getting sick and dying, you know, like so fearful all the time and all the stuff was going on with the election. It was just like a really intense time. And back then I would make two episodes a week because I was like, we all need each other right now, but I also need to do this. It was my survival mode, yeah. And it has changed over the years, right? Like I…
Yeah, such a horrible time.
Yeah, it was like, it was your survival mode, like, yeah.
Like I am Clotheshorse right and making doing this work is really important to my happiness and my faith and Optimism in the world, but it is also like work. You know when I started this I didn’t have a job
most of the time I have had a job and this has been like what I do instead of relaxing, making friends, so like that. So um but it’s important to me and I think you know the same thing goes for like you and all the other small makers in our community all of you who like I mean you worked so hard on these sweaters you’re all working so hard to do things right when so many people will tell us myself included why do you care so much why do you work so hard to do it right
even engaging with that person or sharing information with them or helping them out or whatever else it is and it is because we all believe in the same thing, right?
That’s how I feel. Like I said, a couple months ago, I was like, I just don’t think I can do close source anymore. It’s so exhausting what people expect from me and the microscope I’m under and just the labor I’m doing for everybody every day. I was like, I don’t think I can do it anymore. And then I was like, well, first off, Dustin was like, that’s not even an option, so you just need to stop thinking that way, which I mean, how lucky am I to have a partner who feels that way? But I was like, if I don’t do this, who will?
Yeah, and it’s because it’s like, if I don’t care, then who frickin’ will?
You know? So I’m gonna keep doing it, but thank you. Thank you, your kind words really, yeah, they really mean a lot to me. I’m trying not to get all choked up, but thank you.
Yeah, it’s really nice to hear it. You know how it is. You get one trolley message and that eclipses the like 100 kind messages you’ve received in last year. Man, I hate that.
I mean it from the bottom of my heart and I know so many other listeners feel that way.
Yeah. Oh, yes.
Absolutely. That’s why I started like, screenshotting the positive messages and I have like a folder on in my photos of my phone so like when I get one of those trolls I like look through there and I’m like okay.
Same, I have a folder for nice emails that I get from people at the Clotheshorse account and I like, I always tell people like, thank you for this, I’m gonna put this in my folder. Because like, sometimes I need that. It is a weird world that when people will come and fight with you about like, fast fashion. Well, thank you so much, Dani. This was so much fun.
Thank you so much to Dani for taking all of that time to share her expertise and everything else with us. Right now, Dani is in the process of finalizing her first ever sewing pattern, called the Deja Vu Dress. I’m really excited for this to go on sale because it’s a really cool baby doll dress (the best silhouette, in my opinion) and it’s ideal for upcycling textiles. I’m definitely buying it as soon as it goes on sale because I think it will be a good “middle of winter doldrums” project. If you’re interested in learning more about the sewing pattern and/or seeing Dani’s incredible sweaters, be sure to give her a follow on instagram (you probably already do) where you’ll find her as @picnicwear.