• Jeff Fox: Keep an eye on the inventory

  • The word of the week is not “Cyprus,” “sequester” or “pope,” but rather “sheer.”

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  • The word of the week is not “Cyprus,” “sequester” or “pope,” but rather “sheer.”
    “Sheer,” it turns out, can be appealing under certain circumstances, or it can be really bad. If you’re just trying to get in your morning stretching – a good idea for all of us, but you go first – sheer is not good. It means you’re sharing too much.
    There’s a company called Lululemon – heaven only knows where these names come from – that makes high-end, high-dollar clothing with loyal followers. Loyal as in a hundred bucks for a pair of pants for your daily yoga routine. I say more power to them.
    But there’s a problem. It’s had to pull the black yoga pants, a popular item, because the fabric is too thin and, well, too much could be seen.
    It’s a pair of pants. How hard is this? Did the company switch suppliers? No, it says. Change the specs? No.
    It just happened. Was someone in charge of quality control – a sheerness mitigation team perhaps? Good question.
    That’s a little heartburn for yoga enthusiasts and Lululemon stockholders, but there it seems there is a connection to a similar but far less light-hearted incident, also from the world of clothing.
    The Brits got through the war by reminding each other to “keep calm and carry on,” a very British notion that’s to be commended. Jump ahead to our irreverent age and you can find T-shirts that say something like “Keep calm and party on” or “Keep calm and call Batman.” If only it were all that G-rated.
    An Australian company thought it had perfected a modern business model – zero inventory costs and a website as a showroom – for clever T-shirts. Put up dozens – or thousands – of these “keep calm” things online and just print them as the orders come in. The possibilities are endless.
    Where they went wrong, or so the story goes, was this: They set a program to randomly grab nouns and verbs and offer up those images on the website. So it could as easily be “Keep calm and hug a bunny” as it could be something deeply disturbing. And that happened. Several of these suggested violence, specifically violence against women.
    And the excuse: Any offending phrase was “automatically generated using a scripted computer process running against hundreds of thousands of dictionary words,” the company said in one of those bogus, lawyered statements on its website. Company officials, of course, were not brave enough to stand up and explain themselves and take a few questions.
    The bottom line is that, best case, the company would take the profits but not the responsibility of even having someone keep an eye on what it was selling. The results suggest something darker, however. And blaming the computer is the same as blaming the dog for eating your homework. That tripe doesn’t even work when you’re 8.
    Page 2 of 2 - There is a myth that every last business function can be outsourced and automated and that one day the entire world will be on profitable cruise control. Then come the sheer yoga pants and the Australian brutes. Sometimes it’s comical, and sometimes it’s sad.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @Jeff_Fox.

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