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The Tao Of Band T-shirts

November 23, 2013 1 comment
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MS VANESSA MURRAY
Thursday 21 Nov 2013

Ask a music fan about the band t-shirt they’re wearing, and they’ll tell you a story that is part hero

worship, part nostalgia and part product placement.

It’s worrying times for musos, as illustrated by this fetching infographic from culture jamming site Mashable, which shows that record store sales dropped 76 per cent between 2000 and 2010, and in 2012, digital music sales surpassed physical music sales for the first time ever.

But one thing remains constant: the appeal of the band t-shirt. Lately, a marketing strategy called ‘bundling’ has seen band t-shirts being dangled –– like washable, wearable carrots –– in front of in store and online shoppers to incentivise the purchase, rather than the sharing or streaming or pirating of digital music. It figures. Band t-shirts are infused with cool, they’re highly collectible, and they’re a surefire way for musicians to make a buck.

I bought my first band t-shirt at my first gig: The Cure‘s Wish tour of 1992. I was swept up in the kind of tearful, screaming hysteria unique to teenage girls en masse (if there were a collective noun for a group of teenage girls, it would surely be an hysteria, or a hormone). The screaming happened right after I downed a quart of red wine port and right before I vomited it, pink and chunky, all over the front window of the concert venue – and if that’s not a memory worthy of a souvenir t-shirt, I don’t know what is.

According to Johan Kugelberg, author of the 2007 book Vintage Rock T-Shirts, when band t-shirts first appeared in the 1960s they weren’t initially produced for commercial use, but as promotional giveaways. Somewhat cynically, Kugelberg doesn’t put the success of the band t-shirt down to the power of music: “what broke band t-shirts was mass distribution, just like everything else.” He’s right. American entrepreneur Michael Vasilantone developed and patented a rotary, multicolour garment screen printing machine in 1960, serigraphy hit the garment trade and boom! The kids started going nuts for band t-shirts.

Early band t-shirt designs are deliberately homemade and slapdash, but by the 1980s record companies had cottoned on to their promotional and income generating potential, and the production and merchandising of band t-shirts was a professional endeavour taken almost as seriously as album design. Standalone symbols of big bands reminiscent of advertising logos –– the Rolling Stones’ ‘tongue and lip design’, or AC/DC’s iconic thunderbolt –– emerged and began informing our visual lexicon.

“Bands have known that t-shirts are a good way to put a nice bit of money in the kitty for a long time,” says Anthony Goddard of independent, Sydney-based music company Inertia, where tour-related t-shirts and hoodies make up around 75 per cent of all merch income.

Goddard points that when a tour happens, most people have already bought the album, or the record, and they’re across the show; the t-shirt is a memento. His first band t-shirt is a case in point; an L7 t-shirt brought at Sydney’s (disastrous) Alternative Nation festival in 1995. Goddard turned up in one t-shirt and left in another, but not without getting caught in a mud fight first. He still has the t-shirt, and it still bears the scars. “The mud,” says Goddard, “just wouldn’t come out.”

“The t-shirt is part of the overall world that develops around the record,” he continues. “A band that puts some thought into their merch will do very well with it. These people are creative beyond the realm of the notes that they play or the words they sing, and a lot of bands take control of their merch.”

Swedish rockers The Hives and American band The Strokes are encouraging fans to buy their music by bundling it with t-shirts, and closer to home, indie label Create/Control are incentivising fans with various takes on the CD + t-shirt + vinyl + MP3 download package.

“Merchandise can now be used as a standalone product with a download code printed on it. I‘ve seen this done overseas, but not so much in Australia –– yet,” comments trend spotter Rowena Crittle of Sydney’s Mammoth Merchandise. Rapper Mos Def was on board with the concept back in 2009, when he released his album The Ecstatic as a t-shirt (a ‘Music Tee’) with the album’s cover art on the front, its track list on the back, and a download code for the album on a swing tag.

But it’s genuine era vintage band t-shirts that are highly collectible, tangled as they are in the skein of our early musical crushes, tribal affiliations, and forays into the adult worlds of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, and infused with what science fiction writer Philip K Dick termed ‘historiocity’ –– the infusion of an object with the zeitgeist of its experience.

“Rare or limited edition t-shirts, like early Rolling Stones or Sex Pistols t-shirts, can be worth hundreds, even thousands,” says Giles Moon of Australia’s largest auction house,Leonard Joel. “But we don’t often get them here; it’s a case of availability. Most of the really big rock bands from the 1960s and ’70s were American or British, and that’s where the traffic is.”

Wane ‘Swampy’ Jarvis – Australia’s most famous roadie and a well-regarded tour manager – is an exception. Swampy’s career spanned 35 years and he toured everyone, from theStones and Led Zeppelin to Cliff Richard and Iron Maiden. He kept every coaster and tour jacket and back stage pass, and when he died in 2003, his collection was catalogued and auctioned.

“The great thing about vintage shirts is that, unlike collectibles that sit on a shelf and gather dust, you can show them off,” says Patrick Klima, Head Treasure Hunter at WyCo Vintage, a Kansas City-based t-shirt trader who has shifted more than 5,000 shirts. He sources them online, from industry insiders, or from people who come to him with their collections or second-hand finds and has a diverse group of clients, from celebrities to common folk. TheSlayer t-shirt Dave Grohl wore when Foo Fighters performed and took out five awards – and Grohl gave ‘that’ speech – at the 2012 Grammys? Yup.

Most of WyCo Vintage’s shirts are priced between $100-300 dollars. But occasionally, they come across a real doozy. The most expensive shirt Klima has sold was a Led Zeppelin Tour Over Europe t-shirt, which went for US$3,000. A study in grey marl, the front features the band and tour name in red font, framing a weathered, bowler-hatted bloke looking skywards. On the back are the names of the thirteen European cities and dates scheduled for the tour which, although they didn’t know it at the time, turned out to be their last.

Some fans set out to collect everything in a specific genre, like metal. Iron Maiden shirts are highly collectible because different tour stops had different shirts, so only a small amount of t-shirts were printed for each city. Then, there are those who want to rewrite their own history.

“Once, I had a guy who purchased a Purple Rain t-shirt tell me that his mom wouldn’t let him attend the show, and the next day at school all his friends had the shirt. It bummed him out and he was kind of reliving that time by getting the shirt,” recalls Klima. [Then there’s, uh…‘One Direction fan pays $5,060 for Harry Styles’ worn T-shirt’ – Ed.]

Others jump on board a band’s cool factor. Metallers the world over ground their teeth in impotent rage when Miley Cyrus jumped on board the rock chick look, wearing a high street reproduction of an Iron Maiden shirt while holidaying in Hawaii. We’ve also witnessed Kelly Clarkson in a Janis Joplin t-shirt, and Lindsay Lohan in a Def Leppard t-shirt. The UK company responsible for said reproductions, Amplified, has also appropriated the style ofAC/DCGuns n RosesPink FloydBlondieJudas Priest, and KISS for today’s shoppers to subjugate themselves to.

Does the world really need another KISS t-shirt? I don’t think so; KISS’ lead singer, Gene Simmons, is the grand wizard of narcissistic self-promotion. He and his jump-suited, face-painted band mates have licensed their name to more than 3,000 items – take a browse here. They’ve sold more paraphernalia and generated more money from merchandise than any other artist in the history of music.

Thankfully, not all bands (and band t-shirts) blast their message at full bore. Take the Dead Kennedys. Only a committed fan will recognise the stylised white, black and red ‘DK’ symbol that marks the hardcore punk band’s albums and merchandise. Horror punk outfit The Misfits‘ white skull? Snap. This sort of subtle branding creates an inner circle of clued up fans and leaves all others in the dark; an obtuse cultural reference rendering the ignorant observer deaf-mute.

Others lack subtly, but retain cool. Today, The Ramones are to band t-shirts what Che Guevara is to…all the other t-shirts. The New York punk band refused to sell out and was never a commercial success, but developed a cult underground following. T-shirt sales were – and still are – their most significant source of income.

“These shirts mean a lot to people,” comments Klima, who determines a t-shirt’s value based what similar items have sold for in the past, and how relevant they are at any given time.Beastie Boys t-shirts drew a premium in May 2012, for example, following the death of MCA, and people are currently fighting it out over anything connected with Lou Reed. Been there, done that, got that t-shirt? Keep hold of it.

Vanessa Murray (@MsVanessaMurray)

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New York: Boom town for Australian fashion

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

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 Friday 22 Nov 2013

While stores close and labels fold down under, New York appears to be a hot bed of retail activity for Australian fashion designers.

In case you missed it and want to start spreading the news – sass & bide are now officially open for business in the Big Apple after launching the brand’s first international flagship store on Thursday.

sass & bide: NYC is located smack bang in the middle of foot-traffic rich Soho – alongside Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Carven and Isabel Marant.

Founders and Bernie Brookes’ darlings,Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, have been big on the international fashion circuit for years thanks to regular showings at New York and London Fashion Weeks.

“Opening an international flagship is a long held dream of ours. It’s an exciting time for us. We’re really feeling the energy of New York and have a strong vision for our US expansion plans,” brand director Clarke said.

The 2,000 square-foot space at 480 Broome Street, will stock women’s ready to wear, accessories and all denim ranges.

Meanwhile, across town, kind of, fellow Aussie frock star Nicky Zimmerman was introducing Man Repeller to Zimmerman while opening the label’s newer, bigger and better flagship boutique.

The 3,800 square-foot store is an upgrade from the first New York space which was opened in 2012 and now joins the Zimmerman US chain which was established in 2011 when the sisters launched a boutique in downtown LA.

“The new address for the New York flagship will be followed by an expansion into several additional locations and markets – with a focus on Manhattan and California – within the next three years,” a statement read.

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At the Leading Edge of Sustainable Development

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

TRIPLE PUNDIT

Scotland Embraces Natural Capital

 By  | November 22nd, 2013 
Credit: Highland Wildcat

Credit: Highland Wildcat

Determining and accounting for the monetary value of ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services and factoring them into the calculus of business decision-making is a very tall order. Yet, that’s precisely what’s necessary if humanity is to avoid environmental catastrophes of unprecedented scope and scale over the course of the 21st century, according to proponents of “natural capital,” nearly 500 of whom from 35 countries gathered in Edinburgh November 21-22 for the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital.

World Forum host government Scotland wasn’t reticent about lending support and providing leadership to the Natural Capital movement. During the World Forum’s opening day, First Minister Alex Salmond announced the launch of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, a public-private partnership dedicated to charting a course for ongoing development and adoption of the natural capital framework and methodologies throughout Scottish society.

A new framework for socioeconomic development

Five founding partners are throwing their weight behind the cross-sectoral initiative: The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group, the University of Edinburgh, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS) and the Institute of Directors.

“During the Year of Natural Scotland, I am delighted to welcome delegates from over 35 countries to Edinburgh for the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital,” the First Minister was quoted in a press release.

“This is the first major global conference to discuss the challenge of ‘valuing’ and conserving our natural resources: our high quality water, land and air. I hope this event becomes a regular fixture and that Scotland, a country with a rich and diverse natural environment, will continue to play a pivotal role.

“The World Forum on Natural Capital is a world-first in terms of understanding how natural capital accounting can inform decision making by everyone from small business to large NGOs,” added Simon Mine, chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. “The Scottish Forum will use the understanding we are developing to inform how we go about protecting and improving Scotland’s natural capital.

The new Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, the First Minister explained, “will bring together public, private and voluntary sectors to help protect and rebuild Scotland’s natural capital. It will also offer leadership in the hope of increasing action both in Scotland and beyond.”

Peatlands and beyond

The restoration, conservation and sustainable use of Scotland’s peatlands will be “an early focus for the Scottish Forum,” he continued, “which is especially fitting since they form a substantial part of the Scottish landscape and are widely recognized as important in climate change mitigation, biodiversity and water quality. The Scottish Government has long acknowledged the benefits of peatland restoration and is making every effort to conserve this vital and valuable resource.”

Credit: The Big PeatCredit: The Big Peat

Scottish Wildlife Trust chairman Simon Mine drew attention to the value and socioeconomic foundation ecosystems provide. Scotland’s natural assets provide services and products worth between an estimated £21.5 ($34 billion) to £23 billion ($37.25 billion) per year to Scotland’s economy.

“The value of Scotland’s natural assets to sectors like tourism, food and drink, and to society as a whole is huge. Without a better appreciation of this value we cannot properly track the damage that we are doing to our natural assets, nor can we properly incorporate this value into decision making,” Mine highlighted

A strategic vision based on Natural Capital

The inclusive nature of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital’s initiative to conserve and make sustainable use of its ecosystems and natural resources is elaborated in its strategic vision:

  • A Scotland in which all parts of society, including companies, NGOs, the government, public bodies and communities, recognize our reliance on natural capital and the impact we have on it.
  • A Scotland in which an understanding of our relationship with natural capital leads to action to protect and rebuild it.
  • A Scotland which is exercising leadership to galvanize action both here and beyond Scotland’s borders.

More specifically, the following three main objectives have been set out:

  • Calculate the monetary value of Scotland’s natural capital and the cost of depleting it. This will involve coordinating experts including accountants, people from business, academics and policymakers.
  • Communicate to a broad range of businesses and other stakeholders the risk of depleting Scotland’s natural capital and the huge economic value from protecting and enhancing it.
  • Set up collaborative projects to deliver tangible action to protect and enhance Scotland’s natural capital.

Commenting on the new initiative, “Scotland’s natural capital is one of its most defining features and it has never been more important to protect and enhance it,” stated Ian Marchant, chairman of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group Ian Marchant.

“Only by creating an economic environment that recognizes the value of the services provided to us by nature will businesses and other interested parties be able to make the informed decisions that will lead them to invest in preserving and improving Scotland’s natural environment.”

“Crucially we hope to use the principles of natural capital to help more businesses see the benefits of acting differently and galvanize more action to invest in Scotland’s natural capital,” added Scottish Wildlife Trust chairman Mine, who also hopes to see Scotland’s natural capital initiative galvanize action internationally and be taken up widely in the U.K. and countries around the world.

“We hope that the Scottish Forum will provide a blueprint to other countries of how they can encourage collaboration to find new ways to protect and enhance the natural environment, to the benefit of their people and their economies,” he stated.

“There is no reason why England and Wales should not be taking this just as seriously as every country has as much a financial stake in their natural assets as Scotland has.”

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November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

 

Levi Strauss Develops Triple Bottom Line Khakis

 By  | November 14th, 2013  1 Comment
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levi wellthreadLevi’s latest creation – the Wellthread Docker – launched during BSR last week to lots of press due to the line’s sustainability cred. It’s no wonder. The line’s designers challenged themselves to consider sustainability from the first moment of the design process, which led to some stark innovations in product durability, materials, and manufacturing. This remarkable feat is a great example of embedded sustainability, rather than that troublesome “bolt-on” sustainability that so often plagues companies that are trying to do the right thing.

What interested me the most about Wellthread is its focus on both environmental and social innovations. I wanted to hear more about how Levi Strauss innovated to improve workers’ well-being. So, I sat down with Levi Strauss & Co VP of Global Sustainability, Michael Kobori, to get the full story on the social side of Wellthread and other Levi Strauss products.

A brief history of worker well-being

Worker well-being at Levi Strauss is not a new concept. In fact, the company launched the Improving Workers Well-being program way back in 1991. This supplier code of conduct for worker safety was largely a compliance arrangement. In 2011, Levi Strauss decided to go beyond compliance to bring on the next wave of change. They teamed up with Ceres to publish a white paper on worker well-being and supply chain engagement – including a framework for moving forward on this issue. They also launched five pilot factory sites (in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Haiti and Pakistan) to focus on worker well-being. These factories were chosen because they are in “least developed” countries and Levi Strauss saw an opportunity to focus on worker needs. These countries also happen to be home to strategic supplier relationships for the manufacturer.

One of the first tasks for the pilot sites was to actually figure out the status of well-being among workers, so Levi Strauss set out to do a comprehensive survey to see how workers in their supply chain fared when it came to the UN millennium development goals: safe working environments, good health, economic well-being, equality in the workplace, and educational opportunities. Survey results from the five pilot sites will be published soon. Wellthread is produced in one of these five pilot sites, which is to say that Wellthread’s social sustainability fits squarely in the social sustainability of Levi Strauss as a whole, and that the company’s commitment to social sustainability is an active work in progress.

Third party engagement

In most cases, Levi Strauss contracts with third party factories for its manufacturing – a challenge for any company with a complicated supply chain. Kobori outlined a two-pronged approach for getting factory owners to the table. First, Levi Strauss appeals as a customer with an important request, second, they appeal to the factory manager’s own well-being. ”We approach the factories with this idea that programs that benefit the workers can have a positive impact on their workforce – something that we as their customer are interested in. We also made the case that these programs are also going to have a return on investment for the factory, for management.”

For example, they point to the BSR HERproject, which found that for every dollar invested in worker well-being, four dollars comes back to the factory in terms of reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, and reduced tardiness. When it comes to compliance, Levi Strauss relies on a network of local NGOs to make sure the factories are behaving as they should.

When I asked why Levi Strauss chose to use local NGOs – with a wide variety of compliance standards of their own – rather than an internationally recognized auditor, Kobori spoke to the importance of engaging local networks and communities for all their work in-country: “Of course [the surveys will reveal] some threads of commonality, but the needs of a worker in Bangladesh may be different from workers in, say, Haiti or Egypt. What we’re trying to do is capture those differences. What we didn’t want to do is go out with a one-size-fits-all Levi’s program.”

In addition to partnering with Ceres and BSR, Levi’s is planning to publish the survey results so that the whole apparel community can benefit. They’ve also engaged the other brand customers at the pilot sites to see if they are interested in getting involved.

Knowing the staff at Levi Strauss, I can say with confidence that the individuals leading these these initiatives are proceeding with the best of intentions to make real, lasting change in the factories where Levi Strauss does business. However, I fear that the company will come under fire for “going it alone” rather than using an established worker well-being and audit program like Fair Trade USA’s continual improvement model. Best practices and international standards like those developed by FTUSA exist exactly because real change is difficult to institute on a system-wide level. The best of the international standards place strong focus on local needs of workers, while implementing strong, system-wide protections and standards. It doesn’t need to be an either-or. Nevertheless, I applaud the manufacturer for making a bold commitment to do what it can in its own backyard to make sustainable change. It’s tough to do and the apparel manufacturer deserves credit for taking a difficult step to do the right thing.

Back to worker health and Wellthread

Blazer_Trucker_2Since Levi Strauss is taking an active role in worker health and safety in all its factories, there’s nothing extra special about the materials or construction of Wellthread in terms of worker well-being.

However, the Wellthread team did carefully consider the construction design and factory capabilities during the design phase. The pilot site where the team planned for Wellthread production lacked blazer construction experience, but the Wellthread team modified the blazer’s design to make it similar to the denim trucker jackets the factory did produce, so that all the production could remain in one of the pilot facilities. This type of commitment to the team that’s currently in place, rather than to an abstract design concept, is laudable and represents a big shift for an industry with little factory loyalty.

At the end of the day, Levi Strauss is on a difficult path to make big changes in the way our clothes are manufactured. It’s tough, and it’s also necessary. We applaud them for stepping onto that path and wish them easy travels.

[Image credits: Author, Levi Strauss]

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