Fresh Fashion Has Issues and Solutions
Fashion Faces New Conditions
A range of issues are facing fashion in an era of connected social media, ethics and sustainability. Improvements are being made. Solutions are being offered for the problems. The fashion industry is being saved by individuals and organisations who try to make a difference.
Households are changing their choice of clothing purchases, in response to various external factors. One simply needs to Google search the phrase, “smashed avocado”, to see stories about affordability – such as this one from the Huffington Post. People are now more careful about what they buy. Yet there is hope. People are still buying clothes. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported figures for August 2016, “In current prices, the trend estimate for Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing rose 0.5% in August 2016.” See the 8501.0 – Retail Trade, Australia, Aug 2016. However, there is discussion about whether Australians would spend more for higher end items. The ABS reports, “In current prices, the trend estimate for Department stores fell 0.7% in August 2016. The seasonally adjusted estimate rose 3.5%.” In response to this, trends are forming for both “sustainable fashion” and “fast fashion.”
The phrase, “fast fashion” is now a known trend. It means clothes are manufactured and transported at extremely low costs, targeted to mass consumers of fast trends. Retailers now change their stock every few months or even weeks.
Annamma Joy researched Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands. Her message is, “Luxury brands can become the leaders in sustainability because of their emphasis on artisanal quality; why toss an item designed to last, with timeless—as opposed to deliberately time-limited—style?”
Knock Off Imitations
Imitation is a form of flattery. But it is one of the cultural habits which influence the fast fashion approach. Fast fashion and other creators are able to mimic high fashion trends at a fast rate. Richard A. D’Aveni addresses this topic in his 2010 book, Beating the Commodity Trap: How to Maximize Your Competitive Position and Increase Your Pricing Power. Catwalk styles are now being seen quicker by consumers, as they appear online. Mass audiences no longer need to wait a month or a few for a magazine to print images of fashion week.
Donations are options for extending the lives of clothes, therefore reducing the amounts of garments which end up in landfill. Durable clothing can be donated, if it was designed to withstand the test of time. Multiple organisations allow individual to donate old clothes in Australia. They include ClothesLine, Vinnies and others. Donating can reduce the amount of clothes that are thrown into garbage bins, therefore helping the environment.
Retailers are offering sustainable versions of everyday products. Jessica Alba founded The Honest Company to offer safe, eco-friendly products. Although this company targets the entire young family market, it includes fashionable bags and other alternative wearable products.
Although the retail price tag might seem small for fast fashion, the social cost is adding up. Human rights have been discussed during revelations of child labour and collapsed factories. A clothing factory collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013. Survivors still commemorate the anniversary, according to the ABC. This is one of multiple events, which opened people’s eyes to the real cost of their abundant inexpensive wardrobes.
The True Cost film was released in 2015. Executive Producer Livia Firth visited a clothing factory and needed to tell their story. Safety hazards were untold realities of garment production. She recalls in her video, “There was an armed guard – so the women, the workers, couldn’t come in and out without being checked.” She could see an accident waiting to happen, “If anything happened, like a fire, there is no fire escape.”
Removing Toxic Materials
Organic cottons are environmentally friendly alternatives, as they do not release damaging toxins into waterways.
Individual designers are able to control their production, closely overseeing the process. Minna Hepburn designs bridal wear through her label Minna. She priorisises sustainability and describes her product positioning as, “Eco Luxe”. Her web site describes the process, “Each piece is hand embellished and made from sustainable, organic, recycled and locally produced textiles.” Minna is one of the designers who carefully select ethically sourced materials.
Animal rights activists, such as vegetarians and supporters, are concerned about the use of animal products in fashion. PETA addresses issues facing materials such as fur, leather, wool, down feather, angora, silk, cashmere, shealing and other “animal-derived clothing.”
Some designers are choosing not to use animal products. Stella McCartney is a vegetarian designer who never uses leather or fur. Her company publishes “Responsible Sourcing Policies.”
A counter culture, of ethics and sustainability, is emerging in all corners of the fashion world. Concerns vary from animal rights to greenhouse gasses.
Competitive Global Market
Australian bricks and mortar fashion retailers are competing against foreign stores, both online and being built and Australia. Amazon and eBay established alternatives to local shopping. Facebook offers a “Marketplace” for Australian users. Smart phones are seen as new threats to bricks and mortar outlets, with the rise of popular apps (as seen in Business Insider 2013).
Social Media Technology
New media, including web sites and social media, continues to change the way products are advertised and sold. Impacts go further than new ways to communicate with customers. Distribution is different during an era of online shopping.
NAB published figures for the NAB Online Retail Sales Index: August 2016 , “We estimate that Australian consumers have spent around $20.6 billion over the last 12 months to August 2016. This is equivalent to 6.9% of spending at traditional bricks and mortar retailers as measured by the ABS in the 12 months to July 2016.”
Social media is democratising the way fashion is experienced through traditional organisations, independent startups, individuals and user-generated content.
Wellbeing of Models
Models are known to experience eating disorders and mental health problems. Concerns about body image go back to the days of The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf. Individuals were experiencing appearance not as a form of positive self identity, but as a societal norm to fit. The following example emphasises the seriousness of models’ experiences. For Portia De Rossi, body image is a matter of life or death.
Portia De Rossi wrote about her years of anorexia in the book Unbearable Lightness. She brings the reader through her experiences of bulimia, bingeing, exercise and petite portions of food. Portia started her career in fashion modelling at age 12, before then acting in Australia and then the US. She felt pressure to fit into clothing even during her days on Ally McBeal. Her weight dropped to 37 kilograms. Her family feared for her life before she then continued working and passed out. Medical tests showed her life was in danger. She had osteoporosis at 25. This was all because Portia wanted to be fashionable and, in her words, not “normal.”
Psychology and Sizing Labels
Sizing is confusing for multiple reasons. Size numbers differ in various countries. An American size 12 is an Australian size 16. Measurements are different between brands, even for the ‘same size.’ Then Asian manufacturers are making clothes even smaller. Consumers struggle to select correct sizes in stores, let alone from a distance online. They also do not even know which ‘size’ they truly are, as one person can fit different sizes from multiple brands.
Plus Size Stigma
“Plus size” is a label used by the fashion industry for models above an Australian size 10. Retail plus size brands can start at an Australian size 16. Debate exists about whether designers can target their products towards smaller-bodied market segments, or whether there is an ethical responsibility to serve those of higher sizes.
Plus Size Models
Designers do not all agree on what the right approach is to solve body image. Plus size models, such as Ashley Graham, are gaining popularity. Although there is debate about whether the words “plus size” are even appropriate.
Dress for Success
Charities exist to support women in dressing with confidence. Dress for Success is supported in various ways from global celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Carla Zampatti. This international organisation helps women to dress for work.
Fresh Fashion and the Future
Issues face every industry, and fashion is not immune. Constructive solutions are being offered, everywhere from design to retailers. Fresh Fashion is the voice of design, as sustainable creative expressive style. Fashion, in this writer’s opinion, is not something people should fit into. Fashion is an art form for individuals to express their identities.