Retail Politics: Is Fast Fashion Tone Deaf?

The New York Times: “Every once in a while, tucked into the stream of speedily made garments rushed into stores, designs with shockingly bad taste stand out: a shirt comparing women to dogs at Topman, symbols of the Holocaust on a top at Zara … Retail experts blame a heated competitive environment, where companies, many of them based in Europe, are spread thin trying to cater to a global customer base that is easily bored, is extremely demanding and can buy almost anything via e-commerce. Many brands develop a cavalier attitude: Churn out products now, ask forgiveness later.”

“Earlier this year, H&M, one of the largest clothing retailers in the world … was taken to task over a children’s hoodie emblazoned with the phrase ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ and modeled in marketing materials by a young black boy. The description, which has been used to dehumanize black people, set off protests at South African stores that left mannequins toppled and racks overturned. In the aftermath, H&M chose a lawyer and company insider, Annie Wu, to lead a new four-person team at its Stockholm headquarters focused on global diversity and inclusiveness.” She comments: “We didn’t recognize that in this now new age of transparency, what the brand stands for is super important to people.”

“Fast fashion companies, which specialize in low-priced, quickly produced clothing and have grown faster than the apparel industry as a whole for years, are under pressure to be more prolific and provocative as they sell across more borders. H&M, which added 479 stores last year, now has more than 4,000 stores in dozens of countries … retail experts said that much of the creative process takes place in and around its European home office, far from many of its markets … Fast fashion has produced tone-deaf products for years, passing them off as a rounding error given the enormous volume of items the companies generate each year … Several companies have pledged to diversify hiring, retool corporate guidelines and initiate other measures to prevent mistakes from going out the door.”

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New Media: Think Different & Inky

The New York Times: “At a time when traditional food magazines are shrinking and cutting staff, Dill is part of an unexpected groundswell across the country: a wave of small, sophisticated print magazines, produced on a shoestring by young editors with strong points of view and a passion for their subjects … The last few years have brought new titles like Ambrosia, Compound Butter, Jarry, Kitchen Toke, Peddler and Kitchen Work. Kimberly Chou and Amanda Dell direct the Food Book Fair and Foodieodicals, an annual fair for independent magazines; Ms. Chou said the number of participating titles had increased to 30 last year, from about a dozen in 2012.”

“Despite some off-putting names — like Toothache or Mold — many of these publications are beautiful and inviting, with ink-saturated pages filled with original art, and nuanced, complex stories you want to spend time digesting. Their cover prices are fittingly high, with many around $20, and a few don’t even bother to post their content online, focusing entirely on print … Most of these magazines come together as a labor of love, in chunks of spare time carved out on nights and weekends … small teams with low overheads may be able to pay for the costs of printing and freelance contributors, usually with a mix of sales, brand partnerships and events.”

“Despite all the challenges, some titles persist and grow. Gather Journal, a recipe magazine with high-art styling and photography, has been in print since 2012. And the literary magazine Put a Egg on It, founded by Sarah Keough and Ralph McGinnis, has been printing essays, comics and poetry on its sage-green pages for a decade.”

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Nestlé & The Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie

The New York Times: Ruth Wakefield’s “confection was known originally as the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie, after the Toll House Inn, a popular restaurant that she ran with her husband in eastern Massachusetts … Her original plan was said to have involved melting squares of Baker’s chocolate (unsweetened, with no milk or flavoring) and adding it to the blond batter. But, supposedly, the only chocolate she had available was a Nestlé semisweet bar, and she was too rushed to melt it. Wielding an ice pick, she chopped the bar into pea-size bits and dribbled them into the brown sugar dough with nuts … Instead of melting into the dough to produce an all-chocolate cookie, the bits remained chunky as they baked.”

“In 1939, Wakefield sold Nestlé the rights to reproduce her recipe on its packages (supposedly for only $1) and was hired to consult on recipes for the company, which was said to have provided her free chocolate for life. Nestlé began pre-scoring its chocolate bars for easy baking, then introduced Nestlé Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels which became known as chocolate chips. (For the record, Allison Baker, a Nestlé spokeswoman, said that the morsels do, in fact, melt, but retain their shape because of the way the fat structure of the tempered chocolate is aligned.)”

“The cookies grew so popular — they became known beyond New England during World War II when soldiers from Massachusetts shared their care packages from home — that the name became legally generic. In 1983, a federal judge ruled that Nestlé, which now sells about 90 billion individual morsels annually, was no longer entitled to exclusive rights to the Toll House trademark. In 1967, the Wakefields sold the inn. (It burned in 1984.) The couple retired to Duxbury, Mass., where Ruth Wakefield died in 1977.”

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Mastodon: The Anti-Facebook?

The Washington Post: “Mastodon, a Twitter-like social network has had a massive spike in sign-ups … As the #DeleteFacebook movement has gained steam, people are registering for Mastodon at four times the rate that they normally do, according to Eugen Rochko, the service’s creator. Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Mastodon gained about 5,800 new users … That’s more new registrations than what Mastodon typically sees over an entire week.”

“For a social network — Mastodon has 1.1 million users to Facebook’s 2.2 billion — that may not sound very impressive. But what makes Mastodon increasingly attractive, particularly in a post-#DeleteFacebook world, is its attitude toward data and control … Mastodon’s code is open-source, meaning anybody can inspect its design. It’s distributed, meaning that it doesn’t run in some data center controlled by corporate executives but instead is run by its own users who set up independent servers. And its development costs are paid for by online donations, rather than through the marketing of users’ personal information.”

“Rooted in the idea that it doesn’t benefit consumers to depend on centralized commercial platforms sucking up users’ personal information, these entrepreneurs believe they can restore a bit of the magic from the Internet’s earlier days — back when everything was open and interoperable, not siloed and commercialized.”

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Blackberry Keeps Coterie of Devotees

The Wall Street Journal: “The BlackBerry began life as a text pager, created in 1996 by Canadian company Research in Motion Ltd. The founders made technical breakthroughs that popularized world-wide phone texting and mobile email. Its keyboard buttons looked a little like the kernels in a blackberry, hence the name. It transformed the way people worked … But in 2007 Apple Inc. introduced the iPhone, and Android smartphones, also with touch screens, came soon after. Unlike BlackBerry with its office focus, they aimed at the mass market. Today BlackBerry has a global smartphone market share of less than 1%.”

“The diminished band of devotees must suffer for that devotion, as friends brandish other iPhone and Android devices loaded with top-of-the-line cameras and countless apps. At a rugby tournament in Vancouver in early March, Tim Powers, an Ottawa executive, says he was ‘chastised’ for using his BlackBerry. He is willing to bear these slings and arrows. The keyboard suits ‘an old rugby player with some beaten-up hands,’ he says. Also, ‘I am not gentle,’ Mr. Powers says. ‘I almost feel like I could shoot it and it would still work’ … BlackBerrys, says Andrew Stivelman, a technical writer in Toronto, are ‘built like a tank’.”

“Although the company, now named BlackBerry Ltd. , no longer makes the phones, they live on through licensing agreements with companies that make and sell BlackBerry-branded hardware with Android operating systems … Meanwhile, fans of BlackBerrys wax lyrical about features like a curved shape that fits the hand, writing in forums such as There’s magic in BlackBerry 10 on Crackberry.com . A bonus, wrote one person last year, is reduced theft risk, ‘because thieves don’t know what they are’.”

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Goody Gumdrop: Blue Sole Shoes

Fast Company: “The blue soles of a new brand of shoes are made from an unlikely source: recycled chewing gum. The shoes, which are expected to launch later this year, are the latest project from a U.K. designer who has spent nearly a decade working on ways to turn discarded gum from sticky sidewalk blight into something useful.”

“Anna Bullus was in design school when she started thinking about the problem … She created a pink, bubble-shaped bin–itself made from recycled gum, blended with other recycled materials–to begin to collect the gum on central city streets, train stations, and other places with heavy foot traffic. When the bin is full, the whole container goes to a recycled facility, where any trash or cigarette butts are sorted out. The gum and bin are then recycled together … and made into pellets that can be used in the same type of manufacturing equipment that usually works with regular plastic.”

“Bullus says that her company, Gumdrop, is learning where to best position the bins to have the greatest chance of intersecting with someone at the moment that they want to get rid of gum … Turning gum into new products, she hopes, will give consumers more incentive not to litter old gum on the streets–and potentially begin recycling other trash as well.”

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Forget Smellovision: Samsung Intros Invisiblevision

Quartz: “Samsung’s new QLED line of 4K TVs features a technology the company is calling ‘Ambient Mode.’ Before you mount the TV, you’ll snap a picture of the wall it’s going to hang on—it doesn’t matter if it’s brick, wood, patterned wallpaper, or just a white wall—and then after it’s up, you can set that picture as the TV’s background. The result is something that looks like a floating black rectangle mounted on a wall. Samsung even includes a digital version of the shadow this black rectangle would cast on the wall, as if there really wasn’t a large LED panel sitting in the middle of the thin metal strips.”

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Craeft & The Wisdom of Daily Life

The Atlantic: “In his new book Craeft, the archaeologist and BBC presenter Alexander Langlands offers a fascinating and surprisingly relevant dive into a subject that might seem niche to many—the origins of traditional crafts in medieval Europe … For Langlands, the Anglo-Saxon word ‘craeft’ is distinct from our modern word “craft” in spirit and in practice. ‘Craeft’ means having the wisdom of one’s surroundings, understanding nature and the seasons, and knowing one’s materials, as well as how objects and systems fall apart.”

“Apart from its use as a marketing term for, say, microbrews, the word today doesn’t usually connote a skilled trade. Unlike ‘working,’ ‘crafting’ is commonly understood as fun: It can be self-consciously silly, feathered, decoupaged, and brightly colored. It’s fun for kids and meditative for grownups. In most cases, the product of a crafting session is less important than the relaxing process by which it was made … It provides the satisfaction of transforming a stack of materials into a tangible, recognizable finished object, often by way of a therapeutically repetitive process. Craft’s magic trick is that it’s play that’s been designed to look like work.”

“What Langlands is advocating for in his book is more widespread knowledge about the time when craft was integral to daily life. In the era he studies, activities like beekeeping weren’t escapes from reality, but essential to it. He also smartly notes that neither ‘craft’ nor ‘craeft’ is a synonym for ‘working with one’s hands.’ At its root, the word ‘manufacture,’ which is associated with mass production, means ‘to make by hand’ … Langlands calls for living and working with awareness of our environments, materials, and challenges in real time.”

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Richard Montanez: Flamin’ Hot Innovator

The Washington Post: “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos — the spicy red version of the classic cheese-flavored snack — are something of a cultural phenomenon … They were invented by a janitor, the son of a Mexican immigrant who dropped out of school because he struggled with English … His name is Richard Montañez, and Fox Searchlight Pictures is making a movie about his life … When he was about 12 years old in 1976, Montañez landed a job working as a janitor at a California Frito-Lay plant. One day, as he told Lowrider magazine, he saw a company-wide video of then-CEO Roger Enrico saying, ‘We want every worker in this company to act like an owner. Make a difference. You belong to this company, so make it better’.”

“Montañez took these words to heart … As he tells it, one day an assembly line at the plant where he worked broke down. A batch of Cheetos didn’t receive the orange, cheesy dust that make them so popular. So he took a few home to experiment. He had formed an idea while watching a street vendor in his neighborhood make elote, or grilled Mexican street corn — corn on the cob covered in cheese, butter, lime and chili. ‘What if I took the same concept and applied it to a Cheeto?’ he thought, according to his memoir.”

“So he did. His friends and family loved the result. Thinking back to the video and figuring he had nothing to lose, he decided to call Enrico to pitch the idea. Enrico took his call and told Montañez to present his product in two weeks … Against all odds, it worked. Enrico loved the idea, and a new line of spicy snack food was born — with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos as its flagship. Montañez has since served in various positions throughout the company, including as an executive vice president.”

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