Musings - motherhood at year one

Our Chloe turned one last week, and it's been sort of a bittersweet occasion. Sweet because we survived a year; she's blossoming into an incredibly headstrong yet intelligent child and it's been a joy to witness her her daily transition from a baby to a tottering toddler with opinions. She seems to be turning (for better or worse) into a mini version of my judgmental self. And somehow bitter, because of everything else going on in the world today that has left me constantly betrayed and worried about her future.

I never intended to extend this blog into motherhood territory, but I feel that there is now more to be said then ever about the changes I've gone through. I've come full circle into understanding finally what it means to be living consciously; and it doesn't involve curating anything or buying anything. It involves actually learning to be spontaneous and to take things in stride and to just inhale the moment.  I've discovered infinite patience and flexibility that I never knew I had in me even as I've become more and more disillusioned and anxious about the world. I find myself remembering that I never wanted to be a mother for the longest time, and now I cannot fathom a world without my child. I find myself looking respectfully at other parents these days, with an understanding and kindly pity for those without partners, families and resources to navigate them through parenthood.

As a childless working woman, I never understood why anyone would subject themselves to 3am feedings, embarrassing tantrums at grocery stores and paychecks that went to paying for diapers instead of vacations. Now as a working mother, I finally understand that sometimes you choose paths you never intend to take and they end up being some of the most rewarding.

I'm still regretful sometimes especially when things like gestational diabetes and hemorrhoids and the inability to enjoy a night out unencumbered wade into my life. Motherhood is probably a joy for some, but for most, I suspect we do it because we're systematically and culturally programmed to. I already know that one is more than enough for me; I neither have the strength nor the selflessness to afford another. And perhaps, the world doesn't need one more person to drain its resources. There are so many other things that seem so much more selfless that I'd imagined myself doing e.g. running an animal sanctuary, adopting one of the millions of abandoned children, working at a food security non-profit, spending my energy overhauling politics and education and welfare. Being a mother and choosing to bring a child up in a world that is so uncertain and scary, and taxing an already fucked environment certainly seems like the most selfish thing I could have done.

And yet somehow my justification (just or not) is this: I will bring my child up to make a difference. That if I could try my damnedest to raise a kind, courageous and thoughtful child who changes the world in her own way it wouldn't just have been a selfish, biological urge. It's the reason I wake each day and trudge along, trying to live and trying to carve meaning; I finally have some end goal to work towards even as hope remains but a distant glimmer for the fate of the earth.

A Lament for America

It may seem like I'm preaching to the choir since the demographics of those who read this blog skew towards mine and I'm pretty sure most voted for the same Democratic platform. I'm writing today about things you may already know and fear but this election has had a profound effect on me. I'm numbed by disgust and paralyzed by despair and hopelessness. Everything I had ever espoused about governmental regulations and the environment, about growing political dissonance and world disorder seems to have come to fruition; it's terrifying because at the back of my mind I always had a small flicker of hope that America would come through, that we as a nation would sober up and realize the cost of our political and life choices. This election has extinguished that last remaining spark.

Hillary Clinton, in her concession speech, said we owed Trump an open mind and a chance to lead. The world gave him a chance to display a fraction of sensibility when the Republicans nominated him to represent them on the national stage. He has so far failed to prove that he would be in any way an effective leader. He has neither the skills nor the temperament; this nation is hinging its bets on his unpredictability, that perhaps his ghastly behavior thus far was merely pandering to his base. It's terrifying that the most powerful man in America, and quite possibly the world, is prone to fits of fancy. This is a man who has no qualms about dropping bombs all over the world, treating women and minorities with disrespect and literally lying his way to the White House. How did we go from disseminating democratic ideals around the world to electing someone who has said that he admires Vladimir Putin and quotes Mussolini?

I came to this country ten years ago after working hard to gain admittance to graduate school. It was my only way of leaving a country ravaged by years of cronyism and corruption, a country that was slowly pushing aside secularism for Islamic fundamentalism and where affirmative action existed only for the majority. In America I thought I would have a secure future, that people were more tolerant, that I wouldn't feel uneasy for being different. If I worked hard and pulled up my bootstraps I could achieve the American dream; I would be able to find a skilled job and contribute to society. I would be able to have my children grow up in a democracy where their rights as human beings in a civilized nation would be recognized. It feels like I have left one nightmare only to wake up at the beginning of another.

In ten years, I have seen the rise of the first African-American president who may go down in history as one of the greatest American leaders. But I have also seen the bigotry and racism that thwarted President Obama every step of the way. I have seen how an increasingly hostile and xenophobic Congress blame, lie and manipulate their way to ensure that they would stay in power and that their will, not the will of the people, be done. I have seen the denial of sound science, the bastardization of the Supreme Court, and the humanizing of corporations. I have seen basic voting rights and women's rights and minority rights that patriotic citizens have fought so hard for be squashed by people intolerant of cultural shifts. I have seen the uptick of mass-shootings and the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the collapse of public education. I have seen immigrants and welfare recipients be scapegoated over and over again. I have seen how fear-mongering has reduced people to anger, narcissism and short-sightedness. The last ten years has crushed my hope in this country and its government that once stood for justice and liberty for all. Most of all, the last ten years has crushed my hope in humanity.

Some may say that I'm prematurely pessimistic and that we must trudge on with kindness and rise above the occasion. Those words are meaningless. Hope is a fool's errand. Hope is why liberals have buried their heads in the sand and kept muttering over and over again that there is no way Trump would win. Hope is why people voted for Trump; they're hoping that he will be able to lift them out of the quagmire. Hope depends on the premise that things will get better, that an end goal is better than nothing. I guess if you wait long enough, everything that you hope for will come true even if the reality is that the tides of nature is cyclical. Hope causes inaction and encourages complacency.

The world as we know it is pretty much over. Four years is a long time and in the process, many things will be set into motion that cannot be undone. The effects on the economy and on social welfare will be disastrous almost at once. The effects on the environment and the climate are irreversible and its repercussions will reverberate long into the distant future. When the social safety nets have been ripped from under their feet and their education sold to the rich, how do we look our innocent children in the eye and apologize? When their family members lie sick in the streets, crippled by healthcare costs and their friends go hungry, how do we look our innocent children in the eye and apologize? When our daughters are deprived of their equal gender rights and our sons deprived of their sexual orientation rights, how do we look our innocent children in the eye and apologize?  When the oceans have risen and the human population suffer through drought and famine and flooding, when we wake up one day and the birds are silent and the flora and fauna of our youth have disappear, how do we look our innocent children in the eye and apologize?

When we tell our children that the 45th President of the United States of America and the 115th Congress of the United States of America failed to protect to their fragile future and led them down a path of new world disorder, how do we look our innocent children - those who must live with the consequences we are bequeathing to them - how will we ever look at all our innocent children in the eye and apologize?

I have no good advice on how to cope with this all except that I will hold my daughter closer tonight and begin tomorrow with a resolution to muddle through this unfortunate time and do everything I can in my limited power and influence to make sure that there will never be another embarrassingly tragic election like this again. I owe it to my daughter, to generations before us and to the generations after us.

On finding a balance

Chloe Avery, born 09 July 2016. 6lbs, 18in, 2 weeks early and the joy of my life.

Hi! I'm back after being away for a year from blogging with a renewed sense of purpose. Those of you who follow my Instagram already know that I had been busy gestating  a little chest-burster since last October, and she finally arrived two weeks ahead of schedule. Late night feedings, the inevitable two-week old fussiness and sleep deprivation coupled with dun-dun-dun Chinese confinement practices has left me feeling really cranky and bored out of my skull. There's only so much reading and screwing around on the laptop one can do while housebound for a month. I'll revisit this whole confinement thing later when I'm not as annoyed or tired. Anyway... 

I know most people probably can't be arsed about my shitting out a kid or about babies for that matter. In fact if anything, it's a one-way ticket to hauling ass away from this blog. But here's the thing - there's no other time like the quiet hours of the crack of dawn to think about spending habits, mindful consumption and general state of affairs. In fact, I've been thinking so much about these things that I feel a rambling post is overdue. Long time readers will know that I've suffer from a slew of existential fears particularly ones of a dystopian future marred by climate change, in that uneasy Cormac McCarthy way. In fact, the recent news of the triumph of Trumpian politics, the alarming bouts of terrorism, the random, uncanny shootings, and the fact that it's again the hottest year on record, goes to show that I may unfortunately not be that far off base.

I've had some qualms about bringing a kid into this world and being a bane to the already stressed terrestrial resources. Having kids is apparently the worst thing you can do for the environment, right up there along with sitting in business class and flying around the world twice. With that in mind, I decided that I wanted to really cut down on as much waste as possible while saving as much as I could. After all, why spend too much on clothing that I wouldn't really need after 9 months. I started off wearing my baggiest tops and getting a couple pairs of used jeans from an office mate. I also picked up two pairs of black denims from The Gap for $10 each and a couple of loose, long-sleeved supima tees from Lands' End. The denims lasted me at till I was about 6 months pregnant and the tees lasted the whole pregnancy. Then for the last few months, I lived in a pair of full panel maternity jeans from The Gap, the aforementioned supima tees and my mom's Arc'teryx fleece jacket. I was lucky in that my feet never got swollen or bigger so I could pretty much still wear the all the shoes I owned. My pregnancy wardrobe added up to less than $100 overall for the entire 9 months- something I guess only achievable if you lived in the Pacific Northwest and worked at a place with no dress code. I did cave in in the last month and bought a pair of sandals, a top and a couple of nursing bras during the sales at Nordstrom and The Line.

The Lands' End tees were and still are one of the best purchases I've made. They were each $8 a piece when I bought them but look and wash better than tees that are 10 times more expensive. Ethically made? I'm not sure - but then again, are James Perse and Alexander Wang tees ethically made? The best quality t-shirts in my opinion are the Japanese made ones from Comme des Garçons, but I'm not sure they're ethically made either. After tallying the amount I needed to spend decorating a nursery, building my cloth diaper stash and saving for the 529, I felt that I couldn't justify anything more than $20 on a t-shirt.

As for spending on baby clothing, we received A LOT of hand-me-downs from friends for which I'm grateful, it's a bit of a relief to see clothes being recycled. I ended up not really using much of what was given though because (a) it's 80 degrees these days and the baby only wears her diapers and a top and (b) I hate onesies (whoever thought pulling a top over a yowling, squirming baby in the middle of night is a good thing needs to be shot), the baby hates onesies and I ended up buying a bunch of cheap side snap tops that are god-sent. The tees are made by Gerber in Bangladesh though, so ethics be damned.

It was, however, a little disconcerting the sheer amount of used clothing I received; I have literally 7 or 8 gigantic boxes of clothing from 4 different people sitting in my basement and none of which I will be using mostly because I came to realize that 6 or 7 of those side-snap tees, a few footed pants and a bunch of Green Mountain Diapers Workhorse cloth diapers would suffice for the baby. If anything, having less clothing meant I didn't have to sort through as much laundry in general and it just made bleary-eyed diaper changes much easier to deal with. I guess having a uniform system works equally well for babies. Obviously different strokes for different people.

What I've been finding really hard to balance though is the little frivolous clothing purchases for the wee one. I find myself constantly browsing for baby clothing when I'm bored. My focus has shifted from Lemaire to Makie, from Mill Mercantile to Fawn Shoppe. I realize I probably shouldn't be buying terribly expensive clothing that the baby will outgrow in a couple of months, so I end up shopping for cheaper alternatives at The Gap and Zara. And so the entire story of trying to be a conscientious shopper begins again. I'm still working through trying to close the browser instead of forking over money and to start the kid off on the right foot of buying only what she really needs.

Over the next few months, I'm going to try to put together more frequent posts about trying to balance a finite amount of money with extravagant desires - no longer just for myself but for my living vicariously through another being. I'm also trying to find a balance between budgeting prudently and leaving behind smaller carbon footprints. I do this in part because this blog has been an interesting catalog of my transition from carefree grad student, to a jaded researcher to a (still jaded) working mom, and in part because soliciting advice from an online community of strong and successful women and mothers has always been an upside to Assembled Hazardly.

Random thoughts - life and such.

(Top: Bratislava, Bottom: Prague)

Eastern Europe!
Before my obtusely nonsensical spiel, have some eye candy from our whirlwind trip to Eastern Europe that we took after my final PhD defense. I loved Slovakia and Poland the best though I surprisingly didn't take any decent photos in those places - probably too busy getting touristy wasted on cheap wine and beer. Interesting factoid: when we visited Auschwitz, the tour guide told us that a lot of the survivors hated striped clothing for the rest of their lives; it made me rethink my relationship with breton tees.

On buying a new house
So we bought a house... I sometimes wish we hadn't only because after we signed the documents, did the inspection and visited the house multiple times over the last few weeks that I realized we had a place that needed so much work done I could start a lifestyle/DIY blog and make bank. You know what, maybe I will. I read somewhere - who knows, GOMI maybe - that bloggers make the natural progression from fashion to lifestyle to mommy blogging. That's right, the natural progression of blogging niches corresponds with the rate of body sag and accumulation of body fat.

That said, in our neck of the woods, anything that is remotely updated with a good location in the city and enough space so that you're not peering into your neighbor's porn collection will cost an upward of $600k - often times more, with no contingencies attached (Waive the inspection! Waive the financing! Waive the appraisal! Bend over Grey-style and get screwed twice! It's the market!), over 20% downpayment and occasionally, a complete cash offer over asking price.

I mean obviously I'm just being an ungrateful snot because we're so goddamn lucky to own a house but when you're standing in front of a blackened fireplace, faced with barf-colored walls and four different kinds of cheap berber carpeting and sagging kitchen cabinets that don't close, how your life sucks is really all you can think about in that moment.

On anxiety, existentialism and being faux-emo
I'll confess I've been struggling over the last few years with deep-seated emotional issues stemming from a bad grad school experience and from several inherent character traits that have been downright self-destructive for me. I don't think real-life struggles get talked about enough; I don't trust anyone who makes everything seem like it's always rainbows and sunshine and kittens when it's really boxcutters, drippy mascara, Bright Eyes on repeat and tubs of chocolate ice cream. I tried Headspace for two-minutes, got even more annoyed at that British bloke (Reddit always makes me side-eye everything) and decided I needed to see a therapist instead. I think the therapist has been good for me, there's no prescription meds or talking about childhood trauma - it's about building a plan, facing up to responsibilities and being a little less hard on myself.

This is going to sound so obnoxious and self-aggrandizing but I'm pretty harsh on myself and tend to want everything to be perfect. I'll stop short of calling myself a perfectionist (I'm not, I let a lot of things slide, I think...) but a lot of what I do borders on crazy. I need the edges of my towels (bath towels, hand towels, kitchen towels, blankets, sheets, etc., etc.) to line up perfectly and folded once lengthwise and three times after that. They also all need to be white. I got so tired of trying to correct my husband's folding that after he folds them, I redo ALL of them. Which is why I never get any real work done - I'm too busy fucking folding towels in thirds. Jesus Christ. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

My therapist made me realize that I don't have control of everything and I beat myself up if things don't go my way. So I got all existentialist on her, yo. "What's the point of anything if I can't control things?!" I sobbed, wah wah wah.  "Influence," she said wisely. "You can always influence the outcome." I think I love my therapist.

My absolute avorite written works (and secret bibles) in the entire history of mankind are 'Paradise Lost' and 'Maldoror' and I think subconsciously, I veered towards those two books because they seemed to speak most closely to my nihilistic approach to how I viewed the world and the existence of a higher authority. Perhaps after my therapy sessions ends, my new bible would be something by Emerson... hahahahahahaha *wipes tears from eyes*.

On stuff
Moving is a damn bitch. I hate it. I hate the sound of tape pulling over boxes, I hate standing in line to buy boxes, I hate bubble wrap and newspapers and being scared that my gazillion potteries will break when it falls out of the U-Haul. Moving makes me want to stab my eye with a pencil and yank out my hair and run around screaming like a crazy person. I would pay for professional movers but we just spent all our money buying a house and fixing a shitty bathroom that I can't justify paying someone to pack my shit and load/unload them so I can go back to folding my towels.

But I think more importantly, moving and packing makes, made, whatever... makes me feel bad about myself. It exposes me in ways that make me feel uncomfortable because when you're standing there staring at heaps of glassware and plates and cake pans and throw blankets, it doesn't lie. You can't escape the shelves of sparkly wine cups and gleaming ceramics sitting there serenely and winking wickedly, conspiratorially at you. Amanda, you have a shopping habit. The reason you can't afford movers or an expensive lamp is because you bought ALL these porcelain goodies from Crate and Barrel or DWR and you don't even like them anymore because there's even more porcelain goodies from Crate and Barrel or DWR to buy. So it goes, as Vonnegut says.

Maybe those people at GOMI were right, I've been using blogging all the while to justify a shopping habit (Alright, you hams win!!!). I'm actually pretty mortified at how much junk I have, it's really gross on some level. Maybe crazy cot lady and all the insufferable spartan minimalist holier-than-thou Instagrammers were right. My life would be so much easier and less revolting if I only had to move a couple of Aesop products, a shoebox of kitchen utensils and a Fjallraven backpack of clothes.

But in all seriousness, as I've pointed out before, I'm glad I'm realizing that buying all these things haven't made me a happier person even though just a few years ago, I thought that they did. I know I'm going to accumulate some junk in the future because it's the natural progression of life despite what all the insufferable spartan minimalist holier-than-thou Instagrammers say, but I think the horror of moving and having to clean and pack shit when I'm already so tired and fed-up with everything is going to keep me in check. Yes, it's going to cost me blog readers and Instagram followers because I'm not posting pictures of expensive candles and flowers and plates  and macarons (not macaroons you damn morons!) anymore but at 32, I think I'm old enough to realize that those fleeting moments of validation are an illusion and really just not worth it most of the time.

On this blog
After laying all these things out (and actually having a full-time job, woot!), I think it's safe to say that I should and probably would be hanging up my finely-polished Marni shoes and calling it a day. I'll probably still update occasionally with some pictures on how things are progressing with the house/dog/dog/dog/life/growing zygotes/organic gardening because it's fun and I'm a braggart. I'm debating about starting a new blog  I kind of want to keep things going only because I like having a outlet where I can just moan about the same thing for the umpteenth time and not have anyone cancel lunch on me. Maybe this time for realz, the blog about home decor with my shoddy DIY skills should be called, Assembled Haphazardly.

* Apologies for the potty-mouth of late, I'm trying to get my teenage-angst out of the way.

Truth, word.

The last four or five months has been kind of nuts. If 2015 is any indication of the rest of my life, I think I'll be needing a permanent Vitamin B pump and a ginseng tube (or speed maybe?) Either way, I've been finding it hard to slow down and almost had a crazy nervous breakdown a few weeks ago from working/un-procrastinating about 100 hours a week.

Long story short, I'm finally there, dear readers. I've reached adulthood singularity and beyond me is this infinite expanse of bills, 9-5 jobs, sensible shoes, mom hair and screaming children. I have my dissertation done, my exams scheduled, my gown reserved and a low-paying research contract lined-up. All these years of moaning, finding excuses to procrastinate and talking endlessly about frivolously trivial things has amounted to... one big giant let down.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad I'm finally out in the real world and away from the life-suck of academia but the new exciting world just seems to be more of the same, except honestly, so much scarier. We've been saving for a bit and trying to buy a house that isn't about to fall apart at the seams and would fit a family of three and a dog comfortably while allowing for days where we want to avoid each other as much as possible. Three you say? Well, yes. My biological clock is ticking and my husband isn't quite as cynical or existential as I am and well, if I want to shart out a wailing piglet, I should best do it now before my creaking knees won't be able to withstand the extra weight.

I find it hard after all these years of blathering about quality vs. quantity etc. to come to terms that when you're an adult with a house and a family to think about, spending $600 on a pair of shoes is hardly justifiable. I was looking at cribs and goddamned strollers the other day and wasted time reading some stupid mommy blog about buying a Bugaboo. For a brief moment, I pictured myself in a pair of cloppity No. 6 clogs, a $500 Laura Manoogian sweater and pushing a $1000 stroller with a baby swaddled from head to toe in Nico Nico. That's me! I'm a cool mom.

And then I came to the realization that: (a) the baby would outgrow that damn stroller in three years (b) no one fucking cares if I wear a Laura Manoogian sweater or a Banana Republic one except that I'll be devastated when I have spittle all over the front of a hand knitted alpaca sweater and I'll feel like a moron and  (c) mortgage, college fund, medical bills, hipster car payments, violin lessons, vaccinated trips to Disneyland etc. etc. would render me destitute and careworn.

Would a Bugaboo work better than a $150 Graco stroller from Target? I'm sure it would. Is it necessary? I'm sure if I'm still at the point where my source of validation is Instagram and this blog, it definitely would be. But my point is that in the grand scheme of things, as long as it works well enough and lasts a long time, it doesn't matter. I feel that I've tricked myself into believing all this while that "quality over quantity" crap is sustainable in any way for a regular human being. I mean, at some point in your life, maybe one starts realizing that having twenty Gap t-shirts that you can afford to have stained with applesauce might be more financially prudent than having one $125 Alexander Wang one.

I'm not sure where to draw the line. I'm not entirely sure if my mind hasn't already been so brainwashed by years and years of incessant marketing and being sucked into an Instagram/blog/La Garconne vortex of beautiful people in beautiful clothing with well-behaved children and supportive husbands who vacuum that has made me so blinded to the realities of life. It's hard to remember sometimes that for the six or seven L.A. bohemian mothers who remain at 90lbs after giving birth and living in million dollar mid-century homes, there are thousands and millions of other women dying in childbirth or struggling to balance finances with kids who have autism or military wives or just women whose lives are so much more than just brunching and talking about MNZ shoes.

I keep getting these comments or reading views about how no one wants to read about crappy things and that blogs are a means of escape - but isn't the whole point of a blog to be an online "diary" of sorts? At some point, blogs stopped becoming an interesting read about real life struggles and degenerated into rehashing the same glossy magazine material. I don't know about you, but for every two posts I read about buying some hipster crap, I want to read about the person behind the blog and why she buys what she does and what it means to her instead of every single post being a click bait or a giant advertisement.

It just seems as if the more I have to do or the more responsibilities I have, the less I find that I need to think about simplifying or buying less or consuming less because I have no time to actually buy anything. Suddenly there are a million of other things that seem so much more important for me to use my money on. I've come to the realization that all these purported things that make your life so much more enjoyable and luxurious like $80 candles (I hope you appreciate my ironically posted picture above) and handmade soaps and $40 tea in a can is an absolute waste of money. I don't know if I get that much more enjoyment out of a Cire Trudon candle than I would a farmer's market one. I don't know if Bellocq is selling me good tea or just the pretty tea canister. I don't know if Saipua soaps are worth the price when there's so many really great Etsy sellers making the exact same soap. My point is (and I realize I do a terrible job at getting to the point in any straightforward manner), I don't know if expensive or luxurious things and that whole buy quality over quantity schtick is valid anymore. I mean sure, I want to buy a bike that won't fall apart like a cartoon when I start pedaling, and I want some decent copper pots and pans, but all the seemingly unnecessary nonsense like cushions and shoes and bags and jewelry... it's all just so... wasteful.

Sometimes I look at houses on Instagram, and I think about how in the blue hell does anyone sit on such white couches with overpriced Kantha throw pillows. A blogger recently gave up her comfy couch for a cot. A COT! A fucking COT! A married woman whose husband is fine with this nonsense! It's like these people (women, always women) have their husbands' balls in a vice and makes them agree to never leave a video game lying around or disavow watching the TV and instead of drinking beer on Sundays, go out and plant hydrangeas while their wives brunch their lives and savings away. And the poor children, whose toys are always wooden and sterile and who are forced to live in this colorless void of black and white Pleasantville bullshit. For a while there, I sort of got sucked into this made-up world, and I think that realizing finally, that the more important thing to me instead of picturesque brass trivets and Japanese-turned bowls and white walls was the ability to not have to worry about money, to allow for some mismatched silverware and beer caps lying around, and to just fucking sink into a ratty old couch with my dog and my bazillion books and DVDs and tangles of wires from the TV and the iPad and the computer because it's goddamned exhausting (and frankly quite boring) trying to live the sterile, made up life.

I think some while ago, Moya left a comment about how after having a kid (beautiful little Severin), she couldn't justify spending hundreds of dollars on a dress. I've come to the realization that the more time I have to think about simplifying my life or whatever, the more I tended to shop to offset the items I have that I felt were mismatched or that didn't belong in my replica of a mental asylum. I think having responsibilities and a life that isn't completely based on false online pretense is probably the best way to avoid that whole consumerism black hole in the first place. Go read a book, go watch some trashy TV and think about your child's college fund. And if you don't ever want to have kids, go plan a holiday or save for retirement at 40. Anything is better than sitting around planning some bullshit capsule or rearranging your socks because at the end of the day, these things don't matter; what matters is not having to worry about anything.

P.S.: I'm not saying anything new here, but I just wanted to share some feelings that have been roiling for the last few months. I'm at my fifth month of not buying too much crap: I bought a Karina Bania art, some Heath Ceramics pieces during a Didriks sale, an Uzbek painting from Project Bly and some Simon Pearce glasses from Dara Artisans. I think I'll also be buying a new pair of shoes in the next few weeks. But yay for no random pick-me-up purchases!

ETA: My husband thinks it's very tiring to read meta blog posts about blogs, blogging and bloggers, so I'll shut up and not take things that bug me too seriously. I think he liked it better when I was raving about shoes... weird, no? Let me assure you that I'm really as insufferably whiny in real life as I am on the blog but there's also someone in making sure my stupidity & inadequacy isn't going to ruin my everyday functionality. Thank goodness for voices of reason.

Please buy one less item today and donate to the Red Cross' Nepalese Earthquake fund. All affiliate links revenue from Assembled Hazardly now till the end of the year will be donated to the Nepalese Earthquake fund. Thanks.

Resolutions and commitments

 University of Washington Drumheller Fountain (photo: Assembled Hazardly)

Over the new year, I read a really interesting opinion piece by Ruth Chang in the New York Times on resolutions and why most people see their motivation taper off after a month. Resolutions are different from commitments in that resolutions are temporarily motivational while commitments involve long-term obligations. After reading the article, I decided to commit myself to being someone that I know I can be without having to compromise certain ideals or inherent traits (like being lazy).

I decided to commit myself to:
1. Working out three times a week instead of resolving to lose x amount of pound
2. Spending more time reading a book instead of resolving to spend less time on the internet
3. Being a less pessimistic person, even if this environmental ethics class I'm taking right now is making me so depressed I want to slit my wrists
4. Visiting Instagram and some really unimportant sites only on Sunday

An introspective search made me realize that I could indeed be that person; it wouldn't change me terribly, it would take some hard work, but I could possibly do it. None of my commitments would make me a great person or even a good person but it would be a massive improvement.

Long time readers of the blog will know that Assembled Hazardly has always just been a place where I allow my inner pretentiousness and haphazard train of thought to spill forth, often times in a barrage of word vomit. I think I tend to overshare, which never bodes well in the blogging world. Slate recently wrote about 'The Year of Outrage' where it seems like everyone gets upset about everything these days regardless how things actually started or what the context was or if there really is any truth to the matter. It seems people cherry-pick facts, start a shit storm without thinking about the corresponding consequences and then just fade out - nothing actually happens, no actual justice is done, but it makes one feel good to shame another person or fly off the handle about something just because they can.

The Andrew Goldman story on Slate really struck a chord with me because like this Gawker article points out (albeit poorly), you can be an asshole without being a sexist - no doubt Goldman was an idiot, but he wasn't being sexist in the way that was misconstrued. The funny thing is that most people don't seem to even know the definition of the word they are using except that it's a great sound bite to lob at an opponent. If you call someone a Chinese and they're Chinese American, you're  a racist. If you're slightly jittery and skittish, you have bipolar. If you call a woman crazy, you're a sexist.  If you're President Obama, you're simultaneously a fascist and a socialist. All of which makes no sense.

I'm only pointing this out because as I sat through the aforementioned ethics class yesterday, I thought about what my own personal definition of being ethical, just and fair meant. When I say I want to shop ethically, what does it really mean? Sure, I want respect and living wages for factory workers even if that meant I had to pay more. In an ideal world, socialism would work but this world isn't ideal and thrives on capitalism and greed, so if my demand for workers rights forces companies to raise prices, I don't lose out - poorer people do. This whole green-washing thing seems to serve only one purpose, which is to make richer, liberal consumers feel better about themselves while shaming companies that make a huge profit, all in the name of helping the poor.

People get outraged when things like the Rana Plaza collapse happens or when they read stories about environmental exploitation and animal welfare. They tweet endlessly, call for change on some level because it makes them feel like they're doing something immediate but it all dissipates the next moment another sensationalist story comes along. Being outraged about it and wanting to do the "right" thing like boycotting factories and buying subsistence-farmed goods doesn't make the problem go away. The outrage is misplaced, because it fails to take into account that the entire economic and social justice system is flawed. It's also easier to be outraged than to actively seek a pragmatic, level-headed solution because outrage (as opposed to rage) is temporary emotion that provides an ephemeral sense of urgency. This excellent article by Nicki Cole summarizes my premise more succinctly.

Looking at my own consumption habits over the last year or two have led me to questions about the driver for my habits. I think they are two fold - one is because they give me a sense of being in control about the larger social and environmental impacts and two is because I like humblebragging and my sense of worth is tied very closely to my consumption habits (hence commitment #4 above). I buy a lot of eco-friendly products, I compost and recycle and I grow my a lot of my own vegetables all because they assuage my fears about the environment. I buy sustainably-farmed meat and organic vegetables because they make me feel better about eating an animal and not putting pollutants into the earth.  I buy "ethically-sourced" clothing, handmade artisan jewelry, natural beauty products and try to limit shopping at fast-fashion chains because I feel good thinking that my money is going directly into the pockets of workers and not corporations. Not that any of these things really matter in the grand scheme of things - it's a step in the right direction, but it still is consumerism after all.

I've come to the realization that this is flawed thinking, the world can't be saved by green consumerism (sorry, we've kind of boxed ourselves in) and any single kind of consumption - the very act of human existence - contributes to environmental and social injustice. The presence of the human race displaces justice for every other species on earth. The very fact that the latest IPCC report, put out by one of the most conservative climate panels in the world, is taking geoengineering into account is simultaneously frightening and depressing. Short of suffering from a complete existential meltdown and going bonkers (don't worry, I often sound more pessimistic that I really am hence New Year's commitment #3) the only thing I can think about doing on my end is to be diligent at influencing policies with my work and degree and actively seek to REALLY reduce consumption on every front - which I've admittedly done a horrifyingly bad job on.

So my fifth and final commitment for this year is to finish/wear what I own before purchasing something new. I can't tell myself to buy less because it's so arbitrary and it hasn't work thus far but I can (and should) commit to wearing out something to shreds or to finish a bottle of eye cream or to eat all my cereal or to drink all the vodka (note to self :-)) before making a new purchase which would hopefully cut down on my rate of consumption drastically without me having to resolve to anything temporary.

Final note: I know some of you have stumble here from GOMI, where I am known by The Road Less Jenna (I'm revealing my username as atonement for my snarkery) and am an occasional participant in the That Wife, Product Reviews and Gluten Free Girl threads. There is also a Minimalist Blogger thread that criticizes this blog, constructively but sometimes in fairly unsubstantiated ways, for having double standards. I encourage you to read through ALL the posts on this blog that have detailed my transition from an enthusiastic prep to a sweatpants-wearing, beer-bellied dogmother and to call me out in the comments which is opened to everyone and will never be censored unless it contains more than three swear words or involves embarrassing parts of the anatomy. I like learning from my mistakes and being more critical about my thought process and this blog facilitates open discussion. I don't moderate comments, and when I have to, I don't do it willingly but it's a feature on Blogger that all comments older than 3 weeks have to be held in queue for spam.

Packing light: Tropical Vacation Edition

A real testament to minimalist living is when you're forced to pack right before leaving for a week of vacation and right after a grueling exam. I actually used the list below as my packing list and took the clothing/packing photos the day before I was scheduled to leave but never got around to posting them because I had decided that I only wanted to splay out on the beach in my full bloppy-bodied glory sans a laptop or any kind of technology (it lasted for about two minutes before I felt the need to connect to the online world :P)

Our trip to Anguilla had been long overdue, and full-confession: this is actually our real honeymoon since we got married two years ago. If you're thinking about your next tropical vacation, this small island comes highly recommended; Anguilla is by far the most friendly and the most beautiful, and has some of the most exclusively luxurious beaches I've ever been to (and that includes Asia, Hawaii, Central and South America and many other parts of the Caribbean). If I were to ever move back to a location with tropical climate (holy shit, ants!!), I would pick Anguilla in a heartbeat.

Our 5 day trip was spent eating delicious albeit expensive seafood, drinking heavily-spiked rum punches and laying around on Shoal Bay whilst being treated like royalty by our the wonderful Robin and her crew at Las Esquinas - a boutique bed and breakfast that comes highly recommended on TripAdvisor. We were kind of lucky in that we left Anguilla right before the Christmas rush so we had entire strips of beaches mostly to ourselves and we were able to enjoy some of the nicer restaurants with last minute reservations. I had the most magnificent Coconut Cheesecake at Blanchard's Beach Shack which I am going to for a New Year's party and if you ever find yourself needing a recommendation for where to eat in Anguilla, please do yourself a favor and try the Chef's Tasting Menu at Veya.

 (Las Esquinas at sundown. Photo by AssembledHazardly)

Anyway, back to packing tips. I love traveling light and even on two week trips, I usually just lug around my 19" Briggs & Riley Commuter (fits in ALL window-side overhead bins including international flights) and a personal bag (fits under the seat in front of me). Depending on my destination, I sometimes use a backpack as a personal item or on this trip where things were slightly more upscale, I used a nice leather tote. I find that as long as you pack clothing that are easy to wash and dry and some laundry detergent, it's extremely easy to pack lightly. I never allow myself to carry more than two pairs of shoes (not including ones that I wear on the plane) and while a lot of people pooh-pooh at the idea of synthetic fibers, traveling with viscose-jersey and modal is a god-send. I'm a huge fan of Eileen Fisher clothing for all my travels and stockpile Gap modal panties whenever possible - modal, tencel or viscose are moisture wicking, washable, quick-drying, lightweight and if packed correctly, wrinkle free. The only time I don't wear synthetic fibers is on the plane when I try to mostly wear cotton and wool since synthetic fibers is highly flammable and can melt onto your skin in case of emergency, yikes!

I also use a lot of packing cubes and hoard a bunch of cotton drawstring bags that I use for shoe storage, underwear and to keep my clothes wrinkle free. Dirty clothes go into a waterproof diaper bag to keep out funky smells. I have to just state for the record that the Briggs & Riley is not the most lightweight suitcase but it rolls over cobblestone like nobody's business and takes a severe beating from all the crazy chucking around that airlines do while offering an unconditional lifetime warranty. I've also discovered through experience that a nice black dress and a pair of dressy shoes is imperative. I ended up using my Eileen Fisher shift dress paired with the Marni jeweled sandals for all three nights that we dined at fancier restaurants. I found that even with my very low-key jewelry, the shoes and clutch completely jazzed up the outfit. I brought along my trusty Isabel Marant scarf that I used all through the airport/airplane as a wrap and as a cover up on the beach.

To make plane travel easier, I always, always, always have a sleep mask with me, a pair of earplugs and in-ear headphones (noise canceling ones e.g. Bose give me a headache and are extremely uncomfortable for sleeping) and a travel therapy spray of some sort. On our five-hour journey home from D.C. to San Francisco, we sat adjacent to a screaming baby who literally screeched for three-quarters of the flight and some high NRR earplugs made everything slightly more bearable (those poor, unfortunate parents). In terms of skincare/cosmetics, I've grown quite fond of the Grown Alchemist Travel Set (body and skincare all in one) and find myself chucking that in a transparent case with some samples of scrubs and cleansers and calling it a day. I know some frequent travelers think it's dumb to travel with shampoo and soap, but a word of advice, if you're at all picky about your hair and you're staying at any place other than a chain hotel, bring your own shampoo so you don't have to pay a tourist's price for dinky bottles of Pantene at gift shops. 

I've listed my top ten items for traveling as well as my actual packing list below; I'm of a fan of multi-use items and one of the perks of having a blog is using a post as a to-do list and to keep you honest. For most of my trip, my only regret was not bringing an extra shirt or my Rennes dress. There's nothing like having to live out of a suitcase to make one realize it's entirely possible to survive with 10 items of clothing for a season. I find myself constantly surprised by how much I have no need or want for most of the things I own when I travel. I often come home after a vacation to the realization that I have so much crap that I really need to change my lifestyle - and that in itself is entirely fulfilling experience. If you have any other tips for packing minimally, please share!

Assembled Hazardly's Top 10 Must-Haves for Traveling
1. Lightweight black shift dress
2. Dressy shoes
3. Good walking shoes
3. Klorane Dry Shampoo
4. Tom Ford Concealer Pen
5. BB Cream with SPF
6. iPhone
7. Lightweight Shawl
8. Earphones
9. Olivine Atelier Beauty + Love Facial Mist
10. In Fiore Veloutee 

Black jersey dress  (Eileen Fisher)
Beach tunic (J. Crew)
Swimsuit (Araks)
Sandals (Ancient Greek)
Dressy sandals (Marni)
Linen tee (J. Crew)
Beach pants (J. Crew) 
Short-sleeve Tee (Organic John Patrick)
Shorts (The Gap which I cut and hemmed)
Sleep shorts
Sleep tee
Underwear (I love the modal ones from The Gap and I brought five) 
Wireless bras (three)
Sun hat
Beach tote
Fouta towel 

Travel outfit
J. Crew Sweatpants
APC x Nike Sneakers
Gap Essential Long-sleeve Tee
Organic John Patrick Cardigan
Isabel Marant Ghazo Scarf
Travel hair straightener
Oribe Fine Hair Spray
Klorane Dry Shampoo
Ziploc bags

Think Baby! Sunscreen SPF 50+
Aloe Vera After Sun Care
Bug spray
Delicate wash detergent in travel packs
Waterproof bag
Thera Tears dry eye drops
Contacts solution and case
Sulwhasoo Overnight Revitalizing Mask
Sulwhasoo Ginseng Moisturizer 
Grown Alchemist Travel Set
RMS Eye Polish in Magnetic
Kjaer Weis Cream Blush
Guerlain BB Cream
Soleil Toujours SPF 45++
Face scrub and mask
Skyn Iceland Eye Mask
Caudalie Hand Cream
Ilia Lip Conditioner
In Fiore Veloutee
Olivine Atelier Beauty Mist
La Bella Figura Travel Therapy
Tom Ford Concealer Pen
Anastasia Brow Pencil
Personal Items Bag
iPad mini
Paperback book
Battery Pack
Noise-cancelling headphones
Blanche silk eye mask
Pinch Provisions Minimergency Kit (added a folding scissors)
Travel Documents
Change of underwear/tee shirt
Energy bar
Nail File
Small Camera

And as a year end sidenote, thank you so much to everyone who has been following this blog through all my pessimistic rants and indecipherable gibberish, through all my ridiculous opinions and inane observations, and through my recent slew of affiliate links. Thank you and I hope you have the loveliest of holidays and a wonderful new year.

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.


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!:

  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!). 
  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. 

  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.

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:

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. 

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?

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?

14. What's your astrological sign? 

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?

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

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 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.