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Get To Know Uniform, A Clothing Line That Does Real Good In The World

Fashion
Photo via @shopuniform Instagram

And has A$AP Ferg as a collaborator

It was a quintessential case of no good deed going unpunished. Chid Liberty, after pivoting out of Silicon Valley, had spent years working to build a fair trade garment factory in Liberia, the country where he was born, striving to provide jobs and training to local women as well as high-quality garments to major American brands. His company, Liberty & Justice, had established the foothold that its founder envisioned and was making significant positive change when disaster struck.

“We had some really large agreements with major U.S. brands and were building up a pretty nice supply chain for those brands, becoming a really great production partner for them, but we were completely knocked out by the Ebola outbreak,” Liberty says.

Fortunately, none of the women working for Liberty died, but after nine months waiting for the outbreak to pass, their previous clientele was hesitant to resume business in Liberia. Left with $100,000 worth of fabric from a massive order of men’s dress pants and no client to make them for, Liberty and his team took a blank slate approach to their next move.

“For a long time, we couldn’t really decide and find solutions to use that fabric. It became clear, after a while, that the best use of that fabric was for school uniforms,” Liberty says. “They were this major thing that so many people needed in the country, but couldn’t afford. So my mission became: The factory is here, and the fabric is here, but how can we give the clothing away for free?”

From there, Uniform, a sleek, eminently affordable brand of women's and men’s basics was born. The line’s clean, efficient minimalism, reasonable price point, and gray-leaning palette make the clothing an easy addition to the millennial wardrobe, but its commitment to providing African students with uniforms is the keystone of the entire project. With each purchase, a uniform is donated to a child in need, and studies have indicated that having one coincides with reduced truancy and higher test scores.

Uniform launched through Kickstarter in June 2015 and instantly found widespread support. 

“We hit our Kickstarter goal in the first five hours which is pretty crazy. Two things really resonated with people. First, the idea of getting kids school uniforms, which is really powerful and statistically proven to get kids better attendance, better grades, and reduce teen pregnancy,” Liberty says. “But on the flip side, I think people were really into the idea of this factory that was half-owned by the workers and providing jobs and other social services to women, and the fact that it was going to be shut down due to this crazy random thing in the form of the Ebola outbreak.”

From there, Uniform partnered with Bloomingdale’s to distribute, while also building up a healthy business online. Production expanded, and Liberty sought to spread the impact of his original Liberty & Justice factory to other African nations. They currently produce in Nakuru, Nairobi, and Maungu, Kenya; as well as in Casablanca, Morocco; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Jinja, Uganda. At least 54 percent of each factory staff is made up of women, with the Maungu and L&J facilities being more than 90 percent. Women occupy a variety of roles from physically making the garments to higher-up managerial positions.

“There’s no lack of NGOs competing for aid dollars in Liberia, but one thing that’s missing is really an entrepreneurial ecosystem. I wanted to provide jobs for people that were serving a customer that weren’t the aid community or philanthropists,” Liberty says.

With their expansion into other countries, Liberty said that the goal now is to build a network of responsible factories under their Made in Africa banner that adheres to strict environmental and human rights requirements.

“We’re trying to build an association of hundreds of factories across the continent that are committed to ethical production,” Liberty says. “Uniform is probably a pretty small component of these factories' overall production, but our impact has been on tens of thousands of workers. We built Made in Africa through Uniform, which was sort of the opposite of how we anticipated, but we got the same result.” 

As a brand, Uniform is pushing itself to make an even greater positive impact while continuing to hone its style as a sophisticated collection of streetwear-inspired everyday staples. They recently brought A$AP Ferg into the fold as a creative director and partnered with his Trap Lord line to produce a series of shirts benefitting Red Nose Day, as well as a number of other items like a camo bucket hat and camper vest that are available through Bloomingdale’s. Not only are the pieces well-designed and true to Uniform’s identity, they’re a chance to indulge both your Hypebeast and humanist sides. While pricier than the standard Uniform line, these pieces still won’t break the bank like many similar limited collaborations.

“So many people want to create ethical fashion and pass on the extra cost to the consumer, and I just don’t think that really makes a ton of sense quite frankly. I think, if we want people to adopt a behavior, we should be making it easier for them not harder,” says Liberty. “We wanted to make a brand that makes it easier for people to shop ethically and at the end of the day, price, distribution, customer service, all have to feed into that. And that was kind of our strategy and our long game. Even with our prices now, we understand we are still expensive for a lot of people in America, but our endgame is to get to a place where Uniform is really a clothing company for the people.”

While focused on growth and expansion, the entrepreneurial Liberty is also keenly aware that one of Uniform’s best assets is that it is a small, streamlined company capable of tackling new projects or adjusting course as needed without too much overhead or lead time.

“We can’t continue to rely on big brands to [enact change], and we can’t just keep saying, ‘Oh, the consumer has to make a choice,’” Liberty says. “I don’t think it can be consumers or large brands, they’re just too big and can’t move in a short amount of time. Who I think can be the X factor here are small brands who have this built into their DNA and then become big brands.” 

Liberty has managed to achieve an impressive trifecta by producing clothing that is expertly crafted, affordable, and making a positive global difference. It’s not too hard to picture Uniform continuing to expand its output while ensuring that you never have to worry about the ethical origins of your new favorite T-shirt.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.