The World of Fashion
We’re not going to lie to you, the fashion world is basically one big mess! Imagine the least organized person that you know. The fashion industry is that multiplied by 1000...easily!
Therefore, the fashion world can be difficult to navigate for the average person. In a world where everything evolves more and more rapidly, clothing brands need to release collections in quick succession, even more quickly than the seasons...by a wide margin.
As this is largely stimulated by the economical practices of large clothing stores, even high-end fashion brands are affected. Consider Karl Lagerfield (RIP) who created 14 collections per year.
We wrote this article in order to expand upon this aspect of the fashion world.
We’re going to dive into the concept of fast fashion, which dominates the consumer market today. Then, we’ll talk about another “alternative” economic model that is gaining in popularity each year.
Fast Fashion: When Obsolescence is in Style
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast Fashion is the McDonald’s of the textile industry, the KFC of the leather industry...its aim is to make products -- fashion products, for the purposes of this article – in the largest quantities and as quickly as possible in order to sell them at a low price.
Consequently, this leads to a perpetual creation of products with a very quick collection turnover. Some brands are even creating up to 8 new collections per year, with only one month between the moment when the article is designed to the moment it becomes available in stores.
The goal is to get consumer swept up in the novelty of new items. By continuously offering new products at a very affordable cost, the consumer is enticed to regularly replace their entire wardrobe. At its core, this is the essence of disposable fashion. With so many options available to them, it is almost impossible for the consumer to NOT find what they want. This is how brands sell built-in obsolescence.
Say what you will about this method of mass production (and consumption), but it is clear that this marketing strategy is one of the most successful ever created. Nowadays, it is the norm.
This is how 80 billion articles of clothing are produced around the world each year. The brand H&M alone produces 550 to 600 million pieces per year.
This production is centralized to several large clothing companies, the 3 largest being: H&M, ZARA, and MANGO.
The largest of these, H&M, has 4,000 stores around the world, with 241 in France alone, earning a total revenue of $25 billion in 2015. Unsurprisingly, in the investor sector, these stores (H&M, ZARA, MANGO) report as much revenue as large luxury brands.
Say Goodbye to Quality
In order to supply so much product at such a low price, sacrifices must be made. Quality becomes less of a priority, and, even worse, it is often deliberately pushed to the side. The fabrics that these brands use are those that are the quickest to produce and of the worst quality.
In order to ensure that consumers need to buy things regularly, their clothing needs to have a short life span. In other words, they need your little black dress to wear out as quickly as possible so that you now NEED to buy another!
Because they believe that “the end justifies the means,” large clothing stores will stop at nothing to reduce the cost of production as much as possible.
This means that their products are manufactured in countries where the price of manual labor is lowest. The working conditions in these countries are reprehensible. The workers are handling dangerous chemicals without protection, and the infrastructure of the buildings that they are forced to work in would make you shudder in horror.
In 2013, 1,127 workers died in a building collapse in the textile district of Bangladesh.
Finally, according to one report done by the French Observatoire de la Déontologie de l'Information (Observatory of Information Ethics) in December 2016, child slavery is still alive and well. In Bangladesh, 50% of children begin working at 14 years old, some doing up to 64 hours of work each week...
As a result of this frantic production, the fashion industry has become the second highest polluting in the world. There are several reasons for this:
The fashion industry requires a lot of water and energy (mainly oil)
The products used are toxic and often based on heavy metals, and are not processed before being unceremoniously dumped into our rivers
Only a very small portion of disposed clothes are recycled, the rest are burned...
I could go on for hours, but my goal is not to burden you with all of the problems of the world, and I think that you get the picture.
So Where Does Luxury Fashion Fit In?
The majority of the most prominent luxury brands refuse to comply with the aforementioned marketing strategy...which is great!
Nevertheless, there are some luxury brands that follow in the footsteps of fast fashion and profit from their image in order to sell fake products. Think about Balmain for example, who created the top collection for H&M in 2015. An undeniable success! Consumers ate it up and everything was quickly sold out. Even though the price of certain pieces went up to 500 euros, the quality was still that of H&M...
Price does not luxury make. Beware of brands that only pretend to be “luxury.”
Michael Kors, Alexander Wang, Coach and others like them further illustrate this point. The materials they use are not quality, and the mode of production is still mass production. It is therefore unscrupulous for a store like this to sell you a fake leather jacket for an exorbitant price. Here again, you are paying for a logo and an image...not a luxury product!
Is Alternative Fashion the future?
In recent years, there has been a societal push to get back to the basics. Incidentally, this phenomenon is largely overtaking the fashion world. You can already see the growing obsession with low tech, permaculture, autonomy, sustainable development, and the return in force of the creative professions and artisans.
Personally, we are completely taken with this trend and the values it embodies.
Slow Fashion is Responsible Fashion
“Designers need to be aware of what is going on in society.” - Jean Paul Gaultiers. Well said, Jean Paul! Your advice has not fallen on deaf ears!
We are now seeing the emergence of young brands with firm morals. Rejecting the concept of fast fashion, these newcomers are shifting the focus from quantity to quality.
This phenomenon is in response to more and more consumers demanding responsible and controlled consumption. Small to medium production runs are becoming more popular, with particular attention given to the quality and origin of materials. It is therefore natural that we turn to small creators: we’re consuming fewer products, but better ones!
We Are What We Wear
Fashion has always been a way of expressing your unique personality. Whether we use it to stand out or to assert our values, we search for a style all our own!
In this sense, slow fashion brazenly rebels against the uniformization and industrialization of fashion. These young brands put artisanal design and fabrication as their top priority, with the goal of producing timeless pieces that will last longer, rather than conforming to short-lived trends.
To be a consumer is to vote with your wallet! Those who purchase products created by slow fashion know this to be true, and they embrace it. It’s a way to stand out while taking a stand. Through our consumption, we can decide to support one type of production over the other.
We can never know what tomorrow will bring, and this is even more true in the fashion world. However, we can realistically confirm that a new fashion regime is about to emerge. Obviously, these new brands are still far from turning the fashion world on its head, especially since several obstacles and stereotypes remain stacked against them.
Incidentally, in our next article, we will discuss in greater detail some of the stereotypes surrounding alternative fashion.