Boomerangs: Special Edition, sweet deals invade the South End

As you might have noticed, I can’t get by without a semi regular thrift fix. This week’s exploration: Boomerangs, at their new South End location. I’ve heard some buzz but had to check it out myself.

Boomerangs: Special Edition, which opened in February has a distinctly different feel from its thriftier predecessors in Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury. No giant denim jumpers. No worn-in flannel. No crushed velvet leggings. Perfect for the second hand junky who would rather not sift through racks upon racks of closet clean-out. In fact, the cozy spot tucked just past Foodie’s on Washington Street blends into the chic South End landscape like every other charming, high-end boutique. The only difference: these designer clothes have adorable hand stamped price tags that are surprisingly low, most items ranging in price between $20 and $50.

The concept for this location:  to provide a niche for some of nicer, more high-end garment donations, injecting them into a location where there is a corresponding market. As a fundraising branch of the AIDS Action Committee (AAC), all Boomerangs proceeds go towards a variety of philanthropic programs. Last year the Boomerangs stores alone raised 15 percent of the agency’s revenue.

With a relaxed aesthetic of exposed brick and vintage-inspired furniture, the store is neat and seeping with labels– folded sweaters from Banana Republic and J. Crew; hanging racks of designer denim and crisp men’s button downs. There’s a gauzy floral Diane Von Furstenberg top for $35. Skinny Diesel jeans for $30. A Ralph Lauren blazer still wearing its original $215 price tag is re-priced at $50. Without a tiny toe scuff a pair of black and white patent Marc by Marc Jacobs peep-toe heels would be seriously swoon-worthy. The selection is well-edited and hardly feels second hand, though the handbag and jewelry selections were somewhat sparse.

The expertly-curated designer brand selection at Special Edition is a far cry from the stuffed, less-filtered racks of the older locations. But I can’t help but feel that a touch of vital character was lost in the editing process. I love Boomerangs for its vintage wares and quirky cool finds tucked between old little league jerseys and stained Tweety Bird tees. Special Edition is just like going to a boutique. But clearly that’s the point– catering to their South End constituents, the label is ultimately what matters here. For a classically effortless, designer chic look at a steal, the store fits the bill. But for a funkier, and arguably more interesting find, that takes a little more scrounging around, the more eccentric might prefer to T out to the old locale. But at least now, the choice is yours: do you or don’t you relish the hunt?

Boomerangs: Special Edition. 1407 Washington St., Boston. 617-457-0996.

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New Brahmin: a refreshing take on Boston fashion

When 27-year-old stylist and fashion journalist Liana Peterson moved to Boston from New York City five years ago, she spent the first six months hiding in her bedroom, reading the Internet and being depressed: it was 10 degrees outside and there was nothing online about Boston fashion.

“I mean I guess the Globe has their blog. And there’s the Bostonist,” Peterson says. “But everything that I was reading about that was regularly updated was police blotters, politics and sports. And none of those apply to me.”

Despite her occasional penchant for a gritty police blotter report, none of Peterson’s daily blog go-to’s – Fashionista, The Cut and Racked – were Boston natives. No blog offered a comprehensive guide to the fashion landscape of Boston.

So Peterson took it upon herself to change that, crafting a space on the Web to fill this gaping void. Her answer: New Brahmin, a part-newsletter part-style diary documenting Boston fashion.

CLICK HERE to check out the faces behind New Brahmin

“We want to be a go-to for Boston and for Greater Boston,” Peterson says. “Unless something directly affects Boston, we don’t comment on it. If we didn’t witness it, it didn’t happen.”

Their formula: maintain a balanced mixture of fashion news items and editorial opinion. They feature local designers, shops and personalities as well as items and trends they recommend. All non-Boston fashion headlines are relegated to a one-liner and link in the Daily D’s.

While other local blogs spend graphs upon graphs reflecting on runway shows and red carpet fashion, Peterson says: “Everyone does that, why would we? The only time there’s ever been a celebrity on our blog is the time I saw Beyonce at a Celtics game.”

Now two years old, the site is finally getting up and moving. Run by four staff members – executive editor, managing editor, beauty editor and Web editor – along with a smattering of contributing writers, the venture recently set up shop in a South Boston studio space leased by the Fort Point Artist Community.

Just over a month ago they re-launched their website after switching platforms from Typepad to Squarespace, and Web editor Jessica Sutton says she’s currently focusing on working out the kinks.

Her first objective: to create a social media presence.

“I sat them down and said ‘OK, there needs to be a fan page and there needs to be a Twitter,’” Sutton says. “But we’re contemplating now how much presence we want to have– we don’t want to be so in your face like follow us here, follow us there. From a blogger’s perspective that can get kind of annoying.”

Through tweeting out important news and linking to their blog posts on Facebook, they’re already building a substantial presence and a name that resonates with many fashion-lovers in Boston.

As for incorporating more innovative aspects of new media, particularly video, into their coverage, Peterson says it will simply come with time. Right now, creating a consistent and reliable stream of content is their utmost priority.

“We just re-launched, we’re still trying to get our momentum per se about posting,” she says. “We do five posts a day sometimes six, and that’s not easy to do. There’s not a lot going on in town to really write about every day when it comes to style and fashion and shopping. Some days are harder than others where we have to pull teeth to try and fill in the blanks, but we’re getting better at it.”

With the recent addition of managing editor Janine Stafford they’re getting closer to that goal. In January the middler communication studies major from Northeastern University decided to make the up-and-coming blog into a six-month co-op. Now, rather than constantly stressing about getting up enough posts before the end of the day, Stafford (also known as the ‘whip cracker’) works as an idea generator crafting weekly budgets to keep everything on a strict schedule. When generating content, Stafford looks at what is happening in fashion at large and cuts it down to an idea that is digestible to their Boston readership.

“You see gold all over the runway,” Stafford explains. “And then Jeannie [Vincent, their beauty editor] pops in and says ‘Here’s how to do it; here’s how to take thing that are crazy on the runway and should stay there and turn them into something that you can do yourself. But please, don’t have like blue eyebrows just because they’re on the runway.’”

With this service in mind, Peterson lovingly named their target reader Patty D. after a friend of hers.

“She works in a bank, in like community relations and works 8:30-4:30 in Downtown Crossing and wears uncomfortably ugly heels and suits to work and has that spark, that interest in shopping and fashion and style but doesn’t necessarily have the confidence for it.”

It’s taking things from the runway along with things that they like personally, and laying them out in a format for which the reader can digest.

“If you like it, cool. If you don’t, cool. We’re here to start a conversation. Tell us why you don’t like it,” Peterson says.

As for making money, the girls agree: after the re-launch they have to smoothe out the kinks before settling on any kind of advertising plan. But it’s definitely something they’re looking into as their out-of-pocket budget for rent, photoshoots and other production costs becomes somewhat draining.

“We don’t just want traditional ads either,” Peterson says. “People don’t pay attention to that. I have no problem with sponsored posts.”

Peterson says she sees such sponsored content as a win/win situation – New Brahmin can afford to pay its rent, and the featured product (only ones that merge with the website’s message, of course) are seen by their recently measured readership of 4,500 unique views per month.

Stafford admits, the numbers aren’t sky high, but since their relaunch less than a month ago the figures have already doubled. To keep with that increase, they’re focusing on features and editorials that will reel in more interest around town. And for a blog with such a niche audience, Stafford says she’s not upset by the numbers.

“We’re not a general interest blog,” she says. “We are pretty niche and although 150+ unique a day isn’t huge we certainly aren’t unhappy with that number.”

Ideally, at some point,  New Brahmin will pay for itself. But for now their focus is the product: a site that can act as an effective reference point for the fashion scene of Boston.

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Dan Gregory: Serial Entrepreneur

Dan Gregory, a faculty member of Northeastern’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship calls himself a “serial entrepreneur.”

His mission: to turn free-ranging ideas and talent into something that can, fundamentally, make money; to make talented individuals into entrepreneurs.

Gregory recently founded The Launch Group, a consulting practice that advises clients on starting new entrepreneurial ventures as well as IDEA, a student group at Northeastern that works to instill the same fundamentals within a younger crowd. Through IDEA, his goal is to unite individuals with different, yet complimentary skill sets into a unit with a purpose.

One particular purpose Gregory reflects on, is combatting the effects of disruptive technologies– things like iPods, smartphones or even simply the Internet that, upon introduction, unquestionably interfere with the way society had previously functioned. By crafting new ways of existing and working in response to these disruptive technologies, entrepreneurs can create something innovative that is also very much in need. Thus, there will be a market for their service.

Accomplished journalists have a battery of relevant skills– writing, researching, questioning and storytelling– all of which, Gregory would argue, can have a very practical entrepreneurial applications for individuals who are adaptable, flexible and open to the idea of reinvention.

Look at GlobalPost, CentralMassNews.com and the New Haven Independent– all entrepreneurial journalistic ventures where individuals found what they were good at, found others skilled in what they weren’t and bound themselves into an entity that addressed a specific need created by new media innovations.

While Gregory’s points initially registered with me as just settling; as abandoning the dream. With a second look, it seems it’s quite the opposite: it’s saying ‘this is what I’m good at, where can my skill be applied?’ And if there is no answer, it’s making one for yourself. That, is hardly settling.

As for how I’ll apply my skills? Hopefully by discovering a business mind who can conceptualize a reinvention of my words on art and fashion in a way that is innovative, serving the people in a new and interesting way. Perhaps  by meeting a computer genius who can bring it into fruition. Undoubtedly, for any entrepreneurial venture, I would need to assemble the perfect team.

For years it’s been the arts reporter + the business reporter + the news reporter + the columnist= the paper. Now, it’s the journalist + the businessman + the graphic designer = the business. The service is the same, the makeup is revolutionized.

Photo from Dan Kennedy’s Pix. Some Rights Reserved.

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Anonymous or not?

When I got my first AOL screen name in the sixth grade I can vividly remember my parents words: Nothing you write on the internet is private.

Of course I didn’t listen. I proceeded to IM my heart out about the boys I liked, the girls I didn’t, and every single thing I’d prefer my parents rather not know. But then again, I was in the sixth grade.

Apparently judge Shirley Strickland Saffold disregarded the memo as well. Though she’s using one of my favored escape routes:  blaming someone else. Her scapegoat? The daughter.

When the Plain Dealer of Cleveland discovered strangely well-informed anonymous comments from user “lawmiss” on their site defaming a local lawyer and commenting on high-profile cases, they decided to do a little digging. Though their site claims anonymity, the actual privacy policy reports the right to access identifying information.

By accessing the user’s e-mail address The Plain Dealer concluded that the comments were, in fact, coming from Staffold. So they printed this article.

The issue brings up a heated debate:  was The Plain Dealer justified in accessing and reporting on this information? Or should their promise of anonymity guard her identity at all costs?

My argument would quite bluntly be that she is an idiot and should be forced to fess up to her hardly-appropriate comments. She was communicating on the Internet– an outwardly public forum– did she really think she could hide behind a silly screen name when she had given the site her e-mail and other personal information?

But the debate brings up a deeper issue: If The Plain Dealer had insisted upon real names as screen names would the situation have presented itself as such a huge issue?

According to this article in the New York Times, The Washington Post, the New York Post, the Huffington Post and the New York Times are all making moves towards real name comments in order to prevent vile commenters from simply hiding behind a phony name.

Howard Owens agrees in this [albeit lengthy] blogpost on the issue, comparing anonymous comments to anonymous letters to the editor– a phenomenon banned long ago. It’s quite simple, he says “readers have a right to know who is saying what.”

For those who say there will always be impostors– fake names that sound real– you’re right. But I think this is a step in the right direction. If Saffold had been asked to give her real name and not had the option of an identity disguising screen name, she might have thought twice about posting what she did. With a screen name, and the idea that’s it’s anonymous, everything just looks so easy. But when people are asked to be honest, when disguising your identity takes a little more craft, I would venture to say the vile comments will decrease.

Furthermore, those comments with real names at the bottom will bring more credit to the comments section as a whole. Allowing it to move beyond a string of banter among pseudonyms and perhaps work like a list of sources whose opinions can be judged by their title or lack thereof. People will be held accountable for their opinions; and their opinions will bring accountability and demension to the story.

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FashionAIR

I could spend all day up to my eyeballs in fashion websites and blogs. But when it really comes down to it, the one that’s racked up a truly absurd amount of hours most recently, is my latest find: Fashionair.com.

Perhaps you recall the video I posted about a week back of Christian Louboutin tap dancing?

Well, the site is home to the only viewable version of that video and so many more.

They’re specialty: video journalism, and lots of it.

The brainchild of Sojin Lee, previously head of retail and buying at Net-a-Porter, debuted this past September in response to what Lee saw as a gaping hole in the world of fashion blogs.

In a phone call with the New York Observer’s Daily Transom, Lee explains:

I felt there was a huge hole in the marketplace when it came to an immersive fashion web experience. You either had retail sites or magazine sites or bloggers, but you didn’t have anyone that pulled them all together. The democratization of fashion is really important because that’s what the Internet has provided and it just made sense to celebrate the breadth of fashion and bring all that information to the consumer.

And that is quite specifically what he’s doing– gathering together the expanse of fashion info and packaging it in a way that is completely accessible. The site is split up into four categories: Fashion Bites, Shopping, People and Personal Style.

Fashion Bites provides a daily dollop of FashionAIR favorites, with links to check out on everything from food to designers to new bloggers. Shopping pulls together clothing from all across the Web and allows users to shop by criteria like style, body shape, item or location. It also links to their series of Style Council videos that give a tutorial on how to wear a certain look or item.  People is quite possibly my favorite section, and simply consists of magazine-style video features on important fashion characters, like this cool glimpse into life as Margherita Missoni. Finally, in Personal Style video series’ like 7 Days of ChicStyle Profile, and Closet Quick Hit give the viewer a peek into the individual taste of famous style icons as well as that random adorable gal you see on the street.

While the site could do a bit more in terms of involving their audience, and organizing their information, what I find most innovative about this site is that they’re using video as a single form of communication– you’ll find no articles on this site. But why would you want to read about style when you can watch those who embody it?

FashionAIR almost takes on the role of a television station, but one that you can watch at any time. Their different series’ are produced on a regularly basis, so that new episodes are constantly being made, almost in the same way that a tv show would work. It seems that this could be a completely new and very popular form of online journalism because the reader, or viewer really, can essentially sit back and enjoy the show.

By picking and having access to fascinating individuals who people care about, and presenting them in a way that feels personal– like having designer Even Fetherston take you to her favorite Paris spots– people will always want more. And quite unlike watching TV, they can have it whenever they’d like.

FashionAIR is showing its viewers the interworkings– not just the collection on a runway– but the actual human behind it all. What they talk like, what their house looks like, their mannerisms. It’s the kind of stuff people are hungry for. The kind of stuff people want to see.

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Trustworthy News.

Mike LaBonte, editor and reviewer for NewsTrust, gets what people are saying: people don’t trust the news anymore. Sure there are reliable outlets, but even the big boys put out a less-than-perfect piece from time to time.

NewsTrust’s plan for filtering the news: let the readers be the judge.

It’s really quite simple. NewsTrust provides stories from a variety of news outlets, and readers are invited to rate them journalistic quality– facts, bias, sourcing, writing style, etc.– they can then comment specifically on the story. As a result, every pice of news gets an average rating, along with a strand of comments which can help other readers sift through the expanse of options to scrounge up the news that other readers have deemed ‘reliable.’

Sounds pretty simple, so this morning I gave it a whirl. I kept things simple, selecting three of today’s headline stories: Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash, from the BBC; George W. Bush ‘knew Guantanamo prisoners were innocent, from The Times and CIA Assigned to Kill US Citizen from consortiumnews.com. Each of which I reviewed.

What I liked about the reviewing experience was it forced me to really analyze my news on its journalistic value, which, as bad as it sounds, is often something that slips my mind. I browse the headlines of nyt.com, read what looks important, and accept it as fact, rarely stopping to count sources or assess context. The process of reviewing though, forced me to think through all the elements of each piece, and consider what, as a journalist, should ultimately be there.

However, I do find a few flaws with this model. First off, when I go to read the news, I generally don’t have the time to heavily analyze each article and think through each article analytically and post a review of it. I simply want to skim through headlines to gather a sense of what’s going on. And I imagine that many others approach the news with a similar mentality– they’re not reading the news to do a service to others, they’re simply looking to find the quickest way to gather a sense of what’s happening in the world.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I imagine most people go to a news source for the most up-to-the minute headlines. And what I noticed by reviewing the front-page headlines, was that they had very few reviews. To me, this defeats the whole purpose of the site– if a story is only rated by three people, that hardly gives a sense of its journalistic integrity.

It’s certainly a fresh take on a current problem, but without adequate participation, NewsTrust can’t ultimately function in an effective way.

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Matt Carroll: The Numbers Man

Boston Globe employee and Northeastern alum Matt Carroll preaches what he calls “the gospel of data.”

Since entering the world of numbers about 15 years back, with little background in math or statistics, Carroll has worked to revolutionize the way readers receive news. For the Mass.Facts section of Boston.com, Carroll pillages through public records and databases for information that can can be repackaged into easy-to-grasp charts and graphs. Rather than just serving up hard facts with a side of puzzling numbers, here, readers can access diagrams and charts that make the whole picture much more digestible.

Look, for instance, at the work Carroll has done for the “Your town” segment of the site. Here, readers can select a topic– anything from the number of inmates to the number of Dunkin’ Donuts– and then compare their town’s stats with other Massachusetts locations.

Carroll said the stats on gun licenses per 1,000 residents are often of particular interest. So, those interested, can simply click the link to this item from the Mass.Facts homepage, and find a comprehensible chart representing the distribution of gun licenses across the state– the bolder the orange, the more gun licenses. Also, for those who crave the real figures, the actual stats for each community are listed below.

Carroll said that getting comfortable with calculations has changed the way he looks at the world. And with the nature of journalism today, having skills in number crunching and chart crafting are key. But, he said, the tools of today’s technology make that relatively easy. Through data visualization sites like Many Eyes, numbers can be effortlessly converted into charts of all shapes and sizes.

While I’m certainly no mathematician, I’d say Carroll’s insistence on making sense out of numbers is necessary to keeping good journalism alive and well. And perhaps that’s just it– as pathetic as it may sound– with so many of us who cringe at the sight of a large figure, we almost NEED someone like Carroll in order to hold on to the data and facts in their rawest form. We NEED that person breaking everything up into nice little molds for those of us who would simply disregard the numbers otherwise. With everything so digestible; so easy-access and at-a-glance these days, the numbers too must keep up the pace.

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