July 26, 2006

Fashion Challenged Wal-Mart

Evidently Wal-mart's sales of it's women's clothes is down. This according to a recent Business Week article. It's no surprise really. I almost never buy clothing at Wal-Mart. There are a couple of reasons. One, the fitting rooms are too close to the registers. They are small, dirty, and cramped. If I feel I should try something on before buying it, I won't buy it. The last few pieces I bought I should have tried on - the mediums were really sized as a large. Oh well, at least it was only $5 wasted and a lesson learned.

In the book Nickled and Dimed on Not Getting by in America, author Barbara Ehrenreich worked covertly for Wal-mart. As a sales associate in the women's department, she spent most of her time putting away returns from the fitting rooms, store returns, and cleaning. She never spent any time assisting customers or pushing sales. According to her anecdotal evidence, 80-90% of the clothing taken to the fitting room is rejected. This points to fitting issues.

The next reason I don't buy clothing at Wal-mart is the clothing looks cheap. Some of the styles were cute, but the finishing details were lacking or the colors were too garish. One outfit had simple, exposed serged hems instead of a rolled or blind hem. This screams cheap. I also know this won't hold up in the wash.

Girls dresses also scream cheap. Their isn't enough fabric in the gathered skirts to look like a skirt. Ribbon and flower trims are wrinkled. Same issue with the garish colors. To be fair, the basic children's clothing is fine. You can get a great value on Carter's brand clothing. But skip the Rose Cottage label.

At one company, I helped create private label merchandise for the Rose Cottage Brand. It is true that Wal-Mart has greatly improved its quality program. But they are still missing the boat. In order to get the product to hit their price point, you have to reduce gather ratio's, remove linings, reduce trimmings. When you are done with the dress, it looks incredibly cheap. For a couple dollars more, you could get a dress that looks like a real dress at another store.

So the secret for Wal-Mart's success is to take a cue from Target. Create affordable merchandise with improved quality, the right colors, the right fit, and be mistaken for a more expensive piece. Oh, and move the clothing department away from the main drag of the store. Do I really want my neighbors to know I buy my underwear at Wal-mart?

July 24, 2006

Project Runway - A fantasy design world

Season 3 has started and I have to admit that I like to watch the show. It reminds me so much of my design school experience. In design school you are frequently given similar challenges to design something to fit a certain customer or target market. The work rooms feel familiar too, even some of the personalities.

There are a few things that continue to bug me about the show. The designer this show tries to discover is what I call a fantasy designer. There is a certain segment of the fashion business where a designer works with wealthy customers to create an evening dress or expensive sportswear. Their clientele consists of actors or other celebrities. That particular segment is so small that the continual portrayal as an ideal is an insult to the rest of us in the fashion business. Project Runway completely ignores many product categories, including children.

I am talking about designers that work in the trenches - mass market apparel. Creating something as cheaply as possible while maintaining a certain quality level. Worrying about profit margins and overseas manufacturing. This is the real world. This is the world where most designers work. Working for a large apparel business is gritty, real work. The hours are just as long and as stressful.

Another type of designer is an enterepeneur who has started their own business and sells to ordinary people. This kind of designer is more grounded and realistic about their customer and their product. They have a look that is interesting and sells. They are smart and understand business and fashion. It takes a lot of strength and will power to start a business from the ground-up.

I have to give credit to Jay (Season 1 winner) and Chloe (Season 2). Neither of them went the celebrity designer route you would expect. Jay took his time to figure the business end out before launching his line. Chloe expanded her own existing business. This is so smart.

I wish the show would give challenges to the competitors that are more realistic. One real-world challenge I faced was to design a children's fluffy dress - labor and materials - for under $5. Such a dress would retail for about $15.99 at a big box retailer. Now that is a challenge!

So yes, I would love to see them attempt other product categories. The fashion industry is so diverse. What about an outfit for a 50+ year old woman? Baby boomers are becoming one of the larger customer profiles. How about a maternity outfit? A new print for a scarf, tie, or umbrella? A children's look? I really, really want to see these designers try something other than a silk charmeuse evening gown.

I will probably keep watching this season. I am hooked, I admit it. I just hope the show doesn't spin out of control and become more ridiculous with time.

July 07, 2006

Baby Gertrudes

I have a wonderful old high school Home Ec textbook that I picked up from a thrift shop. It is titled Fabrics and Dress by Lucy Rathbone and Elizabeth Tarpley, copyright 1948. It is a fun read, and full of the authors' humorous opinions. One chapter is devoted entirely to children's clothing. I will probably pull bits and pieces of it for future blogs, as the information is still useful and very wise.

This chapter mentions one piece of baby clothing that I had not of heard before, a gertrude.

A gertrude is a slip dress with "no plackets, but with buttons and buttonholes on each shoulder." The benefit of such a dress is that it is easy to put on and remove without having to undress the baby completely. It typically has dainty, delicate embroidery. The neck and armscye is finished with a narrow binding, facing or narrow hem. Apparently they were made from a variety of fabrics including wool! I would imagine the more typical fabric to be batiste.

I tried googling for a picture of a gertrude and I found companies that sold patterns for them. Unfortunately, no other images. I did find another feast for the eyes - AntiqueDress.com. I wish I had a reason to buy some of these pieces. There are many absolutely gorgeous designer dresses - a great place to look for design inspiration!

If anyone knows of a picture for a baby gertrude (in the public domain), please let me know!

July 02, 2006

Sizing info on a tag

Deciding what information to include on a hang tag or a garment's care and content tag can be frustrating. There are certain legal requirements for care and content tags of items sold in the United States and that can be found at the Federal Trade Commission website.

Let's start with the care/content tags. Let's assume that you have complied with all of the legal requirements. What else should go on your care and content tag? The answer is as little as possible. The tag has a finite amount of space, and it must be legible. But there is some critical information that will help the consumer pick just the right size.

Sizing information is one of those things that should be on the tag. For children's clothing it helps to put not only the size but also the weight. It would be nice to also include the height, but I rarely see this done in the US. I have seen the sizing information arranged different ways. For example, it could read like this: 0-3M (7-12lb).

This additional bit of information is very important to consumers. Even though we use a size system that designates an age, children come in all shapes in sizes at each stage of life. Ever hear of a newborn weighing 9lb? A newborn weighing 9lb at birth will weigh 12-15lb at about 3mo, and quickly move into 6mo clothing. Including the weight on a tag helps take out the guess work for the consumer. And don't forget every children's company breaks their sizing down differently. A 3mo outfit from one company will not be the same size as a 3mo outfit from another.

If there isn't room on a care/content tag for additional information, then it is helpful to include it on a hangtag. BabyGap has sizing information available on a card that is the size of a business card and it can be stuck in a wallet. What a great service for the customer! Not to mention, it probably helps reduce returns.

Most moms know the height and weight of their baby. They are given this information when they visit their pediatrician. The doctor will compare the baby's height and weight with a growth chart to make sure the baby is growing properly. When reworking my patterns for my TinyPackages line, I referred to these growth charts to make sure I was on target.

If you have an online store, a size chart that includes basic height and weight information will greatly help your customers.