The A-Peril Industry
I hate the apparel industry. That statement might seem strange coming from someone who has a career in apparel, but I’ll explain.
I’ve worked in this industry for over 15 years, 20 years if you count my pre-college fashion retail days, and like many people who choose to get a degree in fashion design, I had high hopes of one day having my own label.
Young, Dumb and Broke
After I graduated and left Chicago for Los Angeles, I soon realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy or glamorous as I thought to start a line from scratch. That’s not to say I wasn’t going to try…and try I did, many times. Outside of my 9-5 apparel jobs, I created my own collections and jumped at the opportunity to participate in any fashion event or collaboration I came across. Here are a few things I learned along the way:
- Creating an apparel line from scratch is VERY expensive, so you either have to know someone with deep pockets to help get you started, or you go into debt. There were times when I would have to choose between buying fabric or groceries. Food is overrated anyway.
- Getting exposure really is a lot about who you know, not what you know or how talented you are. I suppose this applies to almost any industry, but it’s especially rampant in art and fashion.
- EVERYONE thinks they’re a designer. Ok, maybe not everyone, but a LOT of people do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by people who have no apparel experience and want to start a clothing line. Just because we all wear clothes, doesn’t mean we should all be in the clothing biz. There are a lot of technical aspects to creating a garment, and when you have so many apparel companies being started by business people instead of real designers, the art of creating a garment is lost and the quality suffers (ahem, fast fashion).
In my opinion, what’s even harder than starting your own line is working for someone else’s. I never realized just how dirty, toxic and volatile this industry was until I was working in it, because unfortunately, that wasn’t something I was taught in design school.
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked for at least 15 different apparel companies, and these were some of the things I consistently experienced:
- Clueless CEOs—this goes back to my comment about everyone thinking they should start/run a clothing biz.
- High employee turnover due to toxic office cultures. Just ask anyone who works in the industry, chances are they’ve job-hopped quite a bit, usually because of poor management/clueless CEOs.
- Very little authenticity or innovation. Everyone copies everyone in this industry, so much to the point where a brand will probably end up copying themselves eventually.
- Lots of waste due to overdevelopment. The amount of work that goes into developing each design in a season would blow your mind, and usually at least half of what gets sampled ends up being dropped from the line.
- Brands not paying their factories and suppliers, causing those factories/suppliers to go out of business in some cases.
- Poor inventory planning which leads to unsold goods that end up needing to be heavily marked down, donated or liquidated (basically sent to a landfill).
- I could keep going, but this would end up being a book, not a blog post.
The silver lining to all the shit I’ve been through is that it’s motivated me to create a brand that is the antithesis to everything I’ve experienced. And while creating an apparel brand from scratch is still super freaking hard (and did I mention expensive?), the difference now is that I know what NOT to do, as well as having evolved enough as an artist and designer to realize what I SHOULD be doing (sustainable uniform style!).
So yes, I hate the apparel industry, but I love the little corner that I’ve carved out in it by creating Art Of Uniformity®. My hope is that as this brand grows, it will influence more companies to be better...better by producing more sustainably (and not just greenwashing), by treating their employees, factories and suppliers with respect and honesty, and by having a purpose and passion for the art of making garments beyond just profit.
So with that being said, the next time you purchase clothes from a brand, do a little research about who the founders are and what career backgrounds they came from. You wouldn't want to be treated by doctor who didn't have proper medical training and a passion for healing people, would you? Just something to think about 🙂.