2015 is quickly making a name for itself as the year of the fashion hiatus. What with Raf Simons leaving Dior, Alexander Wang moving on from Balenciaga and now Alber Ebaz being fired from Lanvin, the luxury industry seems to be in a serious state of turmoil. According to fashion critic Suzy Menkes, what all of this amounts to is the fact that “fashion is crashing”. Mostly, she chalks this up to the punishing new schedules imposed upon designers, arguing that many of them are simply unable to keep up with the “dangerously out of control” speed at which creativity, commerce and social media all now operate. But in my opinion, pace is only one of the factors contributing to the turbulence of today’s fashion’s industry.
In the 1950s designers at the major fashion houses were responsible for just two collections per year. Now in 2015 they are responsible for at least six. A lot of this pressure has been placed upon designers as a result of the fast fashion sector, whose breakneck speed has set unrealistic standards for the industry as a whole. But it is not just a matter of pace; price and ethical standards are also major considerations, resulting in issues such as declining quality and diversity overall. If you think that six luxury collections per year sounds like a lot — and it is, just ask Raf Simons — then consider for a moment the fact that the fast fashion industry now churns out 52 ‘micro-seasons’ every single year. Yep, that’s one per week. It simply isn’t possible to produce clothing that quickly without cutting a lot of corners. As we languish in yet another week of devastating fashion news, we take a look at some of the repercussions that fast fashion is having on the industry as a whole.
1) Cheap labour has placed undue pressure on luxury designers and couturiers
Image: Scene from documentary film The True Cost. Image source.
Design faster, produce the clothing faster, turn everything around and do it all over again just a few of weeks later. The rapidity of fast fashion’s pace has meant that the luxury industry is now also subject to similar standards. Which is ridiculous when you think about it, especially in the context of haute couture, where just one dress can take a whopping 200 hours to complete. Raf Simons understood that this model was not a sustainable one — at least not if we want to maintain the quality and integrity of luxury goods. The designer recently told Cathy Horyn that “When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process. Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important.” Because without time for creativity, fashion simply cannot be expected to move forward in any meaningful way.
2) Clothing quality is declining all the time
Image: Still from Confessions of a Shopaholic. Why we need to focus on quality over quantity. Image source.
The fast fashion industry thinks they can fool consumers into believing that cheap clothing is better for their bank balance — and, on the whole, they have been very successful at cultivating this trickery. But, the fact is that cheap clothing is not well made and therefore, won’t last the same way that seemingly more expensive clothing can. So it all comes down to cost per wear, then. Unfortunately, though, even as more consumers become aware of this fact, many brands are still being forced to lower their prices all the time. It’s a vicious cycle of chasing competitors and feeling bullied into trying to beat the competition. Because modern life has become nothing if not one big rat race. But how do they beat those lower prices? Well by lowering the quality of their materials, of course. Either that or paying their workers less — neither of which is a very ethical solution. So it won’t be until we start breaking these patterns and reasserting the importance of quantity over quality that will we be able to begin to address this never-ending quest for the bottom dollar.
3) Much of our clothing now lacks true seasonality and, as a result, true meaning
Image: Some of the looks in Gucci’s FW15 collection could easily have been from spring-summer. Image source.
The emergence of a global customer is largely to blame for the rising importance of pre-collections like resort and pre-fall. But what this also means is that trend cycles are getting shorter all the time and, increasingly, collections seem to be losing their sense of seasonality. At a recent talk in Sydney with Suzy Menkes, Australian designer Collette Dinnigan recalls being vilified for sending too ‘summery’ clothing down her Paris runway one year. She laughs at that memory now, noting that aside from the odd coat here or there, you can hardly tell whether a collection is spring-summer or fall-winter anymore. And this phenomenon is all around us. Regardless of the season, a lot of clothing today feels as though it could be summer in winter, or vice versa. Designers are being forced to transcend seasonality in their designs in order to appeal to more people around the world. But as a result, the sense of meaning and coherence is becoming lost. And, instead, consumers are being set up to feel as if their new top is already off-trend just one week after they have purchased it.
4) Smaller designers are being priced out of the market
Image: Meadham Kirchhoff take their final bow. Image source.
When Meadham Kirchhoff officially confirmed their closure earlier this year, the fashion industry let out a collective cry. Although designers Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff insisted that “Meadham Kirchhoff wasn’t killed by the fashion industry, it was killed largely by itself,” one still can’t help but feel that the fashion industry was at least partly to blame. If for no other reason than there is just not enough institutional support available for new designers who are starting out. But also because they simply don’t have the budgets to compete with major luxury houses, nor with the fast fashion conglomerates churning out cheap clothing faster than the shelf expiry on your average bottle of milk. Increasingly, the pressures imposed by fast fashion means that smaller designers are being priced out of the market. Not only is this a loss for the designers themselves, but it is also devastating for the creativity of the industry — because the new guard of designers are often those that are taking the biggest risks and propelling things forwards.
5) Everyone is suffering as a result of fast fashion, including Mother Nature
Image: Dye run-off in Tirupur, India. Image source.
It’s undeniable, everyone really is suffering as a result of the fast fashion cycle. Not only is incalculable damage being inflicted upon our natural environment as a result of this trillion-dollar industry, but those people being forced into cheap labour arrangements are also being placed at incredible risk. The maltreatment of these people is something that simply can’t be ignored in light of the Rana Plaza disaster and documentaries like The True Cost. It is not simply a matter of these people being paid poorly, either, because these examples illustrate how this industry actually poses serious risks to their health as well. So who is really winning under the fast fashion model then? It certainly isn’t the consumer, because like it or not, fast fashion looks cheap and therefore isn’t really doing anything for our personal image standards. But it’s not exactly true to say that no one is profiting from this arrangement, either, because someone is. And it’s the rich, global companies that are perfectly happy to make a quick buck at the expense of another person’s life.
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