The Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh was home to five factories, part of the country’s famed garment industry; it was the second largest factory in the world. Zara, H&M, Gap, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and numerous other brands were being made by 3.6 million people in Bangladesh, to the tune of $21 billion in exports in 2012, nearly 12% of the GCP. Roughly 90% of those exports landed in the United States, because producing in Bangladesh was so cheap: minimum wage there was $37 a month, four times less than that of China. No wonder everyone wanted their clothes made there. Business was booming, and everything was humming along smoothly.
And then the roof caved in. Literally.
On April 24, 2013, the building collapsed, killing 1,100 people and injuring another 2,438. Most of these were garment workers, and most of those were young women.
All accidents are tragic, but this one is especially so because it could have been avoided; it almost was.
The morning before the collapse, an engineer deemed the building unsafe and recommended its evacuation. A government official hurried to the site, had a meeting with the engineer, and changed the verdict, declaring the building safe. The bank in the building sent its workers home, but garment worker management told them to come back to work the next day or risk losing their jobs. They did, and some of them never returned home to their families. The engineer tried to escape the country but was caught and arrested at the border.
Shortly after this, Fashion Revolution began. For one week in April, they urge consumers who buy clothes – basically everybody – to participate in their #whomademyclothes campaign, building awareness of the many hands that produce the garments we wear. At the same time, brands, producers, and stores are encouraged to be transparent and honor those workers. Part of the point is to encourage ethical production through changing consumer practices.
San Francisco has a long history in the garment industry (think Levi’s), and there are events April 22-29 throughout the city. In an effort to promote American-designed and American-made clothes, and in the spirit of a movement that demands transparency in this oversaturated and poorly regulated industry, I wanted to chat with local designer Evan Kinori, so I made an appointment to stop by his studio in Hayes Valley.
I first met Evan at a maker event in SOMA about six years ago. Nestled in between a leather specialist and candle maker, Evan had his wares that I had seen on his Tumblr, back when Tumblr was a thing. One of them was a reversible jacket that was one of the coolest things I’d seen, and it continues to be one of my favorite pieces of outerwear. A testament to Evan’s sense of style is the fact that it appeals to practically everyone; through the years, I’ve been asked about it on the street and the job site.
Evan recalls: “This was the third jacket I had come up with while in school. I was studying pattern making and was really eager to bring my ideas to life but the curriculum only taught womenswear. Even so, I was very anxious to make the garments I was envisioning. The thing that I really began to fixate on was how when most elements are removed, a garment can be much more transcendent and speak to more people.
“I had found this amazing British brand, SEH Kelly, that had made a reversible shirt and it had really sparked my brain. I loved the idea of giving people options. From there, I just came up with the shapes I like and the way I wanted it to look and feel: timeless, smooth, but wearable on a daily basis. To me, the design retains the simple essentials of a men’s jacket but doesn’t appear too rigid or utilitarian, nor too dressy or blazer-esque.
“The denim is nice weight, 12 oz Japanese selvedge that I thought was the right shade of indigo to be paired with the greenish grey cavalry twill wool that I had got a bolt of at an estate sale. I love the idea of wool and denim, one side being the more rugged and tolerant side for messing about, and the other being a little more dressy for when the time calls for it. they are complimentary weights, not overly rigid, but enough to make the jacket feel substantial.”
Of the many things that stand out about this garment is the fabrication – after years of abuse, the jacket shows no signs of ever falling apart. Evan explains: “The entire jacket was sewn on a single needle Juki DDL 555 lockstitch industrial machine, with the buttonholes being sewn with a Reece keyhole machine. Lockstitch construction is just unbreakable. When you pair it with tight stitch counts, that garment will surely last long enough for your grandchildren to fight over it.” When the buttons started to crack or the button stitching began to unravel, Evan added buttonholes to the other side and kick press buttons, which will never break or come loose, on both sides, for free.
The belief that clothes are meant to last and can be repaired, instead of tossed and replaced, is one that the Fashion Revolution is trying to instill in the mind of modern customers. The fact that Evan himself took care of my jacket, free of charge, is an almost radical concept if we think of the current state of the fashion industry, where we hardly ever get to interact with the designers or the makers of the pieces we wear.
Currently, Evan’s stock can be found in a handful of shops in New York, LA, Antwerp, Belgium, Japan, and South Korea. In San Francisco, you can find his stuff at Reliquary or make an appointment to visit his studio. It’s nice to see Evan’s growth from that booth six years ago, but he’s in no rush.
“I’m pretty particular about where my stuff goes,” he says. “I have to fit in, not just with the other brands, but the shop itself. When I go in, I listen to the music, talk to the owners, and see if we think along the same lines. It’s not just about selling the product.”
When asked about his clothing style, Evan shrugs and says, “I like to make garments people don’t have to worry about styling. I don’t want people to feel like they have to buy everything, even though all the pieces go together.”
His Instagram feed has a certain feel to it – I’d call it relaxed menswear – with models showcasing his garments head-to-toe. Similar to Kapital and Engineered Garments, but without the randomness.
Quality is high, with taped seams and leather backed kick press buttons. Details are thoughtfully executed, such as lower chest pockets to facilitate use and flaps with hidden button closures. Personally, I’ve found his garments easy to pair with what I currently have in my closet. Silhouettes are easy and familiar, with focus on practicality and texture.
I ended up purchasing another three-pocket jacket in an amazing cotton/linen/wool/hemp yarn dyed blanket cloth tweed. While mostly black, it has white and grey vertical broken stripes that pairs perfectly with a white button-down, black jeans, and white sneakers for when I don’t feel like thinking about color.
He’s got something in the pipeline that I’m really excited about, including the three-pocket jacket in a casentino cloth (!) and a longer coat in a large gray herringbone.
Time was that Evan himself made every garment himself, like my reversible jacket from six years ago. Nowadays Evan outsources the sewing either to LA or San Francisco, depending on the garment, so he can focus on designing.
For the guy into classic menswear, you can’t do much better with Evan’s garments; they are all California designed and made, which means you can do your part in supporting local talent and industry.