Q & A with Julia Okun of Rennes


Julia Okun is the creative mind behind Rennes, an accessories and clothing label that started in 2008. I first stumbled across Julia's work a few years ago after a long search for a lambskin pouch. Since then, I've owned a few of her products including a duffel bag, a tote and a linen dress. I recently received several emails regarding the quality of Rennes bags and general production queries. I thought it would be apt to let Julia address these questions while providing us with further insight into how she creates her products and the standards she sets for them both in terms of aesthetics and sustainability.

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An ongoing theme on Assembled Hazardly is minimalism, environmentalism and sustainability. Tell us are you a minimalist and or an environmentalist? How does that influence your work? 
I know in recent posts you've talked in depth about minimalism - for me there are two kinds : one is a current aesthetic trend. The second I equate with being an environmentalist : you think about your impact on your surroundings. The two can overlap, but often minimalism (the trend) is a masquerade of tricking yourself into thinking you are environmentally conscious by buying "simple" two hundred dollar tee shirts. Currently, I can’t claim to be an environmentalist. But that doesn't mean I don't try. My point of comparison is my husband. He hates shopping and tells me he would rather watch paint dry than shop. Aside from finding it boring, he would rather have four shirts, three pairs of pants, one pair of shoes and wear them until they fall apart. There is no value to him in owning more than that - and to me, that is minimalism. As much as I strive to be like that, I know I will always find something I like, something I have to have. With that said, I do believe in quality over quantity. In terms of aesthetics, I consider my work visually minimalist. When I first started my business 6 years ago, I could not find a bag that didn't have hardware and studs all over it. So my goal became trying to make things without all the extra stuff on them.

Walk us through the creation of one of your bags from start to finish.
I design in my head, then I make a pattern. I'm not great at drawing so it's better for me if I just make the pattern. After I have the pattern, I make a prototype in cheap leather. At that point I'll figure out which things work and which don't, and tweak the pattern accordingly. Then I will try to make the actual item in the real leather I want to use.

I use 8 oz leather for most of my bags. If you start with a thick leather you can always thin it down. If you thin down the entire pattern piece, it is called splitting. If you only thin down the edges, it is called skiving. I got a skiver about a year ago and it's life changing! It allows me to do many things I wasn't able to before, like double fold the leather for the pouch toggles so there are no raw edges. I want to get a splitter, but they cost between 10-40 grand and require a lot of maintenance- so it's best for me to rely on the factory for that type of work.

Once I've made that prototype, I work with the pattern maker at the factory (who is wonderful!) and he works to refine my pattern and makes his own prototype. Depending on how complicated it is, that development work can cost between $1-1.5k. Once the pattern is approved, it is mailed to a place in New Hampshire and they make dies for every single pattern piece of the bag. (A leather die is like a big steel cookie cutter - this is how the leather is cut.) There can be anywhere between 2 to 20 dies for a bag. A die set for a pouch might be around $300, but a die for my duffle bag would be around $2k. These are pre-production costs - so you don’t have any product to sell yet. The factory then calculates the raw cost of the bag (leather square footage + overhead costs + labor = raw cost).

When the dies are in, production can begin. First the leather is cut on a huge die press with the new dies. The fabric is also cut this way if there is a lining. Each piece is then individually split and skived on different machines. When people think of a factory, they think everything is done by machines, what they don't realize is all these machine are all operated by skilled craftsmen/women. The components are assembled - either with a sticky double sided tape or contact cement. (You can’t use pins on leather like fabric.) Then the pieces begin to be sewn together- and eventually you get a bag!


Making of the Milo wallet: "Mike (the pattern-maker) and I have just finished glueing and assembling the whole wallet.  Mike is about to sew together the cover and inside lining.  The last step is to stitch the entire perimeter of the wallet. To do this you need to use a post machine - it lets you work the wallet in three dimensions, as opposed to the flat bed of a regular industrial sewing machine.  We made two wallets today from start to finish, and that took about 6 hours, so a lot of work goes into each piece." ~ Julia

Do you take into account sustainability, environmental protection and ethics when running your business? For example, where do you source your leather or textiles from, how do you choose the company that manufactures your (duffel) bags and how do you go about ensuring that your suppliers meet your standards? How much input do you have in the tanning process? 
I try to make my line as environmentally friendly as possible. Fashion itself is a wasteful industry, and a lot of it is hard to get around. Leather tanning is bad for the environment, period. There are many steps in the tanning process that use different chemicals. What many people don’t know is that vegetable tanned leather ends up being treated almost identically as chrome tanned leathers; only the actual preservation step uses tree bark, the rest of the process uses the exact same chemicals. It's sad, but leather isn't an environmentally friendly material. Even if I can’t have direct control in the tanning process, I do source leather from a supplier in California, and the hides I use are tanned in Wisconsin.

But, I try to be conscious about my line in other ways - mainly in terms of production. In transitioning from being a handmade line to outsourcing, it was important that my line be entirely made in Massachusetts. So many products are designed in the USA, but then sent overseas to be made because the production cost is much lower (and this is because workers are paid so poorly). I wanted to support and keep jobs in my state and I wanted to know workers were being paid fair wages. I wanted to make sure I could visit my factory frequently (usually 2-5 times a month) and make sure the working conditions were good. I've worked along side the employees at the factory, eaten lunch with them, etc - I'm not a “back-seat designer” who just puts together a tech-pack; I have my skin in game.

Speaking of standards, what are those standards? 
When I have leather hides shipped to the factory, I usually go there within a week to examine each hide to make sure we can get maximum yieldage out of the hide. This means looking to make sure there are not large areas of discoloration, excessive scratch marks, branding, etc. Leather is sold by the square foot, and hides are never uniform in shape so you never know what you’ll get. We check things like making sure the dye lots match up and the grain (the texture on the leather) is mostly uniform. Speaking of grains, I like when leather grains don’t match up and I think it makes for an interesting product. This wallet has card slots that have larger pebbled areas and smoother areas, and I enjoy that contrast. However, my factory disagrees with me: they insist on matching the grains closely and are perfectionists about it, even when I tell them I like it the other way!

Like them, I’m also a perfectionist. If something isn’t right about a shipment I get, I try to get it fixed or modified for the next round. For instance, I don’t like contrast stitching, and a few products ended up with thread that was much lighter in hue than the leather it was used on. Other things that come up are stitches being uneven, something being made incorrectly even though the sample had been correct - but I always try to nip these things in the bud before production starts. I also write emails detailing everything that we talked about in a meeting. As the factory owner told me, “I’m the nicest pest they know.”

What do you feel are the obstacles you face when trying to produce a more eco-friendly product?
Very limited resources. Since it is ethically important for me to produce domestically, there are very few factories that have all the equipment and machines needed to produce leather goods, and when you do locate a factory, chances are they are very busy and if you are small you won’t always be a priority. Also, if you are a small company only ordering 20 of product X, you are going to get charged more per product than a bigger company ordering 1,000 of product X.

In terms of materials, the more eco-friendly a material tends to be, the more expensive it is. The more expensive materials you use, the more the product is going to cost for the customer. All customers have a sense of perceived value, but often times that value doesn’t match up with domestically made items. We need to re-think how much things should actually cost. We have gotten used to paying sweat shop prices, and because of that we consume so much more.


How do you price your bags and can you explain the reasoning behind the recent price hike? 
There are two basic business models you can use in retail:

The first model is that products should be purchased through a third party in brick and mortar stores: These stores buy products at wholesale costs from designers. The designers purchase these items at raw cost from the factory. Let’s say the raw cost of a button up shirt is $75. The designer will pay the factory for this shirt, and then ideally mark it up 2-2.2X to get the wholesale cost. So this shirt’s wholesale cost is $165. This mark-up is to cover the designer’s time, overhead for office space, employees, etc. Then the retailer buys the shirt for $165 and marks it up 2.2-2.3X. The shirt then costs the customer $379. Different designers will offer varying suggested retail prices, but often a brick and mortar will decide their own mark up based on their overhead costs. So at the end of the day, the store ends up making the most profit per item, assuming the item isn’t discounted in a sale in this specific example. In short, a product gets marked up 4-5 times before it reaches the customer. 

The second model is newer and becoming popular with online shopping. I will give three different scenarios A, B, and C - so choose your own adventure!:

A.
  1. All of the sudden you don’t need to have a brick and mortar store to sell your items! You can sell online! 
  2. People, like me, cut out the middle man and become their own sweatshop. We design, sew, and sell all of our product. 
  3. We try to fill wholesale orders to get our brand name out there, but in doing so, cut our profit margin considerably: taking wholesale orders when you make everything yourself makes no sense economically because one person can only do so much labor. But, stores are happy because they are getting handmade products at much better price (remember, the factory is being cut out!). 
B.
  1. All of the sudden you don’t need to have a brick and mortar store to sell your items! You can sell online! 
  2. You have spent 6 years designing, sewing, and selling all of your products. You need help, you can’t fill orders on your own, so you find a factory to outsource your production to. 
  3. Since you’ve added the cost of having a factory, you now pay $200 to the factory for each bag. You used to make this bag yourself and sell it for $400. You want to be able to do at least a 2X mark up from the raw cost. Your brand needs to be carried in brick and mortar stores to grow, so your MSRP will need to go up. Your wholesale cost is $400, the brick and mortar store does a 2.2X mark up and the retail cost is now $880. Your current customer basis is sad, but now they can actually see your products in person in shops, something they’ve been wanting to do since you started your business. 

C.
  1. All of the sudden you don’t need to have a brick and mortar store to sell your items! You can sell online! 
  2. You have spent 6 years designing, sewing, and selling all of your products. You need help, you can’t fill orders on your own, so you find a factory to outsource your production to. 
  3. Since you’ve added the cost of having a factory, you now pay $200 to the factory for each bag. You used to make this bag yourself and sell it for $400. You want to be able to do at least a 2X mark up from the raw cost. You don’t want your customer to experience a price increase, so you decide to never wholesale your items to brick and mortar stores. Your customers will only be able to purchase online, and it will be more difficult to raise brand awareness in the long run. 

Brands like Everlane are using a model similar to C - they are only selling directly to customers and not to brick and mortar stores. I love when they added the transparent pricing flow charts to all their products recently. People in the industry never publicly reveal these things and customers rarely see how much the retail store are making in mark ups. I’m not saying retail stores have it easy, but I think it’s rarely acknowledged how little the designer actually makes. With all that said, when you are trying to grow your business and have limited start up capital, the best thing to get your brand out there is sell your product wholesale and have your line in a store. Unless you have access to large funds, it is hard to start a business model as great as Everlane’s - you need a lot of financial backing to do something like that - and many online ventures go under quickly.

So, I’ve picked model B for Rennes. I’m all for being transparent, so I’ll give you the mark-ups for the duffle bag:
Materials Cost: $49.50
Hardware Cost: $9.26
Labor & Factory Overhead: $152.00
… = $210.76 (Raw Cost)

$210.76 X 1.8 (my mark-up) = $385 (Wholesale Price)
$385 X 2.1 (retail mark-up) = $810 (Retail Price)

First I’ll point out my mark up from the raw cost - it’s 1.8, much lower than the industry standard of 2-2.2. I keep that as low as possible to let the retailer mark up the product more than 2X - I’m suggesting a 2.1X mark up. This is a low mark-up for a retail store, but if I suggested the normal 2.3X mark up it would end up being an $890 bag. There are many things I could do to change the design of the bag to make the raw cost lower so I can offer a 2.3X mark up, but I don’t believe in compromising quality and taking cheapening shortcuts.

I have been slowly increasing prices over the past year to account for being able to wholesale to have my line in stores. The final adjustment I did this past month to account for stores picking up the line this winter and spring - prices need to be the same across the board, I can’t sell the products for less on my website and have them cost more in stores - this kind of behavior upsets retailers.

When I think about the bigger picture, it’s unusual to watch a brand progress over six years. The internet has made my line an open book (and I’ve wanted it that way), and people became accustomed to my products costing a certain amount of money. If Rennes was to emerge tomorrow as a new, super cool minimalist leather bag company with prices between $500-$900, many wouldn’t bat an eye because the quality of the new line is taken for granted; the price a new company is charging is assumed to be right if people see hype around it. The price is assumed to match the value. It’s much harder for people to accept a price increase as an increase in value.


How do think a Rennes bag differs from the products by other American-made leather companies and what gives it that special edge? 
I try to always use the best materials I can find even if I lose money doing it. I use Riri zippers for all products now and the cost is so high I end up eating it. Each zipper costs $4-6 and on top of that there is a hefty 20% import tax and shipping! I hope people can notice the difference. They run so much smoother; trust the Swiss to make high quality machineable parts! I’ve looked at a lot of other zippers on bags out there, and most people use YKK, or YKK Excella or Everbrite (which are definitely better than standard YKK). Still, the Riri ones just look really classy. I just picked up a pair of boots in a shop yesterday, and they were $1200 with the cheapest brass YKK zipper for a closure. Seriously, what’s up with that?

Another difference is linings; most bag lines use cheap cotton canvas, or don’t line bags at all. I think canvas often doesn’t sit well in leather bags as it’s too stiff. I use linen because it drapes better inside a structured item. It also looks more natural and adds a nice texture.

I use folded edges for the pouches, Milo wallet, Duffle bag, and Sophie tote. This uses more leather and takes more work to make, but it will last much longer. Most American bag lines I can think of use raw edges or raw edges with edge coat. Edge coat is a latex and will most likely crack and fall off over time, unless it applied with machine that heats / buffs it as it applies. But, with vegetable tanned leather you achieve a really nice buffed edge with gum tragacanth.

I hate branding on the outside of products. It cheapens them. I don’t want to hot stamp “rennes” in small gold letters underneath my zippers. I try to find other ways to add branding that’s more subtle, like the knot toggle.

Any chance of suede lined duffel bags?
I would love to! Maybe in a few years. Right now I’m trying to keep the prices as low as possible, and something like that would probably add between $150-250 to the retail price. If there is a large interest though from many people, please let me know!

You recently included other brands/designers in your online shop. How did you choose these brands and how do they align with your vision for Rennes? 
I decided to do this for two reasons: I thought it would make my shop more interesting and bring in new customers, and I wanted to raise capital to finance manufacturing my own line. So far it has been pretty successful! I started with just a few lines for this fall. I wanted to pick lines that I liked and aligned with Rennes’ aesthetic: ones that were well made and timeless pieces you could wear for years. For the spring I’m adding a few more - Samuji, Pip-Squeak Chapeau, Ichi Antiquities, Pla, and a few more.

What is the fundamental message you want to get through with your design and your work? 
Take your time and get it right. And, be excellent to each other.

What is the one thing you would love to design and make if resources were no object? 
For me personally : A small home with lots of windows with a small conservatory attached to the house. For Rennes : Expand to make leather jackets and shoes.

What are some key things we should be expecting from Rennes in the future?
Hopefully more clothing. Ideally I would like to have an entire range of products including clothing and homewares.


What is the one singular item from your collection that you would recommend to anyone looking to make their first Rennes purchase? 
The Milo Envelope Wallet. It’s not as expensive as getting a bag, and it’s more exciting than just a pouch. Plus, you can use it as a clutch too. A lot of work goes into this piece and there are many components, yet the design is simple and classic. We’ll be making a bigger version as a bag for spring! [See below for a discount on the Milo Wallet!]

And finally, just so your customers can make an informed decision, David Tennant or Peter Capaldi? 
The hardest question is always last! David Tennant. He’s perfect at the role as he’s not clearly good or evil, which I think is the best kind of Doctor. Capaldi is a close second. He reminds me of Captain Nemo.
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I hope you enjoyed this very transparent and in-depth Q&A with Julia (who is by far one of the most patient and accommodating small business owner and maker I have ever known) and you can always email her with more questions: info@rennes.us

Also, from Tuesday, 11/25/14 - Saturday, 11/29/14, Julia is offering Assembled Hazardly readers 15% off the new Milo wallets that are available for pre-order! Enter the code "DOCTORWHO" at checkout.

*All images and video on this page provided courtesy of Julia Okun ©Rennes. 

Beauty & Wellness Regimen Revisited

Top: Current skincare-makeup arrangement on the bathroom countertop; Middle: Current beauty supplements; Bottom: Current skin condition after cleansing & moisturizing sans concealer or makeup, with only Ilia lip conditioner. No post-processing except for increasing exposure. You can see that my right eye is all droopy and puffy from the steroid/cortisone cream for my eczema. 

I apologize in advance for freaking you out with that rare half-awake photo of myself looking like a berk. I realize that it's hard to take a word of stranger online about their skincare regime if you have no idea what their skin looks like; for all you know, I could look like a toadstool (and maybe you still do). My skin has changed quite a bit over the last 18 months though - I'm starting to get adult acne on my neck and chin, dark spots and freckles and wrinkles around my eyes and products that work for me before have been starting to break me out, cause eczema and do not seem to be helping in combating dehydration. As the weather turns drearier and colder, with nasty wind and the cold potentially wreaking all kinds of havoc on my skin and causing a wide ranging list of ailments,  I thought it would be apt to revisit my skincare and wellness regimen that I wrote about early last year. The previous post had sparked quite a few emails and discussion on the products used and I still get asked about the homemade oil cleanser I have been using.

I still pretty much stick to mostly "natural" and "green" products mostly because they work the best for my temperamental skin. For a while, I had been experimenting more with everything from high-end department store offerings to professional brand names to drugstore products but always returned to a few trusty products. Going on to Sephora or Spirit Beauty Lounge and reading reviews of products often made me feel as if I was not doing enough to fix my skin, when often, everyone's skin is so different that there's no one miracle product. For example, beauty gurus' holy grail products from Paula's Choice, Verso and Guerlain all made my skin go bonkers. After using the much-lauded Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid, I ended up with angry red marks all over my neck, nose and cheeks, something which I had not seen since I was 16! I'm going to stop short of encouraging you to switch to a more environmentally friendly skincare regime and you should always buy what you can afford, but if I have one recommendation, it is to please stop buying facial scrubs that contain polyethylene beads.

Skincare
I generally stopped using the earlier iteration of my homemade oil cleanser because it was starting to break me out, and no matter how much I changed the ratio of castor oil to carrier oil, or what my carrier oil was, I couldn't find the right balance. Also, the hot washcloth that was suppose to help get rid of the oil cleanser was causing my skin to dry out and suffer broken capillaries! I've read that as a person ages, their skin starts thinning and becoming more sensitive. Throw in stress, hormonal imbalance and crazy diets, you've got yourself a recipe for ghastly skin. 

A few months ago,  I started following a lot of advice given in Chizu Saeki's Japanese Skincare Revolution which focuses more on something called a lotion mask that helps replenish moisture to the skin. Being eczema prone, I've found the mask to be very soothing and helps to reduce the redness and scaly patches. She also writes a lot about lymph massages to help combat wrinkles and sagging skin. Instead of using the very westernized method of oil cleansing, I've been following the 4-2-4 cleansing method with a minor caveat; most days I just take a shortcut and just do 2-1-2 (hee!) i.e. homemade oil cleanser for two minutes, followed by a cream cleanser for one minute and finished off with two minutes of thorough rinsing with warm and cold water. 

In the mornings, I usually just rinse my face with lukewarm water, pat dry then swab my face with a cotton pad soaked with my homemade toner combined with Watts Beauty hyaluronic acid serum and squalane. I follow up with In Fiore Lucense, Sulwhasoo Ginseng Renewing Cream, In Fiore Vis Clair, Soleil Toujours SPF 20 Moisturizer and topped off with a spritz of In Fiore Vitale toning essence. A cocktail of cortisone and steroids for my eyelid eczema (I have atopic, not contact dermatitis) left my eyes all droopy and scabby so I use a lot of creams to help offset the problem. Besides the In Fiore Vis Clair, I use a combination of La Prairie Eye and Lip Contour Cream, Aurelia Skincare's Eye Dew, Odacité's Ultra Effective Eye Cream, and a homeopathic calendula ointment from Boiron.

The evenings is when I find myself pampering my skin more and I start off with the 2-1-2 face cleansing regimen.  I use a simple homemade oil cleanser that combines cold-pressed grapeseed oil, camellia oil and castor oil with several drops of Isun Rose Ormus sacred essence, which I then wash off with either In Fiore Treate or Dr. Alkaitis Gentle Purifying Cleanser. I follow up with In Fiore Nourrit, the Sulwhasoo ginseng cream and an eye cream. Sulwhasoo is a luxury Korean skincare brand that I had a chance to try after my mom, with all her hoarding tendency, amassed a huge stash of samples during a layover in Seoul. It's by no means a "green" product as it contains a slew of chemical no-nos, but it's been doing wonders for my skin and imparting it with a sleek dewy finish.

Four times a week, I use a scrub (In Fiore Lustra or the Odacité Jojoba Beads Exfoliant) followed by a mask. Depending on how my skin feels, I use either a hydrating mask or a clarifying mask. For hydrating masks, my current favorites (some less green than others) are the Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Brightening MaskMy Beauty Diary Black Pearl mask, Aurelia Skincare Rose Cell Revitalize mask or I make my own by soaking some Kose Lotion Mask paper in a the hyaluronic acid-squalane mixture with a good helping of  Olivine Atelier's Love + Beauty Mist. For clarifying masks, my favorites include May Lindstrom The Problem Solver, Fig + Yarrow Gold Clay mask or I simply make my own using some Morroccan Rhassoul Clay and rosewater. Although initially dubious, I've come around to the fact that the May Lindstrom bowl and brush is an indispensable tool for putting on clay masks. 

Makeup
I don't use a lot of makeup because it's kind of redundant after putting in so much effort with the skincare aspect. I am however, obsessed with my eyebrows - the only grooming routine I will pay someone to do. Most days, I use the Anastasia brow pencil, some Lancome's Modèle Sourcils Brow Groomer, conceal blemishes with Kjaer Weis' foundation in Just Sheer, apply some In Fiore Veloutee and I'm good to run out of the house.

If my face is looking particularly sickly (which is all the time these days), I use some Kjaer Weis blush and Ilia's Lip Conditioner in Nobody's Baby.  On days when my eyes get puffy and red from late nights up, I just run an ice cube wrapped in cling wrap over my eyes for a few minutes; it's another trick I learned from Chizu Saeki's book. I then use my recently discovered holy grail product, the Tom Ford correcting pen to fix my omnipresent dark circles (see picture above).

I have a few little jars of Dolce & Gabbana's cream eyeshadow that for those rare occasions I need to look less wild-eyed and slightly more grown-up. Cream eyeshadows work better for my scaly eyes than the Laura Mercier stuff I had been using. I gave the RMS Organics eyeshadow a try but I don't think coconut oil works for me.

Fragrance
I've never been much of a fragrance person, and especially so after attending a seminar series on how synthetic fragrances are terrible for you. However, I absolutely adore Coqui Coqui's Rosas Secas (a smoky, dry rose), layered with some Histoires des Parfums Amber 114; together they evoke some forgotten feminine mystery in me. On most days though, I avoid fragrances and instead use some essential oil mists from Lotus Wei (particularly Quiet Mind) as well as the all-natural solid perfumes from In Fiore (my favorite being Vetiver Sambac and the discontinued Fleur Blanches). I also stash a bottle of La Bella Figura Travel Therapy in my bag for days when I'm feeling overwhelmed. 

Body care
I tend to take pretty quick showers on a daily basis, but I have to wash my hair on most days. For some reason, the John Masters' Organics hair products stopped working for me - I think they changed the formulation so it no longer works for my somewhat limp and oily locks. I currently alternate between Grown Alchemist's Damask Rose shampoo and Christophe Robin's Delicate Rose Volumizing Shampoo. For conditioning, I use either my dwindling supply of David Mallett conditioner, Christophe Robin Prickly Pear Renegerating Cream or Oribe Supershine Light Moisturizing Cream. Beyond that, I don't style my hair other than the occasional spritz of Klorane dry shampoo for dirty hair days and traveling and some Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray for volume.  I'm still using the Olivella 100% olive oil soap which is the only soap that doesn't ever dry my skin out. When I hop out of the shower, I slather on some In Fiore Kashmir or Jolie body balm and I'm good to go.

My ritual on Sundays at 7pm sharp, rain or shine or work be damned is to light a couple of Cire Trudon/Mad Et Len candles and down half a bottle of wine all while taking a long hot soak in the tub. I do a long session of body brushing first with an ionic body brush, slough off the dead skin with whatever body scrub I have on hand then I go nuts with epsom salts, seaweed salts, Ancient Minerals and In Fiore's body oils as they tend to help a lot with my eczema. I also recently discovered the magic of Mama Mio's Liquid Yoga and I've come close to drowning many a time when soaking in that dangerous cocktail of salts, eucalyptus oil and wine. The dog finds the steam from the bath so enticing, he usually spends the entire time splayed out on the bath mat inhaling the relaxing scents. I suspect he also really just likes to lick the salty bathwater after I'm done; sorry for the TMI.

Holistic Wellness
I know that genetics will be by far the biggest factor in determining the condition of your skin, but I think that diet is a close second. In the summer I tend to eat a lot of salads and not much other supplements, but in the winter, I go nuts with a bunch of holistic wellness products. I recently discovered the magic of Moon Juice in LA. Their products are somewhat overpriced and you can get similar products from Dragon Herbs if you know what you're doing, but I'm a lazy cow, so I just stock up on a bunch of Moon Dusts from CAP Beauty when there is a coupon code. The Moon Dusts are basically just powdered herbs for general wellness and I feel (maybe naively) that they do wonders for my skin with my favorite of the lot being the Spirit Dust. I'm also in love with the Moon Juice's Raw Sprouted Almond butter - I eat it by the spoonfuls with cacoa nibs, which may account for why my waistline has been a little pudgier than usual. For immunity and to help with my eczema, I find that the Virgin Raw Bee Panacea has been working out pretty well - honey is suppose to help with fighting all kinds of bugs and ailments, but who knows, the bees can barely defend themselves. Other than that, I am still supplementing with Green Vibrance or its alternative, Sunfood's The Sun Is Shining and taking tons of Vitamin C, elderberry syrup and zinc.

If you're looking for a good wellness cookbook, I highly recommend 'The Art of Eating Well' by Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley. They're pretty much the trendiest chefs out there at the moment and may be slightly ill-informed about gluten but their recipes are extremely comforting without being too heavy or too complicated. I particularly like that they recommend having "warming" foods which helps with digestion instead of too much raw foods. I've been making some of their Asian inspired dishes and all I can say is that they're as good cooks as they are good looking.

So there's my overlong skincare and wellness regime that is by no means streamlined or minimalistic but I spend an inordinate amount of time and money on my skin because I'm vain and that's all I have going for me. I know I'm using some pretty high-end products but I've tried almost all the health food store brands (Evan Healy, Acure, Gabriel Organics, MyChelle, Suki) and never had much good results especially as I got older. I really can't speak highly enough about Julie Elliott's luxurious apothecary line - In Fiore. I even turned my chemical-based skincare loving mother on to In Fiore. I read the recent Yasmin Sewell interview on Into The Gloss where she talks about her favorite skincare products and her love for the Hemsley sisters' gastronomic delights, all of which made me feel oddly validated.

If you have a holy grail product (somewhat eco-friendly and EWG approved), I would love to read about it. For in reviews of holistic/green products, my favorite blogs are kimberlyloc.com and Genuine Glow (on whom I have a very creepy girl crush). Evan Healy, whose products unfortunately do not work for me, also has a sporadically updated blog that I find very useful if you're trying to change to a holistic wellness regimen.
   
NB:  I just realized I have this post formatted like Into The Gloss' Top Shelf! Talk about self-aggrandizing.

NB: Most items found on this page can be purchased at Beautyhabit, Nordstrom & Net-A-Porter. The wellness products can be purchased through Moon Juice Shop or CAP beauty. Everything else can be purchased through Amazon.com.

Note: Some of the product links will provide me with a commission if you make a click or make a purchase. See here why I decided to do affiliate linking. As always, I encourage you to shop around for sale/discounted items and to shop responsibly. 

Mid-week procrastination

What I'd much rather be doing...
 
I have nothing really important to say right now - though I do have a few semi-interesting posts to share in a few weeks. However, I felt that plagiarizing Kali's meme would be good way for me to take my mind off things as I sit here noshing on lunch, and to answer several mind-blowing questions that will change how you view me as a person... I think. 

1. What are you wearing?
Araks robe, Uggs slippers, Target tank top & modal capri tights from The Gap.

2. Have you ever been in love?
Many times

3. Have you even gone through a horrible breakup?
Nah, I'm a pretty amicable person. 

4.  How tall are you?
5 ft. 1in. 

5. How Much do you weigh?
Seriously? 108 lbs on a good day.

6. Do you have tattoos?
Nope. 

7. Do you have piercings?
Just the ears. 

8. What is the ideal couple to you? 
Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward! An ideal couple would be equal parts lovers and equal parts friends. 

 9. Your favourite TV show?  
Favorite  TV show ever was Fawlty Towers though I actually just caught reruns of it twenty years later. I was also a huge fan of Quantum Leap (Oh, boy!). Newer favorites include the perfunctory Sherlock, The West Wing, Arrested Development and Boardwalk Empire. I don't actually watch very much TV anymore *sad face*

10. Your favourite band? 
My all time favorite bands are Blur and The Divine Comedy. Current favorites are Owen Pallett,  Fanfarlo, Ramona Falls and The New Pornographers.

11. Something you're missing?
Food from home (and my mom). 

12.  Your favourite song?
EVER? Interpol's 'Obstacle 1'. It's my drunk song. And 'Speedway' by Morrissey.

13. How old are you?
31.97

14. What's your astrological sign? 
Scorpio

15. An essential quality for a boyfriend?
I don't know... being mind numbingly smoking hot?

16. Favourite Quote?
'To have great wealth means to live sparingly with a clear heart; small wants are always met'
- Lucretius, De Rarum de Natura, Book Five, Line 1115-1116

17. Favourite Actor?
Of all time? Cary Grant!!!! I also used to really like Robert De Niro and John Cusack, but I have no idea what happened to them. Recently, I'm having the hots for James McAvoy and sometimes Christian Bale when he isn't being weird.

18. Favourite Colour?
Grey.

19. Do you listen to music at a low or high volume? 
Medium.

20. Where do you go when you are sad?
I snuggle next to my dog.

21. How long do you stay in the shower?
Depends on what I'm doing. Some things just take longer.

22. How long does it take to get ready in the morning?
Ten minutes - Brush teeth, rinse face, toner, moisturizer, eye cream, sun block, lip gloss, brow gel and brush unruly hair. I always wake up late, so I don't spend too much time getting ready.

23. Did you ever get in a fight?
A fist fight? I think when I was six, I threw someone's backpack out of a moving bus. He was understandably displeased. That's the last fist fight I remember. I get into arguments a lot though.

24. Something that seduces you in a man?
Being very, very smart.

25. The most repelling thing in a man? 
Entitled douchey-ness.

26. Why do you have a blog?
To make lots and lots of money... no, just as a form of procrastination and a place to air my thoughts and get feedback. 

27. What are you afraid of? 
My dog dying.

28. The last thing that made you cry?
The thought of my dog dying.

29. The last time you said "I love you"?
Sometime in the last 30 seconds. 

30. What does your blog name mean?
It's a song by The Foundry Field Recordings off one my favorite albums from 2006.

31. The latest book you read? 
'A Collection of Essays' by George Orwell.

32. What are you currently reading?
'Predictably Irrational' by Dan Ariely.

33. The latest TV series you watched?
Downton Abbey and Broadchurch.

34. The last person you talked to?
My advisor.

35. Who did you last text with? 
Kimmie from Blue Paper Lanterns

36. Your favourite food? 
Fried chicken. 

37. Places you want to visit?
Japan, Sardinia, Scotland, Iceland and Prague. 

38. The last place you visited?
Oahu, Hawaii.

39. Are you currently sweet on someone?
I'm not 16. 

40. The last person you kissed?
The dog, I think. I kissed my husband this morning.

41. The last insult you were told?
Why is it taking you so long to finish grad school? *cries*

42. Your favourite candy flavour?
Watermelon sours.

43. Do you play an instrument?
No, but I want to learn the violin!

44. Your favourite piece of jewelry? .
My first anniversary gift from husband - a Blanca Monros Gomez ring.

45. The last sport session you practiced?
Tabata kickboxing. 

46. The latest song you sang?
'Crazy for You' by Madonna.

47. Your favourite catch phrase?
'McFly.... hoverboards don't work on water, unless you've got power!'

48. Have you ever used it?
Every single day, it's how I greet my husband.

49. Your last evening out?
I don't even remember anymore. I go out for lunches but I think the last time I went out in the evening was three weeks ago.

50. Who are you tagging?
Anyone with something interesting to share! This was really fun. 

The FW'14 Capsule and a mini rant on Minimalist Wardrobes


I meant to write a long post about how I find that there are so many different variations of what a "minimalist wardrobe" means that it's rather exhausting trying to suss out how and why you should own a minimalist wardrobe (inspired in part by this thread). I find that a lot of times, bloggers don't really know why they're throwing or donating a bunch of clothing quite suddenly except that it seems trendy. There are questions about how much loungewear or gym clothes or underwear you should own. For the record, I own A LOT of loungewear and gym clothes and underwear because I live in lounge wear and I am terribly lazy when it comes to washing delicates (I stock up the same bra and knickers set from The Gap for every day use). There are also gripes about how difficult it is to include color and patterns into a minimalist wardrobe. Which all leads to the question, what exactly IS a minimalist wardrobe?

There are some minimalist wardrobe projects out there that talk about seasonal capsule wardrobes where you are suppose to only wear about 30-ish items per season (three months), underwear and bags and shoes excluded or something like that. That seems like an awful lot of stuff to me especially if you're only doing it for the season. I find that fall and winter is when I rotate through the least amount of clothing, mostly because if you wear a camisole under your sweater, you can really just wear your sweater through the season without it getting funky. If you actually have a formal office job, a few shirts, a pant suit, an extra pair of pants and a suiting dress should suffice. There's nothing minimalistic about being able to wear at least one different item of clothing a day!

In my mind, a minimalist wardrobe isn't so much about the minimalist aesthetic of boring monochromatic colors but rather an organic decision about consuming less for both social and environmental reasons. It's not so much about buying the most expensive things by excusing them as quality items but rather, seeking out things so that you don't have to replace them quite as frequently. It's about conscious consumption. It really doesn't matter if you're shopping from Zara or from Rick Owens, the key is to understand and learn where your product comes from, define what quality is acceptable to you and to reflect on why you are buying what you are buying and if it fits into your lifestyle, personality, and if it is practical.

The unfortunate thing is that there is no way to know what your personal style is without owning a bunch of clothes and having worn them for a while. There is also no way of knowing if something is practical for your lifestyle when things can change quite suddenly. Kids, a real job, suddenly working from home, manual labor, suddenly having to work at Taco Bell etc., etc., ... who knows. I've realize that the whole contrived way of building a minimalist wardrobe these days just seems slightly superfluous with the endless spreadsheets and Pinterest bookmarks and wishlists. Not everyone wants to look like the inside of an Eileen Fisher store, and not everyone actually has the time to make moodboards to suss out how to mix and match, and truth be told, some people just like really like variety!

It took me a long time to figure out how to streamline my closet, not because I was trying to be a minimalist in anyway, but because reading about the clothing manufacturing industry made me very sad. In addition, I hated doing the laundry and I didn't like having to spend a long time figuring out what to wear when the smart thing was to just throw on what I had worn yesterday that looked semi-decent; having a small closet helped with that. I have wasted a lot of time and money in trying to achieve that 10-item closet and tricking myself into believing the myth that $$$ = quality.

The funny thing though, was eventually I realized I couldn't have too tiny a wardrobe because I needed all these other things that made my hobbies and work more pleasant. I certainly couldn't muck around in the field or garden or hike or bring the dogs on a walk with the 10 or so items I tricked myself into believing would work for everything. Despite what anyone says, No. 6 clog boots are not made for hiking or sleek cobblestones in the rain.  In fact, sometimes I think the minimalist wardrobe is an ignis fatuus (illusions, Michael...) and really isn't applicable in any of these conditions:

(a) You have a full-time office job
(b) Over the age of 25
(c) Do not work in the creative industry
(d) Do not run a blog
(e) Are not a privileged individual 
(f) Like colors other than 000,000,000 on the RGB scale

I posted a little figure of the 12 items I will be wearing when I actually have to leave the house starting in October all the way through February. They're all kind of the same shade because I look terrible in colors and patterns and I have no skill in matching anything that don't belong on the same side of the color wheel. The Barbour jacket is rainproof and lightweight enough for me to layer over a black cardigan from Organic John Patrick and the grey Rag & Bone one I bought on sale from La Garconne. I find that I can prolong the life of my sweaters by layering underneath with an organic cotton camisole from Araks or if it gets a little chillier, a super warm woolen-silk tank from Hanro. I also basically rotate through two pairs of pants - the 6937 trousers has been my staple since I bought it earlier this month and got it hemmed a good two inches. Other than that, I have the perfunctory Acne jeans in basement , A.P.C. suede boots from 3 years ago, a silk Madewell shirt I bought eons ago and the very sturdy Isabel Marant scarf I bought last year.  Those are what I call my nice, 'put-on-a-front' clothing.  However, It took me a REALLY long time to figure out how to narrow things down to 12 items a season and it was mostly through trial and error and a lot of wasted income. You could probably come to the same conclusions I have or figure out what suits you at a much lower price point (something which I will touch on the next post) - I'll be the first to admit that I'm terribly particular about achieving that right 'look' and am an out and out pretentious label whore (self-worth intrinsically linked to aesthetics, blah blah blah).

The truth is that I'm home most days of the week when I wear a good amount of yoga pants, fleece sweaters, an Arc'teryx rain jacket* that I bought a couple of years ago with a measly student income, and a pair of Isabel Marant clogs. It's easy for me to list 12 items because for the most part, because I don't need to get up most mornings and schlep out of the house. I also simply don't care what people think anymore. It's strangely liberating and it's made me become a more conscientious consumer because I'm buying for me and my lifestyle and not merely because someone else set the rules.

* I live in a very rainy city so buying a good Gore-tex rain jacket seemed like a no brainer. I bought this a couple of years ago, first for field work, then for skiing. This is the one I own which I bought from Backcountry.com on sale. You can find off-season colors for a fraction of the price.

Note: Some of the product links will provide me with a commission if you make a click or make a purchase. See here why I decided to do affiliate linking. As always, I encourage you to shop around for sale items and to shop responsibly. 

3rd quarter State of the Union


I know people make resolutions during the New Year because of some ancient relic of Roman tradition and it's also psychologically easier to say you're going to do something on a significant day rather than on an arbitrary whim. That said, I've felt that I'm meandering through life lately and I really need to figure out exactly what I intend to do with the rest of the year  (and beyond, I guess because I'm horrifyingly bad at New Year resolutions) so that I can actually get started on it as soon as possible instead of spiraling  into some anxiety-laden, wall-staring fit.

Fashion-wise, I think I've finally figured out what works for me most of the time - it's a combination of Japanese work cloths practicality (e.g. Engineered Garments) coupled with the streamlined comfort of organic basics (e.g. Organic John Patrick, Base Range, etc.). I've whittled down a lot of clothes that no longer fit courtesy of my ever-expanding arse, to a few pieces of pull-on trousers, slouchy wool pants and boyfriend jeans. Slim jeans particularly, have given way to more forgiving denim pieces. I've been drawn more to baggy t-shirts and flowy blouses than stripey tops. That whole French thing never really did work for me mostly because (a) I'm not French or even look remotely like anything French - I'm a short, squat Asian with too much body fat and not an ounce of leggy lean-ness and (b) The idea of cigarette pants and breton shirts makes me slightly queasy these days.

Clothing Purchases for 2014:
January
- Celine trio in navy that was in part sponsored by my mom
- Barbour Shore jacket on sale from Nordstrom
February N/A
March
- Dries van Noten sandals from Barneys
April
- Eileen Fisher dress on sale from Nordstrom (for traveling)
- Hope Rescue top on sale from La Garconne
- Hope Won Sweater on sale from La Garconne
May
- Rennes Gretel Tote with a discount
- MHL cotton linen tee on sale from Mill Mercantile
- Ilana Kohn Darryl shirt on sale from Mille
June
- Ancient Greek Thais Sandals (leather instead of pony hair) at a discount from Shopbop
- Band of Outsider Pin-tucked top from La Garconne
July
- Rennes Meeting dress (custom made)
- Reinhard Plank Fanelli hat on sale from Totokaelo
- Lauren Manoogian Wide Jacket from Myth & Symbol
August
- Chanel ballet flats
September
- 6397 pull-on trousers from Need Supply
- Eileen Fisher Twill Utility Jacket on sale from Nordstrom 

I have no real explanation for why I bought the things I did, except they were all pretty much warranted and I couldn't find similar pieces for a lower price. Julia's (of Rennes) bags are of exceptional quality so I have no regret picking up one of her totes when she had a promotion going on (and before the recent well-deserved price increase). I found myself eventually buying one of the Rennes duffel bags for my mom as well (who after much coaxing and pouting by me, actually gave me the bag; yes, I'm a 14-year old trapped in the sagging body of a 32-year old).  The only sort of impulse buy was the Lauren Manoogian sweater which I had been eying for a while. Can I also just say that I'm not sure if it's the age I'm at but I've been browsing for Eileen Fisher stuff more than I want to!

The weird thing is that I've been rotating through every single thing that I've bought at quite an astonishing rate. I find myself wearing almost the same thing every time I have to leave the house with the Rennes meeting dress, MHL top and Celine Trio probably getting the most use. While I realize that I do indeed spend an insane amount on clothes I have actually been happier with my purchases this year than I have been in a very long time. I'm certain that you can achieve the same sense of contentment with a much lower budget but I'm a lazy person and the only places I even bother shopping at anymore are Mill Mercantile, Nordstrom and La Garconne. I think it's the "not caring" part that has made me happier - I'm buying things that fit into my lifestyle and that makes me comfortable, rather than something trendy or something that conforms to this idealistic notion of what the perfect closet should look like.

I think I'm pretty much good for now in terms of clothing. I've really been drawn to the brimmed hat trend of late for some reason, so I'm going to pick up a nice floppy felt one even though I think at some point I'm probably going to throw away the hat and revert to rain jackets with a hood. I'm also waiting for the sales to pick up an A.P.C. sweatshirt and track pants.

Somewhere in between those articles of clothing, I've also spent money on a Smythson organizer which in my defense was at 50% off, lots of terribly expensive ceramic planters, Cire Trudon candles, woven rugs, weavings, exercise clothing and trainers, and tons of crap from Beautyhabit. I cannot for the life of me understand why gym clothes are so expensive, and anything that doesn't make your butt look ghastly and squished tends to cost you your first born.

In other news, I've started weaving! I'm slightly embarrassed to showcase my handiwork, but over the next few months, I'm hoping that they'll look good enough for me to post a preview - I've been drawing inspiration for the tapestries from hikes around the Pacific Northwest and my strange fascination of late with old Japanese movies and Lady Murakami.

In yet other news, I'm finally drawing to a close on my PhD; I just need to put the final touches and find a real job instead of doing odd-and-ends like dog sitting and doing small projects with no real income. I guess my wardrobe of late also reflects that I'm in a field where I would probably be wearing more archival clothing than Charvet shirts. Still, in an attempt to maybe one day squeeze into a pencil skirt for my future congressional hearings (haw haw), I've taken up fitness martial arts. It's kind of brutal, but it also feels strangely fulfilling to have an avenue where I can release all this pent-up existentialist rage.

So instead of a new year's resolution, I'm actually going to work towards these following things in the next few months and beyond:

1. Save for traveling by cutting on frivolous purchases like flowers, house wares and expensive alcohol, and avoid going out to expensive bars. We're planning for trips to Korea and Japan, a long excursion of the British Isles and a two-week vacation in Sardinia. It all sounds so magical, except that it may take us as long as ten years to see this all come through.
2.  Seriously scout for a house.
3. Learn Brazilian Portuguese so that I can actually start working on projects in that area on my own.
4. Finish reading the 8 books I've been putting off since three years ago (I don't even remember which ones anymore)
5. Kid(s)? Now that is a ghastly thought which would probably make #1 - 4 redundant.

How is your year coming along and do you have any plans for the rest of 2014 and beyond? I'd love to hear what you've been up to and maybe plagiarize some good ideas.

P.S.: There's still time for that giveaway from my last post! I'm sure there are still very many kind acts waiting to happen.

Note: Some of the product links will provide me with a commission if you make a click or make a purchase. See here why I decided to do affiliate linking. As always, I encourage you to shop around for sale items and to shop responsibly. 

Gratitude Sunday: A Giveaway


First image by assembledhazardly; All other images from Bailey's Home

I am giving away a new copy of  'Simple Home: Calm Spaces for Comfortable Living' by Mark and Sally Bailey as a way of saying thank you to readers who have been following this blog through its 3 odd years of obtuse rambling.

I received this book last Christmas and really enjoyed thumbing through the pages of shabby chic minimalism; the design found in this book is sort of  the British equivalent of 'wabi-sabi'. The main draw of the book for me is that most of the spaces featured are aspirational, the book actually offers a lot of really great ideas and inspiration to turn your home into a refuge where you can rejuvenate, reflect and meditate. The designers stress the importance of reducing clutter and present myriad ways of repurposing and recycling well-worn items . I think it's apt that as we transition into fall to prepare our homes into a nest and retreat of sorts by just reducing the amount of things we have. Coupled with great pictures from photographer Debi Treloar, this also makes for a great coffee table book.

All I ask from you in order to participate in the giveaway is to do something kind -  donate to an animal shelter, buy dinner for a homeless person, volunteer at a youth program or just call someone up whom you haven't talked to in a while. Come back here and leave a comment about your act of kindness and why you chose to do what you do.

The giveaway ends two weeks from today on Sunday, October 5.

** This giveaway has now ended. The chosen commenter was Jocy via a random number generator. Everyone else who participated, please send me your address as well, I'll put something in the mail for you as a thank you. *

Small things: Home pedicures


Let me start off by just saying thank you to everyone who took the time to read through my last obtuse post and leave a comment. I'm still trying to soak in all the opinions and ideas bandied about and thinking of apt responses (even two months on, it remains at the back of my mind). I've had a follow-up post on draft for the last month, and I just need to actually put my jumbled thoughts into coherent words.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about ways to avoid thinking about clothes and to concentrate on the small things that make me happy and that I should use to occupy my time instead of spending more money on frivolous things. Of course, the notion of frivolous is dependent on the individual - I know plenty of people would find nail polish or candles frivolous, but if it makes you happy and distracts you from envy or mindless consumption, I say why not. Over the next few months, I'll be writing on some of the things I've mentioned in this post. I'm trying to embrace organic minimalism as opposed to consciously making lists, doing closet clean outs and talking about buying even more crap in some effort to conform to that black-white-grey stereotypical minimalist fashion blogger mold.

One of the things that makes me happy is being able to do things at home on the cheap and getting better results than having to spend money out. I go for bi-monthly pedicures because I can't seem to justify the cost and after hearing plenty of horror stories, I've decided to keep my visits to a minimum. I find that I can pretty much maintain decent looking tootsies at home with the right products. The fun thing about doing pedicures/foot soaks at home is that you can basically just do it anytime you want for pretty cheap. Sometimes I even use it as a form of procrastination but I think on average, I do my home pedicures every ten days or so.

The three main items that I really cannot live without are a Japanese soaking bucket, the Tweezerman callus stone and the Fig + Yarrow Foot Treatment Alpine Pumice Scrub; everything else is just complimentary.  I've tried one of those drugstore home pedicure jet tubs and they just slosh water around your ankles and hardly gets hot enough. It's much cheaper and better to get the soaking bucket because it's deep and wide enough so that the water comes up to mid-calf. A little trick I learned is to use two little massaging balls at the bottom of the bucket and roll your feet around when you're soaking. The  bucket is also great for carrying around the house and you can even set it out on the balcony while sipping tea. I usually add some Seaweed Bath Salt with a few drops of tea tree oil for detoxification and disinfection (I mean, take this with a grain of salt, no pun intended - who knows what detoxification even means). The bath salt smells a little like the ocean so it's pretty relaxing.

Sort of a frivolous thing, but I've been really enjoying Lotus Wei mists as part of my home spa experience. You can achieve the same thing by just using essential oils and distilled water, but I'm prone to spending money on silly things anyway. I find the Lotus Wei aromatherapy combinations really lovely, and my favorite is Quiet Mind, which is suppose to help with physical tension. 

The Tweezerman callus stone may be one of the best inventions ever, I like it better than a foot rasp and if you use it daily in the shower for a week, it sloughs off the ugliest and grossest patches from your feet. It's made from recycled ceramic and works extremely well for heels as well without the danger of scraping off too much skin. It's my secret weapon for summer feet all year round without actually needing to go to the nail salon. Actually, the only reason I even get pedicures at all is because I'm terrible at applying nail polish and shaping my nails.

I used the Fig + Yarrow scrub after a 20 minute soak and after rubbing my feet like a crazy person with the callus stone. On the Fig + Yarrow label, it says, "... this tingling treatment deliciously transforms callused peds into kitten paws." Let me tell you that this is no exaggeration. It's literally one of the best scrubs ever made for feet. If you're the kind of person that wants sexy feet, this is the magic potion. The ingredients are pretty simple but extremely effective. You can even make this at home by mixing pumice powder with olive oil and shea butter. However, I find that the Fig + Yarrow scrub actually lasts a long time and because they seem like such a decent company, it's worth the $28 spent.

My favorite spa-like towels are the Scents and Feel Fouta Towel which have a surprising range of functions. I've been using them as beach blankets, as summer throws and more recently, to line my dog's bed because it's super absorbent and soft. Just in case you didn't already know, you have to make sure your feet is toweled dry especially between the toes before applying cream and nail polish to prevent fungal infections. I use the Alpha Hydrox Foot Cream generously, apply some Eve Lom cuticle cream and slip my feet into one of those free slippers you get from hotels. If I'm feeling saucy sometimes, I'll put on some Sally Hansen Cuticle Remover, push my cuticles back with an orange stick and slop on some nail polish. My favorite nail lacquer lately is a nude polish (Lingerie) by Guerlain.

So there you have it, I love being able to use what I already have on hand, add a few additional items that will last a long time and create a pleasurable experience for myself at minimum cost.

Note: Some of the product links will provide me with a commission if you make a purchase. For the Scents & Feel towels, you can sometimes scoop up really good deals through Amazon. For the Lotus Wei mists, Spirit Beauty Lounge periodically has coupons/sales so I usually wait till then to stock up. You can probably find most of the other products at your local drugstore.

On the matter of "curating", the snob effect and jumping on the bandwagon

DSC_0483
(Image: assembledhazardly.com)


I bet you probably saw this coming, didn't you?

I'll bet that you've been wondering what the heck I'm doing with my endless Instagram posts of clothing and home goods and food and purchases and all the while espousing some terrible spiel about consuming less and more discerningly. Yes, I confess I've fallen off the high horse and I've given in to keeping up with the endless pictures of flowers, brunch and shoes. I've been trying to keep up with the holidays, and artisanal jewelry and the artfully arranged coffee cups, and Kinfolk magazines (well, in my defense, I don't do the Kinfolk magazine bit because I find it slightly insulting to anyone with an ability to read, but that's a different story altogether).

Either way, I admit that I've been sucked into the vortex of false pretenses and keeping up with the Joneses who earn about 10x as much as I do through affiliate links. Why? I don't really know. Maybe it's the fact that I'm 30 (ish) and still in school, the fact that I will never be tall enough or rich enough or thin enough or know enough obscure artists or pottery makers. Maybe it's the fact that towards the end of my mid-life, all I have is a rented house and few pairs of designer shoes and the ability to name all The Beatles albums in chronological order, sing along to every single Morrissey song and quote 'Back to The Future' word for word ('McFly! Hoverboards don't work on water... unless you've got power!!!'). It's not a bad thing, being regular - except that nowadays, social media makes you feel like you're really just not good enough.

Over the past year or so, I've had the opportunity to travel to a few lower income countries. It has been a simultaneously interesting and depressing experience, mostly because the pace of globalization and development far outweighs the ability of the general population and the environment to prevail. While I'm glad that more people have access to clean water and education and healthcare (okay, I guess Pakistan is an exception), I've been extremely dispirited with the rate that the most fragile amongst us are being left behind, and the rate at which we seem to be plundering the earth whilst feeling that it's some sort of entitlement for merely being part of the human species. 

When you travel to Bhutan or Brazil as a tourist, all you see are the nice and sugar-coated things; you see the new architecture and the beautiful scenery and the remnants of an odd, bygone culture. You taste the churrasco at DOM, get foot massages at the Aman and profess how great the nightlife in São Paulo is. It irks me that people think that being peasants and having working-class communal dinners is trendy, without addressing the fact that most peasants and/or working-class people don't really have access to $10 beeswax candles and overpriced dinnerware or time to enjoy a communal dinner of haddock and freshly-picked mushrooms.  When you live in Bhutan or Brazil, you see how farmlands and hillslopes and villages are destroyed for mining and dams and World Cup stadiums. You see how hard people work for measly wages and for things that we in the higher income countries take for granted. You see how a piece of meat and homemade cheese and homegrown chilli peppers from your yard in the village will make the most delicious meal because you've worked so hard and don't get to see your family for years on end.

What I've found amusing lately is this new fangled obsession with "curation" - a term that yupsters with time for leisurely pursuits seem to throw around as if they've spend years in training learning the fine art of slapping together several Futagami trivets and Ann Demeulemeester jackets.  It used to be that being a curator meant that you had a degree in the fine arts, or history or something meaningful that allowed you to defend your choices in the matter you "curated".  If you were a curator in a Museum of Modern Art, it meant that you needed to be learned in the works and life of Sebastião Selgado or Joseph Beuys. I'm not even sure if most people know who Oji Masanori is or that Ann Demeulemeester left the company last year. The new direction of "curation" these days veer towards the spartan and heritage and the Japanese. In some bizarre twist of fate, the Japanese who invented the whole wabi-sabi aesthetic is falling for this scheme; Kinfolk magazine is so wildly popular in Japan, the good folks at Kinfolk had to create a Japanese-language magazine and a peasantry-based set of clothing just for them.  The funny thing also, is that the well-curated stores are almost always similar - minimalist website design, quirky item descriptions, the same Japanese household items or the same line of clothing by certain people known for prints and dresses Made in India etc., etc. The only thing different is the timeline of when things go on sale and the prices.

I bring this up because I'm no less guilty of trying to "curate" my life - from the coffee I drink to the dishware I use and the rugs I own. It used to be that people just called it good taste; these days, choosing the right paraphernalia for your home or your body is supposedly a skilled artistry. Some people even choose the skincare they use based on the packaging and how it looks in their bathroom (hint: Aesop). The New York Times ran an article a few years ago on how the word curate may be a reflection of self-inflation (ironically, the article was written by the spouse of a well-known online lifestyle "curator"). I find it particularly true that most people who swing the word "curate" around nonchalantly seem to be the ones that are most pretentious and judgmental

In 1950, Leibenstein wrote about the snob effect and the bandwagon effect which are essentially microeconomic theories on consumer demand and preference. It seems to me that more than ever these days, that people tend to display both social phenomenons. I'm not entirely sure if it's social media enabling the bandwagon effect but snobs seem to garner copycats and followers almost instantaneously. Everyone always seems to be going on about something that isn't really even that good, and only because someone else said it was good. Maybe I'm the judgmental asshole who thinks that everything isn't good enough. Anyhow, I'll give the example of the quality of a certain well-known Japanese linen company that has its products sold in every "well-curated" store known to man. While cheaper than other brands, the quality just doesn't hold up to the ones from Libeco (Belgian linen) or Brahms Mount (woven in the USA, source slightly shady) or the ones that Alder & Co. sells that are manufactured in France. Thorstein Veblen argued in 'The Theory of the Leisure Class' that lower-status members of a society tended to emulate the higher-status class in order to move up in status. Anyone who disagrees with this theory need only look toward Instagram and the mass infiltration of the same pictures with the same coffee cups and magazines over and over again.

All these point to "curate" being the new terminology for the "snob effect". I suspect that coffee, brass trivets and hand-sewn shoes are becoming Veblen goods even though the shoes don't quite fit right or the trivets leave scratches on your table. Why settle for local roasters that charge $12/lb of Yirgacheffe when it makes you that much more pretentious to buy from microroasters that charge $22/lb for the very same beans albeit in a "minimalist" packaging? Can you really taste the finer nuances of melon and strawberries or are you going by what the package says? Which brings me back to my obtuse story about traveling to Brazil. The family I stayed with owned a coffee plantation and could tell the price and quality of the coffee just looking at the raw beans. When I asked if I could get whole, fresh roasted beans so I could lovingly grind it in my Hario Skerton which I lugged all the way across the continent in my carry-on, they laughed in my face and said, "Who has time for that?!"

And maybe that's why I find this whole thing about curating so irksome, that some people have taken what is really an upper-class, slightly elitist terminology and applying to consumer goods meant for the middle-class plebs. We're all pretending to be part of the leisure class when the we're really just at the higher percentile of the income curve with some time to waste. I don't know about you, but the bohemian mothers and the Brooklyn hipsters with the same sheepskin rugs (guilty!) and Eames chairs (guilty!) and the Kaico pans (guilty!) and Chemex coffeemakers (guilty!) don't exactly scream high class to me. It just says that we all kind of like the same items, can afford nice thing, have access to same goddamned websites, and follow the same people on social media. We also probably have a knack for procrastination and a tendency to argue on forums while we pound away on computers for work. Say we have good tastes, say we like the finer things in life, say we like artisan goods but don't say we "curate" our homes or we shop from "finely-curated" stores because it doesn't really mean anything and we're just really jumping on the bandwagon.

P.S.: I feel like I've contradicted myself somewhere but I'm not entirely sure. Also, I apologize for my lack of cohesion in the above rant. My lack of reading of any useful material lately has definitely taken a toll on my ability to reason logically.

Random Snippets

I recently bought a new walkabout camera lens and I'm trying to actually work a little bit more at brushing up on my photography skills. I know that everyone and their grandmother wields a DSLR now and it can get quite aggravating when you're constantly bombarded by a slew of badly composed and edited photos that have no context. I know I posted recently about taking a 6 month break from blogging, but considering that I need some form of escapism from the drudgery of a thesis, and I haven't particularly been inspired to post of late, I thought a photo series would be a good way to update everyone with little snippets of what's going on in my life - if you care enough, and lest you think I've gone (further) off the deep end. I think it's also a particularly good way to improve on my photography - I'm starting to think more about composition than just "spraying and praying". While I spend an inordinate amount of time on Instagram, I find that taking pictures through a larger, sharper lens gives one a different perspective on things and helps bring about a profound appreciation of life in general.

The second picture below is one of my favorites of the 108 Stupas in Dochula Pass that was taken on my trip to Bhutan last year. I drafted a whole post about visiting developing countries and its profound effect on the way I view consumerism now, but I think I'll come back to the post when I'm less pessimistic about the world...

The rest of the photos are just pretty-fied versions of the regular stuff - coffee, dinners alone, home scents and the perfunctory dog portrait. I hope you've had a good year so far, I can't believe it's already April!
 
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