"You're in fashion? So cool/chic/glam!" Shalcy Robins receives the same reaction every time she shares her occupation with someone new. Robins thoroughly enjoys what she does, but "Glam is only 10% of the fashion industry," she says. That 10% -- the artistic photoshoots, the luxurious parties, and the high-end runway shows -- is what is broadcast on television, youtube, and social media. This misleads those of us who aren't in fashion to think that the glitz and glam is an accurate reflection of the industry as a whole. As it turns out, we've all missed the mark.
So then, if photoshoots, parties, and runway shows aren't at the core of the fashion industry, what is? What's the other 90%? Robins sat down with myself, a content curator completely oblivious to fashion, to decode the mysteries of a misunderstood industry.
"Let's say you want to design and produce a jacket," Robins says, "Once you've finalized the jacket's design, count how many parts your jacket includes. Perhaps fabrics, a zipper, buttons, a drawstring, a fur hood, and your label -- that's six parts. Now, to produce just your first sample, you'll have to find six vendors that create each of these items in the way you envisioned, all at a price points within your budget. Once you have the parts ready, you still have to find skilled pattern makers, seamstresses, and other apparel workers, to put your jacket together."
Robins' point is: the bulk of fashion is doing the leg work. Yes, there are the big fashion houses, for whom leg work is limited. Fabric producers and trim manufacturers send them samples without ever receiving a request from them. However, most individuals working in fashion are the aspirational designers, hard-working production staff, and apparel workers such as beaders, seamstresses, and textile machinery operators. The designers, past the design stage, are running around their cities, searching for fabric dyers who can dye their Venetian wool a neon yellow, the production staff is staying up until 11:30pm to hop on the call with the overseas factory that is supplying their fabrics, and the textile machinery operators are standing for long hours, hunched over the automated cutters to create perfectly-shaped pockets for their clients' new line of dresses.
"Doing the leg work," Robins explains, "Is the best part of my job. I'm always on the hunt for better fabrics and trims…and sometimes I'll receive a recommendation from a friend of a friend who tells me to try the beaders in the cement building with no name behind some other building with no name. After 30 minutes of aimless wandering, I'll stumble upon the best-kept secret in LA, a group of hand-beaders whose work is artisan-quality. These hand-beaders are Mexican immigrants who learned their trade in Mexico; they're chatting up a storm with each other when I walk in. When they see me, they come up to greet me in a most warm, inviting manner, and are eager to help me with my project however they can."
So next time you watch the Victoria's secret runway show on television, keep in mind that a lot went on behind the scenes before the show came to fruition. Somebody was doing the leg work, creating, and building personal relationships. That is the heart of fashion.