December 31, 2014

Age of Beauty

I always come across articles in fashion magazines where writers marvel at their mothers' personal style, recounting stories of how, as a child, they would rummage through their mothers' priceless furs and silks. Reading these articles, I always wished I had such stories to tell. But just yesterday, I realized I didn't have such stories not because my mother wasn't fashionable, but simply because she never showed me photos of her younger self.

In a bout of nostalgia, my mom decided to show me photos of herself from her youth. What I saw was a vibrant, beautiful young woman who had a soft spot for dressing up. Carefree maxi dresses, slouchy sweaters with colourful belts, ladylike shoes, or edgy rolled up jeans and scuffed up Keds, all topped off with a sleek bob, feline eyes (even without eye makeup!) and a bold red lip. I saw a woman who, just like me, went through an early awkward phase - big hair, large round glasses, and an insecure smile - but who grew into someone who was confident in both her brains and beauty. I found myself in the strange position of confronting my mother as a woman of my own age, and it dawned on me she too had her own dreams and ambitions, some of which were dashed, some of which came true.

Looking through her old photos, my mother got misty eyed, repeating to herself over and over how beautiful she used to be. My heart shattered because she never says that about herself now. Whenever she looks in the mirror, she is only ever wistful for her old body.

Coincidentally, just a day or two earlier, my friend had sent me a video called Sidewalk by Celia Bullwinkel. The video chronicles a woman who confronts her body as it changes with each chapter of her life. As for me, I'm still in that precarious stage where I'm learning to love who I am, but still hold certain insecurities, Like the woman in the video, there's a weird balance between beginning to have pride in who you are, and still feeling that urge to just hide from it all. But this video, along with seeing my mother's own transformation, helped me realize that our body is just what we operate in. To my mother, I want her to know she still is beautiful - beauty is not something you lose with age, but something you hold within. When I grow old and wrinkly, when my hair thins and my body becomes saggy and pear-shaped, I hope I will not look back with longing and think I was more beautiful when I was younger, but rather look back and know that the life I lived was, above all else, strikingly beautiful.

Image Source: Belelu

December 25, 2014

Ms. Role Model

In a first for Red-Soled Fashionista, this will be a post unrelated to fashion. It has fashion-related beginnings, but the heart of what I want to say today is a comment on our culture. Flipping through FASHION Magazine's May 2014 issue, I came across a feature on Marvel comic book character Kamala Khan (alias Ms. Marvel).

Khan is a fairly new comic book character, who began headlining the Ms. Marvel series in February 2014. To explain more about her, I pass it on to FASHION Magazine writer Mishal Cazmi, who sums everything up wonderfully:

"She's a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim girl, a discernible dork who fangirls over comic books. Her strict parents are a buzzkill (no co-ed parties) and her school in Jersey City is made up of nerds and cool kids (not her). The brainchild of editor Sana Amanat and author G. Willow Wilson, Khan was brought to life by Toronto-based illustrator Adrian Alphona and is an anomaly among comic book babes for being sans brazen sexuality and neither buxom nor bombshell. 'Kamala is an Ellen-Page-in-Juno-type girl covered up with layers of clothing - hoodies and pleated skirts over jeans,' says Alphona. And then there's her Ms. Marvel costume, which is all fabric, no flesh - an electric-blue dress emblazoned with a thunderbolt worn over a red three-quarter-sleeve top, red tights, matching blue boots and a cape that modestly covers her neck...She's every girl who's ever felt left out, could not reconcile her identity at home with who she is outside and does not realize the potential of her own greatness."

I love it.  I love, love, love it.  For years, I have struggled to find women in media I could relate to. In my younger years, I was an avid chick lit reader, hoping to find a character I could connect with. But the more I read, the more I realized everything just always works out for women in chick lit. Even when they were outsiders, they still ended up enchanting the hottest, most popular guy with their striking beauty or personality. Technically, that's a good thing, isn't it? For me though, it wasn't reality. I needed a character who was awkward and unpopular, yet who was perfectly fine not getting everyone to like her, not getting the most covetable guy, and not getting everything society tells us we need to be successful. I needed someone who was confident enough in herself to tell me I didn't need to keep fighting to be accepted by others. Since then, I've stopped reading chick lit. 

Then I turned to entertainment, but that was an even more hopeless endeavor. Every character in entertainment is beautiful, intelligent, strong and accomplished. As just an average girl, I constantly find myself getting annoyed with female characters in media because they are so perfect. Putting glasses on a gorgeous woman does not a nerd make.

This is where a character like Khan comes in. A girl who isn't defined by the fact she is blatantly beautiful. A girl who is modest in her dress.  A girl who struggles with self-identity. A girl who doesn't fit in. Even though I am not a comic book reader, and therefore will never really know what happens to Khan, I am impressed by the premise of her character. I hope she is able to inspire and act as a role model for other girls like me - although considering the incredibly positive reception this new Ms. Marvel character has received, it seems Khan is already well on her way.

Luckily, I have my own happy ending. I recently found my role model in Ashley Perez, video producer at Buzzfeed.  Her confidence in herself and acceptance of all her quirks is what makes her so beautiful. For anyone else out there who struggles with being an outsider, hopefully this video will speak to you as much as it did to me. Realize you are never alone. Despite what the moniker suggests, the great thing about being an outsider is that there are so many of us out there. Together, we become role models for each other, proving that confidence in ourselves is what makes us all superheros.

Image Source: Photo 1, 2

December 20, 2014

Paying the Price

There's been an article floating around social media by The Guardian titled "Luxury brands: higher standards or just a higher mark-up?"  Check out the article for yourself here.

The first time I came across this article, I did not even think of responding to it on my blog. But when my friend sent me the link, I realized perhaps this was a topic worth discussing. In the article, Tansy Hoskins disproves the assumption that luxury clothing demands higher prices because workers are being paid higher, ethical wages.

First of all, I want to clear things up.  What assumption is this?  I've followed fashion for 8 years, and not once has it ever occurred to me that higher luxury prices are due to ethical wages. Right off the bat, Hoskins' article began with an assumption I have never heard of. To my understanding, luxury clothing comes with higher price tags because it requires higher labour hours and higher material costs. Luxury clothing generally has a more complex production process, meaning it takes longer to make - but just because it takes longer to make does not mean workers are receiving fair wages. Even for someone like me, who loves and appreciates high fashion, I am not so disillusioned to think luxury products are made in cozy cottages with middle-class workers. The idea of luxury has always been in design and high quality materials, and at least to me, not in ethical wages.

Hoskins does, however, end with a statement I agree with.

"With high-end brands, further insult is added to the injury of low wages, as workers sew and sell items that they have no chance of ever affording. Luxury it seems has more respect for their merchandise than for people."

This is entirely true, but not something I find to be all that shocking. Think of any luxury product. Is it ever marketed on the basis of ethical production? Very rarely. It's all about customer experience, not worker experience. I am fully aware luxury, for the most part, is not about respect for its people.

But I say all of this not because I am dismissing Hoskins' article, but because the issue of ethical production is something we all need to address. And not just high-end retailers; low wages and poor working conditions exist across all industries. Nonetheless, in order for there to be any progress, we have to realize we, as the consumer, are the ones driving wages down. Certainly income disparity between those at the top of the corporate ladder and those at the bottom adds a layer of complexity to the issue, but if you were to truly think of all the hands that have a part in the production process, you come to quite a hefty price tag. Yet have you seen the disdain the average shopper has for luxury products?  The way they scoff, furrow their brow, and chastise high-end brands for having such high prices (all while piling their shopping basket with cheap Forever 21 clothes)?  It seems to me the average shopper is not willing to pay the price for ethical labour, and the reality is, if you aren't willing to pay the price, then neither are retailers.

Image Source: Photo 1, 2

December 15, 2014

Smart Moves

A lot has happened in the Canadian retail industry lately. As Jacob prepared to close down all of its 92 stores in Canada over the summer, American retailer Nordstrom made its first foray across the border to its Canadian neighbour. More recently, Reitman's announced it would be shuttering its Smart Set banner, and weeks later, Mexx filed for bankruptcy, a move likely to affect all of its Canadian stores. Yet at the same time, Quebec retailer Simons is set to expand across the country.

What is going on?

Many are blaming it on the rise of fast fashion retailers like H&M, Forever 21 and Zara, shouldering out retailers who can't keep up with the latest, greatest trends that have young hearts beating. It appears only the extremities at either end of the retail spectrum are staying well-afloat - cheap and chic fashion, or high-end luxury. There is no place for those hoping to occupy the precarious middle ground.

And I agree.  All three stores cater to the average woman; they offer basics that occasionally come in trendier guises, but overall, nothing too fashionable nor unique. Let's be clear: there is space in the retail world for the average woman looking for everyday, wearable clothing, but what there isn't space for is a retailer average in all aspects of price, quality and design.  All three stores obviously positioned themselves above the chaotic realm of fast fashion, but ultimately, they didn't offer much more than their (slightly) glossier entrance way.

Being not particularly high quality not fashionable, and not particularly affordable, Jacob, Smart Set and Mexx all occupied that tough space among (better) competitors that left them with a very halfhearted customer base. You cannot lure in loyal customers with average designs, average prices, and average quality. At least one thing must stand out. Cheap and chic fashion offers decent designs at low prices, and for that, consumers are willing to sacrifice quality.  Luxury retailers offer beautiful designs with exceptional quality, and for that, consumers are willing to pay the price. I think our three fallen retailers were fine with the price point they operated in, but if they had upped their quality or put more thought into design, I think they could have struck a chord with paying customers. But that's easier said than done, and perhaps why that murky middle ground remains the Bermuda Triangle of fashion retail.

Certainly I am saddened that such stores are finding themselves at a struggle, but at the same time, I think this will help push us towards better retailers. The free market mechanism - no matter whether you support it or criticize it - is showing us what the consumer truly wants. And the market must respond. To be frank, malls are filled with stores I (and apparently many others) hold no interest in. They are mere fillers. If competition is filtering out those who offer no value to consumers, then we may finally begin to see malls fill with stores that actually interest us. It's never a smooth and happy ride in business, but I think it can only lead to one thing: a better retail sector.

Image Source: Jacob, Smart Set, Mexx

December 10, 2014

I'll Have a Julep

Four years ago, I sloppily discovered nail polish in a university dorm room.  My friend had offered to help me paint my nails for the first time, and it was there I realized my nails had the potential to become amazing canvases for self-expression. It was like a whole new world opened up to me.  I couldn't stop staring at my nails - when I was typing, when I flipped through a textbook, or when I saw my reflection in the mirror as I brushed my teeth - because nail polish made everything I did with my hands just that much better. And because I don't wear makeup, nail polish is essentially my one and only beauty pleasure.

Throughout my nail polish adventures, there is one brand I've come across and have always wanted to try: Julep. Imagine my surprise then, when I incredulously found an email from Julep asking if I would be interested in sharing my holiday look with them. Let's just say it was a no-brainer.

Skirt: La Dive | Top: Alice + Olivia | Heels: Christian Louboutin | Earrings: Dolce & Gabbana | Clutch: Saint Laurent | Lipstick: Gucci | Nail polish: Julep 'Karissa' & Julep 'Oscar'

I'm a classic girl, as you all know, but I like my fashion drama. Whether it be a ball skirt in shocking holiday red, a simple tee covered in glimmering gold sequins, or a quintessential pump with a raised counter (and red sole, naturally), it's all about taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. For my nails, I would do the same by taking classic red and pairing it with girlish glitter.  Whether I indulge in a glossy red manicure with glitter tips, or simply use the golden glitter as an accent nail, I know one thing for sure: I won't be able to stop staring at my freshly decorated hands.