Time is a symptom. It can be a real source of worry for fashion labels. The problem with time is that no one can control it. Brands can launch trends, however, if it is not the right time it could be hard to find the right audience. It doesn’t mean that the idea is bad or old-fashioned. It just a question of sending a message at the right time. When the mentality is too far from the ideology you are trying to spread, you will not find anybody to listen to it. Nevertheless, when your message is well built and diffused at the right time, it makes all the difference. This concern is really current. We are in a deeply troubled period. The question of identity and the various claims are growing all around the world and in many sub-culture. It is hard to ignore those facts. Fashion labels can’t ignore that their audience are concerned by new issues. For years, fashion has been put apart from the social, political, environmental issues. Fall under the leisure and the futile, the only role of fashion label was to sell clothes and to introduce trends. More and more, this point is totally wrong. Of course, some brands are still doing this reductive work. However, others are deeply trying hard to deliver a true message to their customers. They are a part of a bigger social movement struggling against different inequalities or simply for change. The question is, should we all change our way to see fashion? Also, why do we need to operate this change?
As previously mentioned, people are more and more concerned about environment. I think this is the first claim and the more urgent in today’s concerns. For years, the impact of fashion industry on climate was mostly ignored by the public. But in a time where fast-fashion is growing and taking bigger market share, it is hard to ignore the disastrous impact on fashion in the environment overall. As you might know, fashion is the second largest polluter industry in the world, arriving just after oil, which is less glamour. But how is it even possible that an industry mainly focused on clothes, styles and – let’s say it – personal satisfaction and self-representation has a such impact on environment? As numbers are sometimes more relevant than words, here are some indicators of the impact of this industry.
As you might see, this environment disaster is covering many aspects such as water, waste, accumulation, atmosphere, soil degradation. Now that we know that, we may be surprised by the fact it’s hard to convince industries to renounce to those production, manufacturing and transportation process. In other words, why is the transition taking so long while we know the major impact fashion has on environment? Sadly, even if there are many designers in our generation that fight against those excesses, they are not enough to make the difference. The problem with this industry – as for many others – is that money became the priority. Fast-fashion is the perfect example of the consumer society. We are in a time where we want always more. More clothes, more shoes, more accessories… Fashion label are producing so much that sometimes, at the end of the season, they have to burn some of their own products. This is insane, everybody can admit that.
Here, the goal is not to teach you a lesson in a moralizing way, but more to make you think about what, as human beings, gives us the right to inflict this to our home, Earth. If you think closely, you will probably realized that we can qualify it as Our Planet because we are just guests. We live 70 – 90 years if we are lucky then we die. Some trees are on the Earth for centuries. So we could really interrogate ourselves and think about what gives us the right to over-appropriate resources. In terms of solutions, it wouldn’t be honest to pretend to have it. However, recommendations are always a nice alternative.
Since mass consumerism is democratized, we have faced many scandals concerning the working conditions in manufacturing. One that has left many people angry is the Rana Plaza building collapse in Savar in 2013 (Bangladesh). This destructive collapse killed 1 135 people. Many brands that we all know and buy were producing their clothes there. The building was so dilapidated it literally fell apart. Here again, we can interrogate ourselves: those people working for a living, did they deserve to risk their lives for industries that just want to optimize their profit by doing economies of scale? There are other reasons that can explain this collapse, but this is a reality, it is a part of those causes, we can’t ignore it. The bad conditions before this catastrophe were known but tolerated. After that, it was no longer an option, we had to rethink our way to consume. Even if those disasters have moved people, it appears that it still not enough to make things really change. We are still buying things we don’t wear just because of this consumer instinct. Old habits die hard. Additionally, industries can’t find any strategical interest to change their process.
Nevertheless, beyond those dreadful statements, there is hope. This light comes from the evolution of our aspirations and mentality. Indeed, a few years ago – early 2000- fashion was mainly based of personal desire, luxurious imaginary. Brands were proposing an empty message focused on flashy and social elevation. Pleasure was the main motivation, any bigger message was hidden behind commercials. For instance, look at D&G or Gucci advertising. It’s all about leisure, social distinction and individuality. Careful, the goal here is not to say that fashion is not a individual pleasure anymore. We are still buying just for the pleasure, and we don’t have to be judged because of that. What has changed is that our inspirations had lead fashion label to propose another message and to actually make a difference by using sustainable production methods or by upcycling. Not all of them are in that case, but many labels have emerged these days and they have many ideas to share with consumers. More than an sustainable evolution, we can easily see other needs that emerge and brands can find an audience to express their claims.
Far from the empty message and the light identity, our times are really marked by brand’s commitment using to make a genuine authenticity to labels. Dramatisation is not a way to be heard by all. Some of the consumers are more involved in actual social issues. They make their commitment proudly and loudly by using fashion labels that are on the same ideology. This element underlines another aspects of this emerging vision: A need of inclusive message. The representation of consumers has been tied-up to a limit set of physical aspects for many years. This statement is limited to the western countries. Therefore, communication was mainly turned to one main ideal that was not necessarily representative. We could take the example of the skin color, however there is other inclusive themes that deserve our attention. For instance, London based designer Dilara Findikoglu has released an all-inclusive bridal collection to promote the acceptation of all kind of couples forms. They have the same needs, and the same right of representation since they form a real social class and they are members of various communities. In a time of general identity crisis, companies can’t ignore those changes taking more and more place in the public arena.
Regarding the climate consequences, changing our way to produce fashion is obvious. However, by paying attention to the insight or emerging claims, we can glimpse another aspirations set, far from the generalized consumption conception. Little by little, those voices come out and make their opinion clear. Companies – including fashion labels – are twice influenced by this vision. The first influence comes from the consumers. By paying attention to those statements, brands can build a real relationship with consumers. The second influence comes from designers themselves. They are a part of the society, influenced by multiple micro-universe. This influence can be transformed in collections that tell their philosophy, their identity, itself influenced by a sub-culture. By using fashion as a medium, they are able to model a relevant message full of sense and commitments.
© Photography Casper Sejersen, styling Ellie Grace Cumming
The aim of this article is not to make you change your habits if you are not welling to. The goal here was to explore the environment and social consequences of fashion. By asking the question – should we all change our way to see fashion? – the purpose was to underline the multiple flaws of our system and also to show how some people react in front of those problems. Beyond the ecologic claims, we can notice a new set of values turned towards all-inclusiveness and identity. So if we should answer to this question, we should say that first, we don’t really have a choice regarding the actual state of resources. Then, we are progressively going to another way to buy clothes. Some of us are already really trying to do so. Even if we are not irreproachable, little things end-to-end can make the difference.