Designed to Break: A New Culture of Quality

My 2nd Birthday gathered around the oak table (1993)

The oak table. Heavy and very brown in appearance. Picture any 80’s or 90’s heartfelt sitcom and there’s probably some version of it as a kitchen prop. Yet, however country, however old, however expensive this table was, it was also built to last. From several decades of countless family dinners, birthday parties, game nights, family meetings, political arguments, or afternoons spent crafting, this table survived it all. This table was designed for survival.

New Year’s Day activities at the oak table with my Memaw (2004)

Fast forward to today with a world full of mass production. Ikea’s, H&M’s, McDonald’s literally spread out around the globe. Yet no one is asking how a table can be $8 or a shirt $2 or a burger $1? After all, we love a deal.

A brief history of mass manufacturing

100 years ago, Henry Ford and his little company changed the way we produced consumer goods, forever. His idea of making a previously exclusive item affordable to the general public is something we’ve spread throughout the food and beverage, furniture, clothing, and tech industries. However, in order to make a product more affordable and still be able to profit from it, means you have to cut the cost of production which means finding cheaper materials and cheaper labor.

Enter fast fashion, fast food, fast furniture, fast everything.

IMAGE Maximilian Stock Ltd. via Getty Images

In the name of efficiency

Bill Watterson, Creator of Calvin and Hobbes

“We don’t value craftsmanship anymore! All we value is ruthless efficiency, and I say we deny our own humanity that way! Without appreciation for grace and beauty, there’s no pleasure in creating things and no pleasure in having them! Our lives are made drearier, rather than richer! How can a person take pride in his work when skill and care are considered luxuries! We’re not machines! We have a human need for craftsmanship!”

Bill Watterson, There’s Treasure Everywhere

There’s no pleasure in having something that has been mass produced. Watterson hit the nail on the head with his declaration. One of my favorite episodes of Friends is “The one with the apothecary table”. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) bought an apothecary table from Pottery Barn and tries to keep her then roommate, Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), from finding out that she purchased it from there. Phoebe hates mass-produced products because she believes it destroys a product’s history.

Like Phoebe, most of us would rather enjoy a product that is unique and one-of-a-kind.

The issue is that in our world of being constantly on-the-go, convenience becomes our top value. It’s much easier to purchase an apothecary table from a Pottery Barn catalog (or from your phone in our current digital age) than to travel to an antique store and happen to find one in your price range – affordability, another of our key values.

In business school, one of the major takeaways was in order to have a successful business, product and market must fit. A consumer’s values (determined from their pain points) must be understood before creating a product. Successful businesses today have mastered understanding our core values of convenience and affordability, enter efficiency and profitability. The reason mass production became a norm was due to the rise of the middle class and the idea that regular folk could afford luxuries that didn’t exist to them beforehand. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing, and it’s not, however, we have reached a point where we must ask ourselves, is it too much? Have we consumed too much? Do we want too much? What do we actually need?

The psychological effects of mass production

Before mass production, goods were produced by skilled craftsmen and women. They would spend years apprenticing under another skilled craftsperson, thoroughly learning the trade. They had their hand in every aspect of the production process, knowing each material’s origin story.

Princess and the Frog – Tiana’s Mom, the best seamstress in NOLA

Before mass production, women would re-wear a dress for multiple occasions without negative repercussions. In addition, clothing items could easily be mended rather than thrown away. Before mass production, we knew exactly where our food came from, purchasing milk or eggs from the family down the road rather than trying to figure out where Oak Farms is located and how they treat their animals.

“Many surveys in the United States and in the industrialized countries of Europe have shown that [industrial] workers do not fully understand and appreciate their roles and positions in society.” 

Morris Tanenbaum and William K. Holstein

Before mass production, craftspeople had a sense of purpose in their professions, a sense of understanding their role within the community rather than repetitively assembling a small part of a much larger product. My papaw worked for an industrial software company for twenty-four years, first on the assembly line and then in a supervisory role. He quit without a back-up job due to his severe unhappiness. He later began working for Child Protective Services where he felt a sense of purpose and obligation. His story is as follows:

“Working on the assembly line was repetitive and boring after a while. When I was promoted to management, that was much worse. They would hire these expensive consultants who would run statistical analyses on how to be more efficient. However, this didn’t work in our shop because we only produced a small number of units at a time and depending on the product, it wasn’t a consistent number of units. These analyses would only work on larger plants that have the capacity to consistently produce thousands of units at a time. Playing politics was the nature of getting ahead and I wanted no part of it. This job left me without a sense of purpose so I quit.”

There are so many negative psychological effects of mass production, both for the consumer and the producer. We are left without a sense of purpose. We never feel fully content. We have developed unhealthy habits. We allow the pharmaceutical industry to dictate our behaviors. We are constantly living for Friday. Our favorite holiday is black Friday. Christmas is the most stressful time of the year. The list goes on.

The simple life

My aunt ALWAYS asks me why I prefer to live in Africa. This is why:

  • I have a sense of purpose and obligation.
  • I am a part of a community of people, not blood related, that genuinely have my best interest at heart and vice-versa.
  • Life is simple.
  • I know where my chicken comes from, I know where my fruits and veggies are grown.
  • I keep my door open during the day, letting the fresh air come through.
  • The purple flowers from the Jacaranda tree are enough to put a smile on my face throughout the entire day.
  • The secondhand market is my favorite place to find new treasures.
  • My phone isn’t attached to my hand 24/7.
  • It seems like the days are longer because I have oodles of free time.
Uganda circa 2017

But Africa is a state of mind. These ideals can be practiced here. Let’s not get caught in this rat race of psychological torture. We can do this by:

  • Demanding more oak furniture! Just kidding, demanding more quality products with a willingness to pay for the labor and materials and understanding that these items will last longer and end up saving us money in the long-run.
  • Finding a sense of purpose somewhere, even if it’s not at your job. My close friend volunteers almost every weekend because that is how she feels fulfilled and get’s through her job Monday-Friday.
  • Researching where our stuff comes from. If you can’t trace it back, don’t buy it.

The new twenties

The 1920’s was a time of challenging norms and asking questions.

As we enter into this new era of the 20’s, let’s look at our past to carry us into the future.


Is it too late for sustainable fashion?

Picture it. London. Fashion week. September 2019. A young girl walking through Trafalgar Square heading to her first show with her mother. Pointing at a crowd all dressed in black with a coffin lifted up above their heads, she asks, “Mum, who died?” A man wearing a top hat with the words ‘Fashion Weak’ written in big block letters answers, “Our future”.

R.I.P. London Fashion Week

This lovely bunch of Londonites were marching in a funeral procession for fashion, protesting the newness of production that fashion week brings while calling us to be content with what we already have, using the slogan ‘Repair, Rewear, Rebel’. The funeral was organized by Extinction Rebellion (XR), “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimize the risk of social collapse.” Just Monday, October 7th, an international rebellion began and will continue for the next 2 weeks with allies gathering together in major cities around the world to stand up against governments for their mindlessness on the Climate and Ecological Crisis. Their goal is to disrupt business as usual worldwide.

Clare Press, from the podcast The Wardrobe Crisis, interviewed XR members Clare Farrell, Sara Arnold, and Will Skeaping and aired it on her latest episode, ‘Podcast 97, EXTINCTION REBELLION – NO FASHION ON A DEAD PLANET’. This episode was one for the books as it discussed sustainability’s role within the fashion industry from an interesting perspective, asking the question, “Is it too late for sustainability?”

The Climate Problem

Before answering the sustainability question, the climate problem must be identified. According to NASA, carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years; 18 out of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001; in 2012, Arctic summer sea ice shrank to it’s lowest level in history; and our global average sea level has risen around 7 inches in the past 100 years.

Yeah. Okay. But, what does this all really mean? Well, with temperatures rising and barometers getting low, unfortunately men will not be raining from the skies. Instead, our weather forecast will consist of increased droughts, heat waves, and floods. Houston continues to have a problem with hurricane after hurricane. If we continue on this trajectory, the United Nations feels that simply adapting to the increased issues that climate change has caused will be more difficult and costly in the future.

Just in case you didn’t get my reference, look up this song.

The Greenhouse Gas Story

Greenhouse gases are in fact essential to our survival on earth. By naturally blocking some of the sun’s warmth from reflecting back into space, they make our world more livable. Unfortunately, too much of anything is a bad thing. The Industrial Revolution sparked instant change in the late 18th century bringing along more people, more money, and more problems. This increase in large scale production and deforestation also caused an increase of released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, rising at levels well above what has been seen in human existence. These gases are directly correlated with the earth’s temperatures, the main cause being the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil. This is what’s causing increased flooding, crazy Texas weather, and droughts. These things will continue to get worse if we don’t halt the amount of greenhouse gases entering into the air.

The Fashion Industry’s Contribution to the Climate Problem

If fashion were a country, it’s emissions would be that of Russia’s. “The best number we have now is about five percent of greenhouse gas emissions [come from] this [fashion] sector. To give you some sense of perspective, that’s about equivalent to the impact from the aviation sector, so all the planes flying in the world. Or in country terms, that’s about equal to Russia. So it’s pretty significant”, said Nate Aden, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, during a panel discussion on climate change in NYC in 2017.

The reason for the increase in emissions?

Graphic Credit: Levi Strauss & Co

The majority of fashion’s contribution to increasing the greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to producing raw materials. The amount of land used to grow cotton plus the amount of water multiplied by the amount of oil used to make synthetic fibers plus a fashion industry propelled by a culture of ‘wanters’ equals the need for drastic transformation. But how? Is it too late for sustainability in this industry?

Better Late than Never (?)

Clare, Sara, and Will from XR seem to believe that it’s too late for fashion to try and change now. “It’s not a great time to be in the process of production”, says Clare via interview by Clare Press. Adopting minimal sustainable solutions into a business model is “just not enough”. Former designer, Sara agrees saying that “we should be growing food instead [of cotton]”. “We can’t afford to continue growing crops for clothes.”

This interview was conducted by Clare Press for her podcast, The Wardrobe Crisis. Please check it out. The link is above.

Clare furthers her point by sharing how difficult it is for sustainable fashion brands to even make it in the industry let alone make a significant impact. “It’s very nice to make good work but we need to do more. Its too late for sustainability to be helpful to us now.” To the fashion businesses out there trying to practice sustainability, Clare states, apologizing, “I’m very sorry that you are in this stage in your career at this moment in time because it’s heartbreaking and it would be great if we could all carry on and people could [continue to] make sustainable collections and be listened to and the industry would change and that would result into something meaningful, but it’s just not a great time to be in the process of production right now.”

Sara concludes by urging us to let go of fashion. “[Our] culture is being used to distract us from the emergency.” The culture we’ve created since the industrial revolution has been that of convenience and efficiency. These new found values have diminished our other ones. The fashion industry has both created and maintained our wants. We no longer understand the difference between a want and a need. Everything is available with just the click of a button. We can now have clothes delivered to us, returning things we don’t like. From a scientific perspective, we have CO2 from production, CO2 from exportation, CO2 from packaging, CO2 from store or warehouse space, CO2 from shipping, CO2 from bigger closet space, CO2 from returns, CO2 from waste, CO2 in other countries housing our unwanted trash. Will jumps in towards the end of the episode saying that because of our way of life in the west, other countries are reaping the effects of climate change. In other words, our mistakes have allowed others to suffer the consequences. We have not “balanced the inequalities around the world”.

So… What now?

They offer some hope by encouraging us to change the relationship we have with our clothes. We can change our buying behavior which will change the way businesses produce clothes which will ultimately begin to change the fashion industry. We, the consumers, hold the power within our pocketbooks.

Do we really need to purchase a new costume for that Halloween party? Do we really need those new cheetah print booties? Do we really need to wash our clothes twice a week? – Yes, these are my personal problems.

How do we spark this revolutionary change?

  1. Repair or transform what you already have. Tired of your jeans, make them into a mini skirt.
  2. Stop buying new items that can’t be ethically traced! Buy secondhand. Go pop some tags. This is a great way to save money as well.
  3. When you can’t or don’t want to buy previously loved products, buy from ethical brands. There’s an ethical brand for pretty much everything now. Bedding, shoes, chocolate, even underwear!
  4. We need to change our cultural norms. It IS okay to rewear an outfit shown in multiple IG posts or during multiple days of work. It IS okay to pay more for a quality item (from an ethical brand) of clothing that will last longer. It IS okay to reconnect yourself with an idea of fashion used as a tool for employment, environmental change, and expression.

Back to the protest…

One thing that came to mind when I saw the above photo along with others from the protest is the fact that there is merchandise with the XR logo printed everywhere. After listening to the podcast and doing some digging of my own, they actually have wooden block prints of the logo and encourage their fellow members to paint this print on clothing and items they already have in their possession. Talk about practicing what you preach. Their website even has this gem located at the bottom of every page: “Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a do-it-together movement. All our design and artwork can be used non-commercially for the purpose of planet saving. This does not mean creating merchandise for fundraising or sending XR a percentage of your sales. We do not endorse or create any merchandise and we will pursue and prosecute anyone who does. The Extinction Symbol was designed in 2011 by street artist ESP, who loans XR usage on the same basis:”

Controversy – Are protests just for rich, white people? Is sustainability?

Another hidden gem from this interview are Clare Press’ mentions of controversy. As a true journalist, she likes to understand the various angles of a topic. My favorite mentioned was that of class and race.

Critics suggest that protesting is only for “privileged white people who can afford to court arrest”. “Extinction Rebellion is overwhelmingly shaped by the concerns, priorities, and ideas of middle-class white people. If it doesn’t tackle white supremacy, it doesn’t serve us.” – Vice

Is it possible that we need to tackle our racial divide before tackling sustainability? In an online course I completed, the question was asked, which section of sustainability is a higher priority? Human, environment, another section? These questions are difficult to answer and the idealist in me would say that everything is equally important. However, I’m privileged and I’m biracial and my career is steeped in sustainable fashion.

What are your thoughts? I’m eager to hear from you!

Next week, I’ll be looking into the feasibility of living a completely sustainable life.

Forever Failing – The Fall of Forever 21

I still have the scar. Just on top of my left foot from that time a men’s fragrance bottle fell and bounced off of the table I was merchandising, leaving an open wound, infected by the strong musky scent of cheap cologne. What did I get myself into? Honestly, what was I thinking? Every fashion merchandising graduate’s dream job was either in buying or visual merchandising and there I was, visual merchandiser at Forever 21, lead of Children’s, Men’s, Plus, and Contemporary departments. The honeymoon phase quickly wore off after the first day. I had sold my soul to a company that exploited millions of lives though proudly representing Christian values with the verse John 3:16 written on the bottom of their bright yellow plastic bags. Why was this my favorite store in high school?

We would arrive at 6 am every Monday through Friday and would leave around 2 pm unless it was floor set week. Then, we would work from 10 pm and leave around 8 or 9 am the next day. Every visual would smoke during our 10 minute break. Apparently, it was the only thing that kept the sanity. Why was this job so stressful? But the more questions I asked, the more aware I was of just how meaningless my life had become. I no longer had a purpose. I no longer had a passion. I would leave at 2 pm, feeling unaccomplished because I didn’t get through merchandising my entire section only to come back the next day to find that my beautiful displays were destroyed. Destroyed by the consumers. Consumers trying to find the best deal because $5 for a t-shirt wasn’t enough of a deal already. Did these consumers not think about the time and effort it took someone to arrange the display, literally getting so deep into it that the merchandise left a permanent scar on their foot. Did they not think about the people behind the scenes? Did they not think about me?

Then it hit me. A reminder from the documentary we watched in my Fashion Econ class. No one cared about the people behind the $5 shirt. The visuals, the cashiers, the associates, the actual makers of the shirt. No one. They only cared about the deal. They’ll wear the item a few times then it will develop rips and tears and they’ll throw it out. Or donate it to Goodwill only to be rejected by Goodwill and shipped on the nearest cargo ship to Africa or India. Only to be rejected by the locals and thrown away going wherever things go after that point (back to the U.S. if it ended up in Malaysia). All the effort taken into making and merchandising that one shirt just to be thrown away within a week of purchase. My job sucked and I wanted out. I got out 3 months later and began my journey working in ethical fashion. Fast forward 5 years later and now the place that forced me to think about clothes beyond simply wearing them, has filed for bankruptcy! The fast fashion enablers have filed for the removal of their people exploiting and planet killing platform, or, so we hope.

The Debtor in Possession

Forever 21 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection which is the option for reorganization. “This was an important and necessary step to secure the future of our Company, which will enable us to reorganize our business and reposition Forever 21,” Linda Chang, the company’s executive vice president said in the statement.

They are continuing to operate business as usual, even securing approval for employee benefits and reimbursements and hiring staff for the upcoming holiday season. Although, many employees will lose their jobs worldwide due to the closing of most international stores. This is an unfortunate consequence of the various mistakes made by large corporations. The ones that endure the consequences are not the ones that make the mistakes.

Learning from their Mistakes

Mistake #1: Failure to Evolve their E-Commerce Presence

Forever 21’s biggest revenue increase was reported in the 2000’s when malls and bargain shopping were more in fashion. They spent marketing dollars and inventory savings on this mall-based business model fad, allocating millions for opening and stocking stores worldwide. What they, and other retailers such as Charlotte Russe and American Apparel, failed to realize is that the digital economy was fast approaching. As the internet continued to develop, so did knowledge, access, and unfortunately, convenience. Brands were too busy focusing on the dollar signs of current trends rather than investing in future ones.

Currently, their online store represents 16% of their overall sales in an economy with 79% of people shopping online.

Mistake #2: Failure to Adopt Sustainable Practices

Image courtesy of Greenblut

The growth in internet brought forth a growth in knowledge. We are in an age where all we have to do is ask Google or Siri a question and we receive a wealth of information on the subject. This easy way to access information has sparked more questions among millennial users. They are now starting to care more about their environment and the people in it than ever before. Sustainability is trending and hopefully it’s not just a fad. H&M recognized this shift and have tried to jump on board. Forever 21 did not. If sustainability is not a part of their new reorganization strategy, it should be or they will be filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in a few short years.

Mistake #3: Value Creation Plateau

During it’s heyday, Forever 21 offered cheap alternatives to runway looks. At that time, consumers craved the mainstream. They wanted to feel accepted in their clothing rather than to stand-out; sporting logo shirts and cookie-cutter designs. Now, consumers crave timeless, unique pieces. They love thrifting and purchasing secondhand clothing on apps like Poshmark and thredUp. Consumers want to express their individuality and lack of conformity, two characteristics Forever 21 was not founded on. In short, Forever 21 lacks value. They’ve filled a gap that no longer exists. If they wish to continue in existence, they must establish how they can add value in this new world that would rather see them fail.

Get Like Us – When Peer Pressure Yields Positive Results

Graphic Credit: Sustainable Fashion Academy

Fair Trade. Ethically Sourced. Eco-Friendly. Cruelty-Free. These are not just buzzwords for millennials. Businesses are now adopting more transparent practices within their supply chains but why? Could it be that catering to a millennial consumer market with a majority that will gladly pay 10% to 25% more for sustainable products and services could generate even more revenue? (World Economic Forum)

Or, could it be that the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are changing our worldview as consumers? Or, could it possibly be that we are seeing and feeling the effects of a world with an increase in natural disasters; an increase in human trafficking; an increase in poverty? All of the above. If businesses don’t begin to adopt sustainable practices, they will be left behind.

Adidas, H&M, ASOS, Levi Strauss and Co are just a few major apparel brands that are transforming their supply chains to become sustainable. New departments and positions have been created specifically for this purpose.

Adidas: The above chart is from the Adidas Group website. Adidas sustainability goals involve environmentally friendly products and worker empowerment. Just outside of Nairobi, KE is an artisan partner of Adidas, Artisan Fashion. They are just one of Adidas’ many international partners. Artisan Fashion works with artisans in Kenya to empower them by paying them a fair wage and through learning technical skills and training. I can’t speak to the other international partners but the fact that Adidas is working with a small UK company in Kenya shows significant improvement in their practices. Nike has also worked with an African partner (Piece & Co).

H&M: How many RTW (Ready-to-Wear) Fast Fashion companies do you know that actually have sustainability reports that track wages in the factories? Not many, if any. H&M has also introduced the Global Change Award through their H&M Foundation. This award invites participants from all over the world to submit their proposals for new innovative ideas (early stage innovation) that will positively influence the fashion industry. The winners receive money to help fund their ideas. If anyone wants to partner with me next year, let me know!


Their focus is to reduce environmental impact through designing and producing apparel that uses recycled materials, is biodegradable, and of good quality. They also value traceability and more transparency within material sourcing. By 2020, ASOS has some major sustainability goals that they are working to achieve. Through their partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, they have launched a pilot program to promote and practice circular fashion. “Circular fashion can be defined as clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.” (Circular Fashion).

Levi Strauss and Co: Levi’s has introduced Water<Less  and Waste<Less programs. These programs are a great start to creating a better approach to denim production. Producing denim is one of the most harmful products on the environment from cotton production releasing CO2 into the air to excessive water usage to toxic chemicals within the dyes. Levi’s are the pioneers of denim and it will take longer to completely transform their traditional production practices into more sustainable ones. They are on the right track and I look forward to following their transformation.


Why are businesses adopting sustainable practices within their supply chains?

McKinsey has the answer!

Consumers literally hold the power in their hands!

Failing to increase sustainability performance could slow a company’s growth. Companies need permission from governments, consumers, and investors to produce and to sell goods and services. With increased education in social and environmental issues by the UN and major governments worldwide, businesses are strongly encouraged to create more sustainable practices in order to simply produce their products. If you can’t produce, you can’t sell therefore you can’t make money and your growth transforms into failure.

Companies also benefit financially from adopting more sustainable practices due to these regulations on water and energy consumption. Companies will have to reduce the cost of their products and services (sustainability can be expensive) to serve the entire market. (Side note: This is why Levi’s began with a collection of sustainable denim rather than transforming their entire line. It’s expensive to be completely sustainable.) New innovations, like what the H&M Foundation is doing, create cost-effective ways of reusing and recycling items and power sources which saves money in the long run. (For example, reusing water throughout denim production.)


Lack of Knowledge or Turning a Blind Eye?

Many companies don’t directly deal with the sourcing of their raw materials. (Beyonce was in trouble with this last year – see Beyonce post for more details). There are tiers within a supply chain from Tier 0 being the retailer to Tier 4 being the raw material producer. Tier 0 will most likely never communicate with Tier 4 and will probably not even know who they are. This challenge can be mitigated by decreasing the tiers and working together. (Follow my future company, INZOVU for more answers).


McKinsey has offered three solutions to helping companies become sustainable so they won’t miss out on these opportunities!

1. Determine the critical issues within the supply chain. As I mentioned above, there are departments created specifically for this purpose. (Ethical Trade at ASOS. Sustainable Growth at Levi’s.)

2. Align the company’s supply chain goals with the global sustainability agenda. Partner with governments and NGO’s. Attend sustainability forums and conferences around the world. Adopt the UN’s SDGs within the supply chain.

3. Work with the suppliers to ensure transparency. This could mean eliminating tiers or being more involved within every tier of the supply chain. Again, there are now departments created for these sustainability roles.

Get like us! Become more sustainable in your buying habits and business practices. It will increase your profits while also decreasing negative environmental impacts and poverty!

Beyond Tradition: How One Sustainable Brand Breaks all the Norms

September 17, 2018
| Beyond Tradition: How one sustainable brand breaks all the norms
Studio 189 is a sustainable fashion brand, based in Accra, Ghana and co-founded by Abrima Erwiah and Rosario Dawson in 2012. Earlier this year, Studio 189 took home the top CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative prize which focuses on sustainability in the fashion industry. (“It’s really important to us that you know where your clothes comes from.” – Abrima Erwiah). They believe in using fashion to make the world a better place and their Spring 2019 Runway Show for NYFW proved exactly that.
Diversity on the Runway:
It’s important for brands to not only show ethnic diversity but diversity in all forms. Studio 189 captured everything from having a set of younger twins, to having amputee activist Mama Cax (Follow her on IG – she’s simply wonderful), to having albino models, to having different sized models model their clothing line. They represented those that are rarely represented in the fashion industry.
Studio 189 also had diversity in hairstyles. Hairstyles may not seem like that big of a deal but if you’ve ever watched a traditional fashion show, every model has the same hairstyle to create a more uniform look. Studio 189 went beyond those traditions and worked with each model’s hair in its own unique way. It shows that their brand represents the unique individual.

Celebration on the Runway:

Everything about their show was fun, including Rosario Dawson, one of the co-founders, participating as a model and dancer (pictured left).
Not only did they have a dance break showcasing Ghanain music but they also honored the late and fabulous Aretha Franklin with a tribute to her legacy by former American Idol contestant, Frenchie Davis.
This show was a celebration of culture, of people, and of life.

In the States, we often take life too seriously. We’re more divided which has created a negative vulnerability cloud over the entire country. But why? What’s the point? Fashion Week has always been a super serious event. I remember seeing Cardi B sitting next to Anna Wintour at Alexander Wang’s Fall Winter 2018 Runway Show and thinking such negative thoughts. “How could trashy Cardi B sit next to a legend in class like Anna Wintour? Disgusting.” But why? Why does it matter? This year, seeing on the news that Cardi B and Nicki Minaj got into a fight at Harper’s Bazaar’s ICON party during Fashion Week, I was wondering what two privileged rappers could be fighting about. But why? Why is Fashion Week so serious if we’re celebrating art and culture? Why is America so serious if we’re supposed to be the land of the free? Why are we constantly fighting when their is an abundance of solutions if we just work together to achieve them?
We need to celebrate life! We need to remember that this world is hard. Instead of fighting with each other, we should make it easier by helping each other out. I know it seems like a stretch but that’s why I loved this runway show so much. Different representations of people were together celebrating life, celebrating another culture, celebrating each other. This brand represents that in their sustainable practices, working with artists in Ghana. The founders even practice this in their everyday lives. I texted Abrima Erwiah saying how much I enjoyed her show and she texted back with a heart emoji. This blog post won’t be featured in Vogue but she still showed love for my comment. That’s how humans should behave. It’s not about making connections with people who you can benefit from. Its about connecting with people because we are all here together on the same level.

Beyoncé, Ivy Park, and the Sweatshop Scandal


Recently, Beyoncé has been attacked on Twitter because of her brand, Ivy Park. The attacks have accused Beyoncé of portraying contradictory messages about feminism in regards to the consumers who purchase her goods and the lack of female empowerment for the women who make her goods. Article

Image result for ivy park clothes

Articles dating back to 2016 have noted a collaboration with Ivy Park and British fast fashion company, Topshelf, working with MAS Holdings factory in Sri Lanka. It’s said that though MAS Holdings claims to provide ethical practices within their factories, they are actually not up to par. Whether or not this is true, we can only assume one way or the other, however, this story of Beyoncé’s supposed hypocrisy is not the main issue we need to be addressing.


1. The Importance of having a Transparent Supply Chain

2. The Importance of Creating an Empowering Wage

The Importance of having a Transparent Supply Chain

The majority of businesses on the corporate level (we’ll call it Tier 0) have no idea what’s going on when it comes to the other levels (Assembly – Tier 1, Manufacturing – Tier 2, Material Processing – Tier 3, and Material Production – Tier 4). They have pressure from stakeholders (could be investors or even consumers) to find the cheapest way of producing a product in order for the consumer price to be low and the profit to be high. That’s the nature of a capitalistic business. Their solution is to work with a supplier that claims to be ethical and follow ethical guidelines but the truth is, these suppliers either maintain the bare minimum of ethical standards or they lie and don’t practice ethics at all.

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For a business to truly be ethical, the owners, executives, investors, and advisers need to be aware of the way that each tier operates. This is costly and most businesses opt out of it and create a code of ethics instead. The problem with the code of ethics is that it only hits Tier 1 and possibly Tier 2. Tiers 1 and 2 may not have a code of ethics so the way that they receive their products from Tiers 3 and 4 could be completely unethical. It’s really difficult to track where a piece of clothing was actually produced, from it’s fiber to it’s assembly, in the current way businesses are conducting their manufacturing.

Ivy Park’s issue lies within Tiers 1 and 2. The manufacturer that they work with, MAS Holdings, claims to operate ethically according to their website. Although we can’t find the exact truth of what they pay the workers, we know that the real issue is that Beyoncé probably doesn’t have a clue as to what’s really going on in Sri Lanka. Most of these celebrities who have brands like this don’t make the logistic decisions about where to manufacture and how much those workers are being paid. Their main concern is the design of the product, the stockists, and maybe even the price of production and the retail price. Beyoncé was trying to create a sportswear line that empowers women – the women who wear the product. That was her main concern.

In the business climate like we have today, it’s nearly impossible to be 100% ethical.With that being said, I still think its important to have an incredibly transparent supply chain. Manufacturers should inform retailers where their clothes are coming from (Made in Thailand could actually mean Materials Sourced from China, Manufactured in Bangladesh, and Assembled in Thailand). Retailers should ask these types of questions because consumers are now starting to ask, especially with the millennial generation being so ethics conscious.

I would like to believe that if Beyoncé knew what was going on in Sri Lanka, she would work with other manufacturers. Knowledge is power. Information is the key to transformation.

The Importance of Creating an Empowering Wage

There are so many organizations that claim to pay their employees a “living” wage or a “sustainable” wage or whatever term they may use. The fact is, most of these wages may be above the minimal standards but they’re just enough to get by. Workers are still living paycheck to paycheck, not able to save and they often stay in that job forever; not really developing any new skills or achieving other goals they may have for themselves simply because they’re trapped in a system that isn’t really helping them.

I worked for an organization that produced luxury jewelry. I honestly believe that the organization does great work and is really trying to make a difference in the lives of the women they employ. However, I literally went to the wake of a woman who was on my team. She worked there for years and died there. She did join the organization at an older age but the entire tragedy really made me think about how NGOs and other organizations don’t have a proper graduation program or proper skills training. These things are vitally important when working with marginalized women. This woman I worked with wasn’t being empowered. I do realize that she was ill and it was difficult for her to work but I still feel like we could have done more to find out what her interests were and what she wanted to learn. We could have helped make her life more fulfilling by simply figuring out what her goals were and encouraging her to pursue them.

Looking at Beyoncé’s Ivy Park line specifically, it has been said that the workers that manufacture her clothing are paid 102 LKR an hour or roughly 64 cents an hour. That equals $25.60 a week, $102.40 a month, and $5,324.80 a year if they work 40 hours per week. According to Trading Economics, the average living wage a family needs to make per month is 42,700 LKR or $267.19. That would mean they need an hourly increase of about 265% or for their hourly wage to equal $1.70 just to make the minimum living wage for a family.

To play devil’s advocate, the below chart doesn’t specify how many family members are being provided for with this family wage. We also don’t know if the women that manufacture her clothing only care for themselves or if they have a family. However, based on other research of textile manufacturing factories, if the women are single, they are usually sending money back to their families and if they have a family, they’re usually the sole providers for those families.


Note: 1 Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) = 0.0063 USD

An empowering wage is a term I coined that simply takes ‘living wage’ or ‘sustainable wage’ to the next level. It’s a wage that exceeds the minimal requirements of workers being paid in a particular country. It involves heavy research in what the workers were making before (if anything), what their day to day and monthly expenses are, and what their short and long-term goals are. The empowering wage will also include 25% of wiggle-room for emergencies or for savings if there are no emergencies that month. This type of wage will not only provide a steady income at a good rate but it will also encourage a transition out of living paycheck to paycheck and allows for savings of future plans.

Again, I would like to believe that Beyoncé would strongly encourage the manufacturer her brand is working with to pay the women who produce her clothing line a wage that allows them to, at the very least, meet the living wage requirements for a family in Sri Lanka. However, the important thing to note is that it’s not just up to celebrities to make these changes. They do have immediate influence, but we as consumers also have influence. Maybe instead of criticizing Beyoncé and her supposed hypocrisy, we should look at our own in terms of our purchasing power. We should do our own research, ask our own questions, and make the decision not to purchase something that exploits other people.

Think about it.

Wardrobe Ethnography – What’s in your closet?

Wardrobe Ethnography

The study of people’s accumulated clothing in their wardrobe.

Wardrobe Ethnography is a way to understand people by simply looking what’s inside of their closets. It reveals consumer behavior such as why people buy certain styles and patterns. It also reveals character traits of a person and certain beliefs and values of a person.

My Wardrobe Ethnography Test:

How many items do you have (shoes, jewelry, bags, and clothing)?

Clothing: T-shirts = 23, Blouses = 19, Skirts = 5, Pants = 4, Jeans = 5, Dresses = 18, Jackets/Blazers = 11, Kimonos = 4, Vests = 3, Jumpsuits = 2, PJ’s = 7, Loungewear = 8, Swimwear = 6

Total Clothing: 115

Shoes and Accessories: Shoes = 16, Bags = 9, Scarves = 25, Jewelry = 42

Total Shoes and Accessories: 92

According to Closet Maid in 2016, the average American woman has 103 items of clothing in her closet.

How often do you wash your clothes and how do you wash them?

I wash them weekly with basins and then hang them on the balcony to dry. 

What is the oldest item in your closet and how old is it? Why do you still have it?

My purple peacock kimono given to me from my grandma as a souvenir from her many travels to Japan. I’ve had it since I was about 8 years old so it’s 19 years old and still in immaculate condition. Though it doesn’t fit around me anymore so I wear it open and wear the belt as a head band or necklace.

What is the newest item in your closet and when was it purchased?
A taupe kimono blouse. I purchased it secondhand at Toy Market in Nairobi in April 2018.
How often do you purchase new clothes?
Three times a year.
How often do you donate old clothes?
What is the most sentimental piece of clothing in your closet?
My purple peacock kimono given to my from my grandma as a souvenir from her many travels to Japan. I’ve had it since I was about 8 years old. 
What percentage of the items do you wear regularly?
If an item is ripped or torn, what do you do with it?
I use my sewing kit to sew it back together. In some cases, I modify it so that it looks that way on purpose. 
What color dominates your wardrobe? Why?
I pretty much have an equal amount of every color but I wear black and gray the most.
What percentage of your clothing is made of patterns or bright colors?


Describe your top three favorite outfits.

1. Light-wash, ripped jeans that are frayed at the ends with a black scoop-necked t-shirt tucked in and my charcoal colored Mahatma Gandhi quote, sleeveless, transparent blouse over it. The blouse has two slits on the sides so that it favors an Indian-style tunic blouse. I like to accessorize with my black and pink floral tie-belt which I wear as a necklace tied in a bow. The shoes are my black velvet sandals with one strap below my toes and one strap around my ankles. 

2. High-waist, dark-wash, denim skinny jeans with a white v-neck, sleeveless blouse, and either my maroon floral kimono or my purple peacock kimono. I like to wear my brass Ethiopian cross necklace but I shorten it so that the bottom cross hits the v of the neckline. I also wear my brass Egyptian ring. The shoes are my black velvet sandals with one strap below my toes and one strap around my ankles.  

3. Black, ripped jeans that are frayed at the ends with an over-sized denim blouse and a black scoop-necked t-shirt over it, tied into a knot on the side. I like to wear my black paper bead and lava bead necklace with it and my brass Egyptian ring. The shoes are my black velvet sandals with one strap below my toes and one strap around my ankles.  

My Wardrobe Ethnography Findings:

Travel Effects:

My wardrobe is based on my travels. I’ve lived in three different countries within the last two years so I’ve had to make drastic changes to my wardrobe including how I care for the items.


My wardrobe is eccentric. I modify my clothing items and wear things differently than how they were made to be worn and I mix and match new things on a consistent basis because I get bored with what I have.


I reuse and fix things when they become ripped or torn. It’s difficult for me to throw clothing items away. I also have a deep attachment to certain items because they represent different moments in life for me, much like a photograph.

What does my wardrobe say I value?

I believe it says that I value different cultures. The items I wear represent different cultures of people from the styles and symbols and patterns and textiles. I have items that represent Egypt, Ethiopia, Japan, India, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, the Cherokee Tribe, Nepal, Guatemala…just to name a few.

It also says that I value individuality. I’m always changing how I wear things and not necessarily using a dress as a dress or a belt as a belt. I like to experiment and see what looks good together and what looks like me. I often buy secondhand because more than likely no one else will have it. One time while in undergrad, I bought a black and white vertically striped blazer, before it was popular, at a thrift store. It was the most outlandish thing I’ve ever bought but I wore it occasionally when I went through my Janelle Monae phase.

What’s in your closet? What does your wardrobe say about you? Comment below
with pictures of your closet and what you believe it says about your values.

Sustainability Spotlight: LULEA

Today, I had the pleasure of touring a manufacturing facility right outside of Nairobi called LULEA or Luxury Leather.

LULEA manufactures luxury leather goods, specifically bags and wallets.

Edmond Chesneau is the designer and founder. He’s not only creatively talented but also talented in creating social impact in rural communities.

One craftsmen said, “Yes, we all know how to do everything here. I can sew, I can emboss, I can cut, I can run every machine.”

This is an amazing approach to social business. Many NGO’s or other social impact brands don’t offer any training for different skill levels. At Chesneau’s place, he teaches every single employee how to run every single machine. This allows for the employees to obtain a basket full of skills so that they can create their own opportunities someday.

Chesneau began this journey in Ireland. Though French by birth and accent, Chesneau believes he’s a citizen of the world. He’s worked on three continents in his 40+ years of designing, empowering people along the way.

This is what true empowerment looks like.


LULEA has their own brand of bags but they also work with private labels. One of my favorite brands they work with is EDUN. When I was there today, I was able to see a sneak peek of the upcoming Fall/Winter 2018 bag collection. Though my responsibilities were minimal, the craftsmen also let me help assemble a bag. This line is beautiful and complete quality made. From the cutting to the stitching, everything is 100% quality. They use machines to assist them but for the most part, a machine could not produce the quality items that are coming from these craftsmen and women’s hands.

My Opinion: Automation should be there to assist humans with making their jobs easier and less redundant. Touring the LULEA facility allowed me to see the type of automation and the limits of automation we should have in our businesses today; a type of automation that doesn’t take jobs away from people and replace them with machines. Chesneau uses his Irish machines to assist the craftsmen with producing more streamlined items.

LULEA brand bag from 2014

LULEA produces leather goods. There’s still a question of if brands should claim sustainability if they use animal products. Stella McCartney has gone completely vegan with her brand and doesn’t use leather or fur in her designs.

What’s your opinion on the leather matter? Is it OK to use leather goods and still be a socially sustainable brand?

My Opinion: I think it’s fine to use leather as long as the animal wasn’t killed in order to produce the leather. If the animal was killed by natural causes, then I feel that it’s OK to use their leather to make clothing and accessories. However, the process of producing leather is not sustainable and I think we need to look into this a bit further as we develop more sustainable and transparent practices in the fashion supply chain.

I enjoyed my day at LULEA and I’m excited to learn from Mr. Chesneau and to work with him during the rest of my time in Nairobi.

Woven Baskets – A Short History of my Favorite African Baskets

One of my favorite items to bring back home are the beautiful woven baskets. When I lived in Uganda, there were so many colors and patterns available in excess, but upon moving to Kenya, I realized that they were more scarce here. This led me to research a bit more on these baskets, what they’re used for, and where they’re originally made. Below, I’ll take you through a brief history of the different kinds of baskets made from different countries in Africa and some great ways to style them in your home. 
Image may contain: people sitting, living room, table and indoorRwandan Peace Baskets:
Despite Rwanda’s tragic recent history, they have really pulled together as a nation and successfully restored peace and unity. 
These  Agaseke k’amahoro baskets represent those virtues. The sisal baskets are woven and filled with gifts like beans or rice to provide peace within the community. The baskets are also made deeper and in a cylindrical shape with a lid. 
They come in a variety of colors and patterns; the most popular being black and white. Many people use them as wall decor, hanging multiple baskets on the wall with a color combination that accents the room. I’ve seen others use them to hold items like fruits or living room items. Any way you use them, they represent peace and unity within your home. 

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Tonga Baskets from Zambia:

The Tonga women live in the Southern province of Zambia. 
The baskets are very wide and flat and made with neutral colors. Traditionally, the baskets are weaved with creepers, palm leaves, and tiny vines and colored with natural vegetable dyes. The women use them for grain winnowing.
In the home, the most beautiful way to use them is to display them on the wall (pictured to the right). 
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Bolga Baskets from Ghana:
The Bolga baskets come from Bolgatanga in the upper East region of Ghana. The weavers use dried elephant grass to produce such beautifully crafted baskets. 
They come in bright colors, although traditionally, this was not the case. 
To display these baskets, you can hang them up outside using the leather loops. You can use them as colorful storage and put blankets or magazines inside. I’ve seen people use them to organize their children’s toys or even carry them as shopping bags. 
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How are your baskets displayed? Comment with pictures below!