Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Growing Your Fashion Brand: Social Media and In-Person Networking

Social media and in-person networking can be a powerful combination for building your brand if used correctly. Both social media and in person networking have benefits when generating an audience for your product. Major marketing companies and online magazines, such as Market Maven, have outlined that in person networking will always be the most important tactic to use while growing your brand. Although, with the amount of social media influencers in the fashion industry, brands have seen fast growth just by having the right person advertise their product.
Social media is one of the most influential outlets on millennial’s, if a social media influencer promotes a product; the product will gain more exposure than products advertised through television and online. The other benefit to social media is potentially reaching a larger market of people because platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are available to everyone across the world. Social media is the best tool to use to grow your customer base outside of your area. As well as allowing you to converse with your clientele to hear feedback on your product and make improvements.
I conducted an interview with former Toronto shoe designer Daniel Verhelst of Proverb Shoes, to get his opinion on developing and selling his shoe line in early 2000 when social media didn't have as much of influence. Daniel believed that in-person networking was the most influential for growing his brand, which included attending tradeshows and organizing meetings with vendors. Daniel also said that cold calling helped, but was difficult, as some retailers do not care to see your product. He also mentioned that if social media were as relevant as it is now, it would have helped him to generate more of a customer base and expand his target market.
Also, it is critical to recognize which platforms suit your brand image. According to the article The 4 Essentials to Your Brand on Social Media published by, Instagram is a great outlet for creative companies and businesses who rely on images to sell their product such as, clothing designers and online stores. Facebook is also a great outlet as it is used by a variety of age groups from different countries. Pinterest is mainly used by females and can be perfect for selling jewelry and clothing to women of all ages. In addition to both of these platforms, smaller social media applications like Snapchat and Twitter can be utilized as well. One of the most crucial factors of the content you display on your social media sites is the creating advertisements and photos that you followers will want to share.   
In person networking has the ability to give potential clients in depth knowledge about your products, beyond the superficial attributes. When talking to potential customers in person, it allows them to understand what your company stands for and if your business aligns with their beliefs. These techniques can lead to long lasting business relationships because of the connection gained through in-person communication. Some people also perceive advertisements on social media as untrue because the person promoting the item was most likely paid to do so. This makes networking an even stronger approach because it is directly from the company. There is also more competition for brands on social media, and most platforms have become saturated with similar brands trying to rise to the top.
Social media seems to be the tool to use when trying to expand your clientele and in-person networking will solidify a relationship with a retailer and customer. Social media has also expanded the number of independent fashion designers and retailers because they can post photos of their merchandise on Instagram and the viewer can purchase directly from their site. Social media simplifies the process of buying goods, which in turn can generate more sales. Sales will also come from maintaining the relationships you build with other businesses because they are more likely to purchase from you again and recommend your company if they like your products. Some companies have thrived without the use of social media and others have gained their following from mainly posting on social media sites. There are many different ways to market your product, but by utilizing the capabilities in networking through social media and in person, you can grow your brand's audience and solidify your standing in the market.          

Monday, March 06, 2017

Stylist Seeks the Supremely Talented

Stylist Seeks the Supremely Talented
A stylist gives her opinions about finding Canadian designers.

            What’s the secret behind the clothes adorning the good looking hosts of Entertainment Tonight Canada? The “what” is actually a “who” and her name is Alicia McNamara. Brilliant as she is, Alicia holds a bachelor’s degree in education, a masters in teaching and has an established career in TV, working as a costume designer/supervisor for the series Beauty & the Beast. For just over a year now, Alicia has taken on the laborious task of dressing the hosts of ET Canada. Cheryl Hickey, Sangita Patel, Rick Campanelli and four other members of the ET team, owe their dazzling duds to the sharp style eye of Alicia. As someone who has interned alongside her, I’ve done all I can to become a sponge and soak up her wisdom when it comes to the Toronto fashion community and working in show business. Her dedicated work ethic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; putting in incredible amounts of overtime, always finding solutions to the many obstacles of styling and yet still managing to show up to the office every day looking her very best.
            As I talked with her on the phone about fashion life within the 6ix, we began to discuss the scope of it, which she described as “small but accessible”. Toronto-based designers may be challenging to seek out, but the majority of them are more than happy to let stylists such as Alicia borrow their garments, in exchange for some brand promotion. I asked her what she thought about the discovery of Canadian labels and she explained, “affordable fashion is so accessible that it’s hard to encourage people to seek out the Canadian designers, learn about them, find out the stores that are selling them, and that’s why it seems to be a small community of people who are aware of and support these labels.” She went on to explain that one of the great things about working for ET Canada, is that she can encourage the hosts to wear Canadian designers and then promote them on social media. Cheryl Hickey has over 36 thousand followers on Instagram, Sangita Patel has over 35 thousand followers and the official ET Canada page has 33 thousand. Every OOTD - (outfit of the day) worn by each of the hosts gets mentioned on ET’s page and then the hosts themselves frequently post a thank you to whoever’s outfit they happen to be wearing. In addition to the social media, the brands worn on the show are also mentioned in the end credits. So through the show, Alicia is able to showcase the talent of Canadian designers such as Alexa Pope, Eliza Faulkner and Lucian Matis, (all worn this year).
“I encourage people to attend the fashion shows, to come to fashion week… we need more of a group effort in our community to get people interested. Past the people who wear the fashion, past the people who study fashion… how can we get every day Canadians interested in Canadian Fashion? By promoting them. It’s great when labels such as Greta Constantine become such an international sensation, showing at Paris fashion week and such, it does make the rest of the world look at Canadian Fashion.” I asked her what she thought Canadian brands should do in the future in terms of promotion. She said that the answer lay in showrooms; making Canadian apparel more accessible to other parts of the world, especially more in the US. Menswear line Indochino has opened a showroom in Los Angeles to show off their Canadian style and it would be great if other brands were able to leap over there as well, since LA is such a fashion leader. Another avenue for promoting brands currently lies in Yorkdale with their FashionCAN pop-up shop which features exclusively Canadian designers to celebrate our great white north. Some designers you can expect to find in there now include Bustle & Bustle, Sprouts, Christopher Bates, The Feral, Grayes, Jennifer Torosian, Lamarque, Mikhael Kale, and Sosken Studios.
At this point in our conversation, Alicia’s son walked in the room needing help with something. He’s 4 years old and already he’s taking after his stylish mother. He says when he’s older he wants to be a dress maker so he can make pretty dresses for his mum and other people to wear. Many times in the past Alicia would tell me about funny instances when he had pointed at women on the streets and said, “Oh mummy, I don’t like her clothes.” She also told me that he loves to pick out his own clothes in the morning; his favorite t-shirt being one with a large graphic of a heart and the word “mom” inside it.
I asked her, “Who would you consider to be one of your favourite designers here in Canada?” Already having a guess of who she was going to name, she said, “Stephan Caras”. Those who have had the privilege to view some of his gowns up close know just how exquisite every detail is and how beautiful his garments are. Alicia explained, “It’s a family run business and they’re all such friendly people… they’re authentic, they have integrity and they hold the highest quality of craftsmanship. They’re definitely a go-to, and probably the best, in terms of high end couture in Canada. It’s all art.”

Fast fashion is so accessible these days that I think a lot of young Canadian designers are afraid to take the plunge into the saturated garment industry. But Canadian fashion is dependent upon new faces emerging who are subsequently more likely to become successful and represent Canada on a global scale. We have talent and we deserve to be recognized. Alicia is one stylist who will continue to promote Toronto-based artists and she hopes that more people will do the same.

Fast Fashion: The Bible for Basic B*****s

Ever look at someone walking down the street and think, “hey… I have that jacket!”? I know for a long time the olive green anorak could be counted on numerous bodies walking past me in the school hallways. It was the latest and greatest at the time, and it had to be from Aritzia. I bet every female or male, no gender bias here, owns one in their closet right this minute. Is it just me, or does it seem like fashion is no longer a creative way to express yourself? We all look up to some sort of influence to get style ideas, and if you don’t… well then props to you, you can stop reading this article right now. What I’m trying to say is: we let celebrities like Kendall and Kylie Jenner influence how we want our image to be portrayed. Since we all can’t get plastic surgery and butt implants, I guess stealing their style will do. As soon as one of those sisters wear something, it blows up. For example, wearing your lace bralette over a tee. Who brought that old 90’s look back? Kendall did. What about the corset trend? You guessed it: Kylie. Fashion isn’t about showing off your personal style anymore, so take off your bomber and unclasp your choker because, reality check: you’re basic.

It’s okay! I’m basic too. I just want to bring up some thoughts that my brain has been brewing up. Stores like Forever 21 and H&M make it so easy to latch onto a trend. For example, I wonder how many of us purchased fishnet tights when they resurfaced on our Instagram feeds. I know I did. Fast-fashion retailers make it so easy to buy into something that’s trending, because it’s so cheap! Nowadays people get bored so quickly and retailers need to keep up with our everlasting need to have the latest look. Because of our fast turnover rate, we fallback on the stores with cheap and affordable prices. Especially we students (unless you're loaded, then please fast-forward to the end of this article). Where do we draw the line? When will we stop letting celebrities tell us what to wear and what detox tea to drink? What happened to the good old days when fashion was a way of expressing your personality and not someone else’s?

Fast fashion can be easily described as catwalk designs reinvented by retailers and moved quickly in order to get into the customers’ hands. At an extremely affordable price, might I add. I’ve mentioned two of the most popular fast fashion retailers, but there are so many more. Stores like Zara, Topshop, Bluenotes, and the Gap all fall into this category. Some American retailers that you might recognize would be Rue21, Wet Seal, and Charlotte Russe. All of these retailers aim are to deliver fast-moving trends at budget-friendly prices. I must admit, it’s very addicting shopping fast fashion. I love the fact that I can put a whole outfit together under $100. But as much as we love these stores, there’s a lot of negative aspects that we are neglecting to think about. First of all, these famous retailers are neither ethical nor sustainable. There is a reason why these garments are so cheap. Bare with me now; things are about to get a little morbid. A lot of these retailers manufacture their clothing in places like Bangladesh, where the average garment worker’s income is about $73 a month. What’s even sadder is their income used to be about $30 a month according to a Global Labour Rights article on the Rana Plaza Tragedy. After a factory collapsed causing over 1,100 deaths, their wages went up. So now you see why these retail prices are so low; the garment workers only make about 20 cents an hour. 
So, what do we do? How do we break our fixation on keeping up with the Ks as well as the latest trends that we “must” have? Well first of all, we need to start spending a bit more money on the basic pieces that need to be in everyone’s wardrobe. Yes, spending a considerable amount of money on basics can be a tough pill to swallow, but you’ll thank me in the long run. The quality of these garments will last you a lot longer than the cheap garments you used to buy. Some retailers that can make you feel better about spending your money are: Lacausa and Everlane for your basic necessities and Reformation for your fancier outfits. These three retailers are sustainable, eco-friendly and trustworthy brands. 

Fast fashion needs to be a part of the past. Women’s Wear Daily polled a large amount of designers and asked them their opinion on fast fashion. Karl Lagerfeld said something that really spoke out to me, he said: “Fashion is a sport now: You have to run.” It feels like there is a constant need to keep moving, we can’t stay on one style for too long. However maybe its time to take off our running shoes, focus less on being basic, and more on our essential fashion needs.

How important is having a ‘Made in Canada” label to Canadians?

How important is having a ‘Made in Canada” label to Canadians? 

As price conscious Canadians, many people look at the price tag before looking at the “made in” label. When looking at where a garment was made, most people do not consider the conditions of the factories where the garment was manufactured and the wages of the factory workers. Although dollar signs accompanied by small numbers may seem appealing, are we taking advantage of unfair wages and poor working conditions or are we supporting developing countries?

Who Really Made the Garment? 

When purchasing a garment, most consumers don’t think of how it got from a raw material to a finished product. In developing countries, the factory workers are paid very small and insufficient wages. In fact, the wages are so low that in countries such as Cambodia and India workers will make slightly over $100 a month and workers in Bangladesh will make less than $100 a month, according to Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution during an interview TakePart. These salaries may not even be enough for what most Canadians may see as basic necessities like food, shelter, and clothing. The working conditions of the garment factories are extremely unsafe, and have even resulted in multiple deaths in countries such as Bangladesh. A consumer’s desire for cheap goods is what keeps these factories in the conditions they are and what keeps these garment factory workers to continue working for these extremely low wages. Although, in a way, we may be giving many people in these developing countries jobs, we are also taking advantage of the factories underpaid workers. If the working conditions were better, such as the factories being built into safe structures and the workers being paid fair wages, we would not be getting our garments from these countries for the drastically low prices we do. Although lots of Canadians care about these issues, many will not take the time to become educated on the extent of the working conditions in garment factories of developing countries or do not want to know so they will not feel guilty.

The Truth Revealed to Many Canadians after Joe Fresh Factory Fire 

Many Canadians became aware of the extent of the awful conditions in garment factories of developing countries when the brand Joe Fresh, carried in Canadian retailers, had a fire in one of their factories in a developing country. The Rana Plaza in Bangladesh came crashing down, resulting in the death of more than 1,100 people according to an October 11 editorial by CBC news. Even after this disaster that was all over the news, many Canadians continued to support companies that have their clothes manufactured in factories in developing countries and even continued supporting brands that had their clothes manufactured in the Bangladesh garment factory that caught on fire.

Buying Fast Fashion is Supporting Jobs in Developing Countries

Although we are taking advantage of underpaid factory workers, we are also creating jobs in developing countries. Since so many companies are part of the fast fashion movement, which is trendy and cheap garments that change every few weeks rather than every season, slight changes have been made such as the Accord and Alliance’s enforcement of safety standards says Orsola de Castro during her interview with TakePart. Since so many people support fast fashion by buying the cheap garments and accessories, it may be impossible to get all Canadians to stop buying from companies that have their garments produced in developing countries. That being said, this could be the reason for the changes necessary to make the working conditions in these
countries slightly better. Although, the working conditions and wages are nowhere near where they should be for garment factory workers, the continuous purchases may create laws and safety policies and procedures that protect the workers.

Does ethical fashion have the potential to trump fast fashion?

Does ethical fashion have the potential to trump fast fashion?

By simply watching the 6 o clock news, we can be well aware of the unfortunate circumstances and suffering that goes on in the world. What some people may not know is how closely fashion is related to much of the suffering that goes on overseas, in developing countries, and even in our own backyards from the production of the clothing that we wear every day.
The long held debate on animal furs, overworked children, poor wages, and environmental impacts has plagued the fashion world for decades. The ultimate question is, where do we draw the line? What would most people prefer, cheaper and quicker clothing or a higher price point that honors social responsibility? In the perspective of Canadian fashion, I asked the question, “can ethical fashion actually become a popular demand? Or will it always be seen as overpriced and undervalued?” The housing market in Ontario is at an all-time high, wages are low, and ethical fashion may not be the first thing on everyone’s minds. Within the next ten years, are slow fashion concepts a viable movement or is fashion simply not a sustainable industry?
            We have seen success in “main stream” ethical brands such as American Apparel, and now, Canadian Apparel. However ethical brands are not leading in any major circles, and are seen are more of a luxury to the upper class, despite their design or quality. Also note the popularity of brands such as Canada Goose who are known for using animal fur in their products. I have had the opportunity to intern with Laura Siegel, a Toronto based fashion designer who employs artisans from rural villages all over the world to sustain traditional cultures and crafts. Along with ensuring ethical working conditions and living wages are provided to the skilled artisans, she collaborates with organizations to ensure they receive mentorship and workshops to learn how to maintain practicing their craft, provide for their families, education on wealth management, business practices and more. The Laura Siegel Collection ranges from $150 to $1,500, and is designed in a way to mirror the cultures in which they are constructed in. When asked about how “fast fashion” is changing the way we relate to our clothing in an interview with Ecouterre in 2015, Laura said that, “fast fashion has grown to a point where many of us view clothing as disposable. And how can we not with the volumes being pumped out each and every season by large brands? On the other hand, the growth of fast fashion has caused an alternative movement in the industry where quality triumphs quantity, a return to a slower and more sustainable way of making clothing. And that is a very positive thing.” 
This is an optimistic approach to the ethical fashion issue, and Laura believes that the demand for ethical fashion is only going to grow in the future. And how may it be possible to market ethical fashion and enhance this movement? Laura believes that, “transparency provides consumers a spectrum of information needed to make a purchasing decision” according to the same interview with Ecouterre in 2015. In order words, if more people were able to see exactly how their clothing was produced, such as where a garment made, who made it, and what were the conditions for those across the supply chain – an awareness and regard for ethical clothing may continue to grow. It is designers like Laura Siegel who are revolutionizing the fashion industry and making a separation between quality and quantity.
            Diamonds in the rough like Laura are few among the sea of highly marketed, fast fashion brands that are able to reach consumers on a level that smaller collections are not. The production costs of producing one garment made by a skilled artisan is substantially higher than one produced in a factory setting. Therefore, ethical designers adhere to those consumers who are socially conscious, aware, and determined to find an original piece. Unfortunately, this group is very few in comparison to consumers who are more likely to buy a piece because of the design, price, or quality. As mentioned before, Canada Goose capitalizes on the fact that they use real animal fur and feathers in their clothing, but the quality of the product trumps the fact that some may not find it entirely ethical.
Ultimately, the way to get more people to “go green” is to raise awareness of overseas conditions and the process in which clothing is made. But is guilt tripping consumers into buying clothing out of their price range entirely ethical? Probably not. The downfall of ethical fashion is that despite its popularity the price point can never be dropped because of the higher production costs and money that is spent bettering another Country’s economy, or spent producing within our Canadian borders. Therefore, rather than focusing on the major contrast between brands like Laura’s and fast fashion brands, perhaps the only way to maintain an ethically conscious industry is for all (or the majority) of the big, fast fashion brands to slightly limit their social and environmental impact. In a price driven economy, that is largely effected by trends and propaganda, slow fashion may remain a small fish in a big pond.

An interview with Alexia Panakos, creator of GHOST GiRL GOODS.

Alexia Panakos, a George Brown College graduate in Fashion Design and Techniques, is now enrolled in two other programs, here at GBC (Fashion Business Industry and Fashion Management). Proud owner and creator of GHOST GiRL GOODS, a brand with a fusion of Hip Hop and Pop styles, that combine sounds of music, energy of dance, and Alexia’s love for Japanese fashion and culture, is how Alexia describes best her brand, where she introduces unique style clothes with bright, bold colours and fun designs, produced and mainly manufactured in Canada, by herself.

Since Alexia is a Canadian-based designer and entrepreneur with a very individualistic mindset and unique designs, I ask her what she could bring to the Canadian fashion scene, to which she simply reply to it by saying that, she just wants to show people how fun fashion can be! Through her designs, she wants people to think they’re strange and cool, unique and different. Also, all the many possibilities with clothing and our imaginations can make anyone go wild! “I want to bring these fun wild designs to people here in Canada and hope to expand even further throughout the world.” Although, here in Canada, “I see people are starting to become a little more comfortable with some more unique design. However, most people are still too fixated on following these mainstream trends that are everywhere on social media. I feel like too many people want to look the same and there are not enough people who want to express themselves more because maybe they fear judgment.”, since Alexia is an “outside of the box” designer, the concept of Canadians identifying themselves more with the generic, cookie cutter, designs, and brands that everyone knows, is something that doesn’t “sit to well” with the designer, making her believe that Canada might not have a big enough platform in the fashion industry, to accommodate her uniqueness and freshness, to which she also defines Canadian fashion as, “boring, black and white, “minimalistic”, copies, same as the USA, influenced by social media and celebrities, people want to be different yet they are the same.”
            Since, she is such a unique designer, as I previously mentioned, I wondered where her inspiration comes from, where she replies saying she doesn’t follow any current trends, she usually creates designs based on photos from Japanese fashion blogs or just everyday life. For example, her most recent collection “Bubble Tees”, where she mixes different flavors of bubble tea with mermaids.
            Everyone has fashion icons, and Alexia is no exception, although she doesn’t have a Canadian fashion icon, she has an international fashion icon, a Japanese designer, and creator of the brand 6% DOKI DOKI, Sebastian Masuda. He also helped create the Harajuku fashion movement, something that the designer is quite fond of, because of the of the bright colors and funky designs, “I really admire his vision and his design because it is so fun and unique.”  
            From a more local perspective, Toronto is the place to be. Right now, Alexia has an e-commerce, and that’s how she makes her business, and like every businesswoman, she would also like to open a brick and mortar one day, however when I asked her, where she would locate herself, she said that in “Toronto, mostly on Queen Street, that shops tend to rotate sometimes. Shops open and close and new shops come in their place. I feel like that’s because Toronto is growing and becoming more expensive, therefore small businesses may not be making enough money to keep up with rent and expenses, therefore closing their shop. I feel like I would love to open my own shop someday, but I fear that the pricing may not be worth my risk. It may be easier for me to operate mainly online, especially since I have such a niche target market.”, for now to find GHOST GiRL GOODS products, only through the website
            And lastly, Panakos, as designer/entrepreneur is always trying to find different thinks to bring to her collections and business, new things, as tech couture, where Alexia, has quite the opinion about it, “Tech couture is a pretty interesting topic because it is creating new ways to make clothing. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a problem because it can have a lot of great impact on the world, such as less pollution. Even things such as 3D body scanning are quite useful for those who are creating the clothes. I feel like people would probably be able to easily adapt to the change if it were to be made, but at the same time it could be difficult for some.” And green fashion, seems to be the topic on everyone’s mind right now, and a lot of designers, are trying to contribute to a better fashion footprint, and of course, Alexia would love to also contribute, if she ever has the opportunity to do so.

            Alexia Panakos, is a great inspiration, and after interview her, it made me realise that she is the true definition of Canadian fashion, and showcase of true Torontonian multicultural society, bringing the Japanese culture in to Canadian fashion.