Behind the Brand @ Cici

Hillary: The woman behind Cici clothing line

Lately, I have had to initiate difficult conversations at work. As I cruise through my mid-twenties, I have also begun measuring professional success and satisfaction through a different set of yardsticks. When I shared this with one of my best friends, she emailed me this article in the morning and told me that it is better to start valuing yourself and letting others know to value you while you are still young. It is a life skill.

Overall, with the opening up of Myanmar, I would say that it is actually a very fortunate time to be a single, twenty-something professional woman in Yangon, especially as a repatriate. We really cannot complain. I feel grateful for all the opportunities, timing, and generous help from trusted advisers, mentors and supervisors at work and outside of office.

While things are fairly comfortable for repatriates and large companies with access to capital, it is also worth reflecting that most of Myanmar’s youth is faced with massive insecurity over job readiness, English skills and other training opportunities, the same way most of mom and pop stores struggle with the trade opening of the country. What matters more is employment for the critical mass, as someone wise said at Euromoney a few months ago.

Amidst all of this, I must say I am very impressed with Hillary, the mastermind behind the new clothing line Cici, aimed at dressing young, modern professional women of Myanmar. As a fresh graduate of Swarthmore College and a family with roots in retail and garment industry, Hillary has appropriately taken up her role as a bold business entrepreneur, handling the media, staff and guests expertly and with so much grace. I just love how much the brand is in sync with the woman behind it.

For her first collection, she invited real young professional women instead of models to walk her debut show, which was a real fun experience! The young savvy designers behind the line also made an offer to some of us to give them English lessons in exchange for cute clothing. Deal!

Day -5

Day -5

Project Cici

Day -5

-2 Hours: Hillary graciously handles media

-2 Hours: Hillary and media interviews

-1 hour: remove the consequences of heavy handling by makeup artists...

-1 hour: Removing the heavy handling of makeup artists…

Zero hour

Zero hour

Thank-yous

 

Green Carpet Event in Bhutan

That’s right. GREEN carpet. Red is so passe. And I was a fashion paparazzi for a day!

Here is my search for the best and worst outfits at the annual Paro Festival held at Paro Zhong. But I just couldn’t find the worst. Everyone looked so gorgeous!

Yours truly and friends got mistaken as local Bhutanese at this event, starting with a police telling me to make way for tourists (I think) and with other tourists stopping us to take pictures despite our disclaimers. One American lady even explained to us how digital cameras worked by showing us our digital image. Thanks yo!

Still, a brief moment of flattery. Brief.

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Fail

Urban Outfitters, also known as the hipster fashion store, has a clothing line called Urban Renewal, marked with the all-too-familiar recycling symbol. The intent of this fashion line seems sincere – the department store claims it to be “vintage,” “recycled,” and “remade.”

However, not only does ‘urban renewal’ as a concept have hardly anything to do with recycling, but it is also laced with controversy. At its heart, ‘urban renewal’ sought to bring ideals of suburbia into the decaying urban cores with a hope to reignite economic activities. Many low-income neighborhoods, or slums, were outright removed to bring in highways and expressways into the city. Many things that Urban Outfitters’s target customers cherish, including the luxury to walk instead of driving around, would hardly be available if urban renewal projects had taken over. To see a flashy, sustainable-looking “Urban Renewal” banner off of a downtown Manhattan department store seems rather messed up, or just how the world should be, depending on your world view.

People need to buy clothes and love fashion aesthetics. Businesses like Urban Outfitters fulfill that role, including their brand management department, which bridges customers and the right products. This is how markets work and marketing is a great communication method. That’s why when there is the retro buzz in the fashion world, many stores have jumped in to add vintage-inspired clothing lines. Even Forever 21, which changes their merchandise swiftly and generously, has added Heritage 21, the section in the store with lights intentionally dimmed. Part of the marketing effort is to create an ambiance around an item for people don’t just buy products, they also want to buy the ‘lifestyle.’

Many customers of Urban Outfitters, me included, feel the same way when we buy their nature-inspired quilt or an old-looking wallet even though we also know that the products are brand new and perhaps made in some sweatshop in India (or sometimes even after hearing some fishy stories like this). I may have gone with the flow with other marketing campaigns, but the store should know better that these aren’t just a bunch of air-headed consumers. In the business of persuasion, the play of seemingly similar concepts may in fact cause confusion, which is already the case with ecological products with so many labels and certifications to sort through. I am all for business and establishment, but I may finally stop supporting Urban Outfitters after all.