The Growth of Made-To-Order Business Model


July 18, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

Vogue Business recently published a piece on the rising popularity of made-to-order business model.

It is also important to note that the conventional fashion business model is falling apart at the seams.

As buyers, we have never had such a vast array of fashion options than today. Booming e-commerce trade and second hand markets open up avenues for consumers to satisfy their sartorial needs and desires. Buyers are becoming more educated and picky in making their purchasing decisions; their tastes are also getting more diverse, not to mention constantly shifting. As a result, stores are finding it harder to predict what sells and what doesn’t.

When major retailers struggle in sales, they shift business risks as much as possible to the designers. There is a longer delay before designers will see the money that retailers owe them, and often they have to deal with returns of unsold goods, both of which are detrimental to cash flow and profit margins of any business, especially independent designers who often operate on minimal capital. Everyone is losing, except maybe the factories.

This is the problem with the current business model. It relies on building inventories and pumping more products into an over-saturated market. Burberry was burning unsold goods. H&M has accumulated US$4 billion’s worth of inventory throughout their stores and warehouses worldwide.

Retailers often resort to deep discounts to reduce inventory, but consumers are not as easily persuaded as they used to be.

The made-to-order business model avoids this inventory problem. Money that is not wasted on making goods that people do not want to buy can be invested in marketing and product development. Aside from avoiding the inventory problem, the made-to-order business model comes with many perks. The designer gets to interact with customers directly. I personally love seeing how my clothes are used in different contexts, environments and activities. I often receive valuable feedbacks from my customers who tell me what they love about the clothes and fabrics, as well as the areas to improve on. In return, my customers receive clothes that are tailored to their body and can tweak the designs however they want. Rather like haute couture, but for everyday clothes.

The challenges that I often face in this business revolve around the constraints of time. Roland Mouret and Prabal Gurung both commented on the extra time required to produce customised garments, on average spanning 2-3 months. On a normal production time, it takes a week or two to make a piece of clothing. But when I am swamped with designing new collections, shooting editorials and visiting tailors, the turnaround time gets slowed down quite severely.

Despite the difficulties however, this business model, when handled properly, can be the key to sustainable growth. Designers that are backed by external sources often worry about not meeting sales quota or scaling up quickly. Fortunately I have no one to answer to but my customers. Maturing slowly and organically is the antithesis of startup culture, but it’s the path that I have picked. Slow growth leaves room for learning, fostering lasting relationships with customers and manufacturing partners, as well as maintaining financial independence because that growth can be funded by profit that is internally generated by my business.


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The Kardashians Have (Probably) Fooled Us Once Again


July 3, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

Kim Kardashian is like a Supreme box logo t-shirt. Take away all that hype and there's very little that is offered, although one could argue that at least t-shirt protects one's modesty.

Her wealth is built upon milking the hype machine, and once again we have probably fallen for one of her tricks.

Just a few weeks ago she announced that her new shapewear line would be called Kimono. Initial amusement aside, I was rather skeptical that she would make such a big gaffe in an era of political-correctness-gone-mad. After all, she - along with her mother and husband - is one extremely competent marketer. This was the woman who made use of all the social connections she could seize with her two-inch long manicured nails, then allegedly leaked a sex tape, or in Kanye's words - "home video", that propelled a multi-million dollar reality tv show. I refused to believe that she was that dense.

And of course the Internet reacted. Social media bubbled and frothed like a swarm of angry bees. The haters hated, her followers defended, everyone had something to say about cultural appropriation, diversity, and lack of respect on her part. Just as expected, she decided to drop the name a week later following the backlash, which also included a letter from the mayor of Kyoto urging her to reconsider the name. Along the way, she has created a slightly upward tick on Google trends, gained an even bigger notoriety for being 'insensitive' or 'brave', depending on one's sentiments, and most importantly, introduced her new business venture in the most explosive manner one can think of.

The fact that we are paying attention to this marketing exercise is a testament to our misplaced energy - it is perhaps easier to direct our anger at Kim K than the various injustices of the world, even if the latter are more detrimental to our existence. The Kardashians understood very well that the most important currency today is our attention. There's no pulling punches in order to stay relevant. If one's existence is built on perfected images of one's appearance (who on earth wakes up with a fully contoured face?), with the entirety of its appearance itself having been carved up and sculpted by invasive surgeries, disseminating a calculated sham is another trick in the book of publicity stunts. And yes the irony that I'm directing more attention to her is not lost on me.

Theodor Adorno warned us about the effect of tv culture in mid 20th Century, that we would be unable to discern what is real and what is fake. It seems like that age has dawned upon us. Our reactions to events are so predictable that it is becoming easier to manipulate us by spreading information that may not be true nor sincere in order to get the desired effect.


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Madame B


June 20, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

First published on October 15, 2015

Issey Miyake Madame T

Bov left the house shortly after her husband had departed for work. It was a chilly morning but her iridescent blue Issey shawl cocooned her in its warmth. The occasional gusts of wind caused it to ripple majestically like an ever-changing sculpture. She was off on a deplorable journey that called for discreetness. Her flamboyant choice of dress was inappropriate for the occasion, not that she cared.

She was tired of hanging about with that milksop Len. It was nice to get away from the godawful sleepy town, that much she could admit. But if she had to listen to him yap one more time about the next upcoming writer penning another piece of existentialist philosophy, she swore she'd smack him square on the lips with a giant trout.

It wasn't always like that, Bov reminisced bitterly. Three years ago she had fallen head over heels for Len. The romanticised version of him, that is. They were both young and starry-eyed, a perfect match for their idealistic selves that probably would not stand the test of time. Young people never cared for that sort of thing; not in this century, never in the last one either. Chemistry first, real life later. But Bov was also wedded to a prim and proper doctor whose reputation she was reluctant to jeopardise. So Len, being the wimp that he was, did not aggressively pursue Bov and left her for the big city soon after. Had he sent a dozen roses, some Comme shoes perhaps, she'd have cracked.

As it turned out, some years later the planets were aligned in her favour and Bov got lucky for the second time. While in a jazz concert with her husband, they met dear old Len. He was done with school and most importantly, not as wimpy anymore. Her bosom heaved above her Yohji corset. Clearly Len could see what she wanted, even if her husband was blind to it. It was thus arranged that their affair would take place outside of her small town, away from prying eyes under the guise of taking 'ukulele lessons'. At this point it is perhaps necessary to mention that Bov had come to the conclusion her husband was denser than mercury. She had no fear of him ever finding out.

Issey Miyake Madame T

What she did not suspect was how quickly she would get bored of Len. All those years studying law only to end up living a middle class lifestyle. Why wasn't he going to any fancy parties which she could invite herself to? She didn't learn to read about the bourgie life to be stuck in the rut like everyone else; wearing off-the-rack clothing any wench could afford.

Bov spotted Len's cheap scruffy boots from the distance, the boots he donned outside of work. I think they were from uhh.. Asos or something, she recalled. She put on a half-hearted smile as she approached him.

"So what's the plan today?"

"I thought we could have a pleasant tête-à-tête over coffee this fine morn, my poppet, before taking a saunter by the river."

Oh great, Bov muttered under her breath. If he mentioned focken Foucault again he'd better wish that there isn't a rock hard baguette within reach.

Issey Miyake Madame T


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The Toxicity of Celebrity Culture And BS That They Make Women Believe


June 14, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

A week ago a US senator decided to tackle the rise of detox tea promotion on social media, citing the product to be useless at best and dangerous at worst. From Kardashians to Cardi B to Amber Rose to Demi Lovato, these girls are touting the benefits of detox tea to keep their body shapely and trim.

Detox teas claim to help you lose weight by flushing toxins. What they didn't really say was that they rely on senna which is a form of laxative. Essentially it makes your body lose water and waste weight - everything that the the liver and kidney are already doing - but not burn fats. Therefore any weight lost would be temporary. And as with any other weight loss supplements, it is advised that the tea should be taken with balanced diet and a good measure of exercise, the two things that medical practitioners have been harping on and on for decades to keep oneself in good shape.

This detox tea is no different from detox juice or detox salad, all using the word 'detox' which means nothing in everyday life because the body is already flushing the chemicals that it doesn't need. No external help is needed unless you have a liver and/or kidney failure, in which case, go to a bloody hospital, not a salad bar. The only correct usage of the word detoxification is in situations of drug poisoning whereby medical intervention is needed to flush out the toxic chemicals or you'll die.

Yet the bastions of pop culture continue to fly the flag of misinformation. They did not disclose the army of personal trainers and dietitians, nor the rounds of cosmetic surgeries and liposuctions needed to produce their glorified bodies. Women who are already plagued with insecurities over their physical appearance flitting from one snake oil to another jumped on the latest detox fad hoping to attain the body their genes, and possibly lack of correct exercise and diet program, were not built for. The part which I find even more insidious is that these influencer women refuse to be held accountable for harmful misinformations they area spreading to the millions of people looking up to them. They are redirecting time, money and effort away from long-term lifestyle changes and a journey of self-acceptance. I am even more disgusted by the corporations selling bullshit pseudo-science that take advantage of women's insecurities and emotions by harnessing the power of celebrity culture.

In marketing there's a term called the 'mere-exposure effect' - a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them, ie. the more you see something the more you start liking it. That familiarity leads to adoration and trust and bogus sense of friendship. Now that we have our own personal screens with us 24/7 it is hard to escape the clutches of celebrity influence. Celebrities are not infallible, yet people worship them like deities. I do believe that many of them have earned the right to stand on artistic pedestals through their craft, like musicians and artists. But when we look up to them to guide us in the difficult journey of love, mental and physical health, we have given them the right to stand on other pedestals they have not earned.


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Clothing Serves A Need. Fashion Serves Desires.


May 27, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

I went for a morning jog in Moganshan, up an ascending footpath in the middle of a bamboo forest, which unfortunately led to a dead end. I turned back, saw the top of another mountain somewhere in the distance jutting out of the sea of bamboo foliage, against the backdrop of a clear blue morning sky. So I decided to sit down and enjoy the view.


Ten years ago I was interning as a graphic designer at a clothing manufacturing company in Singapore that produced garments for their in-house brand and a large sportswear company. When I first made my rounds, the assembly lines were producing two batches of clothes that bore little differences. The batch that was stamped with an additional familiar logo, I was told, would fetch a higher retail price.

We live in an age where most people don’t buy clothing just for protection.

If you’re reading this then chances are you belong to a large subset of the global urbanised population that are interested in clothing as a personal expression, an outlet for creativity or as a tool to enhance various aspects of your life, be it psychologically or emotionally. However some have pushed it even further to the point where it becomes the foundation upon which their self-esteem is built. For clarification purposes, I will use the definition of self-esteem as a sense of worth cultivated within us in the process of navigating the world and external experiences.

Blouson-ROSEN-X

ROSEN-X 3.0 Blouson; Callisto trousers in summer ripstop

Two weeks ago I went to one of many Balenciaga stores in Shanghai. With the exception of tailored suits and coats, everything else was plainly-designed items bearing a large logotype; plain leather wallets, plain bowler bags, plain caps, plain denim jackets. If we were to remove the branding, it would be more than likely that the products will not hold the same value to us. Unfortunately, Balenciaga is not the only brand that is slapping logos on fashion products that hold no additional design nor material quality merits compared to other unbranded products that were made in the same factories.

Once upon a time, products were advertised based on their inherent qualities. Today, the capitalist marketing machine has learned that it’s far easier to appeal to emotions to move products. An oven was once sold as a cooking paraphernalia; today it’s the key to a warm loving home and happy marriage.

It’s not logos that consumers want. It’s love and acceptance; respect and admiration. A logo is a visual announcement to tell the world that one belongs to an exclusive fashion stratum, and also possess the financial means to consume expensive goods. Armed with signals of cultural taste and wealth, they gain access to people’s hearts and minds. The chase for external validation is now strengthened via likes and hearts on social media, which in turn create a dopamine hit every time the phone lights up. The logo-laden wares that global corporate brands are hawking have transcended their status as objects of consumption. They are now the panacea to loneliness, insecurities and inadequacies.

Then there are brands that do make beautiful clothes, such as Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto. Unfortunately there are subsets of the fans that are using the brands as status symbols and signifiers of one’s identity. Although the clothes are often logo-less (with the exception of Play CdG), their design language is so strong that it’s easy to identify the brands that make them, so it functions as signifiers like a logo would. A telltale sign that one buys into the brand for external validation is a disregard for how the clothes fit in to one’s lifestyle, physical appearance and grooming style, as well as social context. Clothing stops being a tool to enhance one’s life; it becomes a shortcut to an inauthentic self-worth. We are letting the brands do the hard work of affirming our existence and value; we are letting the brands define our identity.

An identity built on brands is similar to tribalism. We are more biased towards people we identify with, and are antagonistic towards those whom we view aren’t in our tribe. In the old days, we clung to religion, skin colour, language or place of birth as a mark of identification relative to other people. Today, many of us are of mixed heritage, religion isn’t something we take seriously, some speak several languages, and many more grew up in several countries before adulthood. This displacement forces us to create identities through other means. Some choose music, some clothes, others video games or football teams. Basically any form of consumption is now usurped as a foundation for identity, so that we can form kinship with other people who share the same interests as us. LVMH knows this. So does Esteé Lauder, Nike, FIFA, EMI, Fox Network and The Kardashians.

In all my years that I spent participating in fashion forums, which began close to a decade ago (special shout out to StyleZeitgeist), I have seen my fair share of animosity that clothing consumption has invoked. What is supposed to be a hobby becomes a basis for petty arguments and a ground for exclusions. The act of purchasing, using, showing off those objects designed and made by other people becomes a source of pride to cover our personal insecurities, childhood traumas and loneliness. When we invest our worth and craft our identity based on our consumption, we get easily triggered when a criticism is hurled at the object of our interest, or the brands we wear give us a false sense of superiority to look down on others who don’t conform to the same view. This does not just happen in fashion. There is football hooliganism, fan culture over fictions, obsession with celebrities, and participating in Youtube drama that frankly offers no contribution to the good of society in any way.

Human beings crave for a sense of belonging and a well-nourished self-worth, all of which should be cultivated within ourselves notably through our own efforts. Not only is it a difficult goal to achieve, we have to do it on top of our daily struggles of putting bread on the table. Equipped with the very few working brain cells that is left at the end of the day, or on a Sunday evening when we can finally be alone, it’s not too difficult to choose consuming pop culture over exploring the root causes of our emotional immaturity.

Many of the problems with humanity does not lie in buying beautiful clothes, watching fun tv, or winding down with video games occasionally. What I am absolutely terrified by is the extent to which we have surrendered to market forces, giving them the power to dictate how we live our lives, relate to other people, achieve fulfilment and self-actualisation. Consumption should be the tool that assists us in doing the hard work of finding our authentic self and caring for our physical, mental and emotional health so we can bond with other people in healthy ways, not the end goal that form our relationships, identity and authenticity.


Being solitary in the middle of nature was a welcome change from my typical daily hustle and bustle in one of the largest cities in the world. As the warm sunlight lit up the beautiful bamboo foliage, I am reminded of the one true constant of our existence; that we are all a sack of meat, fat and water standing on a speck of solid dust whizzing through space in a universe that does not care about us.

Moganshan-1


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Moganshan – In Search of A Room of One’s Own


May 10, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

It’s hard to remember the last time I found solitude - the kind of solitude that allows me to switch off from work; from worries and anxieties; from forgotten goals and neglected dreams; from thoughts that creep in at four am when my subconscious wakes me up and decides to have a pity party.

When the pressure gets overwhelming, I pull myself out of the city and head towards the mountains. Having heard of Moganshan recently I decided to skip my usual Hangzhou retreat and try this new place.

While paved roads do snake up the slopes of the mountain ranges, most of Moganshan is still shrouded in bamboo forests. There are a few built up areas with large scale hotels, but for the most part, this region is dotted with clusters of villages. I was well aware that the boutique hotel I had chosen would be in a remote area, but I was not expecting what the surrounding man-made environment would be like. Aside from several lodgings, most of the houses were derelict. They were either boarded up with chains and padlocks, or has wide open doors with very little furniture inside. This is unusual for many Chinese. Compared to the typical Shanghainese homes that are completely covered with belongings wall to wall - a hoarding mentality is commonplace - these villagers lead austere, almost ascetic lives. The average age of the residents I’ve come across during my walks is fifty. Though these concrete houses seem to be built in the last ten or twenty years, they are reminiscent of the bygone Maoist era fifty years back; of a time when the bourgeoisie were exiled for re-education through manual labour. These old residents were the ones who stayed behind while their younger counterparts ran away to the cities to participate in modern capitalist China.

Tenzing-3

Tenzing Coat

Moganshan-2

And of course it’s the same capitalist mentality that drove the young back to this region. Amidst the old villas are lavish Mercedes, Audis and a cornucopia of SUVs, flocking to this mountain range when the cold winter has loosened its grip. The hotel I am staying in is a testament to what New Money is capable of building. Much like other boutique hotels built in the last two years that I’ve stayed in, modern Chinese interior design is firmly rooted in industrial Minimalism; exposed concrete, bath tubs outside of the washroom area, and semi-concealed toilets. A wall is an outdated concept for the young generation. The choice of furniture could be art deco, Ming-style Minimalism, or even Japanese, all tastefully arranged in an open floor plan. I spent three days researching the perfect room in a perfect setting, one that allows me to take hot baths - a luxury for me as I do not have the space for one at home - surrounded by the view of lush greeneries. And so I settled on one that has the style of Japanese art deco fusion.

Tenzing

Linen Tenzing coat; Charcoal sandwashed silk Plato suit; available soon for ROSEN's summer collection. Email to order in advance.

Most new developments take place in the lower slopes of the mountain. Large, grand mansions are in the midst of construction, although many more villas remain lifeless. The higher up the slope I walked, the further I plunged into the past. Doors closed, windows broken, houses long forgotten by their previous occupants. The dogs are less friendly because they don’t come across people as often as the packs that roam the streets on the lower slopes. As I passed by more dilapidated villas, I could smell strong stench of manure and ammonia. They were from freshly planted saplings in small patches of gardens, probably one of the few signs that local life still goes on in this ageing village.


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