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The “death” of retails B.S. and the explosion of Ecommerce

I could never shop online, especially for clothing. I have the need to feel the material, to try the cutting and design in all angles just to make sure they fit me. I don’t consider myself in the rank of being super picky. I believe this is just average shopper’s behaviour.

With the birth of E Commerce, and its powerful presence in our daily life, I sometimes succumb to the hype and curiosity since they are so convincing (look at those sexy models in the same outfit! And the ratings!). Beside Amazon, I was a big fan of Lazada since they have the 30 day return without question asked. Usually it takes me a long time to purchase something, even from Lazada, but a lot of times I have no choice but return the items. As of now, I stopped completely. After a while, I realized even with the prepaid postage inside the delivery box it still takes too much to drag myself out to Singpost to return the items.

Three weeks ago, I just placed my first order from the infamous Alibaba platform. 2 simple tees at only 5 bucks an item. Just to test it out. After 3 weeks, they arrived. The last pic was the actual item I received yesterday. The first 2 photos are what I thought I ordered. Lucky me, I almost ordered some cow leather (more than 200USD) from there last year!

So, I never seem to learn my lesson. I usually just buy my stuffs at some limited places where I do not have to negotiate, and I already know their quality over the years. It is not that I do not like to negotiate, or not able to negotiate, just that it is my way to weed out the chance of being cheated.  20% off their asking price? Or 50%? or 80%?? These kinds of sellers and shops boom like mushrooms after the rain in E Commerce age. There is no way to make sure what we order is what they are showing on their website. This reminds me of the nightmare we used to deal with when I was back home when we bought something from road side, they let us try the real and good stuffs (sometimes it was fruit), then packed us some spoilt or not-the-same item for us to bring home if we did not look or check carefully. They are exactly the same thing! My rule of thumbs to live by in this online age:

  1. If it looks too good to be true, it is: Just leave the site if the price is 9.9 bucks for a top, less than 29.9 bucks for a dress, no matter how pretty the item looks like.
  2. Avoid online shopping all together despite how tempting it is. Unless I have checked it out physically beforehand.

That is why I always feel amused when I see such news.  Isn’t it time to just say the truth so people could learn a thing or two? Few months ago, locally we had a news about the closure of a brand here. As usual, they blamed the “disruptive technology” and ecommerce, but in the comment portion of the news, surprisingly there were mostly about how out-of-date the brand was, and one could not find anything worth to buy in the shop. So no, technology did not kill retails. No, we didn’t ditch your shop to just buy online. Complacency and the resistance to evolve do. If you are in corporate world for a while, you would soon notice how most companies operate nowadays. No, they do not really want to serve customers. No, they never want to listen to customers. They want to get away with as little effort as possible. After all, they can only cheat us that many time. And when the whole thing crumble, they blame technology and stuffs. And these are the “better ones”. I am not talking about conmen.

Having said that, I see a new positive trend even in this tiny island. A month ago I just happened to chance on a shop at Plaza Sing. Their price range is what we would see on the after-discount price of other brands (aka real buying rate). No 70% sale ad. No buy 2 get 2 free and additional 10% off. It is really that simple: they sell their good at market buying rate. They deliver quality goods. No frill. I went to their website, wow, a lot of things are out of stock, just like what I saw at the shop. Consumers are not stupid and should not be treated as one. Therefore, I am really looking forward to what’s coming next after the death of this age of retails. Good riddance!

The takeaway: technology has always been a tool and not a cause. Technology can’t help a bad product. Facts at the peak of ecommerce (now): most big successful brands have a mix of anywhere from 15-30% for online business.

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Mommy, what is this called?

The girls are 5 years old by year now. And they grow more and more curious about the surroundings (as expected!), which include the mommy (not so much anticipated). I was pretty confident that I could handle a lot of things about parenthood provided how open and vocal I am on most things. I “know” I just have to be honest. Disclaimer: before children actually came. Boy I was wrong.

The first time they pointed to my boobs and asked me what it was, and what it was for, I calmly told them it was called chest, used for making milk to feed them when they were babies. They would have too when they grow up. The twins seemed ok with my explanation.

Fast forward a few more months, I noticed they started to get curious about my front again(what????!!). They tried to peek at my shirt’s collar when I showered them. I tried to explain to them it is rude to do so. One day, my younger could not contain anymore, asked me again clearly and loudly, Mommy, what is this??? What is this called? I was like a deer caught by the incoming light, err, should I tell her breasts? Or boobs? Or tits? All sound so wrong. I totally forgot the magic word chest I used earlier on.

This reminded me, it is about time to get prepared for sex ed for them. For the last 2 years I have been trying to teach them about sexual harassment, and how to protect themselves when I am not around. Once in a while I would test them where people can touch them, and where cannot, and what to do when someone touches them inappropriately. They sometimes go home and tell me this and that boy in class do something to them, but they scream and alert the teachers. But, I still refer to all sensitive “parts” below the belt as “pi ku” when teaching them. Judging from me not able to say the word Breasts, how am I gonna utter the V and the rest of stuffs to them? haha.

Mommies, what do you tell your little one?

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The Real Cost of Fashion: From a Perspective of a Sewer

I’m not going to repeat all the points that have been addressed vastly in media recently (in case you want to know, here and here and here  for the start). What I’m sharing here is what I personally experienced as a home sewer.

When I was growing up, I was reminded not to waste any rice since it took a lot for farmers to make that grain. So even till now, I still keep the habit to finish all my food. Turns out, rice grain is not the only thing that take a lot of effort to make.

When I first started sewing back 5 years ago, it took me at least 1 day to finish a simple thing. That does not include the time needed if I needed to take out the whole thing using the seam ripper cos the darn thing that I spent a day to make looked really ridiculous. I consider myself pretty patient (yeah I did put that on my resume lol), but sometimes I just could not bring myself to open the threads to readjust and redo again.

After 5 years of practising, some of the dresses take me about close to 2hr to complete from beginning till end after I have found all ways to optimize the processes (my ex boss would be so proud I still apply Operational Excellence at this point of time lol). But, the catch is, provided I do it on my best mental and health status, like, you know, I’ve managed to sleep for a straight 10 hrs the night before, gone for a nice long run, then managed to nap again after the run, and then, the sun is shining brightly (not too hot, just enough). Ok, it’s just me and my exaggeration, but the point is, it needs concentration, skills, and a lot of patience to sew properly. This helps me to reduce my impulse purchase, especially when the piece is just little bit larger, cos I know I’d rather just dump it (even on the piece I make) aside (and start a new one on new material). So it does take a lot to make any thing.

When Fast Fashion (FF) started in 2009/2010, I was just dumbfounded. Who would want to make disposable clothes knowing how much time and effort and craftsmanship required to make them?? Who would want to purchase clothes that would just last 1 wash? Not me. My office was in a middle of nowhere with no shopping mall, so no lunch time shopping. Ok I admit I spent most of the weekends loitering Bugis and Vivo area back then, but I would not have time and energy to go source for the shoes that only last me 3-4 months, or the clothes totally can’t wear after 1 wash cos the material sticks to my body in aircon (due to static), or it attracts all the fibre in the wash, or it just totally out of shape.  Not sure about the rest of the shoppers, but I take very long to choose something, so this really pissed me off since they (the sellers/the manufacturers) do not seem to respect me (the customer) and my time.

Ever wonder who would buy all the trash-alike looking clothes when you walk into some chains now? Sometimes I think they take it too far. Nobody have that much time to spend on keep sourcing for new clothes, even if we could afford. Clothing firstly have to be comfortable and functional, and last for some time. On a personal note, I do wish I could just wear black tank and shorts, err I meant grey hoodies and  skirts all year round though cos I do not want to think of what to wear every morning before work.

                                                Fast Fashion ain’t cheap (Source)

For children’s clothes it is even worse. The clothes do not cater for growth. Some of my friends commented children’s dresses cost so much, even as much as adult’s. Since I’ve become a sewer again, I could tell them, it is still dirt cheap. It is about the same work put on, and it is even harder sewing smaller things.

So how do they make things so cheap nowadays? Cost of fashion = A. Material + B. Workmanship + C. Operation cost (Shipping, handling, store rental, etc). C is pretty much fixed. They outsource to cheaper countries, so B is reduced. And then they use cheaper material (A). The point is, it is  cheap not because you can afford. Somebody else is paying for it in the another land on the other side of the border, in the sweatshops earning 1-1.5 dollar an hr cranking the hours for that perfect little blouse of yours which costs a little more than a Starbucks that would go straight to landfills after a wash, while breathing in the formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals in the cheap dye used on the disposable cloth. Have a little respect for all the efforts made in the process of making your fashion. Stop support FF. Choose the fashion that lasts a long time, so that when you are done with it, you still can pass it along to someone else in need. That is short term doable for us.

Now, ever wonder how your (handmade) shoes are made? How much are you willing to pay for these?

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My Obsession with Shoulder Ties

I started sewing as a little girl for my doll. That was a good (ahem) 30 years? It was pretty common for my dad to get up one day and found his pajamas’ sleeve suddenly went missing on one side. Life was pretty hard back then. We did not have budget to buy cloths. Art and craft was an alien concept in a place where most people worried about their next meals. When I got older, I would often linger around the neighbourhood tailor’s house tried to ask for scrap cloths for my projects. My parents’ friend did try to ask me to make clothes for their daughter back then though (no I did not take the “gig” cos there is an awful amount of difference making clothes for dolls and human lol). The tailor neighbour did say I should consider being a tailor since my maths was good while my parents threw her a glaring look (lol).

Life got into the way. I didn’t really sew much for the next 20 years since I did not want to move around from one rental place to another with all of my barangs (yea I don’t really just have sewing as hobbies) plus a sewing machine. But I kept promising myself, my first purchase when I got my permanent home would be a sewing machine. I got a Singer classics when I was waiting for my flat 5 years ago to prepare for my twins’ arrival. So you bet, I naturally become a home sewer specialize in baby-and-then-children clothes.

One thing about sewing for children is that you need to realize children are different from adults. They grow up rapidly, like daily. Parents should be able to relate with me on how much clothes bought usually on discount that was outgrown and never-been-worn at all in their children’s closets. Most store bought clothes are not designed to accommodate growth which ironically is a main characteristic of children. And their heads are huge in comparison to their bodies. Their torsos are too short. So it is hard to find nice clothes for young children that last longer than a month. That eventually got me buy less and less store clothes. By this age (4.5 years old), my twins refuse to wear most store-bought clothes.

One of my to-go design is the shoulder tie type of dress. It is just so sweet on tiny shoulders and most importantly, so appropriate in this climate. As a result, my twins have many of such variants in their closets in term of different colors, different cloths, slightly different decos. Since the most rapid growing areas are the torso and the legs, the shoulder ties allow us to adjust accordingly. I add elastic back panel to make it easy getting in and out of the dressing (yes your girl should be able to dress themselves by 4). My girls are just like the engineer me, they like the kind of clothes that is one piece, pull over type, lots of space, and practical. The shoulder tie design is the answer for all these that came as hard lesson from the early experiments on my home grown guinea pigs which resulted in either super huge neckline that kids still could not fit till 10 years old, or super ugly looking dresses.

So now you know why most of the clothes here are like that :).

PS: I did made 1 set of pajamas for my dad in return to all the missing sleeves and legs on his pajamas before I left for uni.