whatever thoughts aug 25

Even though I started this account largely because I know I am incapable of journaling by hand because I write slowly and with the readability of a Pekingese dog given a pen, I haven’t been writing much here EITHER because instead my problem is continually thinking I should only publish a blog post if I have a clear thesis and good writing.

This post will likely have neither of those things.

This post is me being angry inside as I read Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino and a group chat among acquaintances and two friends (because for some reason at the dawn of group chats it seems we’ve decided it is too brazen to leave or remove someone from a chat, at least in my social circles, so they all seem to become shitpiles of people I mostly don’t talk to or even like but still contain jewels of people I do want to hear about so I stay but mute the chat to only pop in when I have the wherewithal). The two are wrapping around each other in my brain and I thought I was first angry about classism and class divides and the unfairness of them but more tangibly I’m angry about how the desire to present an image of wealth on social media has tainted so many of my friendships.

Backing up: I grew up kind of broke and then lived some of my life, concurrent with the 2008-2009 recession and aftermath, so broke I’d say it had two syllables. I was buh-roke. Not to be confused but humorously homonymous with ostentatious baroque styling.

I was mad about it for a while and still am sometimes. I am still working through my internalized stigma and shame around secondhand shopping as ThredUp and Poshmark become popular and thrifting seems to be entering a renaissance because it is so clearly marked as ecologically friendly. After all, it is trivially easy to post and location mark your local Goodwill with a caption about how you’re working to save the planet. I agree with this in concept even as I am annoyed to see how picked over every resale shop is getting either for virtue signaling or for flipping on apps like Depop, having been someone who relied heavily on those cheap clothes to keep me out of the other cheap clothes (Walmart) which could be easily picked up on by classmates as being, well, cheap and the place where only losers shopped for back to school outfits.

I do grow more and more grateful for it every day; I realize that the things I learned because they were common in my household (reusing food containers so you don’t need to buy new ones; minor and sometimes major car repair; sewing holes and adding on lost buttons; creating games and worlds and toys out of odd things and heavily using the local library) are sometimes completely new ideas to my middle and upper class acquaintances and colleagues now in this strange new world I’ve moved to and they make me look sometimes like a keeper of secret knowledge and intuitions. I’m pretty open about where the knowledge actually originated in part as my ongoing effort to claim or reclaim my origins but admittedly also because I am entertained watching these people try not to flinch. It seems people who were born into houses that were sprayed at the perimeter with pesticides and with two and only two running cars out front (or perhaps in the connected finished garage!) have some sort of built in divide from and concrete mental image of what the poor folks look like. Maybe that’s not it and I’m projecting or maybe that’s not it just because it’s a simpler answer, that socially it’s usually unacceptable to loudly and openly discuss class and pay rates and having missed meals as a teenager.

At any rate, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that my very existence in a friend group otherwise comprised of the middle, upper middle, and lower upper class (because we know middle class has almost no meaning – but I mean the range of “we went to public school but we were driven in an SUV to the drop off and were packed a lunch” to “we went to a private school and got a new car as a 16th birthday gift, we all had plenty of expensive hobbies like violin and gymnastics and took at least a weeklong vacation with a flight annually but I still insist we weren’t like rich we couldn’t do anything” — there is a uniting lack of recognition in these groups that not being rich to most other people means no vacations, no flying, the free or reduced school meal plan, and only doing extracurricular if the bus can bring you home because all the adults are working) – my existence in these group chats and brunches almost always begins to feel unwelcome by a few months in. This is usually the point by which multiple people have defended leasing a car as the most economically smart plan because “cars fall apart after like three years anyway” and my eyeballs have rolled out of my skull putting everyone off their mimosas. My existence and inability to just shut up has by this point led me to point out that I could help my friends who own houses before 30 because of down payment gifts from parents change their oil since they’re not bound by apartment agreements forbidding car work (which is, in itself, often a class issue as what they really don’t want is the complex to look like a place where dirty working class people do automobile labor) and this causes everyone to tilt their head slightly before recovering and crowing that I’m sooo resourceful to know how to do that kind of thing and just say they’ll take it to the shop they had just been complaining about overcharging them but thaaanks.

Moreover, by this point everyone will have asked for my Instagram and I will have followed theirs back due to social pressure and the bittersweet sad hope I always have that some of them will at least be cool, maybe just one, and we can be friends, and I will have started to see the parade of imagery suggesting their perfect life…..which I will never understand because the followers seeing the pictures of their new car, new shoes, vacation, and visits to pop-up experiences basically made to be ‘grammed are the same people (I’ve yet to encounter someone whose following is mostly strangers) who SPEAK TO THEM IN REAL LIFE to hear them complain about their lease payments and fees, their credit card debts, their shoplifting habits, and that they spent two hours of fleeting lifetime waiting in a line to Venmo an LLC $20 to stand a foot away from thousands of other people who are more or less staying politely just out of frame and taking turns taking each others’ photos so they can simultaneously look like the only people at an installation but also like they went with a fleet of friends willing to lay on the ground and get their best angles. It’s a display of time and money that I ostensibly know the person does not have, because they will say so in real life with the understanding that I guess I’m supposed to comment with a bunch of fawning emoji to boost their engagement…even though we all know it’s a damn sham.

I feel simultaneously like I’m missing a huge clue to understanding and relating to this behavior and being able to just make a freaking friend once in a while, and like my prior poverty is a cloak keeping me from whatever consumerist pressure is in the world. Not all of it, clearly, because I definitely just bought two different deluxe versions out of four for Taylor Swift’s new album even though her fans are diligently posting the special contents of each online….. I have been moving every two to three years of my adult life as a constant game or race of job and rent and lifestyle changes, sometimes because I picked it and sometimes because I was ushered into it by rising costs of living or soul crushing and “illegal but the cops don’t care you need a lawyer you don’t have money for” circumstances, meaning my social life is perpetually fractured and damn, sometimes I just want to be able to settle in but it seems inevitable that I lose or forfeit friendships over the disdain/jealousy/confusion developed after recognizing that yet another person seems relatable and friendly over lunch but expects me to pay lots of money and take lots of photos of whatever would be currently best received online.

I just want to eat Doritos on the floor or my cat-shredded couch or an old blanket outside and talk about library books. Shit. Stop making me dance around why I still have and love my filthy ten year old car because we’re all uncomfortable with anything but acting like we have too much money to know what to do with. Stop inviting me to spend my precious rare vacation time and money in this capitalist at-will employment hellscape on flashy trips that wind up being full of waiting lines, expensive drinks and hangovers, and clothing we wear one time. Most of all, stop asking me to return to past locales to visit when I am thoroughly broke and midwestern in heritage meaning I will always make room for you to crash and feed you but if I take my ass back there you’ll tell me your neighborhood’s newer and more gentrified name when I ask about suggestions on where to sleep, not even more detailed data so I could stay close and save on a ride by walking, god forbid an offering of your couch. I guess that’s not Instagrammable even though you bought it from Article with a podcast coupon.

Down the rabbit hole: shorts for quad goalz

Before I begin, some stage setting since no one who may someday read this knows me.

  • I know that mass market clothing brands probably don’t do their design in house. I also know, or am pretty sure, no exercise shorts sold for below 20-25USD are ethically designed or made.
  • As I reach a point of personal financial solvency, I’ve been trying to spend my money dollars with more sustainable, small business, creator led etc brands. This makes me extra pissy when I feel like a brand is riding on this image when not acting in accordance with the assumptions they lead their readers toward. I am petty and I have the time, but I know many people don’t care. This is why I’m finally just writing this instead of shouting at my friends about my red string covered cork board full of photos of shorts.
  • I have what I would call a fairly extensive sports and athletic background. I also get bored easily, so it is more broad than deep. I am not sure, to date, that I even buy the reasoning that I should own different clothes for different activities (protective or specific purpose gear notwithstanding)
  • I really, really, prefer things to Just Work. I refuse to believe that single drops of inventory, clothing with no pockets, etc. are necessary or defensible except in fringe cases. I will remain convinced to my grave that this is 98% of the time a marketing/cost saving measure. If a brand is truly interested in giving back to a community and/or has a single proprietor in charge who cares about their product, either their About Us or their business practice is bullshit if they do things like this. I’ve shopped from many small brands that do sell out quickly, but they do not engage in trumping up the drops for artificial scarcity and will employ wait lists, custom orders, etc. not to mention, often reasoning behind choices (like “unfortunately this linen knit was too light to support dual seam pockets”).

Anyway. On to the lukewarm tea.

I work out and I like to keep my bits covered when I do it. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, not in a “gymnasium as in naked” when I exercise. When I started lifting more after a running injury, I found my lined running shorts got uncomfortable and I needed different drawers.

I soon discovered there’s a rich and saturated market for what I’d call fitspo clothing, in particular geared toward Crossfitters and female lifters. I think this was even more dramatic before about….2014-2016 when I think Reebok started really leaning in to manufacturing CrossFit clothing and shoes but I could be wrong. At some point there was definitely a void to be filled after CrossFit got huge, women were being marketed to for strength and grrl power again, and some sexy and fit AF women who were getting on sports radars started thinking about how to diversify (see: Brooke Ence with NOBULL and EnceWear in particular, she’s very business savvy). Ronda Rousey became a household name. Gina Carano got movie gigs. Idk, something cultural happened and now my feed is full of questionable deadlift form to show off booty shorts that are the same single-stitched straight cut iteration of the same four-way-stretch sweat-wicking spandex blend, because there just aren’t that many ways to make workout shorts. At least not cheaply, quickly, and in quantity.

In particular, I’d say the following brands came up a lot as a result of my Google-Skynet profile, what my friends are wearing, and so on:

  • FLEO
  • Feed Me Fight Me
  • Fabletics (some sort of larger brand, subscription model)
  • Beast Worx
  • Activate Apparel (mostly in the market of witty designs/slogans on unhemmed shirts, not shorts)
  • Doughnuts and Deadlifts (I do like donuts; not really shorts focused)

The items without parentheticals all strike me, along with several smaller brands, as eerily similar. I initially starting digging down the rabbit hole with a hypothesis that I would be able to discover a common supplier. Maybe perhaps that all would be based and/or ship out of the LA area as this seems common; I suspect this also because CrossFit is incorporated in California and LA obviously has plenty of garment manufacturers, borderline sweat shops, and aspiring fashion and graphic designers.

I wasn’t able to track anything regarding manufacturing or supply, or even printing, but I did find that a couple of items on Beast Worx and FMFM shared the exact same skull donut design (in part because I liked it and really wanted a black background pair from BW but they, naturally, did a single time limited run only.) I didn’t find anything significant explaining this (maybe they announced a collab but I forgot) and it doesn’t seem to be anything fishy. I found no evidence they are owned by a shared parent, etc, so I dropped that. Something still felt like a game was afoot, though. I can’t explain why. Plenty of Shopify accounts exist online now, with limited inventory that is chiefly factory designs. Not really any harm or foul in it. The whole niche just seemed off to me still.

In my manufacturer/printer search I did find something of interest about FLEO almost by accident: a graphic/textile designer posted about two of her designs from PatternBank (a website for designers to list their art for potential licensing by brands or garment producers, basically like stock photo sites function as third parties for licensing images) being licensed by FLEO.

[Link to post; last retrieved 23 Jun 2019]

I haven’t purchased from FLEO before, as frankly I find their ordering, sizing, and fabric selections to be tedious and complicated, like how when Lularoe was big their sellers often had complex but cutesy guides to finding your size….per garment….and per fabric. And none of them had real measurements (at least FLEO has measurements I guess) you just had to guess at what a Medium meant for you, then go up or down one or two sizes for different garments. The FLEO version of this is more related to the cut and fabric (lined, unlined, etc) but in a way that, to me, is difficult to manage especially when taking into account that their sales model is (also similar to Lularoe now that I think about it) offering a rotating rack of different and new designs, not always available across all items, which tend to be dropped once and rarely restocked. The brand is quite popular in women’s lifting circles and even the unlined, 2.5″ inseam shorts (my bad napkin math says maybe 3/8 to 1/5 yd of fabric, then, per average pair?) are about $45USD so I guess I have a hard time believing this model is necessary for sales. But whatever, capitalism; this isn’t even my main issue. I digress.

My main issue is a sentence I’ve found in nearly every fawning blog post, review, and on FLEO’s own site:

We design our shorts in-house and manufacture them in the USA!  

I made sure at time of writing that this was still on their site and not just an older assertion (even though those designs I posted were licensed back in 2017) and it was. Some screen grabs of this statement:

It’s not unusual for a site or company’s “About Us” blurb to be used in press releases and listicles since it’s usually already been drafted, chosen, approved, the whole nine, so that isn’t weird to me. I do find it a bit weird that the company is still trotting out the in-house design line. If the designs are licensed and they’ve already established their different cuts, what is being designed?

But GG, maybe they just liked those designs in 2017. Maybe there was an extenuating circumstance.

Maybe. Let’s start with the same designer; it looks like she posted a second announcement about two more designs in August 2017 and hinted there might be more underway later.

I decided to poke around on the FLEO site myself and PatternBank and see what could be found. I thought these were pretty cute, and monsteras are definitely on trend:

I saw from those blog posts that FLEO tends to change the names of patterns, but luckily for me I have some art apps and PatternBank has a remarkably precise “search by color” feature. It took me about five minutes to find this:

Pardon my accidentally drawing on the snapshot. It looks pretty close! I took both photos into an art app and rotated and aligned them and I don’t personally think there is any question that this is another design FLEO licensed to have printed and made into shorts.

I may not have been able to satisfy my curiosity about whether or not some of these brands are using a shared pattern or factory for their cuts (I mean, there are only so many ways to sew a pair of shorts so I’m happy to leave them the benefit of the doubt) but this still feels disingenuous in my opinion. Even if the patterns were originally self-drafted and the first prints were self-designed, it seems from the outside in that they’re charging sole proprietor boutique prices for licensed art made into garments by what I’d bet a whole paycheck is a third party printer/factory/storage and fulfillment warehouse. (I say this because they’ve been profiled by a fulfillment company in the ShipBob snippet above, and printing and manufacturing are prohibitively expensive for a small team to produce at scale. I admit my evidence is circumstantial.)

Multiple documentaries and exposés have been made on what are still illegal and unlivable conditions in US based factories, so without further information on the production I’m never willing to believe that US soil alone means my purchase is supporting livable wages and fairly compensated people behind the garments.

Oh, and by the way…..PatternBank allows for exclusive licensing for more money if the artist opts in to that, and none of the examples I’ve listed here were licensed in that fashion (please excuse me this one bad pun) so….aside from the higher costs of commissioning at a small scale, I’m not sure what would stop you from legally making your own pair of any of these shorts if you were really itching for an “exclusive” sold out pair.