A “product line” review

This posting has been amended (following the original below):
Heads up on this outfit “Neighborhoodies”. This company is a perfect example of people we love to hate -the prototypical DE company nobody wants to work with. If we do any work for a company like this, payment will be in advance and we’ll wait for the check to clear first. The biggest problem with a company like this is that they truly believe their own hype! In case you don’t know what is so offensive about them, here’s sample web site copy:

“The most brilliant yet simple fashion idea of this decade” -Fader Magazine
It seems there’s a whole generation of DEs who think fashion design means slapping words or an image on a t-shirt; it’s ludicrous. Worse, they expect people to applaud their “vision” and “artistic integrity”. I just can’t believe the press is similarly stupid; Fader’s editorial integrity is obviously compromised by free t-shirts. I suppose they could be useful if one needed a vanity-blurb.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who knew you first”
While it’s obviously true in their case, since when does marketing and slick self-promotion count more than knowledge? This is the mindset that revolves around product marketing as opposed to product integrity. Production in companies with this mindset are a nightmare defying description.

“… because there really aren’t any other companies doing what we do…”
These people must be living under rocks. All this company does is put whatever words you want on a t-shirt. I swear. Just what do they think Cafe Press has been up to all this time? There’s a jizillion companies doing this.

” We care about each millimeter of your custom-crafted garment”
I wish it were possible to show you one of these priceless “custom-crafted garment”s. One image shows the model picking her nose in a particularly offensive and disgusting way. It is no doubt “custom” but “crafted” and “garment” are still open to debate. Vionnet must be spinning in her grave.

“a quality line that involves seven people handling each order along the way”
In production management, there’s a concept known as muda which is Japanese for waste, meaning an unnecessary process that is not adding any value to the product. If you have seven people in the quality control process, you don’t have the first clue what you’re doing. The seven are pure muda. What’s most frightening is that they apparently need seven people in quality control which is scary since they only have a total of 30 employees.

“…a small company run by kids who have no business running a business”
boy, no kidding (hey, they said it first)

In spite of their pantomime of effort, the FAQ is not cute. It’s a trite construct typical of 20-somethings who pretend to be disaffected when they’re really just spoiled from camping out on mom’s couch. Example:
Q: What did Oscar Wilde have to say about Neighborhoodies?
A: “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.”
While it’s interesting they use that quote to intimate their products are “works of art”, a more appropriate quote from Oscar Wilde could have been “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”

The only good thing I can say about them is they’re obviously providing jobs for themselves and others but there’s no word on where they get their shirt blanks. One can only hope they’re using shirts from a company with a lot of integrity –like American Apparel– but again, one should not make such brash assumptions.

Mike and Jess, you’ll both revel in the fact that their graphics are 50% off. And Josh, feel free to tear these guys a new one.

In a message date 4.08.05, I received a very charming letter from Danny de Zayas, Marketing Director of Neighborhoodies which reads in part:

“As you know, we are a young company constantly striving to improve everything facet of our operations, so we appreciate any feedback–complimentary or critical–that comes our way. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to review our product line and allowing others to participate in the process.”

“While I disagree with a lot of what you had to say, I feel that many of your opinions and impressions logically stem from the fact that you are peering in from outside our core demographic. However, I would like to correct a few of the more glaring inaccuracies in your post.”

“For the record, we did not prove Fader magazine with any free items; this is not a practice of ours–it’s not our style. It’s the same reason we don’t run “advertorials” in magazines; it’s deceptive, and quite frankly, it isn’t something we need to do. Fader contacted us because they wanted to feature us in their publication, and we sent them a sample product which they photographed and then returned.”

“To assert that having seven people handle one product is somehow inherently inefficient is, in my opinion, also a misguided statement, as the past century of production-line manufacturing can attest. Having people perform specific parts of order fulfillment has proven to be a very efficient use of our manpower, and I’m proud to say that by this time next week we will have realized an internal goal of one week turnaround for all orders–any impressive feat considering that every single order is hand-made and unique… And you can rest easy: all of our t-shirts and most of our sweatshirts are indeed from American Apparel and our in-house production is about the furthest thing from a sweatshop you can imagine.”

Kathleen responds:

So you have it there. My assumption that Fader’s glowing editorial was due to free t-shirts was wrong. Similarly, I’m gratified to know Neighborhoodies is using the products from _American Apparel_, a US based innovative humanitarian manufacturer who is well known and respected. Lastly, my assertion that 7 quality control people is wasteful, is misguided because Neighborhoodies has set new goals to complete the processing of a shirt in just one week…one week. One Week. So, I was wrong about that too.

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  1. kathleen says:

    This is a compilation and crude importation of all the comments posted at the original site for this document. Feel free to add your comments.
    4/6/2005 07:35:51 PM Josh said:
    I was howling from laughter reading this. I have always said the same thing. I remember when I use to run the-alt.com I had a “fashion design” company contact me and they had like 3 T shirts with horrible graphics on them. They offered me free shirts to do a story on them. I refused. I told them that they weren’t a fashion business, they were at best T shirt silk screeners and it was hardly news worthy. Boy, the bitchy email I got back! lol

    Another thing that gripes me and has griped me for a long time now are clothing label logo T shirts. Large clothing labels are the worst, CK and Tommy, JUICY. It’s a shame that some good designers allow themselves to be whored out like that. I don’t understand how people can confuse fashion with a logo. Of course I’ve never understand the desire to be a label whore.

    Well I wish I could say more about Neighborhoodies but you have comprehensively ripped them 2 or 3 new Aholes already. lol

    4/7/2005 08:42:05 AM Eric said:
    Wow – T-shirts with custom labels! I haven’t been in one of those stores since … 1978? I think “Sit on it!” was a popular thing to get.

    Josh, I’m with you on the label whore thing. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a shirt that I thought I might like until I turned it around or pulled it off the rack and found a great big Tommy or CK label on it. Clink! – back it goes. I was amazed at what a young age my daughter knew what DKNY meant. I might actually buy FUBU stuff if it didn’t say FUBU in such an obvious way (8-14″ letters on both sides of everything). They seem to be appealing to a certain segment that practices brand loyalty for the sake of brand loyalty rather than for the sake of of a brand’s recognizable value. I suppose it announces your tribe (Hi, I belong to the tribe with alligators on the shirt), but I’m not sure I would belong to any tribe that requires that of its own members.

    4/7/2005 09:22:40 AM Mike C said:
    Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I wasn’t offended by the site. It looks to me like these guys have found a market that wasn’t being served and jumped in to fill the need.

    From their website, its fairly obvious that they are serving the “young hipster” market (sort of the Ben Sherman crowd). Presumably, they put together their offerings based on the perceived expectations of that market. They are trying to appeal to the market that probably would not identify with the offerings of vendors like Gap or JCrew. While the voice might be over-the-top, its almost certainly an attempt to contrast with the more refined copywriting of major brands.

    Its also worth noting that this company has five stores and is hiring – both solid signs of success. Undoubtably, there are things about their production and business model that could be improved, but that’s true of every business out there.

    A good way to evaluate a small company, especially one that is run by inexperienced managers, is whether they are generating actual cash profits, making their customers happy, and growing. Doing those three things will cover a lot of mistakes and sins.

    4/7/2005 09:45:24 AM Mike C said:
    >> They seem to be appealing to a certain segment that practices brand loyalty for the sake of brand loyalty rather than for the sake of of a brand’s recognizable value. I suppose it announces your tribe (Hi, I belong to the tribe with alligators on the shirt), but I’m not sure I would belong to any tribe that requires that of its own members. Kathleen said:
    Don’t even get me started on what the boy wears…I hate those thug big pants; it’s the most gratuitous waste of resources, starting from the dirt in which the cotton is grown to the cutting table to the washing machine (2 pairs of those “pants” fill the washer; a very very inefficient use of time, water, electricity, and detergent). The scale of waste is beyond offensive. It’s one thing to inflict one’s idea of fashion on others by parading in front of innocent victims (who are forced to tolerate one’s presence in public) to demanding that an inordinate amount of natural resources be allocated in order for one to do it. Just as we’ve all seen books/media so offensive that the publisher/author should be criminally prosecuted for having killed a tree to put it on paper, these “fashions” are no less bordering on the criminal. And that’s saying nothing of all the injuries related to wearing the damn things in the first place. It’s a pathetic expression of our culture that deliberate waste and slovenliness is touted as “fashion”.

    Btw, companies who produce these product lines are the farthest thing from a brain trust you can imagine. To a man, they’re marketers, not makers. One company was so stupid that they used their company name as part of their style numbers! They changed that once I mentioned that other people would assume they were too stupid to remember their own name.

    4/7/2005 01:03:43 PM Mike C said:
    >> It’s a pathetic expression of our culture that deliberate waste and slovenliness is touted as “fashion”. Jess said:
    Hey! I wore baggy pants in high school, hehe. That was my last year in 93 when that fad just started and I remember boys would safety pin them to their shirts to keep them up but I never went that far. Now everything is starting to be very fitted and I’m so glad cause it looks so much better.

    Let’s not forget how hype is as important as quality. Tommy Hilfiger created his ad campaign for Tommy jeans before their was even the first pair of jeans.

    4/7/2005 03:01:25 PM Josh said:
    I agree with Jess advertising and hype can make or break a clothing company. But I don’t think that’s what we are arguing here. It’s when you have only hype and nothing to back it up that’s the problem. Which neighborhoodies is guilty of. Tommy Hilfiger is indeed a very good example. But also a very good example of how it can go too far. Tommy is beginning to struggle and sales continue to go down. I think it’s a case of over exposure and no new ideas. Some of the things coming down Hilfiger’s runway these days are ghastly. One semi recent spring collection I remember these garish bright flowers on everything. These were men’s clothes mind you.

    I’m going to disagree on Kathleen about the baggy pants trend. I thought the baggy pants revolutionized the male silhouette in the 90s. It’s the one trend that comes to my mind when I think about young men’s fashion in the 90s. The company who brought baggy to a new level in the early 90s was Kikwear (http://www.kikwear.com). I actually still have a pair of Kikwear black nylon paratroop pants from 1998, slightly oversized but not HUGE that I love. If we want to start reprimanding clothing companies for making large silhouettes we could start with the wedding dresses that have a 20 foot train.

    I’m going to invite my 19 year old friend Milan to give his perspective of Neighborhoodies. Milan is someone who will give it to you like it is and he’s got his finger on the pulse always.

    4/7/2005 04:37:38 PM Milan said:
    *cough* josh, i’m 20 now, so i can represent the ‘twentysomethings’.

    if you think about it, most label-oriented, text-driven, logo-slapping shirt companies (or ‘apparel’ lines) are targeted to and consumed by the average mainstream person who doesn’t care about how fashion-savvy they may appear. granted, this has, in only a decade, been transformed into something much more sticky. catch-phrases and one-liners have replaced the tired logo scenario and the DIY movement is booming. for those students/slackers who don’t have the effort or time to make their own cheesy t-shirt, they rely on simple services like neighborhoodies to achieve whatever sparkling idea their clique created at the lunchtable the other day. i do not think the company is trying to sell itself as a FASHION line per se, but more of a fun service for the musically-inclined subculture. the differences between neighborhoodies and cafepress are quite apparent, even from a user’s initial visit to either site. the goal of neighborhoodies seems to be more targeted and stylish, whereas cafepress is very generalized and unattainable.

    i feel that even wasting time pondering the idea of whether or not neighborhoodies is true fashion design is sort of lame in itself. go to threadless (http://www.threadless.com) instead and see a real shirt line that incorporates an innovative approach.

    4/7/2005 04:50:21 PM Josh said:
    Neighborhoodies is still IRKSOME to me! lol But I see what you’re saying. Neighborhoodies are gonna put your art on the shirt in a wicky wack way and throughful way and cafe press just slaps it down the middle and sends it on it’s way.

    4/10/2005 03:09:22 PM Kathleen said:
    Mike, I feel like we could descend into a clash of values here and I don’t want to go there because I really value your thinking. I see where you’re coming from and I know what you mean (although the equivocation between the value of the pyramids on human society and baggy pants don’t compare). The difference in values is that I don’t agree that we have endless resources at our disposal; we’re not bearing the entire cost (but our children will). It’s more of an engineering mindset intolerant of waste of any kind. We are “efficiency experts” after all, or should be anyway. I know you don’t agree with me but my viewpoint could be useful to you in the future if you work with a larger contracting unit. Their thinking will be more aligned with mine and you’ll understand where they’re coming from.

    The thing about start ups is, well, people like me (and contractors, and sales reps) kind of get sucked in to helping them out because they have spunk. Because they have spunk, we cut them some slack and don’t charge what we should because we want to help them make it. Where do you think we get a great deal of job satisfaction? That’s why we take DE failures personally. Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that we REALLY GIVE A DAMN? So you can see how it kills us that we worked for cut-rate and they’re wasting money due to inefficiency and they go broke; it’s like our effort was wasted. If they’d listen more, we’d save them the cost of the waste which they’d either give to us (since we did earn it) or put the savings into expansion which would make us just as proud -yes proud- and happy. Does that make sense?

  2. WOATs and GOATs

    Kathleen has a huge issue with WOATs -words on a tee shirt- and GOATS -graphics on a tee shirt- producers; you can read about that here and here. Now it’s my turn to talk about WOATs and GOATS. I have…

  3. Alexzandra Caldwell Wenman says:

    I feel kind of bad that these guys had to be ripped apart so badly, but I think that Kathleen got it right. I’ve seen these people around on the internet and they’re basically just boring. I suspect that I fall into their “hipster” demographic (I’m young, live in an urban area, and basically love anything new and chic), and I still wouldn’t buy these shirts, nor would anyone I know. They basically just slapped words on a t-shirt and called it fashion. And, what’s worse is that they aren’t even words that are particularly meaningful to anybody. I’ve purchased t-shirts with words before, but the words have to say something about you that you want the world to know (and in a cute way). All these t-shirts say are, “I have money to throw at looking ugly.” I mock picked out a t-shirt, and after I had added a brontosaurus and a number, my shirt cost $36.99!

    Also, they are willing to sell the t-shirts blank to you, which, if I recall is an American Apparel no-no. I’m pretty sure that AA tells you straight out that you can only resell their stuff after you have left your mark on it.

    Finally I think that it’s a little strange that they opened their own store outside the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. That’s some expensive space just to sell t-shirts.

  4. Danielle says:

    Josh alludes to the link between the neighborhoodies thing and the brand logo shirts.

    It seems what works for Neighborhoodies is the idea of subverting the space usually used for a large corporate logo and replacing it with something personalized.

    That’s the simple jist of it, all the rest of it is just hokey hipster website copy. Most of us here do obviously do not identify with this market.

    It’s working for Neighborhoodies though, 2 years later and they now have 60 employees.

  5. ioanna says:

    Heh, feels funny to be commenting three years later from the original post. Hello from the future! :)
    Well on the plus side for the argument (for Neighborhoodies) they’re still around. For me this really doesn’t mean that much because we see awful harmful in all kinds of ways products staying in production for decades. So, they sell. That doesn’t mean they put out a good product. Fast food sells. Which in a way is what Neighborhoodies are in my opionion, the fashion equivalent of fast food, only they pretend to be a gourmet meal. It’s like when McDonalds puts out ‘healthy’ salads.
    For me clothing with words is mostly noise pollution. I’d put in an exception for when you actually have something important to say, but nowadays the message will probably get lost in a sea of meaningless dribble, which is what most of the Neighborhoodies’ ready-made stuff is in my opinion. Just as bad as logos but pretending to be clever. Also I hope they got permission and/or are paying Matt Groening royalties for that Futurama “Planet Express” logo.
    Oh, P.S. I love the Archives! Just wanted to throw that in because usually I read and don’t comment :)

  6. Lesley says:

    geez, you can find cheesy t-shirts like this along with mugs with your kid’s face on it at any mall kiosk. maybe I need to take up smoking crack so I can become enlightened because I just don’t get what makes these special, marketable or even remotely interesting. Is our society really so easily impressed? Maybe I’m working too hard and should just do t-shirts with “original” verbage on them such as “I {heart} Mommy” or ” Little Miss Something or other.” Please pass the tums. (wait, that could go on a shirt too! – I’ll call them Infirmirhoodies!)

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