This past Friday, Jeff Carvalho from Selectism and I went to a open table (sans table) with designers Rachel Comey, Steven Alan and Thuy Pham of United Bamboo. The question & answer session was moderated by GQ’s omnipresent style editor Mr. Adam Rapoport at the fashion week venue Mini Space.
To be honest, I was never totally clear as to the theme of the discussion. The crowd seemed to be a mix of jouralists and students, all seated attentively on the sprawling white sofas that were brought down from the roof deck due to the rain. The discussion was centered on the three brands, how they got their start, what influences their direction and how they market their products.
The topic that really caught attention was the Japanese market and its relationship with American labels. Rachel Comey stated that “Initially 80% of my business was with Japanese retailers.” Now however, the ratio has shifted and the market only accounts for 20% of the brand’s sales. This says to me that stores in Japan are more willing to take a chance on a newer line, while U.S. merchants want to take a wait and see approach. Makes sense when you consider the volume of deliveries in Japan (many retailers have new product nearly every week in Japan, where in the U.S. there are significantly less new product offerings), the eagerness to bring in new designers and the huge amounts of disposable income that many Japanese consumers possess. This massive availability of spending money is due in part to the large swath of younger, working Japanese people that continue to live with their parents. I took the opportunity to ask Steven Alan if the Japanese market had influenced his decision to produce many of his products domestically (because Japanese people like things made in the U.S. almost more than Americans do). Steven’s answer was yes, however the other factor was the ease of making products locally as opposed to overseas. When Steven started his clothing line (he was simply a retailer prior to launching his label) he “knew very little about manufacturing,” so using U.S. factories was a logical place to start. Additionally, it gives greater control and flexibility over production. If only more American brands would catch on. Not only would it be good for U.S. economy, it would be good for workers and the environment.