Thursday, May 7, 2009

forever twenty-one jumpstreet

the ministry vs. forever 21
Left: Ministry of Tiny Hats chapeau worn by Chloe, photo by Jeff Wolk Photography, hair by Coco Kootsillas, make-up by Lauren Vaughn. Right: Forever 21 small hat, photo from

In fashion, you are either in or you are out. But more importantly, you are a big fish or a small fry, and unfortunately, the fries are often left out in the cold -- which as we all know, renders nothing but a soggy, caloric mess.

As a small fry on the very lowest, independent rung of the fashion industry ladder, it's always a somewhat uphill battle. In my case, I've had unparalleled support from friends and family, and been fairly lucky "professionally." But the fact is, I am only one person. This alone limits my ability to flesh out the creativity within. I am not a machine. I don't possess the resources to indulge every fleeting fancy that pops into my brain, totes unforch. That isn't the case for corporate behemoths like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21.

Which is why it pains me to see that, in the grand tradition of corporate copycat-ism, these particular retail giants have begun manufacturing their own tiny hats. Sure, they aren't as detailed or unique as mine. They are made of flimsier materials. They don't stay on the head as easily. There is nary a tiny majorette hat. But the average consumer doesn't know that. The average consumer now sees tiny hats as a wearable, workable trend -- which in and of itself is a GREAT thing -- but they also see them as a product of a teen megastore, not the inventiveness of individual, uncredited people. I'm not the first person on earth to create a small hat. But I feel that I certainly took the idea to the next level, a level which F21 has now jumped onto and subsequently pushed me off of. It's the same thing that happened to t-shirt designer Johnny Cupcakes a few years back with the airplane t-shirt scandal.

I'd be stupid to think this is a new phenomenon. I'm sure human beings have been copying, ripping off and janking each other's shit since the dawn of time. Even Diane Von Furstenburg, a huge proponent of designer rights, unknowingly copied a design from a smaller Canadian designer. But she quickly righted that wrong, as she should have. And while that was the honorable move, DVF still comes off as the rich bitch who sells expensive clothing. She is a figurehead for "the enemy." She is the one, after all, who recently pursued legal action against F21 for flat-out stealing one of her iconic prints, which I recall being a little sad about because the rip-off was cute, and I could never afford the original. How ironic.

It's easy to forget that companies like Forever 21, while making high-style accessible to the public, aren't just targeting the elite end of the spectrum. More notably but less reported, they are often stealing ideas from independent designers who don't have the resources to defend themselves. Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and companies of that ilk don't intend to make fashion affordable and available to the masses for the altruism of it. They want to make money. A whole lot of money. And in the end, recreating, stealing ideas from independent creatives -- whatever you'd like to call it -- just serves to put us in our place, financially and creatively speaking.

double time
The Secret Garden tiny hat, by Ministry of Tiny Hats

At the end of the day, though, my hats are inexpensive, fun and completely customizable, which is something a big-box store could never offer. I have faith that people can see Ministry of Tiny Hats is nothing but a big ol' labor of love. My main objective is to create wearable items that give me joy; joy that I hope to pass on to the ultimate recipient. Each one of my hats is dear to me. It sometimes makes me sad to think of how many I've made and how I don't have a single one to my own name! They are kind of like my children, each a expression of a particular moment in my life. But like children, they all have to go to college someday! This is getting a little convoluted...

In truth, my hope is that this only gives me greater exposure, and serves as a reminder to people that nothing really is sacred or original anymore. We just have to -- cue cliche, weepy string music -- remain true to ourselves, and hope for the best. If there's one good thing I can say for Forever 21's foray into tiny hat territory, it's that I appreciate their presentation of it as an item that everyone can wear, no matter what the occasion. Don one at the beach with a friend while eating cotton candy? Sure, why not! You don't need a reason to wear a tiny hat, only the confidence. And if that message gets across, then maybe this won't all be in vain.

Until next time,
Amy Tay

p.s. Look for more posts in the near future, of the photographic variety. I know y'alls hates to read my dumb rants!


  1. I'm going to be just as unoriginal as F XXI and use much-hackneyed cliches to express how I feel.

    Simply said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. (cliche!) It completely sucks that Forever is now playing in your sandbox (cliche!) but the fact that a mega-fast-fashion-chain feels tiny hats are a viable product to produce, carry and market means someone with a good head for business decided tint hats are a trend worth investing in.

    One of the world's most famous milliners-turn-legend, Coco Chanel, had an interesting relationship with copycats. She actually encouraged counterfeits of her iconic suits by sharing designs with department store designers. I can't remember what her reasoning was (vanity? ego-mania?) but she encouraged the proliferation of her designs. Of course this was before the time of rampant knock-offs and the potential billions to be made through licensing; I doubt Mlle. would be happy to see what Chinese counterfeiters have done to her initials these days, but whatever.

    Anyway, I feel your pain (cliche!) but look on the bright side (cliche!): tiny hats are more popular than ever and you are the master mini-milliner of Atlanta Georgia!

  2. I feel so used! Or, I feel like you feel so used and then that makes me feel so used.


  3. that sucks. i'm sorry! i will only buy my tiny hats from you!