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There has been a great deal of talk online about Forever 21 lately, and most of it is not good. But you wouldn’t know it if you left the net and walked into a store. Recently in my local mall they moved into an empty Mervyns, a space at least 5 times larger than their previous one. And I admit, when I walked in for the first time, it was exciting. While many smaller stores can be impossible to find anything in, this one was organized and spread out, filled with customers and not crowded.

And the allure of Forever 21 is the accessibility: you can walk in a know that you can afford anything you see. When I walk into Anthropologie, I want everything I see, but I can certainly not afford much more than a tube of lip gloss. And whenever I go, I can always find something rather unique or trendy that spices up my day.

But is anything there really unique? Most signs point to no – and even I, not in the industry, always see similar patterns and designs in their merchandise. It reminds me of when I used to sell women’s shoes at Macy’s and there was a Payless right outside the door. I would often see the exact same designs at Payless that we were selling next door for 4 times the price. The catch of course with shoes is that there is no comparison for quality. But for a trendy t-shirt, quality isn’t such an issue; by all accounts you don’t need to wear it for years, and the shirts that cost $100 versus $12 don’t seem all that better; you’re buying the label.

image Call it the trickle-down effect…

Therein lies the rub: the label, and the reason that designers are making a big fuss. Now I’m not talking about the allegations about cheap labor and production – that’s another issue, one which is more serious in my mind and not addressed here (This is a great article for that issue). Let’s take the case of Virginia Johnson, who sued and settled with 21:

In 2005, her intern spotted a skirt in a Manhattan Forever 21 with a print much like one that Johnson had sold the previous season at Barneys. Johnson’s skirt went for about $175; Forever 21’s version was less than $18.

I’m sorry, but for most of 21’s clientele, $175 is out of reach, so it’s not as if they were stealing Johnson’s potential customers. It must be frustrating for these designers, but I’m sorry, their clothing is just too expensive for many consumers, especially when the clothing is so on-trend that they won’t be able to wear it next season.

This is a result of our economic system: demand producing supply. This is a different type of intellectual property than say, literature or creative writing, because  if two authors wrote the same book, the consumer could choose either one. But there is no choice for me between the Johnson skirt and the “copy” sold at 21.

So the real issue here is not really economic ,which is ironic since all the designer will ever get is a financial settlement, but artistic. And 21 is trying to use more in-house designs that will be original, though there is bound to be some overlap, as artists have always created in ways that speak to the work of other artists.

And we are already Forever 21-ing art. We sell prints, postcards, bookmarks, and puzzles of A Starry Night, because 99% of us can neither afford or even see the original. And does the artist get a cut of every image out there of their painting? Would the designers be content to see a sign over their designs indicating the origin of the design? I highly doubt it.

So it comes down to money. And if I have to hear one more designer bitch about Forever 21 ripping off their $1000 dress…

Is imitation still the sincerest form of flattery?

I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the way Forever 21 practices business – they can be sketchy – but in the matter of copying expensive designer’s clothing for the general public, there is less sympathy to be had, and at the end of the day there’s no fake Fendi label on the knock-off purse, only one from Forever 21.

Not me, but she sure looks like a grad student!

No matter how hard you try, and how vigilant you are, there are certain things that seem inevitable in grad school. Such as,

  • sporadic moderate-t0-heavy drinking
  • brain lapses
  • finger blisters/laptop burns
  • late-night delirium
  • extreme productivity followed by days of nothingness
  • meeting a professor who calls out your bullshit (even if you didn’t know it was in fact bullshit)
  • lack of every-day hair-washing

Oh the irony: my school's library is named after Charles Shultz.

BUT, today’s kick in the ass is brought to you by the library, who so lovingly supplies you with books, and so hatefully charges you when you don’t bring them back, because, you are, you know, using them. (And definitely not letting them sit on your desk collecting dust while you write blog entries. Never.)

When you have 37 library books checked out, and 27 of them come to your from LINK+, from other libraries, one is bound to slip through the cracks. Add to this the fact that the lending period for LINK+ books is only a couple weeks, and you can only renew if for 2 more weeks. And if you happen to, eek, not return it on time, the fee is A DOLLAR A DAY. In the grad school world, that burns.

So many future drinks already gone.

And this weekend, I entered my office and checked my email only to see that I accidentally ignored an email stating a book was due 12 days ago. Which, math folks, is $12. Sigh.

Um, yes....?

So, in grad school, you will check out books. You will “forget” to renew them. You will accrue fines. And, screw it all, you will pay them. Because it’s the right thing to do.

…Ok, truthfully, you will pay them becasue the library will stop you from checking out new books until the fines are paid. Clever-tricky bastards. (Whom I love despite.)

I must say, sometimes living in ‘the age of information’ scares the shit out of me.

As per my previous blog, I periodically check what pops up under a Google search of my name, partly to be safe, partly because I’m bored. Now imagine my surprise when tonight I come across a ‘public resource’ site with a 17-page IRS document in pdf form from the foundation that I received a scholarship from in 2004. Not only is my name listed under the amount I was given, along with all the other names of the winners from that year, but ALL OUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS!

This is not something one sees every day. Imagine me a bit freaked.

I quickly shot off an email to the contact person for the website, asking them to please remove this sensitive data right away because it could be harmful not only to me but to everyone else on this list. He got back to me very quickly and blocked out the info on the form, which made me partly happy. But he also suggested that, instead of ‘yelling at strangers’ I should contact the foundation, who sold the information. But did they really?? And why should I be made to feel bad about something so threatening? My SSN is my identity after all, and one has to guard it closely, like one holds their child back from the lion cage. And let me say that I did not speak in capitals, but just had a few exclamation points, which does not mean yelling, but conveys excitement, concern, etc.

Have I experienced not only a breach of security but a breach of email etiquette??

But the night was not over. I decided to get my free yearly credit report (and don’t listen to those dumb commercials, there is only one sight that lets you get your free report and doesn’t charge you, like all the others do) and I found a weird $42 charge from Certegy, a check certification company. Now I can’t tell whether I owe them this money or not, because I was never told about bouncing a check last year in November, because I didn’t. And from what I can tell, people HATE Certegy because they reject checks from people who have lots of money – basically they use algorithms to verify checks, not your actual information.

I don’t know what this thing is, but I want it off my credit report. Call them, you say? Well, if you like being on hold because ‘all lines are busy’ at 12am at night, and never talking to anyone, then that is for you.

Sometimes the world of money and debt and federal information slaps you right in the face, and it stinks. And lets be honest, there is really nothing you can do about it. Except yell at strangers in emails, apparently.

It all makes me miss the days when all I worried about was what to bring to show and tell the next day. But wait – haven’t you heard? Children are now frequent victims of identity theft.

I need a cookie.