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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Boyd’s: Retail’s Past as Prologue?

The New York Times: “Like the Liberty Bell and the stone Rocky Steps, Boyds is a Philadelphia landmark, and one equally impervious to the shifting seasons. For 80 years, the family-owned business has outfitted lawyers, bankers, doctors, politicians and famous athletes … The store is where a young man goes to buy his wedding suit, and returns 30 years later, grayer, wealthier, thicker in the middle, this time bringing his son to buy his wedding suit … in this age of dressing down and click-and-buy, in an environment where the big chains have killed off the mom-and-pops and Amazon is killing off the chains, Boyds now feels like a shopping experience out of time … Out-of-towners who happen into this retail anachronism tend to react first with astonishment, followed by a sigh of pleasure.”

“It’s very possible that Boyds isn’t just one of a dying breed of old-fashioned retailers, however. Given its scale (50,000 square feet of selling space over four floors), and the level of service it provides, and the tailor shop and complimentary parking lot, and the near century of independent operation by the same family, it may be the only clothing store of its kind anywhere in the country … To understand how Boyds has avoided oblivion thus far, it’s instructive to spend an afternoon on the selling floors … The operation has a choreographed precision. Chris Phillips, the 43-year-old men’s tailored clothing manager, on this day stood near the elevator. It was his job to greet customers, determine their needs and spin them to the right salesperson.”

“Generally speaking, the men who come to Boyds aren’t there to browse. Overscheduled high earners, they view clothes shopping as one more task to be efficiently completed, an attitude to which every Boyds employee is attuned … Marc Brownstein, the president and chief executive of the Brownstein Group … dates his first Boyds shopping trip to high school, back in the ’80s, and now especially appreciates its delivery service to home or office, and the text messages he gets from the store when a brand is going on sale.” He comments: “The family just outthinks other retailers. They’ll deliver to your house, to your office. You park for free. You know what parking costs in the center of Philadelphia? They’re going to outwork and out-service everyone else.”

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Music Deluge: Is More Less?

The Wall Street Journal: “It has never been easier to listen to vast quantities of music, discover new artists and create, distribute and promote your own tunes. But there’s a downside: It is harder for artists to break through the cacophony of today’s global pop-music machine. And some fans, already struggling to keep up with television, social media and other entertainment, are feeling overwhelmed.”

“The amount of music released globally in 2017 is roughly seven times the amount released in 1960, according to data from Discogs.com, a user-generated database of physical recordings. Nearly 150,000 new albums saw at least one physical or digital sale in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen. While older Nielsen figures aren’t comparable due to data issues, they show the number of new albums rising from 36,000 in 2000 to about 77,000 in 2011.”

“Not long ago, record labels operated on a less-is-more strategy, seeking to avoid cannibalizing an artist’s album sales by putting out yet another one too soon. In the CD era, the costs of producing and distributing each album made it important to make higher-grossing albums to ensure profits. With streaming, those costs aren’t as high, and labels have a greater incentive to own, release and re-release more music … Mark Mulligan, a music-industry analyst at MIDiA Research, says distributors are making money based on quantity, not quality.”

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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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Terpenes Twist: Hope for Hop-less Ale

The New York Times: If Americans will eat a burger with no meat, will they drink a beer without hops? Charles Denby, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, might have made it an option. Dr. Denby works in a lab that focuses on creating sustainable fuel out of plant molecules called terpenes … When he learned that some terpenes could, in small doses, impart the taste of hops — the small, green flowers that give beer its bitter, citrusy flavor — he decided to perform a side experiment.”

“Dr. Denby and his colleagues infused brewer’s yeast with DNA from basil and mint, two plants that naturally produce the hop-flavored terpenes. The scientists were aiming to recreate the flavor of Cascade hops, which are most popular among craft brewers. They used the engineered yeast to brew a hops-free ale … Once they perfected the formula, the tasting began … the researchers asked Lagunitas Brewing Company in California to help them convene a double-blind taste test involving 40 participants. When asked to compare the brew’s hoppiness relative to traditionally brewed beers, the participants placed it above most of the competition.”

“The findings, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, could contribute to a more sustainable future for beer production … Over the past two decades, as craft beer has boomed, Americans have developed a strong preference for hoppy brews like India pale ales, driving up demand for the crop. But farmers can’t keep up, and brewers are facing a hops shortage that some say is slowing the growth of the craft beer industry. Dr. Denby’s process, which he is hoping to commercialize, is a long way from putting hops farmers out of business. Still, he said, the technique could also help brewers produce a more consistent product.”

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Hershey Story: In Chocolate We Trust

The Wall Street Journal: “In the early 20th century, Milton Hershey transformed chocolate from a luxury good to a working-class staple. It made him a fortune, which he used to establish Hershey, Pa.—a model company town 100 miles west of Philadelphia and the self-proclaimed ‘sweetest place on earth.’ He also established an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School, to provide housing and education primarily for children from the area.”

“Hershey and his wife supported the school through a trust, which they established in 1905. By 1918, when he donated his full stake in his chocolate company to the trust, the trust was valued at $60 million. Today it is worth more than $14 billion—ranking it among the largest nonprofit endowments in the nation, on a par with MIT’s—and has maintained a profound commitment to its locale.”

“Peter Kurie’s ‘In Chocolate We Trust: The Hershey Company Town Unwrapped’ is a study of the town and of its residents’ shifting attitudes toward its institutional trinity of trust, company and school … He demonstrates how a philanthropic institution can continue to reflect a founder’s vision while shaping and being shaped by the community that grows up around it, one whose bonds can often be bittersweet.”

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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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Eateries Experiment with Split-Menu Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “When the Michelin-starred, Paris-based chef Joël Robuchon opened his high-end L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurant in the Meatpacking District last November, he had it share space with his “elegant, yet approachable” Le Grill de Joël Robuchon concept. At the former, a main course can cost as much as $135 and tasting menus run $145 to $265. At the latter, there is a three-course prix-fixe menu for $65. All prices include tipping.”

“Agern, the Nordic-inspired restaurant in Grand Central Terminal that also offers $100-plus tasting menus, has taken another approach to pricing. In recent weeks, it has expanded its a la carte offerings—even going so far as to add a burger and chicken wings, albeit in gourmet-minded versions. The $26 burger, for example, is made with a secret-spice mix, according to chef Gunnar Gíslason, and is served on a bun seasoned with smoked salt and vegetable ‘ash’.”

“Ultimately, each restaurant may have its individual reasons for adopting lower-price models and approaches. But if there is a common thread, it is the increased emphasis on casual dining in our culinary culture, says Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based hospitality consultant. Today’s diner ‘doesn’t want the restaurant to tell them what to wear or how much to spend,’ she says. ‘They want to feel welcome whether they are in jeans or tuxedos’.”

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Ac2ated Sound: The Car is the HiFi

The New York Times: “Continental, a German auto-components supplier, has developed technology that makes parts of the car’s interior vibrate to create high-fidelity audio on a par with any premium sound system on the road now. The approach turns the rear window into a subwoofer. The windshield, floor, dashboard and seat frames produce the midrange. And the A-pillars — the posts between the windshield and the doors — become your tweeters, said Dominik Haefele, the leader of the team that developed the technology.” He comments: “It’s a 3-D immersive sound, and you’re experiencing the music in a very different way. You’re in the sound. You feel it all around you, like you’re adding another dimension to it.”

“The key components are transducers — small devices that use a magnet wrapped in a copper coil to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy. Run current through the wires, and the transducer vibrates. Continental has figured out a way to implant transducers in a car’s interior and use them to turn interior panels into speakers.”

“The system, which Continental calls Ac2ated Sound, should begin appearing by 2021, Mr. Haefele said. He declined to name the carmakers that will offer it, although Mercedes, BMW and Audi are all big customers — and frequent adopters — of Continental’s technology.”

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