An interview with John Gluckow, by Kevin Watts, fashion student at Humber College.

These questions attempt to create a dialogue around disposability and consumerism through personal narrative and lived experience. They focus on rethinking the value of clothing through its ability to tell a story. Humans are story-telling animals and as we go through life, all we can truly accumulate is a collection of stories that serve to define who we are as individuals. Fashion is an empty vessel that can share our experiences, encapsulate our memories, and foster a much more intimate connection between us and the stories we hold. These questions indulge in an idea of conscious consumption that encourages a deeper relationship with our clothing, one that is much more personal and unadvertised.

The first interview takes place with vintage guru John Gluckow. He’s a [fashion] dealer based out of New York City who also has his own line called John Gluckow Ancient & Modern.

Briefly describe your personal style and tell the story of why it’s important to you?

My personal style is relatively simple and functional. I dress in a classic American style, mixing vintage and new clothes. I focus on texture and colour. I don’t wear a lot of small accessories, although I’m usually carrying a bag (because I need one). I’m not obsessed with one aspect of clothes. I love dressing up or down. Style is important to me, as an extension of the clothes I love. I tend to own items of clothing for a very long time. 

A lot of what I understand about clothing and style, I owe to my godfather, who was a major influence on me growing up and throughout my life. Style is important to me, in part, because of my deep connection with him and because it was a significant part of our relationship.

What is one of your most valued pieces and tell of the sentiment attached to it?

One of my favourite pieces of clothing is a 1920s wool coat made by Town & Country. I’ve had a long relationship with this coat. One of the reasons for its special place in my wardrobe is the way in which I came to own it. I was shopping at a flea market (which is my passion and my job). I had finished shopping and was heading from the back of the field to my car when I saw the coat thrown from a truck onto the grass. My arms were full of purchases and I almost passed it by without checking it out, because it was red wool, which was generally hard to sell at that time. But I noticed the knitting and buttons and they seemed to be quite old. I put down my bags and picked up the coat. I noticed immediately the zipper was something I had never seen before. It was very old for a zipper. I had learned a bit already about the history of zippers and I knew this one was the 1920s. The size was also great: it would fit me perfectly. The condition was excellent: it appeared almost unworn. And the price was amazing: it was $40. I bought it and continued to my car and then on home, which was a few hours drive.

That was almost 20 years ago. I still have the coat. It’s been on trips all over the U.S. and the world with me. Because it’s pretty rare, I don’t wear it every day. Sometimes I might not even wear it for a whole winter. But every time I see it, it fills me with a sense of happiness that is hard to explain. It remains a favourite of mine for wearing and just for looking at. I can’t imagine I will ever part with it. My son (12) has always been pretty interested in fashion and style and I guess I will hand it down to him someday.

What is your biggest concern with the fashion industry right now?

I know that for a lot of people, the pollution from dyeing and processing fibres into fabrics is their biggest concern. But for me, the biggest problem I see in fashion is the wanton overproduction of products. The largest corporations in fashion overproduce their products in such huge quantities, more than they can ever sell in their primary markets. They expanded the system of outlet shops to sell off the excess; but unsatisfied with that, they now create entire low-end versions of themselves to sell at the outlets, as well. And when these don’t sell, they go to deep discount stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx. 

The mass of overproduction is, in itself, pollution. And the system has created a public that refuses to buy anything at full price: why would we? Everything goes on sale. Except for the hype items, which are generally made in smaller quantities to create the hype (go figure). Smaller companies (like my brand) have to produce products in quantities that are reasonable within our marketplace. We have to consider our wholesale sales and our expected in-store sales. And decide a number that will likely be sold out. In this way, we have as little waste as possible and as great a margin as possible. Sometimes we lose opportunities when items sell much faster than expected. But that is part of the learning process and part of being a responsible company.

I’m not sure how our world can sustain the overproduction of so many companies and fashion is not the only industry culprit. It’s wider than fashion. But fashion seems to be one of the greatest offenders.

Do you think a deeper relationship with our clothing that moves beyond aesthetics can promote a more conscious model of consumerism?

I think the idea of having a deeper relationship with our clothing is a good one. But I’m not sure how realistic it is for the wider population. 

For many people, clothing is not that important. Of course, those people also tend to buy less clothing to begin with and are less of the fast fashion/mass consumption problem. 

For those who are heavy consumers of clothing or those who think about their personal style as important, a deeper relationship with their clothing could certainly promote a more conscious consumer. But before people can develop a strong connection to an individual garment, they will likely have to own it for a time. Or, the purchase (or receiving of it, as a gift) will have to create a positive memory that results in such a connection. 

For most people, I think the item in their wardrobe which they would say is most valued would be something they’ve had significant experiences in which have created connections to the garment.

To create a more conscious consumer, who purchases less and values more, this process will need to start with the decision to acquire something. And it will require thoughtful consideration of the purchase that generally doesn’t happen for people in the fast fashion world. Even for people buying vintage and second-hand these days, I think there is a “more is better” subconscious. While second-hand is often touted as the way to solve the consumption problem, I think the hype that now surrounds aspects of second-hand goods has infected the marketplace in almost the same way as in fast fashion. 

The “deeper connection” you describe and the “thoughtful buyer” that I describe remind me of the buying process of many Japanese shoppers. Clothing purchases in Japan are rarely accidental. They are typically planned experiences and often require more than one outing for shopping for the item. Long discussions with knowledgeable salespeople take place. And finally, an item is purchased that will be cherished and worn for a long time. Of course, Japan is not immune to fast fashion (it is the home of Uniqlo), but for many consumers, the experience is as I described.

This experience requires three things: a conscious consumer, a product worth considering deeply, and a salesperson willing to spend time discussing the product. In the western fashion retail experience, the salesperson is no longer a key to the process. They have been replaced by cashiers and stock people (who fold and refold with record speed). Without a salesperson who can discuss products knowledgeably, the process is much more difficult. Specialty shops are moving back to this model, selling clothes at the higher end and with an attention to the customer experience. But unfortunately, it’s still a small percentage of the population who purchase clothing in this way. I’m not sure how to move more people to seek that sort of experience.

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