Fashionistas Going Postal?

There are dumb ideas, really dumb ideas, and then there are government ideas. Faced with $15 billion of debt, dual defaults on their retiree benefits, and a hopelessly out-of-date business model, the U.S. Postal Service is trying desperately to get out of the red.

A few weeks ago, the Postal Service hiked stamp prices. Days later, they begged Congress to let them stop Saturday mail delivery. I’m sure if they keep reducing services and raising prices, they’ll be back on top in no time.

But punishing customers isn’t their only bright idea. At long last, the postal service has finally decided to step into haute couture. Cliff Clavin, meet Derek Zoolander:

The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service is launching a new line of apparel and accessories under the brand name “Rain Heat & Snow,” playing off USPS’ unofficial motto “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Following quarter after quarter of billion dollar losses and declining mail volume, the agency has pledged to find new ways to generate revenue. So why not fashion?

“This agreement will put the Postal Service on the cutting edge of functional fashion,” said Postal Service Corporate Licensing Manager Steven Mills in a statement. “The main focus will be to produce Rain Heat & Snow apparel and accessories using technology to create ‘smart apparel’ — also known as wearable electronics.”

Do you look like a hot mess? Not anymore, thanks to the Fabulousmaster General. Pick up a sequined slate-blue minidress with peek-a-boo hiking heels and matching messenger bag. I’ll be working some fierce jeggings and a retro-logo jacket matched with an ironic pith helmet. Look out Paris and Milan!

I’m such a skeptic. Maybe USPS polls show that kids revere Seinfeld’s Newman as their sartorial lodestar. Perhaps hordes of teenage mallrats and fashion-forward DJs are chomping at the bit to buy all the prêt-à-postal merch that Chinese factories can sew up and spit out. Why couldn’t Katy Perry wear bedazzled letter-carrier cullottes in her next video?

The financial troubles with the Postal Service aren’t going to be fixed by a penny stamp increase, removing weekend delivery, or, heaven forbid, a fashion line. Their problem is far deeper than that.

Where there is no competition, everyone suffers. The customer pays higher prices for worse service while innovation atrophies. Interestingly, the USPS is doing pretty well in package delivery – the one area where they have plenty of competition from other delivery giants. Where they are losing the most money is first-class mail. One would think that a monopoly guarantees success, but as shown by Amtrak, this is rarely the case.

Instead of incremental changes that just delay the inevitable, it’s past time to consider privatizing the postal service. It would help long-suffering customers, taxpayers and the postal service itself.

Congress, make it work.