Japan was in town

On Sunday I received a surprise visit from our friend Takuya in Kyoto. He is one of the Kyoto Loco organizers and messenger for Kaze Messengers. He recently opened his own little bike repair shop inside of a cafe in Kyoto and also has become an adviser for his friend Takashi who is opening a new cycling/fashion/art gallery/messenger hang out called "Darwin" soon to open Feb. 16. The two of them came to the states to meet and establish business relationships with those Takashi wanted to showcase in his new store (in our case - Fabric Horse and Reload). Takuya was sort of his tour guide introducing him to all his friends. His english is amazing and he knows America really well from living in SF for a bunch of years back in the day. Takuya also used to live in the infamous Fortuna House in Kyoto, which if any of you have stayed at knows you can never forget. Needless to say, they wanted to get cheesesteaks and I happily tagged along to watch.
They loved them!

We went out for drinks later with some friends and 3 of us got some free cigarettes from the promoters (I by no means am advocating Camel with this photo) to give to Takuya, he was pretty stoked.
He also was quite the champ kickin it with my two cats, one being new so they didnt really get along too well.

So now Fabric Horse will be sold in Kyoto, Japan at a store called Darwin, go check it out if you are there!! For their opening party photographs by my good friend Pai, who takes photos for Pedal Mafia, will be on display.


New Belts at Conspiracy

We started consigning belts to the Conspiracy Showroom here in Northern Liberties a few months back. If you haven't been to the little store at 910 N. 2nd Street, you should really stop in sometime. They sell mostly girly sorts of things like handmade jewelry, clothing, handbags, and later this week, they'll be getting these femme fabulous utility belts:

They are each currently one of a kind, though we could do a couple more runs of the Sparkly Olive one and the Pink and Rust one. That red upholstery belt is made of super primo limited edition one time only, ripped from history fabric that was rescued from the Divine Lorraine hotel and will never be reproduced. So if you want that relic strapped round yourself, you'll need to scamper over to Conspiracy before the week is through.

One more thing. The Conspiracy Showroom also has a great door, which looks like it was ripped from the entrance to a submarine and then hammered flat to function on the front of their building, port holes and all. Even if you don't need to buy anyone a fancy present, at least walk on by. On your way to North Bowl perhaps, to go bowl your little heart out.



Last night I had the fine pleasure of accompanying Carrie to the Philly premiere of the new film about San Francisco's track bike riding crew MASH, which was held in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Church. Directed by Mike Martin and Gabe Morford, the movie showcases individual riders racing through traffic brakeless, often helmetless, in harrowing pursuit of graceful speed. The two filmmakers' combined backgrounds in commercial photography and surfing and skate videos are visible throughout the footage which despite its lack of plot is a thrilling romance. This film is big for the world of fixies because it's the first project of its kind to be publicized nationwide and to get corporate sponsorship from companies like Stussy.

It begins with an opening sequence set to a song called "Friends and Family" by this band called the Mall, which I'd never heard of but now cannot get out of my head, and I'm not trying to. In fact this song really set the bar for the following soundtrack which was distractingly good and heavy, making the already impressive shots of the riders jump out of the screen and grip your heart.

I will say this: it reads much like a skate video. But for that, the movie sings because its triumphant and daring characters feel like heroes to even the lowliest commuter cyclist. The cinematography follows the riders as though you are riding behind them, thirty miles an hour through traffic, down hill, and the sensation is not unlike flying. And this feeling, of being there and riding with them, is why anyone who pledges allegiance to two wheels can't help but be transfixed. The tricks and skids are all fine and good but for me, its the speed and the dance that gets me. I don't usually get caught up in fixie bike culture quote unquote, but watching this movie, I felt myself saying "wow" under my breath and forgetting any personal grievances I have about dangerous riding. Because really, all day everyday, riding track bikes in san francisco is so goddamn fucking cool. The silhouettes of people leaning over their bars, bags on their backs, getting there, totally sweeps me off my feet. And all the insane corners, turns, taken through sweeping shots are set against some track like Japanther's "Metal Bike" with its gospel intro pleading "I'm too young to die, Lord, knows I'm too young to die..."

I wish I could have seen footage of them filming the riders, because there are several moments when you realize that this video camera is sliding in and out of cars right along with the guy you're watching and woah. A quote from the filmmakers at the 2007 Bike Film Festival
It's not about stopping - it's about going as fast as you can. Commitment to every line, corner, and hill is what defines the style of these San Francisco riders. Come roll with us.

My only criticism? The only lady riders in the whole movie are in the outtakes. Which, as you might guess, is listed under "special features," which I think though superficial, is also telling.

Here's the trailer, I could watch it over and over:

For more info or additional footage, head over to mashsf.com



Our data have shown that a good many of you, our beloved patrons, enjoy riding fixed gear bikes, track or otherwise. And statistically speaking this means that a significant portion of you do so without the use of a front brake. At the risk of getting on your nerves, I wonder if I might make a kind suggestion in the interest of safety. I swear it will not violate your right to ride.

Get a bell! Twice riding my bike today, even with brakes, I narrowly avoided collision only by giving a little ring on my pleasant bell and came to no harm. The first time, a Jefferson Hospital ambulance without sounding its sirens made a left hand turn from the right lane on a one way street with no signal, nearly smashing me into the curb by doing so. I rang my bell and shook my fist at them, and emerged unscathed.

And later, an elderly woman nearly crossed the street in front of me (I had the green) but for my triple ring, which saved us both a sorry meeting. She even smiled at me and said thanks.

So as I said, get a bell! It will hardly cramp that bad-ass swank you've been going for, and will rather endear you to motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike. Especially if you spring for this one. See exhibit A:


Textile's Vote

I don't know about you but I am rather eagerly awaiting next weekend's Democratic Primary in South Carolina. All the speculation surrounding racial politics certainly will be interesting to see played out at the polls, but more specifically, I am eager to see which candidate garners the votes in a state where manufacturing jobs have been flying out of town for the past two decades and how the three candidates answer the hard question of why this keeps happening.

Even for those of us who will happily tell you our jobs are at the fringes of the textile industry, we still share in the burden of lost jobs and exported manufacturing. Most simply, I can explain it by saying that we too suffer from exporting textile manufacturing overseas and from the ever increasing reliance on foreign sweatshops for garment production. Dropping prices for things make it increasingly harder to fetch a fair wage for producing things inside the borders of this country, even as a hip diy small company like FH. For the larger factories and industrial outfits, its pretty near impossible to pay extra shipping for your raw materials and living wages, when competing factories on the other side of the ocean can undercut every single one of your costs. In terms of policy, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the most recent CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) are largely responsible for allowing transnational companies to send goods back and forth across borders without financial or legal repercussions and these policies hurt textile workers on both sides of the ocean.

And I'll agree, this issue is far from from simple. I'm not sure exactly how I would tackle it if I were running for president. And this is why I find myself even more curious about how the candidates will tackle the issue in South Carolina, facing a state that lost nearly 13,000 manufacturing jobs between August 2006 and this primary, mostly in the textile industry. Because these manufacturing jobs are not coming back. In Lancaster County, SC, where several recent plant closings have brought the unemployment rate up to 9.9%, people have turned instead to service industry jobs, the union of which is the largest in the state and growing. The trend to replace manufacturing jobs with service jobs, which is evident nationwide, is also unsustainable, I maintain, as service jobs frequently offer nothing in terms of benefits, healthcare or job security.

So far Obama, Clinton and Edwards have all indicated that they will work to amend NAFTA when they take office, to fix some of the problems with it and help to protect American jobs. Kucinich goes a step further and pledges to flat out "end America's participation in NAFTA and the WTO." Kucinich is the most radical of the four frontrunners, but Edwards has the homefield advantage and a heartwrenching ad running currently:

I will be watching the South Carolina race a little more closely to see the outcome of a race when global economics is thrown into the mix. We'll see if an issue this integral to a state community can sway the voting populace away from the two most well-funded candidates. I really can't say. Thanks to NPR, my brain is all tangled up on this.


Leather or Leave Her

So friends,

Around the shop lately (as in the past six months), we've been tossing around this idea. This idea about leather. See, much as our scraps of cordura can pack a lot of colored punch in the right combination, sometimes it seems like the utility belt scene is getting a little...predictable. Or at least to those of us who make these guys week in and week out. And we have tried alternative fabrics--vinyl, upholstery, flooring, and oilcloth to name a few, and while some of these have stood honorably the test of time, many have not. We have encountered "issues" shall we say with some of the weaker specimens of fabric out there who just don't seem to have what it takes in terms of longevity. You all are hard on your superheros, I must say. And we aren't mad at you about it, but you are requiring us to be rather inventive in terms of what we select to construct utility belts and the pickins are feeling kind of slim.

Now. Don't jump to any crazy conclusions, and truthfully, we aren't trying to guilt trip anybody either about loving their utility belt to the grave. And mostly, we've been able to accurately predict the character and strength of the materials we use. Mostly, the superheros out there are still saving the world, chugging along, being awesome.

In the face of those few (few!) who've fallen, Carrie and I have begun to discuss leather. Leather, the ever controversial. And we are both vegetarians! And we seem to really hopscotch back and forth about whether or not Fabric Horse should go leather or not. On the one hand, leather has a persona that is hard to argue with. And as durability goes, leather is hard to beat. As it wears, it looks better and better. Most importantly, leather can withstand abuse and harsh conditions in a way that synthetic fabrics and even some organic materials cannot.

Certainly, leather falls somewhere toward the high end of the materials' cost spectrum, in terms of dollars and in terms of life. Leather is, after all, some poor little guy's skin. His skin! That's not to say I don't own my share of leather goods, but holding the raw hides in your hands and stitching them is a whole new chapter of ownership. And adopting leather, as a material and accordingly, as an association, into your company is a rather large step, we tend to think. Not only because it means you can no longer market yourself as vegan (we've never officially done that, despite its being true), but because it means crossing the line between non-living and former living materials which feels pretty big, in fact.

Our feeling has been that if we go leather, we'd prefer to utilize leather that we can guarantee comes from humane sources, if that is possible. And this recent post on Treehugger is thus far the only resource I've found on leather that is anything but industrialized. It highlights an emerging scientific movement in India toward less chemically polluting tanning practices, which is significant as:
Due to lower labour costs and more lax environmental controls, the tanning industry has grown in countries such as China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, capturing 60% of the world’s leather production. As Rao rightly points out, "The significance is tremendous in the context of environmental challenges being faced by the leather industry."

A brief but thorough internet search has turned up not a single resource on humane leather alternatives to factory farmed leather. I have a feeling that this is because those who advocate humane treatment of animals probably think that leather could never be humane. Perhaps they are right. Maybe FH has no business applying leather to our products. But in this post, I hoped to gather a little feedback about this venture. Have you any strong feelings on the issue? We would love some input, as we are still trying to sort the thing out.

Thus far, the only viable source we've located is a fabric store here that sells remnant pieces of leather from a huge bin, which we could feel okay about, as scraps of leather that would otherwise be thrown away. We hear this sort of scrap pile is sometimes referred to as a farmer's bundle, and is frequently sold to farmers who just need leather to tie things up or do agricultural things...For us, it seems like freegan leather, as counterintuitive as that sounds. If anyone has any leads or more conclusive information on the subject, let us know and we will certainly keep you abreast of any developments on our side of the screen.


BikeShare Philadelphia

A bit of a heads up to a meeting this Thursday of a local consortium working to start a community use bike organization in Philadelphia. While many of us find it more convenient to have our own bicycles to use and to love, a squadron of bikes like this have proven effective in encouraging more people to opt for the bicycle to meet their transportation needs. As the Bike Share Philadelphia webiste notes, this can serve "to reduce traffic congestion and to enhance the livability of cities." In turn, increasing Philadelphians' access to bicycles could reduce automobile traffic and reduce emissions, all of which is good if you believe this truth about global warming and perpetual summer. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, then maybe you should check out the forum on Thursday evening at 6:30 and add your two cents to the discussion.

UPDATE: Check out this article in the most recent citypaper for tons more information and candid opinions by those closest to the issue.


Daily Candy on Fabric Horse

Last Wednesday Daily Candy was nice enough to do a little write up on Fabric Horse. The next day Lauren Berger of Daily Candy calls to inform me that they have chosen 3 Philadelphia designer/artists to be featured on NBC 10 Tuesday at noon. Pretty sweet! We here at Fabric Horse will be sending off some utility belts today for the "stylish ways to beat the winter blues" section (or something close to that). The best part about it all is I have no idea how it will be displayed or described. Most people have no idea what these things are the first time they see them so I can only imagine what an anchor man or lady from NBC will say, can you? Guess we will all have to wait and see. Tune in to NBC 10 tomorrow (sorry it's Philly only I think) at 11:30-12:00 noon (I think it's in that window). Also, if you can tape it that would be amazing.....


New Year's Standard

This year Carrie marched down Broad Street in the 107th annual Mummer's Day Parade with the crew from Space 1026 in a Brigade called the Vaudevillains. Their entourage was titled, "Mummers in the Global Warming Induced Perpetual Summer" and it looked a little something like this:

The Mummer's Parade happens every year on New Year's Day, if you aren't too hung over to make it there, that is. This year, in a moment of grace, it started a little on the late side around noon. It has been dubbed "Philadelphia's Mardi Gras." Here is a quote that sort of sums up the spirit of the thing, from an article in the Inquirer, "I like all the camaraderie, everybody's real friendly to you," said Philly-born and raised Linda Eichmann, 48, standing alongside City Hall as onlookers blared toy horns as the marchers neared the end of the route. "It's the one day of the year our city all gets along," she said. The Vaudevillains came in 17th of the 35 Brigades entered, not bad for their Mummer debut.

Oh, Carrie? She's the one in the huge GREEN VEIL. Waltzing.


Blue Jean Baby

In a somewhat sad but predictable narrative, I learned today of a company called Bonded Logic that recycles post-industrial denim, scraps and clippings from the manufacturing of blue jeans, and converts it into insulation for use in the construction of houses.

The process begins with a significant amount of processing, to convert the denim from acid wash pleated jumpsuits back into its original loose fiber form. From there it is put into bales and treated with a borate solution that makes the fibers mold and mildew resistant as well as pest repellant, though somehow humanly non-toxic. From there, the fibers are bonded with heat into a solid batting. The company maintains that this is a zero waste manufacturing process, so that all excess material is re-processed and nothing is thrown away.

This company employs many environmentally friendly ideas like recycling, non-toxic chemicals and zero-waste. According to their website, use of this insulation is also highly beneficial to builders in helping them to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the US Green Building Council. This finished product is marketed under the name UltraTouch Natural Cotton Fiber Insulation.

I say this narrative is sad because the entire process and its marketing has been funded by Cotton Incorporated, an association of American growers of cotton and importers of cotton products. They have sponsored a project to raise awareness for the new technology called "Cotton. From Blue to Green" which is essentially a drive for old blue jeans from both industrial and consumer sources. In 2007 nearly 36,000 denim garments were accepted and turned into insulation which will be donated to Habitat for Humanity in constructing homes in communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Last year insulation was provided for 70 homes to benefit hurricane affected families. And much as this is good work on the part of industry and philanthropy, the whole program has been admittedly instituted to endorse the profitability of and increase the demand for American cotton. What.

My head is swimming, to be sure. Things like this get so sticky when you read between the lines. Still, it's nice to know that the industry has been able to internally fuel the development of this sort of recycling technology. Hip Hip for Capital. Cotton certainly owes Black families in Louisiana more than insulation for their houses, but it is a start.


Homeless Advocacy at the Free Library

According to this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the main branch of Philadelphia's Free Library has teamed up with the local homeless advocacy organization , Project HOME in our fair city to help bring services and employment to the homeless and formerly homeless patrons of the library. They are doing this in a pretty ingenious way. Formerly homeless men and women staff the restrooms, where currently homeless men and women frequently come to bathe and clean up and not only direct these people to services and shelters but also maintain a cleaner, safer public restroom for use by all.

By partnering with a local nonprofit more accustomed to working with the specific demographic, the library was better able to tailor the program to meet the needs of both employees and the greater homeless population of Philadelphia. Additionally, the positions of restroom attendants is a clever way to increase access for the homeless to vital information and the system of support which is available to them. Sister Mary Scullion, Executive Director of Project H.O.M.E. declares, "This is a great partnership, a creative solution to a difficult problem. Right now there just aren't enough places for homeless people to go to get their basic needs met. The Library was very forward thinking, strategic and compassionate in helping us find a way to address a need and use it as an opportunity to create employment."

And perhaps most importantly, these attendants serve as fine examples of people who are able to escape the cycle of homelessness and re-enter society as contributing members, visible to both homeless people who seek their assistance and to us all. It is the hope of both Project HOME and the Library that this program can be the first stage in the road to full-time employment. And according to the article, it seems more likely than not.