As we shared over on the Ageism Is Never In Style forum last week, revered trend forecaster, Li Edelkoor, made the 'shocking' claim that ‘Fashion Is Old Fashioned’. In her ‘Anti-Fashion’ manifesto she offered a critical examination of today’s Fashion Industry.
You can read a summary of her manifesto here over on The Business Of Fashion – but it also inspired me to write a response. Largely because as I read it I let out a huge sigh of relief: finally a leading industry expert is calling out the Fashion Industry for what it has become:
When I was in my teens I used to love trends. Vogue was my bible and I always wanted to wear the latest, hottest designs. But around the age of 19 something changed: I got bored. What once seemed fresh to me became stale. Trends were constantly being recycled and I could predict what would be fashionable every year. I became hugely uninspired, and that’s when I decided to focus on individual style instead.
As Edelkoor noted, we no longer have clothes that ‘change the way we walk, the way we stand, the way we flirt’. Every look has been seen and done. When we think of past decades, we know there were defining style moments that define them. But when I think about the defining style moments of the 00s, I’m not quite sure what they are. Spray on skinny jeans perhaps? Yes we have had trends, but each one has usually just been a slight reinterpretation of a past fashion.
In my opinion, there are two key reasons for this. 1. The Internet. 2. The recession.
We all know the internet and globalisation has been a double edged sword. Whilst it has connected the world, it has also lead to unforeseen consequences. Purely from a ‘trend’ perspective, the issue is that images and designs have become so accessible these days. If you want a 70s style top, you can get it. Or if you want a 50s style skirt, you can get it. You don’t have to wait for it to become a trend for it to be in the shops – because you can pretty much find whatever ‘trend’ you’re looking for immediately online.
Moreover, because of how quickly news spreads these days, new news becomes old news within less than a week. Things go viral within minutes, and then it’s history. Once a new look has been published from the catwalk shows, it’s seen online within moments, reproduced within a matter of days by fast fashion brands, and remains fashionable for only a few months.
It’s the same reason why we havn’t seen a major defining period in music since the millennium. For trends or ‘movements’ to make a profound, lasting impact, they need to take time to gain momentum and grip society so that they become ingrained. But because we’re over ‘new’ concepts so quickly these days, there isn’t a chance for this to happen.
And then there's the impact of the 2008 recession. A few years ago, I met with a businessman in Milan who has owned some of the world’s leading luxury brands. And he even mentioned how bored he’d become with Fashion. He was explaining that the recession had resulted in designers becoming fearful that anything new wouldn't sell. So instead of pushing the boundaries in the way that Fashion used to, they just rehashed styles that had been selling before. And also kept to very safe colour pallets.
Whilst this is completely understandable, it has had a sad, lingering impact on the industry. And given the economic uncertainty we’re now in again, it’s unlikely this is going to change. Every season I thoroughly research the labels that are showing at the trade shows, and more often than not I can’t tell the difference between the majority of them. And when that happens, I immediately dismiss them – because at the-Bias-Cut.com pride ourselves in selling interesting, unique style - not generic designs.
2. Marketing obsessed
The inevitable consequence of this is that Fashion has become centred around marketing. Because if you’re product isn’t that different, the only thing that can make it seem that way is how you brand yourself. In the past 5 years there have been some huge fashion success stories, but when when you strip away the branding, a lot of them are not much different to those they have superseded.
In an Industry that was once so inspiringly creative, it's quite sad that it's become a case of who's marketing budget is the biggest. In my opinion, the money should be invested in supporting workers, offering excellent customer service, and improving quality and design.
The only way to break this is for consumers to endeavour to look past branding, and really consider what the brands are offering. Is it something different? Do they support the right values? Are the pieces designed well? Once that happens, the Fashion Industry won't be able to rely on marketing anymore, and will be forced to actually become creative once more.
3. Business conservative
Despite its recent morphing into a marketing machine, the Fashion Industry is, quite paradoxically, conservative. Or at least it is when it comes to business.
For an industry that is meant to be forward thinking, it has been a shocking experience realising how much it is stuck in the past. Some brands don’t want to support new start ups and innovative business models, whilst others believe the traditional sales channels and advertising methods are enough. There are other labels that embrace new concepts, technology, and ideas – whom I applaud – but sadly they remain few and far between.
It's something I struggle to get my head around: how an industry that is meant to be so creative is equally so narrow minded. But what I've come to realise is that there is a lot of fear in the Fashion Industry. It is very volatile: one season you can be hot, and the next one you're not. So when brands find a system that has worked for them before, they're unwilling to take a risk on changing it.
But we don't live in the same world that existed 10, 20 years ago. So the industry has to start adapting. Otherwise it will just fall behind.
The other key point Edelkoort made was how fast fashion has distorted our perspectives. As she eloquently put it “these [low] prices imply the clothes are to be thrown away, discarded like a condom before being loved and savoured.”
Disgusting working conditions and wages have been the way to keep costs down but, when we actually consider the amount of time and labour put into that garment, it is quite shocking to think how little we pay for it. As Edelkoort noted “how can a product that needs to be sown, grown, harvested, combed, spun, knitted, cut and stitched, finished, printed, labelled packaged and transported” only cost a few pounds? We’re happy to pay for other services and products that clearly require skill, time and labour. So why do we treat clothing in such a dismissive way? Are those who work in the Fashion Industry less deserving of the way they earn a living than others?
Fashion and clothing can easily be dismissed as something frivolous. But, unless you’re planning on becoming a naturist, it something you’re always going to need. As with other commodities, you can spend as much or as little as you want on them. But either way that will always come at a price: either quite literally, or at the expense of someone or something else.
Now that everyone from top to bottom is criticising the industry, we've reached a critical turning point. Now, more than ever, we have the chance to steer the Industry in the direction we really want to see it take. And the more of us that collectively speak out, the more the Industry will be forced to listen.