Reading 12/4/07

From Slate, Moneybox Goes to Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh-Style Capitalism

Vietnam doesn’t regard China, with whom it shares a border and a long, complicated history, as an older brother to emulate. Rather, it sees it as a regional bully, a harsh competitor, and—surprise!—a source of cheap, junky merchandise.

In our travels, we heard repeated stories of how Vietnamese brands and consumers had fought off cheap Chinese imports by improving quality and focusing on brands.

Dress for Excess: The Cost of Our Clothing Addiction

We’re spending $282 billion on new clothes annually, up from $162 billion in 1992…the steady upward march of clothing expenditures doesn’t fully reflect the increase in the actual quantities being made and bought, because the same-size spending spree can bring in more garb with every year…apparel prices in the United States dropped by about 25 percent from 1992 to 2002, and we responded like the good consumers we are, increasing our buying by 75 percent. The population increased only 13 percent in that decade, so the average annual shopping haul, which stood at about 50 new articles of clothing per person per year in 1992, had grown to 75 or more items per person by 2002. The lower prices can be attributed to lower domestic wages, greater mechanization and the Wal-Mart-led corporate drive for cheaper everything. But most crucial has been the deluge of cheap imports. No. 1 among the world’s top 10 apparel importers, the United States brings in more than the other nine nations combined. Currently, Americans buy 40 T-shirts per household annually, 94 percent of them imported.

This holiday season, as in many past seasons, the No. 1 gift will be clothing. That’s according to a recent Consumer Reports poll. Apparently, shoppers haven’t heard about another of its surveys, which found clothes to be the “most disappointing gift” of last Christmas…

Somewhat related (to disappointing shopping), a journal article I downloaded from Sage (Giving Gifts of Clothing: Risk Perceptions of Husbands and Wives):

Wives accorded greater importance than husbands did to five garment-related risks – cost of cleaning it (4), its appearance after cleaning (6), whether it is worth the price (7), its suitability for the recipient’s age (10), and whether it can be exchanged or returned (13). Perhaps wives’ greater familiarity with clothing purchases and maintenance increased their awareness of clothing attributes and of the amount of time required to maintain it (9).

I found it interesting to see how some gift priorities change when husband/wife give to daughters as compared to sons, husbands or wives. But I imagine you already know all about that. My gift giving priorities are definitely more like men’s (I think surprise is an important element etc) but my profession predisposes me to weigh attributes such as product quality and longevity (like women) more heavily.

From the New York Times (Jinjer sent this) Meteorologists Shape Fashion Trends

Two consecutive years of volatile weather — last November and this October were the warmest on record for the New York City area, a retail Mecca — have proved disastrous for companies that rely on predictable temperatures to sell cold-weather clothing like sweaters and coats.

Liz Claiborne, the apparel company, has hired a climatologist from Columbia University to predict weather for its designers to better time the shipments of seasonal garments to retailers. The discount retailer Target has established a “climate team” to provide advice on what kind of apparel to sell throughout the year. More and more, the answer is lighter weight, “seasonless” fabrics. And the manufacturer Weatherproof, which supplies coats to major department stores, has bought what amounts to a $10 million insurance policy against unusually warm weather, apparently a first in the clothing business.

…the panel’s findings suggest that the length of seasons is changing, as clothing executives suspected. Over the last 50 years, the report found, the earlier onset of spring and later arrival of fall have shaved roughly two weeks from the year’s coldest period. That change is starting to rewrite decades-old rules in the clothing industry, which says that it loses several billion dollars a year because of the unexpected swings in temperature…“Retailers used to consider September the start of fall,” Mr. Alexin said. But Target now stocks lightweight jackets during that month, waiting until November to sell heavy coats. And even then, Target is avoiding the thickest fabrics. “We sell very, very little wool,” Mr. Alexin said.

It’s been warmer here than usual. I dislike cold weather but I am not gladdened. Eric isn’t convinced about global warming but remains mute, knowing I am distressed our swallows left early this year, one brood shy. Regardless, I’ll continue to make coats and jackets for the foreseeable future.

Deeper Luxury, report (pdf) from WWF. A succinct abridged version (only 40 pages!) pdf is available if you prefer. I cheated and read (parts) of that one.

Instead of preaching about the moral responsibility of business to further the goals of sustainability, this report exposes the considerable commercial potential of a new approach to business, based on the provision of more “responsible” mainstream brands. This potential comes from an increasing demand among mainstream consumers for their regular brands to come with environmental and social responsibility “built in”. These consumers are not usually prepared to pay more or put themselves out to buy “green” or “ethical”, but they do value these attributes as part of the brand package. Sustainability can act as a differentiator between mainstream brands, encourage loyalty and even change people’s perceptions of themselves. To unlock this commercial potential, environmental and social values must be built into the DNA of mainstream consumer brands.

Highlights by chapter:

  1. The Elephant in the Room: Unsustainable Consumption
  2. Exploding Myths
  3. Shifting Values
  4. What our Survey Revealed
  5. What To Do (Part 1): Aligning values
  6. What To Do (Part 2): Emerging Best Practice
  7. What To Do (Part 3): The Ten Point Plan for Sustainable Brands

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One comment

  1. Lisa NYC says:

    Great reading Kathleen!

    I’ve enjoyed the warm weather here in NYC until 2 weeks ago. I keep telling my friends in California, NYC will be the warm weather vacation spot as we’ve had much better weather than them…LOL!

    Come to think of it, I haven’t bought a winter coat in 2 years as I rarely use the last one I bought.

    With friendship,

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