Blake Smith

Lies The Fashion Industry Will Tell My Daughter

This is my daughter, Charleston Jane. When it comes to clothing, Charleston is free. She loves her dresses, leopard prints, and hats - not because a magazine told her to, but because she just likes them. She never worries about money, her body, or being trendy. She loves what she wears, and wears what she loves. It’s simple.

This is not just Charleston’s story. This is where all of us start with clothing: totally free. Our clothing starts as a visual representation of our authentic selves - our preferences and our creativity.

The Lie

But if her story is anything like it is for most women, this freedom will not last. Over time, she'll start to listen to magazines, marketers, and society.

Eventually, the lie creeps in; that you - in your natural state - are not okay and you need to buy something to be accepted. The skill of modern fashion has been to take the things that are unique about you - your height, dimensions, proportions - and neutralize them by buying clothes. If you’re tall, buy flats. If you’re curvy, buy vertical stripes. This leaves our closets entirely too full, resulting in cluttered hearts, minds, and homes.

How The Fashion Industry Creates the Lie

You see, the fashion industry will make over $130,000 off of a woman’s insecurity throughout her lifetime. In fact, as advertising budgets ballooned, the average number of items in American women's closets went from 36 to over 120 (almost 400%), since 1930. Most of these items are ones that we don't actually love and seldom wear.

Just picture yourself walking through the mall. The images you see are excluding you from “the club” unless you buy what they’re selling. They show pictures of people wearing denim jackets who are in bliss and say, “If you buy a denim jacket, you’ll be happy like us!” So we buy it. Then a month later, they’re all wearing leather jackets and saying, “Buy a leather jacket, you’ll be pretty like us!” And we buy it. And then a month or week later, it’s bomber jackets. The lie is incredibly effective at creating lifelong consumption.

Truthfully, there is a well-funded conspiracy to keep women (like my daughter), discontent with themselves and their clothes so that they will buy more and more.

Although my voice is small compared to an industry that benefits from my daughter's insecurity, as Charleston's father, I will continue to fight the lie that tells her to buy more and be someone she's not.

How To Fight The Lie

Here is where I enter the picture: I, Blake Smith, am the CEO of a fashion company. I’ve spent the past 5 years of my life in the industry whose fundamental driver of growth is the exploitation of my daughters.

And this is the core insight that I’ve found about the lie: it is effective and it sells stuff incredibly well.

However, in my five years at this company, I’ve learned something else about the lie: it can be healed. You do not have to keep feeling the way you feel, but, you need a strategy. In my time of working with tens of thousands of women, I’ve found there are two main tools you need to combat the lie, so you have something to fall back on as you walk through the mall. Here they are:

1) You need a better narrative of yourself.

What do I mean by that? Picture yourself back in the mall or looking at an ad. The lie is saying, “We’re okay, you are not.” In order to combat that, you need your own narrative of “No - actually, I am okay. I am already happy.” So how do you develop your own narrative? What worked for me was to sit down with someone I love and ask them, “What makes me good for other people?” Maybe they say something like, “Your sense of humor is helpful in tense circumstances.” Listen to that. That is you. Knowing what makes you valuable stops the lie in its tracks.

2) You need to develop your own taste.

By developing your own taste you create a counter-message to when when the lie says, “You need to buy white ripped jeans now!” How do we do this? Give this a try:

  • Hang up all your clothes.
  • Turn the hooks around facing you.
  • Each day when you wear something, turn the hanger around to face the other way.

What you’ll discover after a month of doing this is that: 1) we only wear about 20% of the clothes in our closets on a regular basis, and 2) those items that you actually wore are the core of your taste. What do you see? Certain colors, cuts, or fabrics? The pattern and rhythm you see within your closet is important. It becomes the filter through how you will make purchases in the future. So, when they say, “You need white ripped jeans,” you can say, “Actually, no, I don't. That’s not me.”

In a sense, it is returning to your inner 3-year old. Figure out what you love, and wear that.

By creating your own narrative, and developing your own taste, you can be equipped to combat the lie when it pops up.

Back to Innocence

The truth is, for most of us we may never get back to the innocence of childhood like my daughter. But, we can combat the lie. We can grow out of it. We can become stronger! We can become people who stand on our own, and we can lead others to a place of freedom.

If this entire industry can spiral out of control with one simple lie, “You are not okay,” then I want to drive home the opposite of this lie - the opposite of the magazines, the opposite of the brands: “You are worthy of love.


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Sure, Amazon’s “Outfit Compare” Sucks… But It’s Also Kinda Genius

As you may have heard, Amazon just launched their new “Outfit Compare” feature for Amazon Prime. You submit two photos of yourself wearing each outfit, then their stylists/algorithms recommend which looks best.

Aaaaand the internet has responded with a resounding “this really sucks.” But, why? Because…

It’s been done before: Fashishm (dead), Go Try It On (acquired by Rent the Runway), and Fitting Room (pivoted). This is a really easy idea to execute :  customers take 2 pictures, and you choose one. I’m sure they’re using really complex algorithms and stylists…but at the end of the day it’s a coin flip.

It’s ugly: Yeah, it kind of looks like something a bunch of bros made at their college hackathon. Gotta respect them for just getting it out there — but still—it is u-g-l-y. This is a big “no-no” when addressing something as sensitive as a person’s appearance. Aesthetics matter.

It’s a pain: The app literally requires you to take full-body photographs of two completely different outfits to help make this decision. For working women/mothers, this represents an obscene consumption of TIME in the morning — a precious commodity. “I’ll take your 15 minute decision and turn it into a 30 minute decision” isn’t really a solution; it’s pretty much just a waste of everyone’s time.

All that being said, I understand it’s a first go. I don’t think we should write it off as a failed pet-project. The folks at Amazon who worked on this are not dumb. In fact, they’re really smart ,  and I think there is more nuance to what they’re doing if you look at the emerging strategy. Why? Because…

Amazon’s move to address fashion OUTSIDE of transactions is PURE GENIUS.

I think Amazon’s move is really significant - because this the first time that a major retailer has offered styling services completely separate from selling clothing. It’s like they launched a new category that didn’t exist in retailer’s minds. I think this is a calculated reaction to some trends in the fashion industry this century.

In the past 20 years we’ve seen the rise of a trend called “fast fashion” — a strategy characterized by releasing new lines every week of cheap clothes resulting in an increase in the number of items we buy. Brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever21 have changed the fashion industry by shifting our buying habits from seasonal to weekly. The result? In 1994 the average person bought only 30 items of clothing a year. Today, the average person consumes 84 items of clothing every year. So, what’s a traditional retailer to do?

Option A: Do Nothing

This was the strategy of Pacific Sunwear (bankrupt), Aeropostale (bankrupt), Wet Seal (bankrupt), American Apparel (bankrupt), and countless other mall stores. They either missed or ignored a seismic shift in the industry, and paid the price. Double down on coupons ! (rolls eyes)  It’s totally going to work with millennials.

Option B: Become a Fast Fashion Company

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Right? Maybe. J Crew tried embracing fast fashion 2 years ago and it almost killed them. GAP has had more success. If your driving differentiator was “quality basics”, then you’re in trouble. Also, in a race to the bottom - you better be willing to re-factor your entire production line to get the bottom dollar.

Option C: Provide Additional Value

Rather than putting your head in the sand (Option A) or showing up late to the party (Option B) - concede the battle that you can’t compete on volume with fast fashion. Instead, provide additional value that the fast fashion companies can’t/don’t/won’t. Rather than driving weekly purchasing, stick with your current sustainable cadence of purchasing, and provide engagement and services on a weekly or daily basis. This builds real trust and loyalty—traits that fast fashion really can’t provide with their race to the bottom.

I think this was the motivation behind Walmart’s acquisition of Modcloth, Nordstrom’s acquisition of Trunk Club, and Amazon’s launch of “Outfit Compare.” The secret here is to make sure that whatever services, content, or social media you provide is valuable in and of itself apart from transactions. This is key—if the services are too close to the transactions, you lose the trust and engagement. e.g. True Fit and other “services” that are really sales optimizers.

In conclusion...

The truth is, the market has changed. You’re either fast, or you are quality. Anyone in between will die. For those who have embraced quality, they’ve got to branch out and provide value, entertainment, and services apart from transactions.

I believe that this is the strategy behind Amazon’s Outfit compare, and I think it is sound strategy.

But yes, it still kinda sucks.


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What’s Next For Cladwell: Introducing Outfits

In November of 2015, we launched Capsules by Cladwell. Our first month was slow; we had about 100 women sign up. We were a little nervous. But then something exciting happened: we helped those 100 women build minimal wardrobes. And they experienced real change in their lives. Then, they told their friends. The site was clunky, but the freedom was real. Fast forward 14 months later, tens of thousands of women have used Cladwell to simplify their wardrobes.

Yet, something was missing from the “Capsule Wardrobe” conversation.

It’s one thing to build a capsule wardrobe one time but an entirely different thing to figure out how to interact with clothing every day. 

We as a society have a deep-rooted addiction to buying new clothing. Every time we feel uninspired, intimidated, or even bored, our default behavior is to leave our closet and go searching for a new “hit”, which results in more clutter.  In fact, sometimes even building a capsule wardrobe is an excuse to indulge in buying more clothing.

But buying is not the answer.

What we realized is that having a smaller wardrobe doesn't limit your options. We think if everyone knew this secret we would all buy a lot less. The first place we should go when we feel uninspired, intimidated, and bored is not to the mall - but within ourselves: “How can I create something new and beautiful out of what I have?” 

Meet Outfits by Cladwell

To help us shift our focus toward what we have, we created Outfits. Outfits starts where you start each morning as you stand in front of your closet and pick out what to wear. Every day we give you new and inspiring outfit recommendations from the clothes already in your closet. From there, we track your outfits, and help you discover the right items to add to your closet, all without taking a single photo.

At $5/month, we maintain our commitment to guide you toward a life of simplicity and away from a life of clutter. We’re proud of Outfits: the daily practice of the capsule wardrobe.

 

The Daily Practice of “Capsuling”

Our goal is to transform the act of getting dressed in the morning from 15 minutes of frustration (“I have way too many clothes and nothing to wear”) into a delightful and centering experience of intentionality.

We want to save you time each morning and encourage you to spend that time doing something that is meaningful to you: connect with a family member, meditate, or maybe even sleep in. We want you to reclaim your morning ritual and use it as a springboard to an amazing day.

Cladwell + The World

The trend toward more and more, cheaper and cheaper (called Fast Fashion) has decimated the environment and individuals in the countries that manufacture our clothes, and the trend is escalating. 

And the truth is, we have consumed our way into this problem, so we can’t consume our way out. The path forward must be one where we fundamentally shift our behaviors and consumption habits. We see this new app as a critical step in that direction by tracking what you actually wear and seeing which items go best with the items currently in your closet before you got out and buy more.

So here is my request: Try it out. Let us know what you think. Tell us what we’re missing and how we can make it better. And together, we will create a clothing industry that is good for people.


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Aren't Sweatshops Good For Third World Countries?

“Aren’t sweatshops good for third world countries to grow their economies?”

We’ve all heard this question, and I think it’s time we talk through this a little bit. A quick disclaimer: I am generally conservative economically, but as the founder of Cladwell I have seen many of the evils of the fashion industry and what it has done to the environment and workers. 

Okay, so here’s the argument I most often hear regarding sweatshops:

“Yes, sweatshops and child labor are sad but are necessary to develop a third world country.”

Typically, the arguments are as follows:

  1. Competition will raise standards over time: We’ve seen in China that wages and working conditions have risen as more companies compete for the low-wage workers. The same will happen in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Nigeria over time. It is sad now but over time it will get better.

  2. The workers are joining freely, and this is the worker’s best option: When we look at what these sweatshop workers were doing before the factory came, we see how terrible their working conditions were before --whether in prostitution or in dangerous environments in rice fields. Yes, it is sad that the factories are dangerous, but it isn’t really different.
     

Here is my response:

I think these are economically valid arguments. In the long run--in the macro--we will see wages and conditions improve if we start at sweatshops and allow competition to go through. I’ll concede that point.

However, I believe there are additional (and more important) questions than economic efficiency. The most important being:

“What type of person do you want to be in your 80-or-so years on this earth?”

To Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M: Do you want to be a man who allows his company to continue to do things like kill 21 Bangladeshi sweatshop workers, and who has “plausible deniability” when it comes to child labor?

To Edward Lampert, CEO of Sears Holdings: Do you want to be a man who allows his company to lock fire exit doors and force workers back to their desk when the fire alarm went off, killing 117 people and injuring over 200?

To Ashley Brooke, YouTuber: Do you want to be a person who gets views out of “hauling” piles of clothes made by kids, promoting a consumption pattern in our society that will make the problem even worse?
 

What kind of People do we want to be?

To you, me, all of us: Do we want to be people who wear the last item of clothing a human being ever touched before their factory collapsed?  Do we want to be people who value having a new outfit that we’ll wear once at a party more than preventing brain damage for the inhabitants along a river in India? Do we want to be people who close our eyes and buy that sequined blouse at Target that can only be made with children’s fingers, because it’s “too hard to find ethical brands”?

Because, guess what? It is economically a valid argument that those worker’s grandchildren (if they live long enough to have them) will benefit.

I just don’t want to be that person.

I’m not pushing for governmental or UN intervention. I’m pushing for ALL OF US--the human beings reading this article--to decide what type of people we wish to be, and spend our time and money according to that. We are not pawns of economic forces. We have a choice.

Ok, I admit this is heavy. And I admit, I am part of this huge problem. We all are. I'm just suggesting that we begin to take steps, even small ones, towards a different kind of clothing industry.

 

Here’s where we Can begin:

Pause Before You Buy: This is one simple step that could really make a difference. And it doesn't involve spending more money. In fact, it will even save money and the stress of clutter in our closets and homes. If our entire society chose to stop before every purchase and ask, “Do I really need this? Do I LOVE it?” we would buy less. As a result, the fast fashion industry would have to alter its business model. Fast fashion succeeds on its ability to get us excited to buy things we don’t actually love. Just wait. Only buy what you really need or love.

The problem of the fashion industry is huge. But this first step towards changing this industry is something we all can do. This pause, this question before I purchase, is something I can 100% commit to.

 

The Next Steps:

Get Smarter About Your Wardrobe: Ok, we've made new habits about thinking before we buy items. The next step? Let's get strategic about what clothing stays in our closets. Pick a color palette. Think about your lifestyle - what do you actually wear often? Purchase items based on how well they go together.

Try To Avoid These 10 Stores/Brands: The only 100% sustainable solution is to walk around naked (and even then you still have the problem of methane…). However, some companies are notoriously bad for human rights and sustainability. I'm not perfect in this area, but I'm committing to buying less and less from stores that notably dismiss these issues. When I'm at the mall, I to avoid these stores/brands:

  • H&M
  • Zara
  • The Gap (Old Navy & Banana Republic)
  • Adidas
  • Forever 21
  • Calvin Klein
  • Walmart
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Aldo
  • Uniqlo

Start Buying From These 10 Stores/Brands: The truth is, if you want to pay workers more and provide a better work environment, it will cost more money. That’s why I put this step last. First, figure out how to buy less. Then, once you’re there, start shifting where you buy those clothes. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Everlane
  • Patagonia
  • DSTLD
  • Zady
  • Modavanti
  • ThredUp
  • Matt & Nat
  • Victor Athletics
  • Cuyana (women only)
  • Bonobos (men only)

If you’re feeling burdened or overwhelmed by this article, I’d like to you to consider this quotation from William Wilberforce, who abolished the slave trade in England:

“If to be feelingly alive to the suffering of my fellow creatures in is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large."

I hope to be a fanatic in this area. And I guess it begins with just buying less. And then buying smarter. And more thoughtfully. This isn't easy. I'm not doing it perfectly. But I'm trying to make a start. And I hope you'll join me.


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Why We Want To (beat) Fast Fashion?

I always pictured that clothes were made in some factory where there were big piles of garments, and it goes through a machine and out it spits the t-shirts in every different size. That's not actually true. And it was new information to me. What's embarrassing about that, is that I've actually been running a fashion company for two and a half years without knowing where the clothes that I was selling were coming from. Once we actually asked that question... a lot of things started to change. 

What we found is that fast fashion is a shift that's happened really over the past 10 years or so, in the fashion industry. This has completely changed the way we as consumers relate to clothes and the way that companies sell clothes. It's all about high quantity and low quality clothing, almost like disposable clothing.

This is horrible for two main reasons:

1. It's horrible for humans on other side of the earth, because if you're buying t-shirts for $3 or $4 that are disposable. There's not a lot of margin in that to pay workers. So it's forced the entire industry to go more toward third world countries and towards unsafe work environments for those people.

2. It's absolutely horrible for the environment. There was a report that recently came out that said the fashion industry is the number two most polluting industry on earth next to the oil industry. 

Share the video above, and let's (beat) fast fashion.


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