Like many people interested in fashion, I was always looking for what was unique, different, and remarkable. More so when I was in my teens and early twenties. I had everything from yellow sunglasses, red converses, a leather fedora, and everything in between. Now, in my late 30s, my wardrobe is minimized and anything that stands out comes in the form of my own custom leather goods creation. For example, the picture above is of an oversized carry-on tote I handmade for my most recent trip to Thailand and Hong Kong. I'm proud to admit that even a sales staff at a high-end fashion brand was interested in where I got the bag. Yes, I know that some sale staff are trained to compliment the customers, but this guy was seriously interested in where he could buy one.
It was only when my wife, Anne, and I started selling fashion in 2008 did we start to understand what Fast Fashion is. When I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area and continued selling ready-to-wear womenswear, I got to see the heart of the fast fashion industry in the USA. Most of it takes place in the Los Angeles Fashion District in an area called the San Pedro Wholesale Mart. The Mart was co-developed by none other than the epitome of fast fashion, Forever 21 co-owner Do Won Chang.
As one could guess, the quality, style, and speed of the majority of clothes from the San Pedro Wholesale Mart are the exactly the same as Forever 21. Designed in Korea or Los Angeles and manufactured in China. The only difference is that they come with cool sounding brand names so that small boutiques across the USA and S. America can charge a higher price than Forever 21.
Despite the fanfare of e-tailers like ModCloth and NastyGal, the San Pedro Wholesale Mart is where the majority of their clothes were sourced, especially when ModCloth moved to San Francisco and NastyGal to Los Angeles. I'm sure the situation holds true today. For the most part, even designs that ModCloth and NastyGal have under their own label are manufactured using a partner in the San Pedro Wholesale Mart. How crazy is it that ModCloth, famous for selling the American/English Mod era lifestyle, basically sells Asian fast fashion.
It was during this time I really saw how most fashion is essentially the same. Even when people think they are buying something unique, it still isn't. In my opinion, most fashion blogger instagram accounts start looking the same after a quick second.
I think that's when my style started to really minimize. For me, I realized unless you can design and literally make your own clothes, then there wasn't much point in trying to be super unique. But also that's just me getting older and realizing that being the center of attention isn't important to me anymore and realizing that most people don't care what you wear, how you style your hair, what care you drive, etc. Most people only care about what they're wearing, how their hair looks, what car they're driving, etc. Let's face it, humans by nature are pretty self-centered that way. Seriously, the only other people who probably really care are your parents and your significant other/spouse and it's probably because they don't want you to embarrass them.
Since then, I stopped buying fast fashion for myself. Other than underwear, I pretty much stopped buying anything from any shopping mall brand. I wait until I go to Bangkok, where Anne is originally from, to buy from these tiny boutiques. Little brands with probably less than 100 sq. ft of sales space, that are selling their own designs and manufacturing them in limited runs. Even though they are still manufactured in Asia, they are far from Fast Fashion. Dare I say, even when buying something like a traditional penny loafer or even a v-neck tee shirt, I feel like I was getting something unique. Not even because the design is so different, but because I know that maybe only a few hundred, at most a couple of thousand, people in this world own the same item.
Quite ironically, I think it's these small brands from Asia and manufacturing in Asia, but going against fast fashion, that inspired Anne and I to start making our own leather goods collection. For over a decade, I've had ideas of fashion that I wanted to create and finally being exposed to this small-scale boutique culture in Asia pushed Anne and I to start our own brand.
What I've realized is that even though I believe most fashion, even leather goods, are the same, the materials and method of how items are crafted can make it unique. For example, one of the items that really took off for us in the beginning of Anne Wesley is our Personalized Leather Passport Wallet. In terms of design, it's not that much different than any other passport wallet, but the materials and how it's crafted is probably different than 99.9% of all the passport wallets in the market. The leather is from the USA and is tanned using vegetable matter, which is different than already 90% of the leather in the worldwide market tanned using chromium. Finally, all our passport wallets are made-to-order, can be personalized, handmade, and hand sewn using the saddle stitching method. We don't pre-make anything until a customer makes an order and only then do we start making that items specifically for that customer. The only thing that could make the item more unique is a 100% custom design that we make once and retire forever.
Admittedly, I may have given up on the idea of truly 100% original fashion, but I haven't given up on the idea of unique fashion. I believe that by choosing the best materials, better than 99% of what being sold in the market, and by having them handcrafted can make fashion unique again. That unique fashion isn't about the flashiest item to show off to people, but about something made just for you that you can take pride in. That's something we at Anne Wesley hope we can teach our customers and other brands.