How To Burn A (Beta)Brand

Nine years and nine months ago, after a surprise fuel pump failure in Turn Six dropped me out of second place and kept me from getting the authentic Grand-Am podium at Laguna Seca about which I would no doubt still be talking on approximately am hourly basis to this very day, I didn’t go to Disney World: I went to Betabrand. An unassuming door on San Francisco’s Cesar Chavez Street opened after five minutes of knocking to a whirlwind of activity: people running back and forth with patterns, fabrics, random sheets of paper. The floor was covered in scraps of every clothing material one could imagine. I’d expected a retail store but in fact my girlfriend of the time and I had landed in the beating heart of what was then a relatively fledgling operation.

Somehow, after another ten minutes’ worth of conversation with random passers-by, we got assigned a pair of very stereotypical-looking hipsters to help us find some new clothing. The fellow working with me came up with a set of “Japants” in an olive herringbone cloth that I still wear to this day. No two pairs of Japants ever fit alike, because they were cut and sewn individually in another San Francisco warehouse; these were, and are, the best pair I ever got. My girlfriend, who wore an improbable 32FF bra courtesy of modern medical science, wanted to find a “San Francisco dress”. There were no fitting rooms, so she stripped and stood in the middle of the floor while her new companion attempted to tug various seersuckers and florals around her upper body. At one point, while actively molesting her client to at least second base in the course of a fitting, the impromptu salesgirl yelled to me, “I… just… love… her breasts.”

In the years that followed, I wore Betabrand clothes more often that I didn’t. There was the infamous “Golden Disco Hoodie”, a half-dozen “Sons Of Britches” pants in every fabric from plain denim to salmon canvas, the “Sea Monster Cordarounds” I was sporting in 2014 when I managed to fracture nine bones using one simple trick! I adored the company’s inventiveness, their avant-garde designs, and their small-batch efforts. All made in San Francisco. For a while, anyway. In 2014 they used an overseas supplier for shoes, and by the middle of 2018 some new clothing lines were sourced from China. By and large, however, the important stuff was still sewn and stitched in those chaotic Bay Area offices.

Last week I visited the Betabrand website and was shocked (shocked!) to see that the company as I knew it was dead. In its place was a yoga-pants reseller wearing the Betabrand name like, as they say, a skinsuit. How did this happen? Who was the cretin skulking in the shadows, working secretly to destroy one of my favorite clothes companies? What faceless venture capitalist dragged the Betabrand name through the mud?

Duh! It’s 2021. Evil no longer skulks. It brags.

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Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Meyer Optik Nocturnus

This is what they call the double whammy: A German holding company created several brands for use on Kickstarter, where they pimped new Made-In-Germany camera lenses at prices of $3,000 or more. Then the “brands” went bankrupt without fulfilling all of their Kickstarter orders. As is common practice on Kickstarter, that doesn’t mean you get your money back. So a lot of people paid three grand and didn’t get a camera lens.

The people who did get their lens? Well, that’s the second part of the double whammy.

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Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Richer Poorer Socks

I have a bit of a distaste hierarchy when it comes to made-in-China stuff. Are you a Chinese company, using your own brand and forthrightly discussing Chinese production? Then maybe we can do business — this article is being written on a Lenovo Y900. Are you an American company that makes some of your products in China, clearly labeling them as such? Okay, Pelican and SILCA… let’s give it a shot (although I just had an unpleasant experience with a Chinese SILCA product, more on that in the near future). Do you obscure the place of production in favor of long bullshit rants about American design and sustainability and being a force for good? Sorry, Patagonia, you can fuck off.

Ah, but there’s a level of Chinese obfuscation even below that of Patagonia et al — the level where you claim to make things in Western countries, or in Japan, only to send me Chinese products when I order them.

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Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Betabrand, Sometimes

Fool me one time, shame on you
Fool me twice, can’t put the blame on you
Fool me three times, fuck the peace signs
Load the chopper, let it rain on you

Imagine how happy I was to get my new Dragon-Hide Hoodigan from Betabrand just in time for a few long plane trips. Then imagine how I felt to see that they’d sent production to China. Well, it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

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Forget It, Jack, It’s Chinatown: Sennheiser HD598CS

Welcome to our newest feature: Forget It, Jack, It’s Chinatown. In this feature, we will be exposing products that are made in China despite carrying a non-Chinese brand and not advertising their Chinese provenance. With any luck, this will provide definite answers to people who Google “xxx made in China”. (I’m not the only person who does that. Right? Right?)

Today’s episode: the Sennheiser HD598CS.

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