A Vision for the Future
by Ari Takata-Vasquez
For the last few months, I've been very behind the scenes, so you may have noticed I haven't posted on our blog or as active on social media as usual. So today I am excited to share with you my vision for the future of our brand and building a strategy to make it a reality. Through refining my business plan, building projections, pitch competitions and many, many restless nights -- I'm clear on the vision for Viscera's future.
My vision for the future is of hyper-local production to create jobs, hire locally, reduce our carbon footprint, and do good in our community. Within the next 12 months, all of our products will be designed, made and sold under one roof. When I started Viscera in 2014, I had only discovered the tip of the iceberg that is the fashion industry. After years of being a buyer, visiting factories, and developing my brand I've realized although I can make some positive change, it's still working within the context of a broken industry. Commercial fashion has a huge problem; on the whole, it’s a dirty industry-- the second largest emitter of CO2 only after oil. It treats people as replaceable and fast fashion giants rely on a race to the bottom mentality to chase even lower prices. And in turn, we as consumers are more divorced from how our products are made, treat them as disposable and confuse price with value. Suburban malls are failing, wasting resources and leaving us with a commercial real estate stock that's unusable. The average American’s closet has grown over the years, but we wear less of it than ever --only about 53% on average.
To most people this is a catastrophe. To me, this is a huge opportunity. These are daunting challenges, but in a short time we've devised solutions that have already made some big impacts to help make a positive difference:
- We've encouraged our customers to commit to buying American-made product and shopping locally
- Hosting clothing drives and repair workshop to aided in the prevention of wearable pieces ending up in landfills
- Our honest and transparent approach to retailing creates an inclusive and inviting shopping experience for our clientele
Not only is this a glimpse into what locally sourced retail can evolve into, it also proves that underestimated cities like Oakland are not only viable but vibrant. This is why I poured my passion and life savings into starting Viscera (more about this in a forthcoming blog post). Now, well into our third year, I have bigger plans for Viscera and the ways we'll magnify our positive impact.
It's a win-win on both ends. As a business we can operate more efficiently and effectively; for our customers, it's a chance to be witness to and more involved in our production process. We'll start by creating smaller test batches of product; if client feedback comes back positive we'll pull the trigger and make more! Simple, right? Although this seems like common sense, it's radical compared to the fashion cycle most brands and boutiques buy into. It will allow us to create not only good jobs but more importantly jobs with upward mobility. For example, in most sewing factories, workers can only ever hope to max out at $17/hour. By contrast, hiring our own in-house production allows us to not only pay people a living wage but give them the opportunity to learn and grow into bigger roles. A seamstress can go from sewing to pattern making, and then to designing. This is only achievable because of our vertical integration; bringing retail, design, and production in-house.
Another reason this is revolutionary is that it’s happening in Downtown Oakland. When I told people I was opening a brick and mortar in Downtown Oakland I got a lot of crazy looks, 'why not be in a prime city like San Francisco?', they asked. My answer is $2 billion dollars. Every year $2 billion dollars are lost to retail leakage, a term you've probably heard me talk about again and again-- it's money spent by people in Oakland outside of Oakland. And this retail leakage exists in other underrated cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland. Cities are growing at an incredible pace, with more than half of the population living in urban cores by 2050, and yet the media is calling mall closures the retail apocalypse. Retail is far from dead, almost 90% of sales still happen offline-- of the 10% online 52% go to businesses with physical storefronts. We have a chance to reinvent brick and mortar retail in urban cores.
We can hire locally and create vibrancy while capturing a hugely underserved market. Shouldn't the money you spend in a city help the people living in that city? My goal is to develop this model of hyper-local production in Oakland. My thought is that if we can make it work in one of the most expensive metro-regions, we can replicate it other cities to create more community investment, better jobs with upward mobility, and shrink our carbon footprint. I could probably go on for days about the benefits of this approach, but beyond any business case that I can make for my vision, the one thing driving me most is that I know it's the right thing to do. I'm so passionate about this because I know that it is the time for us to build what we want to see in the world. We've come a long way, but this is just the beginning.