How to respond to criticism

Wednesday, August 17th 2016
Share
||- Begin Content -||

Several weeks ago, I wrote a review on Permanent Style of an artisan. The review contained good and bad points, with the latter focusing largely on quality of work.

I had mentioned these points when I received the finished garment. I told the artisan in advance that the piece would be published, including those points. When it was published, I gave them the opportunity to respond.

Since then, not only has the artisan fixed the issues with my garment, but they have noticeably raised the quality of their work.

They later said this was partly spurred by my criticism, and that customers have been very pleased with the result. It was a very positive, productive experience for both sides.

~

If only it was always like this.

Sometimes, when I say anything critical, people get angry. Or rather indignant. They express astonishment that a review could be anything but positive.

To be fair, this is how a lot of the fashion industry works. Brands buy pages of editorial copy (not labelled ‘promotion’ or anything similar) in exactly the same contract as they buy advertising.

Digital publishing can be worse, without even advertising to indicate who has paid. (Instagram is particularly culpable here.)

But you might think the artisan that cares so much about being covered on Permanent Style would have read it, and realised that it occasionally includes such criticism. Apparently not.

~

The saddest thing is when people get lawyers involved.

Several times in the life of this site I have received cease and desist letters. They often include bizarre claims - one declared a fact to be absolutely untrue, despite the fact that it was stated by the artisan in question, in an email. I forwarded it to the lawyer. He didn’t write back.

This is sad because there are often genuine points in the letter, somewhere. But they’re buried in random accusations and threatening language.

A polite email would have been much more likely to elicit a quick response; to start a conversation; to lead to understanding.

~

I have a huge amount of sympathy for people that work very hard at their crafts, and then are hurt by criticism of that work. But criticism can be constructive, particularly when it is part of an open conversation.

And I know that readers value this kind of honest review. It often informs some big investment purchases, and there is little enough of it about. (Something demonstrated by the many private emails I receive after reviews, with people giving their own experiences that they didn’t wish to make public.)

I am passionate about this industry - about pushing it forward, making it modern and dynamic - and I don’t think puff pieces help anyone.

~

One name I think it’s worth mentioning is the Spanish tailor Langa, whose suit I criticised earlier in the year - in particular the uneven construction of the shoulder.

Despite this potentially damaging comment, they wrote a very measured email, pointing out that I had failed to warn the point before the review (a lapse, for which I apologised) and starting a conversation about what might have caused the error.

That has led to a plan for a return visit to Madrid, to fix the problem, and doubtless an update on PS about the experience. It is, not coincidentally, exactly the kind of relationship a brand would want to establish with a customer.

Criticism can be constructive.

 

Photo: In conversation with Satoki Kawai in Milan (for whom I have nothing but praise!) by Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
62 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phil Green

The problem with many journalists is that they don’t have a craft – except for pontificating over that of others – which really frustrates people. And they always want to have the last word – which this article illustrates. It serves merely the journalist – which in this case has an expanding ego

Wes wp

Phil’s comment makes him come across like an internet troll (as opposed to trolls who live under bridges). I have a problem with fashion bloggers who offer no real “content” at all: Scott Schuman’s famous blog is the perfect example. He captures “street fashion” which rarely looks good on the very subjects he photographs. His devotees post comments that speak to the worst of social media: “Nice outfit,” “Love!” and (among other gems) “She’s totally carrying that off.”

Simon’s work has clearly evolved over the years (go back and examine his early posts, and you’ll see the stark contrast, particularly a shift in philosophy). He (often) puts his own money on the line to commission work that (not infrequently) turns out less than stellar. His “ego” is healthy enough to honestly critique the work that he has been a central part of designing (but not producing), and to “face the music” after he makes these reviews public.

Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean writes puff pieces – and rarely little more. His review of Harrison Unlimited is exhibit A. He writes a non-specific, glowing (even gushing) profile of a menswear store in the American south. When some readers challenged him on it, he responded as defensively as I’ve ever seen a professional blogger come back at someone.

Simon’s work is balanced. It is thoughtful. As a writer – he possesses a kind of jaunty elan that I find refreshing.

Simon: continue to live the satorial life that most of us can only dream of!

Alex

For what it’s worth, I think there are plenty of examples where writing is a craft, including magazine writing and, yes, writing on clothing. Take a look at “My Father’s Closet” by John Seabrook in the New Yorker, March 1998.

Nat Davies

On the contrary, being capable of writing a coherent article, presenting facts and opinion in a combination that delineates between the two while following a single narrative; and allowing the reader to reach their own – hopefully more educated – conclusions could easily be considered a craft.

I also don’t think it’s egotistical to voice concern over the way in which Simon has been engaged (or not) by various artisans in response to feedback on their work. It would surely be considered in an artisan’s own commercial best interest to be open and engaging with early adopters, opinion leaders and journalists who can act as advocates or detractors for the artisans’ work and/or brand.

andrew

Maybe I don’t understand Phil’s comment, because I find it very unfair. Journalism is of course a craft, and anyone who has written with deadlines and frequency can attest that it takes quite a long time to do it well and with consistency. Yes, a writer controls the conversation to a degree, but today, with social media I’d say this is less true than in previous years. I think for sure Simon has raised the bar for transparency.

Reader

Mr Green is confused. The manufacture of an artefact is not identical with judgment of its performance. Mr Green also fails to understand journalism as means, not end.

Reader

PS: Mr Green overlooks the fact here not just that the journalist but his readers pay hard-earned money for clothes and their alterations. Not only that, but the consumer should be entitled to the last word. Unfortunately, there are many examples where the consumer is not given honest advice – for example about cloth care and wear, or he is faced with irreversible facts – for example, a ridiculous sleeve buttonhole placement cannot be undone without tremendous cost.

M

Absolutely, Simon. Without realising it, I have found myself becoming an eager and regular reader. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning I would consult your new publication. This is certainly mainly driven by the objectivity of your reviews, which I trust more than anyone else’s. Having tried a few products / bespoke commissions since I have become a regular reader, I often agreed with your conclusions (the positive and the negative), which reinforces the ‘trust’ factor and the loyalty to the website. I cannot agree more that artisans should learn from that positive criticism and build up on it. In a world where information is instantaneous, people want the best value for their money (notwithstanding their wealth) and therefore artisans ought to be aware of the inherent value proposition of their product compared to what is being done elsewhere. If I remember correctly I think Ambrosi for example had a few issues with consistency / communication and he took your comments positively. Do you know if he has made any progress?

Also, I would like to note that as a reader, I value a lot the fact that you also take feedback or different point of views from readers positively and constructively (for example, our exchange on Maurice Sedwell 2 days ago). The fact that you integrate customer’s feedback in your writing (e.g. do a full article on that basis or even trigger a purchase) is very powerful. This makes me feel that the blog is evolving real time and is ‘dynamic’ vs. a ‘static’ set of subjects / brands to appraise (like most fashion blogs).

Cheers,

M

Fred

Thanks for the honesty and the critical approach. One of the main reasons I so appreciate your articles.

Kev Fidler

Good points, Simon and well made as ever. I am very keen that proper crafts people get the publicity and custom they deserve as opposed to the mass produced and vastly overrated, overpriced so-called designer products. Conversely however such crafts do cost and those of us of limited means end up up investing significant amounts on those desired purchases. Quite right therefore that they are held to account by people in the know such as yourselves when the quality and service isn’t up to scratch and right too that they should reply in a positive manner. Attitude to your customer is so important especially if what you are offering is supposed to be that bit more.

Bertie Wooster

Hello, I’ve read in a few places that white hanks are best worn traditionally folded as a pocket square, rather than a fluffed look or where you have all the edges showing as appears to be the case with both you and Kawai-san in the photo. Is that so?

Nick Inkster

I think there is an ocean of difference between a complaint and a criticism.

” I thought the finish of his buttonholes left a lot to be desired, but he thought them to be quite OK ” is very different from ” I was unhappy with the finnish of the buttonholes, so he agreed to have them redone for me”.

The criticism has to be legitimate, and whilst that in itself may end up being very subjective, it is only reasonable to try and resolve the issue before going public with it in my view.

If you can’t resolve it, then I think it fair that you complain; that is when the power of social media makes itself felt.

Matt S

The criticism presented on this blog is always honest, yet never overblown. I appreciate how you always make the criticism constructive, offering ways the problems can be remedied. People love to find problems with things that aren’t there (such as criticising the fit of a suit from a photo of you in motion) or unjustly criticise the quality of an £800 suit like it’s a £2,500 suit. I can always take your criticism seriously, and which also makes your praise worth more.

Matt

I suppose it depends on what agreements have been entered into prior to the article being written.

If you’re walking into an artisan’s workroom, throwing your cash on the counter and paying full market price for an item then I would have thought you are entitled to say whatever you please about the finished product.

Things become a bit more complicated when writers accept discounts or free products in exchange for reviews. I suspect that, rightly or wrongly, this is going to raise an expectation on the craftsman’s part that they will receive a favourable review (it is after all, no different to paying for any other form of advertisement) and inevitably leads to anger and recrimination if that is not forthcoming.

Reader

Sorry, Simon, but if you publish your criticism you simply must know its legal aspect. You affect the reputation and income of persons. These artisans do NOT want criticism. You spent years studying at Oxbridge PPP – do you seriously think most instructors want their ideas criticised by students in class? So you are forced to put your cards on the table BEFORE you criticize, and you must truly consider HOW you criticize and always preface by stating your standpoint.

Reader

It’s clear study at university level is not training in legal specialisation. My comparison was only to demonstrate that heresy means excommunication.
Mainstream “science” does not deserve its name. You are the advocate of the consumer and tge enemy of the ommercial pretender and exploiter.

Jake

One of the strengths of your blog is the measured approach you take in your reviews. There’s never any hyperbole, and the problems you may encounter with a commission are always described in a clear analytical fashion. It’s a style and tone which lends authority to your reviews.

I met someone recently who reviews guitars online and is known for being extremely frank and outspoken. His reviews can make or break a reputation. He told me he’s often sent unsolicited products to review, but if they’re not up to scratch and they come from a small producer he won’t review them online.

Rather than trashing them on the web and destroying a new start-up business in the process, he’ll send the guitar back with notes, and tell them tactfully that their product isn’t ready for review just yet. If it’s a big corporation which has sent him the kit, he figures they can take the unvarnished criticism without being put out of business, in which case they should have tried harder in the first place.

I’m guessing it’s a bit different for you, given that the vast majority of the manufacturers you’re reviewing are fairly small scale artisans with small margins and a reputation to protect. Do you feel you have a duty to protect them when you write a review (after all, you wouldn’t want to destroy the craftsmanship that you celebrate in your blog)? How do you accommodate that with your duty to your readers?

Anonymous

As with thousands of others I have been reading this wonderful site since its inception. It has become much more than a blog – more so than any other I can think of due to the definitively factual nature of the reporting (vs. fluff media pieces or static, remote opinion pieces). I sometimes think GQ et al should be paying us to read so many ads. Furthermore the generous and often gracious approach to the interactive comments forum bouys the site along with real life opinions and exchanges of views. Inkster, Matt, etc. are always worth reading. Little should change. Indeed it is the honest depiction of issues (sometimes caused by your own lack of clarity as you openly admit) that lends the content more real meaning than any other. And when commissions fail, through no one’s fault, you’re straight about this too (Gieves gilet). My only comment is to suggest greater clarity over the cost of your commissions; for example you might quote the cloth bunch but was it purchased via the tailor or independently – if the latter what was the cost? Lastly, though criticism may sometimes be present you often illustrate the various characters of the bespoke and craft world with great warmth and affection. Continue forward Simon, no turns, no deviations.

Reader

For practical exercise, dear criticised Critic SC!

Which RTW SB two-button summer jacket style do you prefer: G&H (patch pockets) or Richard James (Hyde)? And why? ?

Vincent

Hi Simon, faithful reader of your blog for a while now, I’ve got a unrelated question on putting on muscle and commissioning bespoke pieces. I’ve started going to the gym to train with a trainer regularly, with the goal of putting on 20lb of muscle over the span of a year and a half. Does this mean I should put off all purchasing until I’ve finally reached my aesthetic goal? What about casual wear? Not buying anything for almost two years would be the end of the world!

Thanks

Alex

You just need to get a sense of which measurements will change: ie., shoulder width is not going far; depending on how you’re training, chest, thigh and seat are probably the places you’ll need to either factor in some extra space, wait before you buy, or accept will fit differently over time.

Vincent

I think the biggest worry I have is the chest, pants are relatively low cost to purchase so my biggest concern would be tops. Ideally I can gain 3-4 inches in my chest and maybe 1-2 in my arms. Do you think I’ll need to go a size up in casual wear here?

nick inkster

Any muscle building programme will see arms and thighs gaining the most bulk as these are the easiest to develop, so yes, you will have trouble with your sleeves and trousers if you really do bulk up.

I would suggest staying away from bespoke for while; let the process take its course and see where you settle before taking the plunge.

Bob

I do wonder if some artisans are really aware of the standard of the competition they are up against? My wife works in the space, though not menswear, and initially was renting desks in a number of studios with start up designer/makers covering a range of crafts. It was amazing how many didnt go out there and look at the competition or at best compared themselves to what you can buy in a high street store.

Certainly in my conversations with some the pure fact it was “handmade” was in itself supposed to make it worthwhile buying and worth the premium. Indeed many argued that poor workmanship was basically the evidence that its handmade rather than machine.

Despite all of this many do pour their heart and souls into what they are making. I’m therefore not suprised that they can find it hard to take criticism, even if constructive, and even more so if they arent aware of the standards others are managing to craft to.

Gus

I have a unique problem when dressing. I am a long distance runner and am slim overall. My problem is that my legs are unusually long while my torso remains average. How best can I achieve proportion? Should I consider getting longer jackets and/or shorter pants?

Simon Green

From a brand perspective, I always welcome constructive criticism of what I do, always striving to do better is what sets some brands and artisans apart from others. I continually enjoy and appreciate your analysis and support of our industry.

Reader

That’s just the point: clothes are for the ones who need clothing, not for the ones who manufacture the clothes. We are not in the sphere of “pure” art which requires far more training and discernment to judge. When the social organism is structured so that the consumers are empowered to direct the artisans, the consumers have the responsibility to ensure that the artisans are given what they need to create. Thus the structure of relationship between moments of society requires revision.

John Edmund

Simon,
With marketing as my profession, I could be very challenged by the issue you raise; if I pay for an advertising slot (however it’s presented) I might reasonably expect a positive report but the only person I would be kidding if I delivered an inferior product for review would be myself. It’s not going to do my brand much good and I’m not going to build a long term clientele if the product does not match the hype, no matter how well written. The moral of the story is test, test and test again before you expose the product to the public or suffer the consequences. As a reader of your blog I only stay engaged because I get to hear of your experiences (good and bad) with different manufacturers/artisans. I don’t always agree, because my sense of style or my experience and yours differs slightly, but it’s the fact that it’s your honest opinion that makes the blog worth reading and that that opinion is supported by a definite perspective (based on your study of menswear) on what makes bespoke worth the investment. Keep it real (as our American cousins might say).

Bob

Do you truly believe that?

I’d certainly argue, particularly in the mass market space, there are plenty of “successful” products with long term customers where the products dont/never live up to the hype… despite the fact that “9 out of 10 customers” say otherwise.

As a marketteer I am surprised you’d under estimate the power of advertising and the placebo effect…. unless you really do believe every beauty cream and hairloss product is the miracle they claim?

John Edmund

Bob,
Even advertisers recognise (to quote from McCann Erickson) what works best is The “Truth Well Told”.

twitter_NicoStromback

Simon!

As I said last time we meet with Luca in London, your blog is the only one that has stuck with me since I first went online as those years ago. Your style of writing, the diversity of the reporting and the honesty about all these items and artisans are what keeps most of us coming back I’d say.

I particularly like your posts like this one, where your honesty and openness is clearly displayed to every one of us readers. Its beyond me how some people make these unsuitable comments below about your writing and the contents of the blog. You have on numerous occasions been open about your intentions and that you are posting your own views on all matters bespoke and luxury. Sadly jealousy is displayed in so many ways these days, and we see a few of them here sometimes.

So, good on you for creating and running this blog for US, the customers, clients and artisans, so we can meet, exchange stories, do commissions and anything in between. I am still new to bespoke but with your counsel I have made some very good initial commission and the list keeps building. As with Luca for instance, a lovely man and true craftsman, I am glad to have meet him and become a customer. I would still be fumbling around with various MTM shirtmakers or the like if it weren’t for your reporting.

AO

Brave and important.

I’m saddened to hear of the negative responses and letters from laywers you have received in the course of building this site. I wouldn’t have expected it. Well done on continuing to do what you do, and being the best at it.

Ned Brown/Charleston, South Carolima

Simon, ignore it.
“Agree with your critics; it will drive them crazy.” Oscar Wilde

A.S.

Hello Simon

It is always interesting to read your articles and this one is no exception. It seems quite normal to me that your writings sometimes contain a certain amount of criticism. A negative feedback might not always be welcomed by the maker but it is nevertheless the only way to maintain or more important to improve the quality of the finished product. Bigger companies have learned this lesson long ago. Some artisans might still have to learn that getting a feedback should always be welcomed even though it might be negative.

As for the artisan in question. Since he has now successfully corrected the garment, it would be interesting to know who it is. I ask because it was my intention to commission a new suit from a certain tailor but I was put off the idea after you had a suit made there and criticised some details in a recent post.

Kind regards
A.S.

twitter_cavessons

Criticism is par of the course. It’s how you get better at what you are doing, whatever the endeavour. I’ve been reviewed by Simon and it was an incredibly useful and focusing exercise. (I hope it will be the first of many!) There are things that I’m getting right, and things that I need to work on. I believe the reviews on this site to be fair and balanced and therefore – and this is the clincher – trustworthy.

John

Hi Simon,
To me, this post is in itself a defining moment for this kind of blog and more specifically for the kind of work you’ve been doing.
Even upon reading the most interesting comments praising your work, I’m not at all sure whether it’s clear enough to many readers and apparently to some craftsmen that the stakes of the type of reviews you’ve been writing are higher than even the relevant issue of the quality of the various products under review. For ultimately at stake is the mere existence of the related crafts in today’s world.
We simply can’t assume that because these crafts are still around, their sheer existence is not threatened.
So a quick reminder to you and to all those who support you that what you are doing is absolutely of the highest importance!
John

Wooster2

Hi Simon – While I love your blog, it has become increasingly hard for readers to discern what is factual reporting, what is content marketing and what is advertorial on this blog. Take your latest piece, on the lapis-blue jacket, for instance: We know that you used to work for the coat maker (A&S), you collaborate and sell pieces for the shirt maker (LA), you wrote a “how to buy five pairs of $1500 shoes” for the shoemaker’s website (EG) and the pics are taken by the tie maker’s (Drake’s) go-to photographer (if I’ve understood this correctly). As a result, I’ve started to take your advice with a pinch of salt. A disclosure at the end of the article, listing any discounts received, etc., would be informative.

Alex

When you say that “no one can ever pay for coverage on this site” does that mean that you are purchasing at full cost all of the items you review? I’ve asked in some of your other posts and you never answer the question. Are you paying for the clothes that are being made for you?

Alex

I’ve read your blog for a while Simon and I find many of the articles to be useful. That said, I can’t tell when you pay for something and when you don’t, and for me this creates a conflict for you as author. If you can afford to pay for the things that you review then you could simply to do so and eliminate that conflict. Or, if you don’t want to do that, you could simply disclose each and every time that you receive something for free in the post in a way that makes it clear. What could possibly be the harm in that?

Alex

There is a conflict anytime you are reviewing a product that is made for you and that you will continue to wear for the rest of your life and own after the review, but you aren’t paying for it. When this happens you are effectively being paid to give to the review. You are receiving compensation in order to review the product. That is the key. That doesn’t mean that every single review you give is going to be positive or “bought”, and I’m not saying that every review is compromised, but if you are effectively being paid to review a product (which you are if you are getting something for free or at a discount), then you are going to be influenced by that. When you don’t disclose the consideration for the review (even if you just say “I received consideration” without specifying exactly what it was) there is a risk that people feel like they are being misled. I don’t mean to question your ethics and again, I’m a ready who gets a lot out of the site. I’m just making a suggestion as to how you might deal with an issue that people frequently bring up when discussing your site.

Ro

It’s refreshing to read Simon’s declaration on PS that “no one can ever pay for coverage on this site (unlike many others)”. As consumers we are fortunate to be able to read reportage on this industry that is evidently guided by journalistic principles of accuracy, impartiality, and accountability. Moreover it is authentic, and surely authenticity should be in the essence of the quality manufacturing that is PS’ subject.

From personal experience I’m able to relate that a certain blog (that I’ll refer to as ‘GG’) demands a fee of at least US$5,000 for a so called product review. The result, in my opinion, is that their reviews are of very little worth as credibly assessment.

Furthermore it’s admirable that Simon is prepared to repel attempts, in the form of legal threats or otherwise, to assert commercial interests’ priority over the objectivity of his writing.

On occasion I wince on behalf of the artisan being reviewed at the frankness of Simon’s criticisms of a product. It’s uplifting to read about the behind the scenes collaborative process in which PS engages with artisans in the formulation of reviews.

Realistically, Simon is entitled to benefit from his reputation through PS products and to be remunerated for his work writing elsewhere. The frequency and depth of criticism of reviewed commissions and products on PS will reassure readers that these parallel commercial arrangements do not influence its impartiality.

Rob

Hi Simon, this spurred me to write and thank you for you devotion to the blog. It really is the best resource there is and I don’t know where we would be without it. Thank you. While I am on the topic the new website is also great – I keep reading the old articles in the picture bar and enjoying them once again.

Finally how about a post on how to criticise in a productive way. What is appropriate and what is pinickety? Being British I struggle with this in a mid priced restaurant(!) let alone with a tailor when you have a) built up a relationship and b) they know so much more about how it should be.

Anonymous

Do you usually let brands know when you are reviewing a single product, Simon? Do you “ask permission” for photographs and coverage?

Secondly, do you allow the companies to review the article before publishing? I’ve been asked to do this as a reporter before, and don’t agree with the practice since it would hinder the article and its views. Plus, the subjects of the articles are not the editors.

Also, I’ve wanted to continue my style blog but am still wary of the potential lawsuits and cease and desist letters. What have you done in response and has anyone really followed through on their threats? Thanks