With fashion acknowledged as a multi-billion dollar global concern, journalist Roger Tredre explores the green side of Political Fashion in his timely essay examining the link between the consumption inherent within fashion, and the subsequent depletion of natural resources.
PennyMartin 11:39 5 Mar 2008 I appreciate that Roger brings up several alternatives to the current fashion fashion status quo, but I'm particularly interested to read him mention bespoke. Inkeeping with his 'fashion waves' argument, I have witnessed several waves of bespoke/demi-couture/call it what you will, in the seven years I've worked in fashion.
In 1990, there were lots of articles about how Roland Mouret, Boudicca and Jessica Ogden offered their faithful clients a 'demi-couture' service and much was made of Hedi Slimane's 'secret' under-the-counter bespoke range for women. Kilgour, too, I am told make bespoke suits for women.
In each case, much was made of the 'quality' angle and the benefits of something fitting your body and only yours is obvious. But my question is how to make this appeal to a generation sold on the idea of bargain fashion? In Britain, where people are mostly embarrassed to express an interest in the way they dress, never admit to liking 'frivolous' fashion, if someone is complimented on a garment they are wearing, they are most likely to blurt out that it is either old or was cheap.
How to convert this psychology to that of our continental counterparts who might see more sense in paying 2-3K GBP for a hand-tailored outfit?
Landon 09:05 6 Mar 2008 I'm not sure I buy the 'we need to consume less' argument.
The decision to buy less luxury items pales to utter insignificance compared to gas engine cars, which contribute an estimated 2/3 of greenhouse-gas emissions, and the massive growth of China and India. (why aren't people DEMANDING electric, zero-emission cars? If Joe Lunchpail can build one in his garage it can't be hard? Rhetorical question, I know. The American government, Canadian government, Big Oil and the Car manufacturers can answer that one) Aren't these the real challenges?
Simply deciding to 'consume less' - it seems naive to think this is going to make any difference in reversing global warming. Maybe even a distraction from the major macro-scale systems that have the biggest impact.
Also, that's an astute point Penny Martin made above - if you spend a large sum on perceived 'luxury' items that you can expect to be durable enough to last a lifetime, maybe even a few generations - isn't that the truly eco choice? But the same people who would be the most earnest about making 'conscious' purchases would probably have a knee-jerk dismissal of the idea.
Reminds me also of American Apparel. They are probably one of the most 'progressive' major manufacturers going, but I don't really see Green-types embracing them. I'm guessing American Apparel's sexual advertising doesn't fit with the Green self-image, even though there's no logical reason for it not to, if you think about it.
God...this feels like a homework assignment Penny!
KaWai 17:48 6 Mar 2008 I don't think the fashion system will do a 180 U-turn in another direction. A lot of factories will not produce unless you have a large order, and all the growth in China and India is largely because all the manufacturers moved their factories from the west to the east; all the raw materials that are being used everyday-this is not just in fashion production, think the magazine industry, all the fashion magazines, all the papers, the dyes, and magazines are worse because their shelf lives are much shorter, all the energy that goes into making an ad in a magazine, or an editorial story, and once it's printed, people will look at it for the most 20 seconds, then it's pretty much discarded. It's really difficult to change the system, so many people's jobs are depending on it.
RogerT 14:47 10 Mar 2008 I enjoyed reading the responses to my original post. Just to pick up on the last: I agree with KaWai, the fashion system is not going to change in a hurry. And perhaps just as well it doesn't - as you say, so many livelihoods, particularly in developing countries, depend on it. But I am still struck by a sense of excess (as KaWai says, in media as much as fashion) - the sheer volume of clothes being turned out: China alone produces several hundreds of millions of shirts every year. Who is wearing them?! And (to turn to media), all those free newspapers that clog the streets and tube trains of central London every weekday. I do think that apparently small changes in attitude and approach by fashion 'influencers' and by retailers and designers could start a broader shift in attitude. I do believe the fundamental need is to consume less. But none of us should expect miracles.
AlexDavis 17:16 23 Mar 2009 It looks as if this discussion may have come to a close. However, I am in the middle of researching a similar concept would relish the opportunity to continue the debate. Firstly I agree whole-heartedly, a ‘less is more’ philosophy has become an essential concept within fashion. In fact my research centers round this very concept. But I wonder if letting the message filter through from ‘fashion influencers’ is enough. If the scientists are to be believed we have already run out of time, and as both you and KaWai point out, it isn’t just the production of garments that fashion has to worry about. The industry is vast, and therefore so is the problem. You spoke within the 2006 ICA event the ‘Death of Taste’ of the Slow Movement and separately fashion’s exciting new relationship with digital technology. I think the Slow Movement (including Slow Fashion) is a very interesting phenomenon, and one where the ‘less is more’ concept sits well. The fact that it is growing despite the rapid development of the high-speed digital age shows its strength. So could this be where our answer lies; a growing sub-culture that embraces a pause for breath? It could give us all, within the industry and the consumer, the possibility of a new outlook? It would make us consider how we make our products, and what it is we are actually buying? We just need to loose this ‘Fast Fashion’ mentality, and the only way to do this is changing our consumer culture. But embracing the Slow Movement would not mean shunning digital technology. Quite the opposite. The Slow Movement and Digital Technology could form a symbiotic relationship. We can use this technology to embrace concepts within the Movement, such as a building a better relationship between the producer and consumer. Via the Internet the consumer can gain access to garment tracking, company’s Twitter and live feeds from the producers. I think that Slow Fashion as it stands needs to be more unified and further developed. There are concepts within Slow Foods, and Citta Slow that could be adapted to give Slow Fashion tools to bring it forward, i.e. The Slow Food Ark. And though I agree with Landon’s argument that we need to do something about our gas-fuelled cars, I don’t believe that we shouldn’t do anything about Fashion’s responsibilities to our environment. In our house, if you make a mess, you clear it up.
KaWai 07:08 24 Mar 2009 The slow movement is not realistic in fashion-as long as stores like Topshops and H&Ms, WalMart exist, we won't see slow fashion. Fortunately the recession is helping the environment, as productions of goods have slowed down, thousands of factories have closed down in China for example, and countries have to think of greener ways to sustain growth. We may see change in attitudes now as we are in a slow-down. I think recycling discarded materials is the only way to go, as far as production goes, we were producing more than we could consume for a long time.
AlexDavis 07:49 27 Mar 2009 I understand your point of view regarding the larger fashion brands; profit is king. However Slow Fashion is just evolving and as the boundaries have not yet been set, I don’t believe one can write off the possible effects on large or small companies. Slow Fashion does not mean less profit, just a change in gaining that profit. One durable, well designed more expensive product, instead of the three cheap throwaways. The fact that the economic downturn is resulting in less production and job losses, whilst benefiting the environment, is not a positive or permanent solution for fashion. Slow Fashion could be. Times are changing and the economic slow down could be the starting point for shifts both in business mentality and fashions infrastructure. Chief Executive of Top Shop, Sir Philip Green, was quoted in the International Herald Tribune, Sept 2008, as saying "For fast fashion, you have got to think that there should now be a pause for breath." Our understanding of the environment and ethically responsibility is thankfully filtering through to the top. The question now is not ‘if’ large brands change to encompass the ‘less is more’ philosophy, but ‘when’?
GalileosUniverse 10:33 27 Mar 2009 HARRODS JANUARY SALE " Famous for big stars and big discounts, the Harrods winter sale attracts a quarter of a million people on opening day."
But then a lot of amount of thinking must be done in order to achieve a viable ' compromise ' ... for those who are restricted to acquire ' fashion ' according to their purchasing power ... so I'm not sure that 'cheap' fashion can be really willingly done with and with the approval of the consumer.
Can a good long lasting fashion garment that benefits the environment be produced at a very affordable price and at the same time do the trick of being profitable for the manufacturer ? ..... embracing new technologies could certainly be the answer and that takes time because the fashion industry has been very, very slow in exploiting all the the new ideas coming out of the research field in the matters of durable, practical and affordable fabrics. Now is the time for the " FASHION REVOLUTION' .... but in the most positive sense.
Could we see a Prada, a Gucci, etc being manufactured at very affordable price ? Can H&M produce fashion that is durable but more highly priced than what the public is used to pay for such a label ? ..... Image value and reputations must be kept, all about image !
I think that somehow to educate the public in such matters would certainly advance the cause .... in the end people at large only care about the price on the tag, whether we approve or not ... and who doesn't love a great bargain ?
AlexDavis 18:39 11 Apr 2009 But surely if a higher purchase price meant a longer lasting garment, then the consumer would begin to say yes.
It would have to be marketed heavily and correctly, making the consumer understand what the label is looking to achieve. No pollution etc. For children’s wear the garments would need to have some built in growth along with durability. For the customer it could then become viable, in theory anyway, as the expenditure would equalise out.
And to answer your question, yes, I believe there is a profit to be made out of responsible garments. I think the only thing standing in the way is our current mindset. The consumer needs to want quality not quantity. And as far as the companies go, the higher production costs will be passed onto the consumer. However, there does need to be some protection in place, to stop the more zealous fashion businesses within the industry, from under cutting. Maybe that comes in the form of governmental policy?
A company to look at is Howies. A ‘leisure wear’ label that encompasses environmentally sound technologies, both new and old, in fabric production and garment making. They also retail at the higher end of the high street, men’s jeans costing £75-£225. The reason for the high cost, is the partly due to the hand weave they use to increase durability. Have a look at the their web site, under 'product stories', 'jeans'. They have been going since the 90’s, so there IS a customer base, all be it not the same one as Primark.
And I hear your point about people loving a bargain. I agree people want the best they can get for what they can afford. But if the financial and ethical stakes were raised within the Industry, then a bargain would automatically be ethical, environmentally sound and biodegradable, and if that is the case…..
RogerT 14:41 27 Apr 2009 I like Alex's comments about the Slow Movement. Every trend tends to have a counter-trend. So when Fast Fashion is at its peak and appears to be dominating what's going on, the idea of Slow Fashion bubbling under is logical enough.
The luxury industry has been doing a lot of soul-searching in recent months, most recently at the International Herald Tribune conference in Mumbai, where the delegates were exploring the idea of Sustainable Luxury, which fits with the concept of Slow Fashion. My guess is that Slow Fashion will - slowly of course! - become a subject of ever-greater interest over the coming years - and will, over time, influence the broader market.
AlexDavis 07:48 1 May 2009 I'm glad you agree with the concept. I hope that Slow Fashion will soon generate a wider audience, and the subculture begin to influence the fashion industry as a whole. You mentioned the International Herald Tribune Conference, and discussions by the luxury industry on Sustainable Luxury, which is very interesting and I will look further into that. Within my research I carried out a consumer study and one of the points that stood out was that the study's participants were interested in buying luxury goods that are ethical and sustainable, but when it came to fashions staples they tended to buy cheap, opting for the supermarket 2 for 1 deals. I think the Luxury market won't find an issue finding consumers (economic climate depending), however maybe the idea of providing a sustainability for staple garments such as, white t-shirts and childrens vests, is the next step for the sustainable fashion market. It would be good to live in a world where fair trade and organic were the norm and not just a luxury item. Thank you for kick starting such a debate!
RogerT 10:30 1 May 2009 Yes, shopping in a sustainable way shouldn't be an option just for the rich, but they can end up influencing the rest of the market. It is certainly helpful to think about this subject by separating out luxury/designer/high-end from clothing basics/staples. They are two very different worlds, although ultimately there is a degree of interconnectedness. I hope I'm making sense!
GalileosUniverse 15:31 1 May 2009 Isn't the LUXURY end of the market in FASHION more about social status and admiration and the other end more about "clothing basics/staples" but when taking into account the ' PSYCHOLOGY of FASHION' both are connected by the desire of wanting to emulate those who dress to set themselves apart from the rest ... I hope I'm making sense also .... I think that both are very much connected .... and maybe a good example could be what H&M did by letting high fashion designers produce an extremely affordable collection for the general public with the designer's exclusive signature.