How to respond to criticism

Wednesday, August 17th 2016
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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