Late November 2021
When I was a freshman, during my very first semester, at the George Washington University, I was befriended by a French professor in a mandatory class. She was a stunningly beautiful and tall woman, born in Paris. Her previous job in America had been as a buyer for the department store, Woodward and Lothrop on G Street NW. “Woodie’s”, as the capital's first department store was nicknamed, was the mid-Atlantic version of Lord and Taylor, in New York City.
Both historic department stores are now defunct. Their deaths were lengthy, though apologists for the China-zation of American retail will insist that Amazon, followed by COVID, did them in.
That’s pure Bravo-Sierra.
My elegantly lovely French professor taught me all that I needed to know about how the world of buying-and-selling worked, and still ought to work. She saw rather quickly that I was a cut above the introductory French student, and, indeed, I was. I was only taking that course because it was mandated, but it was a bit of a snooze for me since I’d progressed beyond elementary conversational French by the age of eighteen.
“Yvonne”, I shall call her, therefore decided to take me under her sophisticated Gallic wing — and discuss with me, among other matters, one that is near and dear to any woman: fashion.
Yvonne had been hired as a buyer for Woodie’s, not because she had any special training, or degree, or even knew anyone In The Business. In fact, she knew no one in the world of department-store merchandising. She’d unknowingly offered herself up to Management as a well-versed, savvy customer, one who bought only the finest merchandise, and had been noticed due to her exquisite taste in jewelry.
Her Parisian accent did not work against her. It was, in my opinion, that cultured, couture-ish accent, along with long raven-black hair, a minimum on makeup on her oval face and on her small expressive eyes, as well as only a very modest application of red lipstick — which sold the management on the chic smarts of this woman.
You see, a buyer for any retailer, but especially in the clothing sector, must know, with great detail and with an intuitive sense of style, the fundamentals about fabric, design, unit cost, practicality, plusses and minuses of any garment or accessory, and the ways in which it would, and would not, appeal to a prospective customer. She must also possess a vision of the future, not only in terms of where a particular market might go, but of when a new demand might emerge.
Yvonne not only looked the part of a seasoned and urbane buyer; she lived it. She was genuine. That quality — of being real — is nowadays feigned and imitated to the nth degree. In her day, I suppose a woman could fake it, but, in the eyes of Yvonne, such a woman was not a real woman. In her stylish mind, she knew that real classics never go out of style; and the decade of the 1970s was looking to be an era of faddish flops in phoney fabrics. She headed of out of the revolving doors of Woodward and Lothrop, to the academic doors of GWU, where she taught French for a few semesters. Where Yvonne went after those years, I do not know. I do know that I was soon to follow her, out into the real world.
During my two semesters of interacting with this Frenchwoman, I learned about the true art of being a gracious but honest woman with flair. I also came to know the nitty-gritty of being an economical shopper, one who understands all there is to know about being a buyer — that long-gone professional who hunts down the goods that will end up on the shelf, and in the inventory, of any company in America.
This woman succeeded as a professional buyer because she succeeded as a personal shopper for herself. The concept of hiring anyone to pick out clothes for you to buy, well, it’s a sad, sorry, even sick, state of capitalist affairs.
During my childhood and into my early adolescence, I was fortunate enough to have experienced the delight and the defining moments of shopping at small shops. The retail “marking” of my girlhood was not the imprint of mass production, and mass marketing, in the mall-stores that sell millions of units of the same thing to millions of people who are, according to God’s plan, each born an individual, not a cog in a social wheel, bound to turn that millstone.
With the shipping of jobs and entire industries from America to “Asia”, the function of the professional buyer became outmoded. I can trace a direct line of fashion frustration from my days of shopping for clothes in a store (1980s), to my afternoons of ordering from a catalog (1990s), to my Saturdays of shopping on tv and online (early 2000s), to my round-the-clock attempts to find USA-made and/or vintage quality apparel (2016— today) in the hunt for the type of quality merchandise that a professional buyer of the long ago methodically and painstakingly bargained and contracted to procure for a vendor, or a company.
The buyers at the Lands End catalog of 1996 are no longer around to purchase the bolts of tartan for a skirt. I now go directly to Lochcarron of Scotland online, and buy my own tartans, sometimes even on sale. And for a Scots to offer 20% off of anything, is a large miracle!
The buyers — those men and women, with their shrewdly trained eyes, hands, minds and noses, and with their instinctive, learned and dynamic senses of marketing — they were replaced, during the past two decades, by the Chinese pit bosses overseeing the manufacture of goods — their way.
The corporate executives and money-men were told:
Why spend money on specially-hired personnel to search the world over for the finest in Scots tweed, or Italian wool, or cashmere from Kashmir? We can grab hold of the marketplace, muscle in on the industry, reduce it to slave labor, and you’ll get the same profits as if the stuff was still being made the old-fashioned way.
Our wholesale can’t be beat.
Nope, not with the workers being literally beat if they did not keep up the pace of production that can only be compared to slave labor.
Those professional buyers moved on to other jobs, other fields where they could transfer their highly selective skills to sectors of an economy that nonetheless continued to shrink in terms of domestic commerce. Merchandising is a uniquely American talent, one that is already re-emerging after decades of being cynically and corruptly shoved off-shore.
You’d have a hard time convincing me that hawking Chinesium in a store, or on shopping-tv, or even online, is an uplifting job. The burn-out rate for any salesgirl has furthermore been accelerated by the greedy pressure from the Empty Suits on any Sales Associate to look young, and perky, and attractive, and with-it! Don’t forget to be politically correct, and, hopefully, fully woke!
No matter what — smile! Give ’em that charming rictus smile. Without a single frown line while you feel the soul-less nature of hyping and hawking synthetic imported dresses that feel like cling wrap on the body.
The sales model of the small shop is the only logical progression from this merchandise madness. That madness belongs in a more suitable arena — away from women and children and the more sensitive males among us.
Merchandise sanity allows for the ethically-sourced commodity, one that takes a decent amount of time to make and is contracted through trade agreements that treat the human being as a creation of God, not an infernal and replaceable beast of burden. Then there’s the raw, or source material.
First, the cotton is grown in the country where the product is to be made. Then the cotton is harvested; and it goes to the mills to be manufactured. The orders for the fabric are placed for the bolts by the company that has hired designers and seamstresses to create the garments to be sold in the shops of America. The shops will be located in the sections of any town where the investors have determined their money won’t be BLM’d into arson and puffs of smoke.
It’s high time we Americans are back in high cotton!
The capitalist buyers of the digital era have been schooled in the realities of where NOT to work, and who not to work for. The greening of America is happening — not with those worthless blather-energies that are so unethically subsidized by the powerful real energies. The greening of America is the real energy driving this nation forward with the faith of patriots.
Those millions of brilliant light bulbs — that stay charged forever — are in the fresh, innovative minds of the young patriots who envision their land as the marketplace of the future. These builders from the newest generations see America in the ways that their grandparents and great-grandparents saw it: filled with hope and opportunity and productivity. America is a nation to be loved, and lifted up, because it is that shining city on a hill that their elders knew and loved.
The experiment in globalism — think global, buy local — was yet another sham bumper-sticker in this wonder land of oh so many bumper stickers and many opportunities. Think local, buy American — that ethos does not need a bumper sticker. It’s already in action, everywhere that Brandon shows up for sale.