Do Fashion Trends Still Exist? – The Business of Fashion via @sniply

LONDON, United Kingdom — In 1937, the English author, critic, curator and fashion historian James Laver drew up a rudimentary timeline of how trends evolve. According to Laver’s Law, when a trend is in fashion, it is ‘smart.’ One year before this it is ‘daring.’ And 20 years later, it becomes ‘ridiculous.’ 50 years, Laver said, was how long it took for a trend to begin to creep back into style.

For years, Laver’s Law made sense. And though the pace of the fashion industry picked up rapidly throughout the twentieth century with the growing mass production of clothing, trends maintained their relatively long and predictable life cycles. Each season, fashion forecasting houses released hefty books containing their predications on which styles and fabrics would come ‘in’ in future seasons. Designers and brands worked with these bibles and brought their contents to life for consumers when the clothes hit stores a few years — literally, years — later. In this business of books, assessing trends so far in advance and publishing them in hard copy kept the turnover of new styles to a steady, seasonal pace.

How things have changed.

    “Social media dictates trends today. The trend emerges overnight and disappears almost as quickly.”

“Today, the idea of a bunch people sitting in a room and deciding what the colours are going to be in two years’ time or what materials are going to be used in three years’ time is a complete nonsense,” said Marc Worth. In 1997, Worth and his brother Julian founded Worth Global Style Network (WGSN), the trend-forecasting service whose clients today include Coach, Kate Spade, H&M and Victoria’s Secret.

While some of the traditional fashion forecasting houses, such as Paris-based Peclers, still issue their seasonal tomes, Worth believes today’s fashion cycle requires a different approach to understanding trends. “As things have evolved, we’ve moved into the four-season approach, then into drops and the whole nature of forecasting, I think, has gone out of the window.”

In 2005, Worth sold WGSN to British media company eMap for £140 million and, last year, launched the fashion division of Stylus, a service which offers creative research and advice to businesses, but does not, he insists, forecast trends. “We don’t forecast, we don’t predict. We provide inspirations for creatives to create trends; we track trends as they evolve, but we’re not forecasters in the traditional sense,” he said. “Social media dictates trends today. The trend emerges overnight and disappears almost as quickly.”

Indeed, James Laver could not have predicted that the fashion industry would break loose from its traditional, stately bi-annual cycle, moving towards something that, at some retailers, has begun to more closely resemble a feed of constant product drops. Driven by the Internet, media, too, has dramatically sped up, serving up a stream of new fashion trends all day, every day.

Today, trends are born and die within an infinitely faster and more turbulent environment, in which brands, celebrities, magazines, bloggers and end consumers on social media all jostle for influence over what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion.

“Social media has absolutely, totally changed the trends landscape,” said Ruth Chapple, head of content at Stylus Fashion. “It’s making some trends stick, while long ago we would have been over them more quickly. The Valentino rock stud, which everyone expected to be a one-season wonder, has been going strong for eight seasons,” she said. “The death of the stud was forecast long ago, but that was very much a social media trend, where the bloggers made that trend stick.” On the other hand, digital media can quickly overexpose a trend, and kill its ‘edge’. “The Kenzo tiger sweatshirt,” Chapple recalled. “Over and done with in a month.”

“The word ‘trend’ is a little bit like the word ‘luxury’ — nobody really knows what it is anymore, where it starts, where it ends,” said Pierre-François Le Louët, president of Paris-based trend forecasting agency NellyRodi.

Like Marc Worth, Le Louët claims his trend forecasting firm is not in the business of predicting trends, which, he says, are plain to see on social media and often prove to be very short-lived. Rather, NellyRodi uses its network of representatives in 18 countries to track the trends happening on the ground in different markets, and then help clients pluck out of the vast array of things ‘trending’ at any one time the specific trends that will work for their brand, in their chosen markets.

“You don’t sell the product of the season that well anymore,” he said. “The most important thing is to work on your brand identity, who you are, how you differentiate from your competitors. Trends are tools that might help you convince your clients how you and your brand understand how the world changes.”

Anne Lise Kjaer, founder of trend management consultancy Kjaer Global, which counts Gap, Swarovski and La Perla amongst its clients, also takes a holistic approach to trends. “A trend is a tipping point, from when a few people are doing it to when many people are doing it. ‘Trendy’ trends, as such, are unsustainable and short-lived. We don’t even look at those,” she said. “More than going to a shop and having a look, you find someone you follow on Instagram or a blog. It becomes a lifestyle rather than a trend. We’re moving from being trend-focused to lifestyle-focused… Some trends turn out to be short-lived, whereas others continue to evolve as they are more about lifestyle choices and style, rather than conspicuous consumption.”

In a sense, the role of today’s trend analysts is comparable to panning for gold. The abundance of ‘trending’ content and the loss of a single, authoritative source that predicts and starts trends have created a serious need for a filter. Brands turn to trend analysts to trawl through this overload of information and find the real treasure; that is, the trends that will work for their brand, the trends that have staying power, and the trends that can be leveraged in specific markets and with specific consumer demographics.

“Brands and retailers have just had to get savvier in how they process information about trends in order to understand which are the macro-trends and identify micro-trends in time to react,” said Katie Smith, a senior retail analyst at Editd, a data-driven fashion analytics platform. “Our customers use trend analysis at every stage of a product life cycle. From designers who are analysing which colours have performed best in retail, or which sleeve shapes continually see discounting, through to buying and merchandising, where trend analysis forms a critical part of every decision around pricing, depth of buy, timing within a season and replenishment.”

“It’s about helping people decide what they should be purchasing and buying at the same time. You need a lot of information at your fingertips,” reasoned Catriona Macnab, chief creative officer at WGSN, which, like NellyRodi and Stylus, uses intelligence from local teams around the world to give clients advice on what’s trending — and what is likely to trend — in specific markets.

On the high street, some of the biggest and most successful brands have built their business models around the ever-increasing speed and volatility of trends coupled to consumer demand for constant newness: it’s less about forecasting and more about responsiveness.

Zara’s highly responsive, vertically-integrated, data-driven business model has made it one of the most agile fashion brands in the world, taking just two weeks to take a product from design studio to its stores, which feature over 10,000 new designs per year. Topshop drops new items every day.

“They have to be able to react faster, they have to be able to keep up with trends and there aren’t many that are able to do so,” said Marc Worth. “People like Topshop can, people like Inditex (which owns Zara) are able to, but the behemoths like Marks & Spencer still struggle to because of the manufacturing and supply chain process.”

Ruth Chapple concurs: “It boils down to speed to market.”

“I think the biggest change has come in high end fashion,” said Alice Fisher, a commissioning editor and style correspondent for The Guardian newspaper’s Observer Magazine. “It’s something I always ask designers about when I meet them because I’m fascinated by how their workload must have changed with the promotion of pre-collection, resort, capsule collections, special collaborations, etcetera.”

Luxury brands, largely still bound to the anachronistic cycle of seasonal runway shows, are forced into a balancing act when it comes to trends, releasing major new styles at the pace of the traditional fashion calendar, while keeping their brand looking fresh between seasons with additional lines, products and digital content.

“Some — like Raf Simons — love it because they always have new ideas and relish the pace,” said Fisher. “Others say it’s really relentless.”

The Bottom Line: Patagonia, North Face, and the Myth of Green Consumerism | Groundswell

How can you tell the difference between The North Face and Patagonia?

Just looking at the merchandise of each, the two companies are easy to confuse. With little difference in price point for most items, the two companies’ main products (winter athleticwear) look just about the same, and it can be difficult to see which brand has the upper hand.

And despite their reputation as the clothing of suburban high school students, both Patagonia and North Face are well known as front-runners in the field of ecologically responsible companies. Organic fibers, ethical treatment of workers, minimizing emissions from company workshops, and transparency on business ventures are the orders of the day for both companies.

One key aspect that separates the companies is their annual revenue: The North Face made $2 billion in 2013, while Patagonia brought in a little over $570 million.

But Patagonia isn’t ramping up their efforts to better compete in numbers with The North Face. In fact, according to their founder Yvon Chouinard, they’re not interested in increasing profits at all.

What?

Just last September, Patagonia unveiled their latest marketing goal: limiting growth. Yep, you read that right. Patagonia announced they’re aiming (with some specific action items) to make less than they have in previous years, in order to better serve the environment. They’re calling this new campaign “The Responsible Economy.”

 

In an interview with GreenBiz last year, Chouinard argued that “green” is a buzzword that no longer has meaning, and that green products too often become easy ways of making companies and consumers feel satisfied with minimal actual change.

Rather, Chouinard is looking for ways to make products less disposable, and challenge consumers to be more responsible with their purchases, when they do buy:

“I believe in ‘appropriate technology.’ We want to make something that replaces an old, efficient product.”

“We ask our customers to think twice before you buy a jacket from us. Do you need it, or are you just bored? … Since corporations run the government, if you want to change the government, you have to change the corporations. If you want to change the corporations, change the consumers.”

To make matters even more interesting, Patagonia has additionally begun selling used Patagonia clothing and merchandise in stores in five cities nationwide, with plans for expansion. They have also created an investment fund to help environmental activism startup companies (according to this 2014 Adweek article).

Companies that are the direct competitors of Patagonia, including The North Face, have published relatively little in response to these calls to action. In fact, The North Face has little intention of diverging from the typical business plan of growth above all. They announced in their 2013 annual report that they plan to see their annual earnings raise to 3.3 billion by 2017.

What does Patagonia’s marketing push mean for their appeal? As a selling strategy, suggesting that people shouldn’t purchase their apparel could backfire miserably. For consumers to believe in this “anti-growth” campaign, they would not only have to believe that Patagonia is sincere, but also be willing to set aside their own materialist wants for “the greater good.” In this kind of un-marketing strategy, Patagonia only wins if you don’t buy their latest athleticwear, and you also don’t buy from any other brand.

Even so, it appears revenue and popularity are what Patagonia stands to lose, if the campaign isn’t viewed as sincere. But popularity doesn’t seem to be a problem with Patagonia’s anti-growth plans. Back in November 2011, on Black Friday, Patagonia sold its winter line with tags that read, “Don’t buy this jacket.” Black Friday customers were swayed by the tags, but ironically not to buy less from the company: thanks in part to the tags, Patagonia saw its revenue increase 30% from the previous year’s Black Friday. Chouinard believes that rise in sales was due to winning new customers over from other brands.

It’s clear that these days, in the realm of big business and environmentalism, Patagonia is easily outshining The North Face, with its promises of real change. If you’re looking for a different company than all the others, Patagonia wants you to look no further. But if you believe in Patagonia’s mission, there’s no need to run out and support their company with your cash—at least, not until you’re in the market for a new (or new-to-you) coat.

Buy less, but when you must, buy Patagonia.

Of course, companies like The North Face that are interested in growth for growth’s sake (and also in raising money to have greater capital for doing good) will continue to use traditional marketing techniques to appeal to customers. It has always been the responsibility of shoppers to read between the lines of marketing campaigns and to buy what is best, not what is marketed best. Patagonia has simply upped the deal, by asserting that they are more interested in the greater environmental issues at hand, than in their profits and your money.

At the end of the day, maybe Patagonia is right—maybe we need to rethink the way we respond to calls for increased consumption. Perhaps buying less, and foregoing that new winter jacket because last year’s still works isn’t about denying yourself the latest in fashion, but about being responsible stewards of the earth. We’ve got to change how we reward companies that we trust and respect.

But in order to do that, we as potential consumers must be responsible for taking the initiative to wait to buy things until we need them. Patagonia alone can’t stop consumption unless we shop with care, and “buying into” the values of a company doesn’t have to mean buying a new product—or any product at all.

So do you really need that new fleece this fall?

AIGA | AIGA Standards of professional practice

A professional designer adheres to principles of integrity that demonstrate respect for the profession, for colleagues, for clients, for audiences or consumers, and for society as a whole.These standards define the expectations of a professional designer

The designer’s responsibility to clients

1.1 A professional designer shall acquaint himself or herself with a client’s business and design standards and shall act in the client’s best interest within the limits of professional responsibility.

1.2 A professional designer shall not work simultaneously on assignments that create a conflict of interest without agreement of the clients or employers concerned, except in specific cases where it is the convention of a particular trade for a designer to work at the same time for various competitors.

1.3 A professional designer shall treat all work in progress prior to the completion of a project and all knowledge of a client’s intentions, production methods and business organization as confidential and shall not divulge such information in any manner whatsoever without the consent of the client. It is the designer’s responsibility to ensure that all staff members act accordingly.

1.4 A professional designer who accepts instructions from a client or employer that involve violation of the designer’s ethical standards should be corrected by the designer, or the designer should refuse the assignment.

The designer’s responsibility to other designers

2.1 Designers in pursuit of business opportunities should support fair and open competition.

2.2 A professional designer shall not knowingly accept any professional assignment on which another designer has been or is working without notifying the other designer or until he or she is satisfied that any previous appointments have been properly terminated and that all materials relevant to the continuation of the project are the clear property of the client.

2.3 A professional designer must not attempt, directly or indirectly, to supplant or compete with another designer by means of unethical inducements.

2.4 A professional designer shall be objective and balanced in criticizing another designer’s work and shall not denigrate the work or reputation of a fellow designer.

2.5 A professional designer shall not accept instructions from a client that involve infringement of another person’s property rights without permission, or consciously act in any manner involving any such infringement.

2.6 A professional designer working in a country other than his or her own shall observe the relevant Code of Conduct of the national society concerned.

Fees

3.1 A professional designer shall work only for a fee, a royalty, salary or other agreed-upon form of compensation. A professional designer shall not retain any kickbacks, hidden discounts, commission, allowances or payment in kind from contractors or suppliers. Clients should be made aware of mark-ups.

3.2 A reasonable handling and administration charge may be added, with the knowledge and understanding of the client, as a percentage to all reimbursable items, billable to a client, that pass through the designer’s account.

3.3 A professional designer who has a financial interest in any suppliers who may benefit from a recommendation made by the designer in the course of a project will inform the client or employer of this fact in advance of the recommendation.

3.4 A professional designer who is asked to advise on the selection of designers or the consultants shall not base such advice in the receipt of payment from the designer or consultants recommended.

Publicity

4.1 Any self-promotion, advertising or publicity must not contain deliberate misstatements of competence, experience or professional capabilities. It must be fair both to clients and other designers.

4.2 A professional designer may allow a client to use his or her name for the promotion of work designed or services provided in a manner that is appropriate to the status of the profession.

Authorship

5.1 A professional designer shall not claim sole credit for a design on which other designers have collaborated.

5.2 When not the sole author of a design, it is incumbent upon a professional designer to clearly identify his or her specific responsibilities or involvement with the design. Examples of such work may not be used for publicity, display or portfolio samples without clear identification of precise areas of authorship.

The designer’s responsibility to the public

6.1 A professional designer shall avoid projects that will result in harm to the public.

6.2 A professional designer shall communicate the truth in all situations and at all times; his or her work shall not make false claims nor knowingly misinform. A professional designer shall represent messages in a clear manner in all forms of communication design and avoid false, misleading and deceptive promotion.

6.3 A professional designer shall respect the dignity of all audiences and shall value individual differences even as they avoid depicting or stereotyping people or groups of people in a negative or dehumanizing way. A professional designer shall strive to be sensitive to cultural values and beliefs and engages in fair and balanced communication design that fosters and encourages mutual understanding.

The designer’s responsibility to society and the environment

7.1 A professional designer, while engaged in the practice or instruction of design, shall not knowingly do or fail to do anything that constitutes a deliberate or reckless disregard for the health and safety of the communities in which he or she lives and practices or the privacy of the individuals and businesses therein. A professional designer shall take a responsible role in the visual portrayal of people, the consumption of natural resources, and the protection of animals and the environment.

7.2 A professional designer is encouraged to contribute five percent of his or her time to projects in the public good-projects that serve society and improve the human experience.

7.3 A professional designer shall consider environmental, economic, social and cultural implications of his or her work and minimize the adverse impacts.

7.4 A professional designer shall not knowingly accept instructions from a client or employer that involve infringement of another person’s or group’s human rights or property rights without permission of such other person or group, or consciously act in any manner involving any such infringement.

7.5 A professional designer shall not knowingly make use of goods or services offered by manufacturers, suppliers or contractors that are accompanied by an obligation that is substantively detrimental to the best interests of his or her client, society or the environment.

7.6 A professional designer shall refuse to engage in or countenance discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or disability.

7.7 A professional designer shall strive to understand and support the principles of free speech, freedom of assembly, and access to an open marketplace of ideas and shall act accordingly.

via AIGA | AIGA Standards of professional practice.

outdoor-review

Frow where do we get the next generation of Designers

Read on page 22. on Autumn 2014

www.outdoor-review.co.uk

THE UK’s PREMIER TRADE MAGAZINE FOR THE OUTDOORS

Outdoor Review reports on local and global news and the game changing issues that impact on our world from all of the diverse angles and aspects of the outdoor industry; a forum for opinion and ideas, a vehicle for debate and a venue to share learning that can be of mutual benefit to us all

 

outdoor-review.

 

 

New index pressures brands on Chinese disclosure | Materials & Production News

GUIYANG – A new index has been launched in China which will measure apparel brands’ performance in managing the environmental impacts of factories in their supply chains in China. The Corporate Information Transparency Index CITI is a quantitative evaluation system which has been jointly developed by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs IPE and the Natural Resources Defense Council NRDC.The inaugural CITI list has M&S, Puma, C&A, Gap and H&M in the top ten leading companies, while bringing up the rear on the list are brands including Guess, DKNY, Macy’s and Polo Ralph Lauren. 147 consumer brands were assessed, while 47 of the brands were unable to provide any sort of response to questions about their supply chains.The CITI was released at the Greening the Global Supply Chain sub-forum, organised by the SEE Foundation and IPE, held at the Guiyang Eco-Forum Global hosted by the Environmental Protection Department of Guizhou.“Despite the central importance of supply chains in globalised business core function, and despite the heavy impact of pollution from manufacturing in this way, company corporate social responsibility programs generally focus very inadequate attention on pollution from their supply chain. To the contrary, they focus on where it is easiest to start, rather than where it is the most important to fix,” says Linda E. Greer, Ph.D., director of NRDC’s Health and Environment Program.Since 2010, IPE and partner NGOs have pushed dozens of brands from textile industries to use IPE’s Pollution Map database to identify and address their supply chain pollution problems.Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs said that, “The inaugural CITI evaluation looks at brands that have hundreds of millions of customers across the world. Our hope is that consumers in and outside of China pay attention to the CITI evaluation scores and rankings and use their own purchasing power to make more environmentally conscious choices, and be a force for pollution and emissions reduction in China.“The CITI reflects the brand’s will, capability, and institutional backing to solve pollution problems in its supply chain, and can also aid brands to move from basic compliance to continuous improvement and eventually best practice.”The inaugural CITI assessment looks at eight industrial sectors with significant environmental impacts: IT, textiles, food and beverage, household and personal care, automobile, breweries, and leather.

via New index pressures brands on Chinese disclosure | Materials & Production News.

David Epstein: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger? | Talk Video | TED.com

When you look at sporting achievements over the last decades, it seems like humans have gotten faster, better and stronger in nearly every way. Yet as David Epstein points out in this delightfully counter-intuitive talk, we might want to lay off the self-congratulation. Many factors are at play in shattering athletic records, and the development of our natural talents is just one of them.

pin This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.

via David Epstein: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger? | Talk Video | TED.com.

 

Dear Startups, Don’t Skip Design Thinking

In 2013, Forbes reported that a startling 80% of young companies fail within 18 months. Why? There’s no shortage of information online to advise on growing market penetration rates, brand loyalty and so forth. Nor is there a lack of able agencies and specialists to consult with.

One thing the Internet can’t give, and money can’t buy, is learned personal experience. A consultant I admire always says: “You’re not paying for my successful experiences, but my failures.”

Humans learn by doing, and by the transitive property, companies do, too. The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a non-profit brainchild of the city’s government, industry and academic leaders, recognized this and set out to fuel Los Angeles cleantech startups with knowledge that is either very expensive or learned the hard way.

LACI cultivates traditional business acumen through providing CEO mentoring, access to investor and customer networks, and collaborative working space, but recently, LACI saw the increasing value in adding user-centered design and creative thinking to the mix.

Would tech start-ups succeed if they adopted this holistic approach from square one?

(Check back in a few months and we’ll let you know).

Partnering with local specialists, Pull Experience Inc., Motivo Engineering and Echo-Factory, LACI started an ongoing Design Thinking Workshop Series to equip its portfolio companies with this methodology.

Erik Steeb, VP of Programs at LACI, explains: “Design is a critical element of any business but it’s especially important for startups who have the unique challenge of discovering the right business model for their innovation. Too often, companies spend all their time on the innovation itself and miss one or two key elements that would really connect with a particular market. By identifying and really understanding their customers early on, companies can save a lot of time and money in discovering that successful business model.”

The series started with participants collectively selecting a problem to solve that affects their community: “create a solution that combats the negative health affects of smog in populations near the freeway.”

Through five pillars of design thinking, shared below, theory was put into practice in a “safe and fast fail” environment.

1. Uncover insights that drive innovation

Considering the user through the lens of empathy is crucial. Start with definingwho your users are. Create personas. Speculate about the pain points of their daily lives, their behaviors, desires and needs. As a startup, narrow down your potential users to one beachhead market that you can service and win quickly.

Next, deepen your understanding by walking in their shoes (literally, if you can) with meticulous research to verify and refine your speculations. Skipping or skimming this step could jeopardize success; these insights let you know whether your target users would want and value your offering.

Make sense of your findings. Do opportunities rise to the surface that you hadn’t seen before? Be nimble. Identify key insights and focus on turning them into meaningful solutions.

2. Identify enabling technology

User driven, tech enabled.

Letting users drive solutions instead of technology might seem counter-intuitive for a cleantech startup, but it pays off. Insights from users should dictate the key requirements for a product or service. Ideas that aren’t harnessed in the right context risk missing their mark…and potential.

Develop concepts, prototypes and their use-cases. Test, fail, refine and debug. As you hone in on the best technology for your concept, evaluate whether it is a product or a platform. Be careful not to pigeonhole yourself into one product if your concept is actually a platform.

Nail the logistics.

In 2012, 84% of Kickstarter’s top projects shipped significantly later than promised. As a new company, understanding realistic timelines and costs for product development, packaging and delivery is important, impacting your ability to compete and retain customers. Consult with seasoned experts and take advantage of multi-functional teams.

3. Turn solutions into viable ventures

Make it real.

As your prototypes increase in fidelity, refine your value proposition. Pivot as necessary, but never lose sight of the user. What needs are you satisfying? Who are your competitors and why should a customer choose you?

Refine the details of your business model.

Identify your partners, channels, revenue streams and cost structure. If infrastructure necessary for the ideal user experience is missing, address that. For example, offering a life-simplifying technology with a complicated purchasing experience creates dissonance. Find or create alternatives.

4. Design and tell stories

Bring your value proposition to life by telling the story of your solution. Get people excited, create memories and make complex ideas digestible. Do this at every touch-point of the user experience, and for different audiences. Know what to say to both the venture capitalist and the social media blogger.

Ensure that the core of your story is both harmonized and reinforced across each touch-point – from the design of the artifact, the experience of using it, purchasing it, maintaining it, to social media messaging and customer service.

Be concise. In 2013, the average attention span was only eight seconds. Brief and repeatable messages are your friend. Visuals and imagery are too.

5. Fail efficiently

Companies rarely get the solution right the first time. Understanding and expecting that teaches us how to test early, often, and adjust accordingly. It’s OK to fail…but learn how to do it quickly, cheaply and learn from the experience.

In the design world, “thinking outside the box” is a cliché buzzword that might earn you a groan. Design thinking isn’t just about thinking outside of the box. It’s about empathizing with it. Knowing when it’s a sphere helps too.

Understanding the needs of your audience through design thinking is the first step, and critical foundation to creating solutions that solve real problems, create great experiences and improve life.

Cole Hershkowitz, CEO of LACI portfolio company Chai Energy, attended the series and remarked: “The workshop showed us that executing great design is far less about being some sort of Steve Jobs reincarnate and far more about approaching problems with the right processes.”

After the series, Hershkowitz recognized the adjustments his company needed, “We have already turned our product development process on its head. We now take our mockups, feature ideas, and prototypes directly to customers to get their feedback.”

via Dear Startups, Don’t Skip Design Thinking.

LITHOGRAPHICA – A Quarterly e-Journal from Arc’teryx // Issue No. 4

Design // by Lisa Richardson, Photography by Angela Percival and Brian Goldstone

THE INVISIBLE MADE VISIBLE

 

Twenty-four year-old Isaac Newton, the father of gravity, calculus and the three laws of motion, was the first to discover that white light contains all the colours of the rainbow— by sticking a knife into his eye socket and wiggling it around.

It didn’t prove anything to his exacting satisfaction – he just saw coloured spots in his vision – so he pulled the blinds closed and began the less tactile work of bouncing a beam of sunlight through a glass prism. What projected was a 22 foot rainbow of colour, proving that white light isn’t white at all, but a composite of all the colours of the visible spectrum.

Newton also noticed that each colour was balanced by an opposing colour. Through the starkness of perfect contrast, an opposing colour is able to render its complement more beautiful, more essential, more luminous. His colour circle evolved into the colour wheel, revealing how blue complements orange, violet complements yellow and red complements green. Choosing which colours go together however, is not as easy as following a formula. At Arc’teryx, colour has its own department, a team of eight who, in their daily dedication to bringing richness and vibrancy to all products, dive deep into the collective unconscious of the colour underworld with nothing to guide them but their own insight.

“Colour preference is emotional and subjective,” says colour designer Trina Thompson, “and that makes colour prediction an art. But it’s also a science, because we need to balance and control each colour in each fabric.” Part psychology, part sociology, and a big dose of mystery; but at least there are no knives involved.

Colour is energy— literally. It’s a property of light, the radiant energy from the sun that streams towards earth at a speed of 299,792,458 meters per second. The visible part of this light energy sits on the electromagnetic spectrum in between longer radio, microwave and infrared waves and shorter ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays.

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, these colours make up what Newton termed the visible light spectrum. White light. This is the toolbox for the Arc’teryx colour team. And their goal? Render the power of the sun, one bold colour at a time, onto the surface of a garment.

For every single collection, each and every product, the colour team works from scratch to make abstraction real. At the colour stage designs come in as samples first; although the fabrics are correct, they may be in odd colours and there is no direction toward where colour might play: in panels, trim or otherwise. An entire story has to be created, one that harmonizes colour with purpose, other selections and across the entire line.

For the aerobic Endorphin product collection, colourist Sybille Kissling honed in on bright, swift colours with pace and high visibility. Easy to spot against any background, the palette was chosen to convey energy. When completed, colour lights up a collection so it can catch the eye, transcend oblivion, stop us in our tracks, close the sale and get us all outside.

Up to 90% of decision-making is based on colour. In a crucial 90 second judgment-forming window, as one admires the effect of a dye and the way it illuminates, colour is actually bouncing into your eye to trigger a cascade of memories and associations and emotions. The surface is just the thinnest part of the story.

Dr I-Chant Chiang, a professor in cognitive psychology at Squamish’s Quest University, is interested in the way the brain and the mind interconnect, and how language and culture affect the way humans think. She says that humans are visual creatures. A quarter of our brain is devoted to visual processing; the eye is just an outpost of brain neurons.

“When light hits an object, it bounces different length waves to your eyes which are processed by the rods and cones in the back of your eyes,” explains Chiang. That “colour” information is then processed by the brain’s occipital lobe via the ocular nerve. Barring dysfunction or disability, we all experience the same physical process of light transfer to signals in the brain. Or do we?

“Colour is extremely subjective,” says Corey Bond, the colour team’s administrator. “A big part of our job is to understand how people prefer colour and then compensating for that preference. Do they like their whites more blue than yellow? Do they prefer really saturated colours? ” Bright clear colours best serve the Northern European blonde-haired, blue-eyed complexion, whereas North Americans favour more muddy tones. Yellow is risky because not many Caucasians wear it well. In Asia, red is so lucky it’s used for wedding dresses. Gambling with a bright accent can score or it can scare.

Spinning the colour wheel becomes a game of roulette.

The colour team reference trend reports, global sales, feedback, colour theory and hard-won experience. They look to Nature. But mostly, to render the invisible visible, they go with their gut.

When even the least complex garment requires a cascade of colour decisions, a rigorous process is needed to keep the imagination in line. Main fabric, logo, zipper, zipper pulls, pull cords, patterns on the pull cords, sleeve binding, thread – nothing can be overlooked. Should the colours blend? Should they be tonal? Does the piece need some spice, an accent that pops out and draws everything together?

It’s a Rubik’s rainbow, a puzzle of garments and colourways and fabric quantities unraveling into infinity. The solution is colour boards. “Every single item we make requires a colourboard,” explains Corey Bond. “The colourboard covers each dyed piece in a product. They can be anywhere from one page to six pages long.”

Final colour selections are based on lab “dips”, tiny pieces of sample fabrics custom-dyed to the team’s specifications. Using what Kristi Birnie, Colour Design Manager, calls “projection,” the colour designers mentally translate the tiny swatches up to full scale. “When I was newer to it,” she says, “I’d see the piece in the end and think, Woah! That’s not really how I envisioned it. It’s wa-a-a-ay brighter. Or wa-a-a-ay green. But you get good at it. Now I can see the colour at the small scale, measure it with a spectrumometer, look at it under four different light sources, and project it up.”

Ruthlessness and an eye-crossing attention to detail are required to finalize the colourboards. Typically, six out of eight lab dips are positive. From those six colours, perhaps only two can be used. Colour options are pared away, codes entered into spreadsheets. Series of numbers become jackets with eye-popping details and subtle harmonies. But when the difference between lemon zest and magma red is typing 535 instead of 553, the margin for error is no margin at all.

For an athlete, the basic performance applications of colour are to stand out or to blend in; provide protection through visibility or invisibility. Nature operates the same way, using colour as a strategy to either attract attention or avoid it. Sometimes, invisibility is the best line of defense.

For colourist Kavan Cronin, the focus of some of his colourboards is to create products that not only blend into their background environment, but where “as many external visible components as possible match each other so no ‘targets’ are left.” When working with the LEAF division of Arc’teryx, (Law Enforcement and Armed Forces) Kavan’s aim is always to achieve near-perfect invisibility. “It takes extreme colour scrutiny and attention to detail.”

For personnel needing urban camouflage, Cronin developed Wolf, a dark grey tone chosen from the grayscale that blends in with concrete, glass and steel. From distance or in situations of marginal light, the grayscale tone of most surfaces is dark grey. Wolf is an alternative uniform colour for environments where black stands out.

Black isn’t always low profile and white isn’t white at all. And colours are really just complex judgments rendered as sensations. The invisible made visible, colour is just one tangible way to joyfully interact with physics’ most complex concepts – power, energy, frequency – just as skiing, climbing, hiking, running, are the ways we play with gravity, geology, momentum. We don’t have to grasp the science intellectually, or poke out our eyes, to get it.

“All humans see colour, but when you really tune in and appreciate it in your surroundings, it gives you a whole new perspective,” says Trina Thompson. “Viewing the world becomes much more of an emotional experience.”

It’s in this layer of emotion that colour is most impactful and mysterious. Once you attune to it, colour can be consciously harnessed, as a source of energy or serenity or power. For Kristi Birnie, the original Arc’teryx colourist, that’s what her team serves up every day, as they immerse themselves in a sea of contrast, hue, saturation, luminance, theory and spreadsheets. Empowerment.

“If you feel protected, and are in a colour that gets you really amped up, in a place of true confidence, then you’re at the top of your game.”

And that’s the goal.

via LITHOGRAPHICA – A Quarterly e-Journal from Arc’teryx // Issue No. 4.

Fashion’s Dirty Little ‘Sustainable’ Secret; Wear More and Wash Less 

Last year Tommy Hilfiger made headlines when he stated that he ‘didn’t wash his jeans for months,’ and then, after a pause, added ‘never.’ The comment set off a maelstrom over the hygienic implications but also something else — more and more people started to come forward and admit that they too wash their jeans “never.” It’s not just better for the jeans, it’s better for the environment to wear more and wash less.

When examining the carbon footprint of apparel, especially something cotton like jeans or a t-shirt, it is shocking how much the impact increases once the consumer takes the product home. Resource inputs to grow, manufacture and transport garments to market all pale in comparison to the water and energy resources that get consumed once said item is in the hands of the wearer. Simply put — laundering and washing consume the largest amount of resources and the largest carbon footprint in the life of the garment, whether it was produced domestically or abroad and we are drowning in the waste of washing.

 

Kate Fletcher, Reader in Sustainable Fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion puts it this way, “Keeping clean used to be about disease prevention, but now the culture of whiter than white has weakened our immune systems, lined the pockets of detergent manufacturers and led to the startling fact that the energy needed to wash your favourite garment is about six times that needed to make it.”

And now jean wearers, be they the new raw denim wearer or someone like Hilfiger referring to his Levi’s, are all coming clean that they ‘never wash.’ The CEO of Swedish denim company Nudie, Palle Stenberg says of his own jeans, “Here is a pair I’ve been wearing every day for at least two years. Can you see the repairs? If I turn it inside out … you can see repairs. That’s the idea. Buy a pair of organic jeans, never wash them and you wear them and wear them and wear them and they become like a second skin.”

To further cement the normalcy of this idea, a student and researcher at the University of Alberta tested the bacteria content of jeans worn for 15 months, and found that the bacteria levels in the jeans were similar post-wash and pre-wash. Further proof to Fletcher’s point that washing clothes is “a habit and an activity closely tied in with social acceptance, personal and romantic success and happiness,” and not at all based on hygienic necessity.

Want ways to reduce your closet’s carbon footprint, use these these never wash tips:

Worried about bacteria: place clothing in a sealed bag in the freezer overnight, up to 72 hours for maximum bacteria killing effect, this will also reduce any odor on the garment

Worried about odor: hang the garment outside. Whites will also benefit from bacteria reduction in direct sunlight

Sweat stains: buy or make underarm shields that can be removed and washed when necessary, reducing the need to wash tops, sweater and shirts

Heavy dirt or surface stains: wear the item into the shower or spot clean with a lightly damp cloth

Image: University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing (2006) Well Dressed? The Present and Future Sustainability of Clothing and Textiles in the United Kingdom

via Fashion’s Dirty Little ‘Sustainable’ Secret; Wear More and Wash Less | Kate Black.

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