Monday, November 30, 2009

WOOLRICH Double Play; Home Collection & High Fashion

Woolrich, PA

The nation’s oldest continuously operating apparel and woolen fabric manufacturer is reinventing itself in more ways than one.

Woolrich the maker of Civil War blankets and the famous logger jackets & woolen shirts has expanded their home collection to include furniture in the upcoming Atlanta market. The new groupings of bedroom, dining, and occasional pieces launched in Las Vegas earlier this year. The goods are being made under license by Shadow Mountain, a company based in North Carolina.

On the fashion side of the business I was in Italy recently and noticed variations of the Woolrich signature bold checks in the shop windows of some very trendy blocks in both Milan and Florence.

Later would I read that Daiki Suzuki designed a fully functional outdoor fashion collection for men in collaboration with Woolrich Woolen Mills. The focus includes themes of hunting and fishing. Of course they may be more popular on Madison Avenue but could transition flawlessly to a fishing or hunting trip.

What a brilliant combination of quality fabrics, performance, heritage, and high style. What's meaningful about these garments is that they have all the performance qualities of work wear, they look great, and will last a life time.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the home collections. For the right rural or suburban market they could be successful when offered to customers who are furnishing a spacious country house. The scale is large, the finishes very dark, and the surfaces are rough hewn & textured.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Re-thinking the Flower Vase


What happens when you ask 15 contemporary artists to redefine the flower vase ? The results are currently on display in Berlin at HELMRINDERKNECHT, a contemporary design gallery.

All of the objects are either unique copies or part of a small limited and signed edition. The exhibition VASE vs. VASE opened this week and is on display through January 9, 2010.

Two interesting examples are shown here. ‘Couer’ by Julia Maendler – a synthetic resin heart that functions much like the traditional tulip vessels. It works very well with ranunculus but one could also see Icelandic poppies creating a wild floral sculpture as well.

Tina Roeder contributed this amusing and ironic sculpture called ‘Bucket Vase”. Looking closely one can see that it is made of fine porcelain and sterling silver (from a series of 5). What comes to mind here reminds me of the humor of Chef Tom Aiken, based in London- the youngest chef ever to receive two Michelin stars. Tom is known for taking extraordinary ingredients and preparing them in a dish that at first sight looks basic and ordinary- that is until you taste it and savor the surprising flavors of say caramelized endive or lemon confit.

Anyway like the old idiom, one should not judge the book by its binding.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

HOME- Mixing the Old with the New

Department stores and specialty shops have long understood the appeal of offering one of a kind objects that can nicely round out a merchandising display. These rare finds are often picked up from the enormous flea market in Paris at the Porte de Clignancourt or Le Marché aux Puces St-Ouen. Camden Town in London is also another popular destination for Buyers to visit as a break from the intensity of the trade shows.

This year it’s interesting to see a bit of on-line competition for EBay with retailers selling vintage and antique collectibles through their ecommerce sites.

With the launch of the Ralph Lauren Gift Vault, the designer has carefully chosen one-of-a-kind pieces according to three themes: Americana, Hollywood Glamour and Estate. There are some beautiful pieces of silver, turquoise, and jewelry for sale at luxury price points. Ralph will only sell items that are 100 years or older and does require that you register as a member in order to see the prices. Certificates of authenticity are available since we know the army behind at Ralph Lauren thinks of everything.

Sur la Table acquired a large collection of silver serving pieces and flatware from that grand old hotel in Paris; Hotel du Louvre. Many of the items sold-out quickly on their website. Today just a handful of items remain selling at the $200 - $300 range.

Buying and reselling antiques is not for everyone. Maybe this is why we see Pottery Barn offering up a strange mismatched “like vintage” flatware set. That is every five-piece place setting is exactly the same.

There is a risk that the buying one of kind items will sit and clog inventory dollars. For the web there are the same administrative details as if you purchased 1,000 pieces. There are the considerations of photography (perhaps on location) and copywriting for that one single item with a unique location in the warehouse.

For smaller businesses I would not recommend venturing into the foreign vintage market without the assistance of a trusted Buying Agent to handle the transaction, shipping, and export details. That is unless the goods are hand carried in your luggage and claimed with U.S. customs upon arrival (that is except the few treasured pieces you plan to keep for yourself).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

GARDEN- Chistmas Trees; Options and Opportunities


A beautiful Douglas-fir from Shepherdstown, West Virginia will be decorating the Blue Room in the White House this year. It will be officially presented to First Lady Michelle Obama by growers Eric and Gloria Sundback. The Sundbacks earned this honor by winning the National Christmas Tree Association's (NCTA) Grand Championship.

The Obama’s tree was handpicked by the White House Chief Usher – the same fellow who is the first to keep bees on the grounds. The tree, which was planted by the Sundbacks in 1996, will be cut in late November. The presentation to the White House is scheduled to take place on Nov. 27, 2009. The tree will be set up in the Blue Room later that day, where the White House Floral Department staff and volunteers will decorate it.

The options for ordinary Americans:

Christmas trees are big business. Sales are well over $1 billion (FY 2007). 21% of United States households purchased a real tree, 48% had an artificial tree and 32% had no tree at all. (1) This adds up to about 30-35 million trees sold each year.

Is a cut tree the best choice?

Fifty years ago, Christmas trees were often cut down in forests and not replaced with seedlings. But today nearly all, 98 percent, are grown on farms according to the California Christmas Tree Association (CCTA). For every Christmas tree harvested, two or three more are planted. So that's more than 70 million new seedlings planted each year.

There are numerous debates over the environmental impact of cut trees. The leading argument to buy a cut tree is that seedlings are planted in the spring like food crops and harvested within six to ten years. The benefits that tree farmers claim include; the positive contributions to wildlife habitat, soil stabilization, oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption. Some environmentalists take issue with the fuel burned to truck many of these trees across the country and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We pay more for organically grown vegetables but would be pay more for an organic tree? The disposal of cut trees can create a bottle neck in municipal dumps and composting facilities, although some communities use them to protect flooded or erosion damaged areas.

Living Christmas Trees

For those who would prefer not to purchase a cut tree, there have not been many alternatives. There are synthetics or some interesting wire sculptural trees to hold ornaments. Choosing a potted tree for many is a very considered purchase or impossible for most urban dwellers. The obvious issues of, "How large will it get? Do I have the space for what will turn out to be a lifetime commitment?" If left in the nursery pot for a long time, the tree may not survive.

There is a solution and a new business model on the west coast- Rent a potted tree.

Two businesses are offering healthy living Christmas trees that are delivered and then picked up after the holiday.

Adopt a Christmas Tree is nursery based in San Diego, California. I spoke to their Director Christine McDannell who is also known as the Head Elf. She explained that their business has increased considerably the past few years and that about 30% of people end up keeping their trees after the holiday. Retails start at $139 for a 4 ft. tree planted in a 5 gallon pot. Once picked up the trees are repotted and nurtured for the following year.

The Original Living Christmas Tree Company is based in Portland Oregon. Their trees sell for $80 including local delivery for all sizes- 5 ft. up to 7- 9ft. If you decide to keep your tree an additional $20 deposit is retained. After pick up the trees are planted by volunteers in watershed areas all over the Northwest.

1.Data from the University of Illinois Agriculture Dept. 2002



This new Redondo Beach, CA based business offers similar trees and services.

Delivery in the Los Angeles area.

Small trees priced from $50.00 up to $185.00 for 7 to 8 ft.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NPR follow up story re; Thursday post

-Washington, DC

Al Gore was interviewed today on NPR's All Things Considered about his new book:
Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.

He made special note of the deforestation in tropical climates.

The audio clip is about 7 minutes.

Please paste link into browser for audio access and an excerpt from the book:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fashion companies make eco-smart move with shopping bag sources


As a Furniture Buyer I worked closely with The Rainforest Alliance in selecting manufacturers as well as in auditing and verifying sources of materials used in production of outdoor furniture. This group helps timber companies, manufacturers, and retailers make the right choices in eco-smart materials, packaging, and paper from sustainable forest resources. By having committed 3rd parties perform inspections businesses can earn the status of being ‘certified’. Similar to certified organic farming this is a long term commitment and requires a thorough review on-site over a period of time.

So I read with pleasure today in the retail trade publication Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) that GUCCI backs the Rainforest Alliance. * *
( This was a WWD misprint- Please see correction below in comments )

This policy is a positive continuation of the Gucci Group’s interest in curbing climate change and has pledged to reduce the amount of paper it uses, eliminate fiber from high conservation value forests, and only purchase recycled products or those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council by December 2010.

Other fashion brands making similar moves include: Tiffany & Co., H&M Group, Hugo Boss, and Ferragamo.

Much of this is due to a shift away from throwaway paper shopping bags supplied from one supplier Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). APP has a reputation of clear-cutting wide expanses of trees in sensitive areas thus contributing the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests.

It should be noted that many catalogs like Williams Sonoma have been using only certified sustainable sources for the millions of catalogs they send every month. Since 2006 it reported that 95% of the paper content was recycled and now it’s up to 100%. However Williams Sonoma’s policy on shopping bags notes that they only use 10% recycled content. *

Of course I do not expect to see shoppers headed to the mall with reusable shopping bags in hand as they do now when grocery shopping. However for retailers, knowing about the resources to help with purchasing decisions will certainly provide numerous benefits all around in the long run.

* Source: Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Environmental Catalog Paper Procurement Policy 2008

Monday, November 2, 2009

GARDEN- Bulb Season

With all the buzz about growing your own rooftop produce there are still more flower gardeners out there for one simple reason; sunlight. Even those with out an outdoor space can turn a small windowsill into a miniature flower garden, but most vegetables do require about six hours of sun or more.

BULB, a new book written by Anna Pavord has just been released from Octopus Publishing Group. It's been ten years since she wrote her related title, The Tulip- a history and illustrated archive of the flower from its botanical origins to Tulipmania, and to the big business it has now become.

In BULB, this time Pavord shares 540 of her favorite bulbs with a more practical approach. This alphabetical collection provides photographs, inspiration, and helpful advice.

Another book written ten years ago is still very fresh in its presentation of all forced blooms indoors; Forcing, etc written by Katherine Whiteside for Smith & Hawken. She explored all sorts of cultivated and wild flora that can be transformed with the right conditions; from branches, bulbs, even forcing acorns into tiny bonsai gardens. A Google preview of her book can be viewed at the Workman publishing website.

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