Dear Mr. Anonymous

In response to the last post and its comments:
Fact of the matter is, people at Reload (and other small, locally owned businesses) tend to grow a chip on their shoulder when companies like Urban Outfitters take their "spin" off their product, have it manufactured in China or Vietnam, slap a price on it that is less than half of what Reload sells it for and calls it quits for the day. Sure, not everything in our world is sweatshop free. That's obvious. It is actually pretty damned alienating if you ever stop and try to get your head around all the problems we face in our modern world. I think what is trying to get across is that Reload and us at Fabric Horse try to do our part. We are doing what we know best and contributing in perhaps a small way, but at least it's something. If everyone tried to make a change in at least a small way, then isn't it nice to believe that perhaps our world would start to change as well? Call me idealistic, but I would much rather have a positive spin on the world than a negative. When a large company like UO makes a $50 version of a $100 USA made product, then everything we have been working towards as domestic manufacturers becomes bastardized. Not only are we trying to make quality, custom products that our customers cherish, but we are aiming towards helping to educate the public about the importance and value in supporting domestic production and small business. So, when that large company who shares the same home town of a reputable small business and bastardizes their product it's like a thorn in your side, and yet another obstacle in your path; but hey, that's the name of the game, and we all knew that when we chose the path of doing our own thing. You, Mr. Anonymous, have your feelings on the issue, we have ours. We will never agree, and that's why you work for Urban Outfitters, and we are working towards change. By the way, I am familiar with how UO has "some domestic manufacturing" but that cannot be an excuse to say they are doing their part as well. They are exploitative and treat their employees likes slaves. I can say that because I personally know several people that have been thru their ringer.

If you are real creative, and you can change the colors of this bag with the colors UO chose, then you can see they look pretty darn similar. . .


You really have nothing to stand on stating that these bags look nothing alike, my dear Mr. Anonymous. Let's just call it a day shall we?


Copy Cat

Usually I try to stick to things on this blog that are good, interesting, exciting, or mysterious because I'd like to remain critical but optimistic about life and the world. But really, what possibly nice thing could I possibly say about this?

You know, it's not really like we're surpised over here. Urban Outfitters has long been known to rip off pretty much anything that could be slung across the body, specifically things that started off as handmade, artisan or one of a kind. They are not exactly a high brow sort of a company, if you know what I mean, with intelligent, original designs or timeless integrity. Fast Cheap and Out of Control could be their subtitle if only it were written in three dimensional block lettering ripped from vintage t-shirts and strung up on a leather braid.

In these parts, as too many of us know, everyone works for Urban. And Urban isn't short for the city of Philadelphia. Urban is code for "i've sold out, but please don't hate me! i just need a job, you know? and they are pretty cool and i've all but sold my soul but aren't these boots fierce? Got a sec? Cuz I'd love to tell you how horrific it is to actually work here." Between free people, anthropologie and urban outfitters, the retail giant has devoured entire yuppie enclaves by offering jobs and health insurance.

Apparently they've got those kids gripped pretty tight for the next new trend and someone thought they'd take the easy road and push an idea that already has a pretty solid following among the good looking kids of Philadelphia. I mean, really, why not sell a cheap knock off version of the hometown's messsenger bag?

The hardware in their strap, the placement of their buckles, and the addition of a reinforced base are nearly identical. We know that R.E.Load stands for more than great bags and UO cannot pirate our trademark spirit and personality. In the descriptive blurb alongside the cheap imitation reads the cleverly disguised word "Imported." There is no label proudly displayed. If you look REALLY closely, you can almost see the tail between their legs. Shameful.


Manufactured Landscapes

As a person, with a decided stake in the health of our planet, who takes an interest in architecture, who sees environmentalism as a faith and not a hobby, who has always been swept away by the tragedy and romance of the industrial revolution, working in the industry of manufacturing in a nearly post-industrial American city, I naturally find myself drawn to art that captures the processes of global economics and development in our present day. I see factories of people and see significant labor, in its being the substance of some life, alongside its being the creation of consumer products and the manipulation of resources. Technology and the enslavement of people working in tandem to produce brilliant waste.

The film Manufactured Landscapes certainly articulates something along those lines, opening in a single slow pan inside a huge factory in China that manufactures irons. The shot gives way to one on the outside, showing the one factory alongside many others in a manufacturing zone and the spaces between them are filled with workers in yellow uniforms. This organization is a powerful image.

Photo by Edward Burtynsky Manufacturing #18
Cankun Factory, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, 2005

The plot, if that's what you have to call it, is really the thought processes of the photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose still photos populate the film at least as heavily as the actual moving picture. One website proclaims, "Edward Burtynsky is internationally acclaimed for his large-scale photographs of nature transformed by industry. Manufactured Landscapes – a stunning documentary by award winning director Jennifer Baichwal – follows Burtynsky to China, as he captures the effects of the country's massive industrial revolution. This remarkable film leads us to meditate on human endeavour and its impact on the planet."

Human endeavor is right. Beginning with the haunting footage of virgin manufacturing, the film follows Burtynsky's natural journey through the process of creating consumer goods all the way to to the gruesome task of small scale recycling these consumer goods in villages across China and the overall eventual destruction of nature as evidenced by quarries and oil fields. The photos speak for themselves, and eloquently, as the true weight of their implication easily guides the viewer from one frame to the next with little to no narration. The film's title at once refers to both Burtynsky's depiction of the landscapes we've manufactured through our obsession with industry and also the landscapes Burtynsky manufactures with his lens.

Photo by Edward Burtynsky Manufacturing #6A
Hongqingting Shoe Factory, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, 2004

The story is rather a classic, as surely we will tell it to the generations: The West invented factories, whose industry mined the native poor and native landscapes for resources, populating the cities and towns of Europe and America with these all destroying ever creating machines. Global racism and greed led them to export the brilliant scheme overseas, where the disparity between owners and workers could be maximized. Eventually the rich countries sold the burden of modern life, in trash and consequence to the rest of the world. This plan remains unstoppable, building a momentum which continues to ravage cultures and people. And sometimes I wonder if they will talk about our present, this moment in history as the time when it might have been contested but no one dared sacrifice their convenient luxury for integrity. I already feel like this moment has passed, the monster has escaped and it is too big for any of the nets we have lying around.

Photo by Edward Burtynsky China Recycling #8
Plastic Toy Parts, Guiyu, Guangdong Province, 2004

We have our trash heaps, our filthy streets, our dirty air and health problems. But in China, the next frontier in globalization, there are people dependent on stripping the metals out of post industrial waste by burning. People who sort out e-waste from our computers and television sets for their bread. There are people being paid to destroy their own cities in the interest of a certain large-scale dam project to increase their opportunity to modernize the isolated Chinese countryside, being tricked into bringing themselves closer to the rest of the world to progress.

This film should be playing always. Everywhere. Projected on every tv screen in every SUV on every highway in this country, on the sides of superstores, inside shopping malls, and broadcasting constantly on some cable tv channel. It is that powerful a reminder of the price of all of this.

It redeposits the weight of all of our endless campaigns to use the environment to our economic advantage by so profoundly presenting each assault in photos. By reducing collective human globality to a series of still moments, Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky force you to digest the detail, the heavy beauty and the decidedly human face of globalization's landscapes as slowly as they will eventually biodegrade. There is nothing fast or easy about it. There really shouldn't be.


Pennsylvanians, Yeah You!

What's that you say? You live in Pennsylvania and you're not registered to vote? Time is ticking friends! Let this be a FH PSA to tell you that the deadline for voter registration to be eligible to vote in the 2008 presidential primary is MONDAY. Yes, MONDAY. In Pennsylvania we like plenty of time to let our pokey bureaucracy process that paperwork, so even though the actual election isn't until April 22, you must get your forms in by March 24. That means get thee to thy local voter registration office or thy nearest post office and register! This is important!

Okay and additionally. In PA, you must also be registered with a party in order to participate in primary elections. So for those of you (like me) who are normally registered Independent, but you've been inspired to vote democrat, or republican if that's you, this time around, you need to re-register and switch your party registration to do that. The deadline for switching this is also Monday, March 24.

I really wish I had the time and the impetus to actually get out there and register people to vote. I heard a little piece on NPR about a woman in North Philly who's been sitting at a table in her local Thriftway all week registering people in her neighborhood to vote. As she explains in the interview, people from her part of North Philadelphia suffer from political apathy as a result of the widespread disinvestment in black urban communities at all levels of government, from national on down. By destroying all trust in the political system, by eroding political imagination, our country has disenfranchised a population most in need of the vote to express their social and political experiences. As of Thursday, this single woman had 100 new voter registration applications. In my book, that makes her a champion.

Rock the Vote offers printable forms that are automatically addressed according to where you live, so all you have to do is stamp them. Or if you prefer, voter registration mail applications are also available for free at any Post Office, State Liquor Store, or Public Library. How convenient, you're probably thinking. Now you can pick up a Nancy Drew, grab a bottle of whiskey AND register to vote! In this age of convenience, you wouldn't want to waste this opportunity.


Quite the Pair!

Welcome to a Fabric Horse beer week moment! This is an unofficial beer week event, so if you're scouring your schedule trying to figure out how you missed it, just stop. We aren't in their fancy schmancy calendar. Besides, this is really more of a DIY event, as in you procure the necessary couplings for this tasting and then revel in their exquisite match. So, are you ready?

First for the palette...and yes I mean palette:

A mellow brown halfbelt with creamy snakeskin overtones and hints of red. Then get ready for the pour:

Oh! It's that extra special made-in-Belgium-exclusively-for-Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale! This beer pours deep mahogany in the glass and offers a fruity, cherry aroma, which gives way to a gentle malt flavor and lactic sourness. Lovers of kombucha will probably find this beer to be heaven in a glass. Even the little red and white label screams, "Drink me with THAT one!" My bottle of Monk's is pointing to the halfbelt as he says this. Yours will probably say something along those lines. By the way, Monk's is a really excellent beer bar in Philadelphia that has some insane number of beers both on tap and in bottles. A definite brew lover's destination. This Flemish Sour they have made just for them by the Van Steenberge brewery outside of Ghent, Belgium.

Drinking this beer in a tulip glass donning that tasteful utility belt, you will feel like pure class. That's no PBR! And no mere fanny pack. Both may weigh a little on your wallet, but you certainly get what you pay for. The shades of rich red and brown on your person will bring out the acidic notes in the brew to dance a beautiful Flemish jig on your tongue.

Ideally, you would taste this beer in the Monk's Cafe establishment in person, because then the other patrons can ogle your belt and foam with jealousy. Monk's Original is located at 16th and Spruce streets just below Rittenhouse, though the cozy place can quickly crowd and overwhelm. If you are a little antisocial, you might opt for the new Monk's Belgian Cafe at 21st and Green for its ample space and even outdoor seating. And for those of you who self-identify as Shut-Ins, you can always get the beer in a bottle at the Foodery and drink it alone at your house. (This latest scheme seems to describe our poor photographer.) For the belt, it should be up in the FH shop soonish, though if you can't wait to get your pairing on, feel free to email us too.


The War in Review

I realize I may register to your ear more like white noise in recommending to you the documentary on the Iraq War No End In Sight. Surely we've all mused on the misinformation and severely illogical decision-making which led us into this war in the first place and the systematic disregard for advice which keeps us there still. But somehow the experience of living through the time of the Iraq war, however critical, still does not leave me with a true understanding of the diplomatic and military processes whose sum is this mess of a reconstruction and occupation. In bits and pieces, congressional authorizations and troop movements over the course of the past five years are depressing but capable of digestion. Seeing these steps together, as missteps upon missteps is another thing entirely. It seems unnecessary to further encourage the near two thirds of the American people who already oppose the war to see a film which will likely turn their stomachs. And even less challenging to suggest it to you, FH Reader, as common sense tells me that you are even more likely to oppose the war than the average American.

But see it anyway. See it if only out of respect for the estimated 600,000+ of Iraqi civilian casualties estimated to date as a result of US invasion. Or for the nearly 4,000 American troop casualties. Or for the $1.8 trillion projected to be spent on the war by the time the country is stable enough for the United States to leave.

On the one hand, the film succeeds largely by letting the facts speak for themselves. You will not find any Michael Moore style cram-it-down-your throat liberalism. There aren't activists or Iraqi people on any soapboxes, leading what would be an easy beratement of American atrocities, diplomatic or otherwise. The film is mostly suits: interviews with bureaucrats, top officials of the Defense Department discussing their own experiences trying to work for a free and democratic Iraq. To supplement the diplomatic interviews, Director Charles Fergusson includes several soldiers and marines who served as well as American journalists who arrived in Baghdad shortly after the invasion. This particular choice on the part of the filmmaker makes the film more compelling than most, hearing the extreme criticisms of the anti-war movement instead spoken from the lips of those most likely to defend and champion Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I don't really know how to elaborate on the substance of the movie without doing it a disservice, as the movie so precisely captures what went so terribly wrong. I do, however, want to mention that in two different places, Fergusson includes the [controversial] footage of contract soldiers' mutilated bodies dragged through a city street to the sound of cheering crowds. He uses it to discuss the direction of the war and the relations between American forces and the Iraqi people at a certain point. Seeing it in such a context and now realizing what foreshadowing might have been gleaned, recalls to memory the reaction of the American public at the time of its release by domestic news media back in April 2004. Do you remember how people let out such a shout about seeing war atrocities committed against American soldiers on tv? Especially in the course of this documentary, that whole episode seems so tragically besides the point. Upon seeing the footage we should have screamed about what the hell was happening in Iraq in the name of "reconstruction" and instead we were preoccupied with our endless and blind patriotism--in this case supporting military honor at all costs.

Anyway, I don't want to keep you here and reinvent the meaning of the documentary's title. But. Sometimes amidst whatever else is currently filling your days, it's good for us to remember what it is that is shaping the world. Especially when it is the single thing that most defines the international reputation of the nation to which you belong.


San Franciscans! Yeah You!

Just a heads up to those of you in the Bay Area who are thinking of ordering lock holsters or utility belts in the near future: You may or may not know this but we have a little stock outpost in your town! The kids at Box Dog Bikes have been good enough to keep some of our stuff in stock at their (adorable) shop in SF. We thought you might like to know because we continue to get loads of orders for lock holsters from the fine folks in California. While we surely appreciate your internet business, it might be cool for you to not have to pay shipping on some of these things if they happen to already be located in your municipality.

They are open seven days a week, conveniently, and just by the snapshots on their website you can see they are an accessible shop that has all sorts of useful things for your perusal. So even if you've already got a lock holster, you might get a kick out of their selection of fancy tires, used parts, or crafty signage. Plus, the shop is collectively owned by the people who work there. Which is pretty great.


You are Invited!

Come on already! Just say that you'll come! The cupcakes are out of the oven. The eggs are deviled. The tunes are queued. The joes are sloppy. And the costumes are...yes that is COSTUMES...are nearly done. Don't worry, we don't mean your costumes. You aren't wearing costumes. But we are...

If you haven't heard by now, R.E.Load (our day job) is turning ten. We are having a big party to celebrate the simple fact of our enduring existence. Ten years of making awesome bags for awesome people. And we were sort of hoping you would come.

I mean, you don't want to miss the single most fun friday of the year, do you? I didn't think so.


Free Books

In the line of work I happen to be in, the iPod as an invention is pretty much priceless. I can't really imagine what my life would be like if I had to switch the cd to my discman in between basting and trimming bags and belts. Let alone where I would keep it...Let's just say I am grateful to Steve Jobs for bringing me the tiny and powerful little mP3 player.

And I like music as much as the next guy but when you sew forty hours a week, it's stories and news and talking that pass the time. When we first moved in to our space on 11th street, we found it difficult to listen to npr or talk radio on the stereo because something about the acoustics or the background noise makes it near impossible to follow voices. So I came to rely upon headphones for this purpose. And in turn, on audio books.

Which is how I found Librivox. If you search the internets for free audiobooks it is the first thing to appear on your screen, though that's not what makes it an ingenious concept for a website. The whole thing is fueled by volunteers who read works that have chronologically become public domain, and then post the audio files on the website. In the United States, any work published before 1923 is considered in the public domain. Librivox cites the website gutenberg.org, which houses more than 20,000 free books, as their primary reference for determining a work's status as public or private. Once the books are recorded, they are then catalogued by author and available to download in a variety of formats. The users of the website directly benefit by increased selection, when they themselves contribute to the content of the website. And although online access to audiobooks has been made available through public libraries all over the place, the program most often used by libraries is 100% incompatible with iTunes and mac.

So if like me, you spend a lot of your time doing something like sewing wherein you have a lot of audio downtime, you should peruse the selection at Librivox. It has given me a chance to catch up on some classics, including but not limited to the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the Secret Garden and Emma. And I just started downloading Ulysses. Springtime has made me ambitious.


Craftski Brewski Fest

This weekend was a busy one for my liver, but a good one. I heard about the Philly Craft Beer Fest from a friend of mine and despite its being scheduled for the evening after our big party I decided to go. This required a little more planning than usual as both sessions of the festival were expected to sell out and the tickets in advance cost a whopping forty dollars. And truthfully the thought of drinking again when Saturday evening rolled around was exhausting, but I rallied in the final daylight hours and decided it would be worth it. I'd always wanted to see what a thing like this was like. A beer festival. Tasting lots of high quality beers. Brewers and beer enthusiasts together in one place reveling in the craftsmanship of beer masters. I'd imagined this lovely, cozy environment where all kinds of beer geeks got together to talk shop, exchange secrets, fine tune their palate.

What I found was sort of like that. And by sort of, I mean not really at all. For one, the floors were sticky with the residue of beer from the first session. The crowd was overwelmingly comprised of a post-fraternity vintage who drag their dates to events where they can just hang out with other dude bros on Saturday nights, poisoning the air with their clouds of cologne. There were some thirtysomethings and nice guys around too, and a particularly friendly party of lesbians (whom I already happened to know) and these other demographics mixed it up enough to make the crowd manageable. Because it was almost unmanageable. The Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at the Naval Yards which hosted this extravaganza was packed wall to wall. It was difficult to walk, let alone talk to the brewers about beer or get snobby with other beer snobs. The first two hours we were there we did more elbowing than festivating. We didn't really have a choice. I had forgotten that a fest usually involves generic jazzy music, crowds, and chaos, regardless of the fest's advertised focus. A craft beer fest and a lobster fest are virtually identical to the eye and the ear. I had also forgotten that some people will come out just to drink beer, be it Coors light or Dogfish Head. I think it was probably good that I was reminded of this sad reality.

But we took a crucial breather half way through, regrouped, found a corner where we could hang out and relax for a minute so that when we returned to the floor there was more room, more patience. The fest featured 50 breweries pouring more than 120 brews, everything from blueberry ales (Bar Harbor) to a Smutt-a-roni, made from wild rice (Smuttynose). We tasted so many beers, none of which were spit-out-able. Unfortunately the extreme conditions made it impossible to write things down and while I can remember the styles, many of the corresponding brewers escape me. We were continuously impressed. And though in quantity I doubt whether we drank our money's worth, it was worth the forty dollars to have all these beers at your fingertips. The breadth of the selection was worth every penny. We spent the last hour bouncing between the Ommegang table and the Unibroue table. That is pretty priceless.

By the end of the night, we found ourselves climbing back onto the free shuttle (schoolbus) back to the Pattison stop on the subway, together with all the frat boys and rabblerousers. It was a flashback to the return busride from the Booze Cruise everyone went on during my Senior Week of college. We realized that despite being such a weird, expensive, out of the way event, the Philly Craft Beer Fest was ridiculously fun. For some kids from West Philly who usually do stuff on the cheaps, it was a worthy treat of an excursion. Forgive me the generic photos, as I forgot my camera...

But a heads up if you're a beerlover and you missed this, Philly's inaugural beer week starts March 7, with over 80 tastings and events sprinkled throughout the city. And many of them are freeski.