A Short Lesson in Modern French Slang
Bon Chic Bon Genre. Observe the first letter in each word and say them as one word. "Baysaybayzhay." Say that more quickly and there it is, "Baisebeige!" Translated, it refers to people who think they're all that. I am exploring the changing values of world culture and expressing through dress the evolving image of the pillar of our modern society.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
In 1985, I sold clothing made from upcycled materials at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago with outstanding success, considering it was during the time when recycling garbage was unheard of. The dress on the left was a one-of-a-kind item made from a variety of yarns and strips of fabrics and could not be reproduced exactly. It was included in a show called Wearable Art '85 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. By the time the show opened, my rag knits were quite popular as unique items, so I decided to create a line of artwear that could be reproduced. The clothes on the right are from that line. I used 100% cotton fabrics and fibers that were dyed, painted and constructed by hand and they attracted a lot of attention and sales!
Transportation is frequently a problem with walking my green talk and not a point I am willing to compro
mise. Until the mid-1990s, I could take the Amtrak train to Chicago and return to Indianapolis on the same day, so doing business in Chicago was not a problem. When A
mtrak discontinued the daily service, business in Chicago became difficult. However, MegaBus service has changed all of that. In less
than two years, I have learned how to use social media effectively and open an Etsy shop, so I am naturally curious about what's going on in the Chicago marketplace. Yesterday, I acted on that curiosity and took Megabus to the city with the goal of browsing the Apparel Center at the Merchandise Mart for a
My trip was efficient and comfortable and even greener than expected. The vehicles
are engineered for optimum fuel efficiency. During my next trip, I'll remember to take my netbook and adapter because each seat has an electrical outlet and there is WiFi! The bus schedules between Indianapolis to Chicago are convenient for short visits or a full day of business.
The Merchandise Mart is an impressive structure built by Marshall Field at the peak of the pandemonium of the Great Depression to make it easier for the makers of goods to reach
a wider market. It's two city blocks long and has an annex that was designed to be an apparel market. In the 1980's that was packed full of glam and glitz. Since that time Chicago has gone through many changes and so has the building. Chicago is the greenest city in America and the Merchandise Mart itself is the biggest LEED certified existing building in the whole world. That's good green karma!
So I went to work cooking color and researching the information online about the Merchandise Mart, its shows and its showrooms. It just seemed odd that there was just one floor exclusively apparel showrooms. My original plan was to take samples on the day of my trip but my gut told me to check out the situation first. I noticed when the building became LEED certified there was a Green StyleMax show. I couldn't find any subsequent sustainable fashion shows.
I was really hoping to find showrooms that deal exclusively with sustainable design businesses. However, even being America's greenest city is still small
on the grand scale of everything. I've only been able to find 16 retail stores in Chicago with 40% or more green merchandise. and, to be honest, I'd really rather do what I do in my own green way and express my aesthetic and point of view without being too overtly political about it. So I went with an open mind, making
the trip a fact-finding mission instead.
The architectural facelift of the old building was gorgeous and it's so good to know that green and history can work
well together! Not only can old be new again, it can be even better than it used to be. No doubt that green has moved far past its hippie image into the land of luxury!
There is no doubt either that green is a way of business life in this building. Every trash can in the hallways had a place to recycle paper, aluminum, plastic and glass. The ultimate badge of greenness was displayed prominently throughout the building. Here it is at the end of the bridge to the Apparel Center!
However, there is absolutely nothing that could have prepared me for what I found on the other side of that doorway. The 13th floor, essentially the only floor of the Apparel Center still devoted to apparel is a ghost town. It is at least 75% vacant. Showrooms still in business have red banners protruding from their doorways indicating occupancy.
I did make some great contacts with the showroom tenants that have survived in this environment without going out of business or moving to less expensive locations. It's too bad that Marshall Field's original concept to make business more efficient didn't work very well in the building using energy more efficiently. There was, however, a real spirit of comradarie and cooperation between these wholesalers of fashion I've never seen before and much more openmindedness about the business of fashion in general.
I do have optimism that I will be able to expand into the Chicago and upper Midwest markets soon. It's going to take a somewhat different approach than what I had anticipated. But, change is good. Not only that. Change is necessary. Guess where the people who couldn't be more flexible and forward-thinking are. Gone.