How the speed of fashion is hurting the system beyond pollution

Unhappy work environment; plagiarism; under living wages; predatory prices and dissolution of small brands. These are some of the problems fashion professionals face since Fast Fashion started dictating rules, and it is getting worse.

Font: The Telegraph
Font: The Telegraph

One of the most iconic scenes from “The Devil Wears Prada” is the one in which Andy (Anne Hathaway) laughs at Miranda’s (Meryl Streep) doubt, when asked to choose between an aquamarine and a sapphire belt for a photo shoot. That is when Miranda points out that the young professional thinks she is better her co-workers because she is not futile, but her "last season sweater" - in her own words - was chosen by those very same people she was laughing at. Meaning: “you think you are better than us, but you are only wearing this dated sweater because we decided so”. And that is a fact, even if you hate fashion, you are still part of the system. That is how Fast Fashion grew to be the business it is today: they updated clothing industry to be trendy, turning every-day pieces into fashionable - even at the cheapest stores. A great deal because if you are a fashion fan, you can now afford all trends and if you are a fashion hater, you can not worry and still be in style.

The problem is: this self-presented great system is harming fashion much more than we think!

Fashion products are intellectual property

On August 10th of 2017, the Gucci x Forever 21 sue was all over the media. At the occasion, the hauté couture accused the Fast fashion brand of trademark infringement, the case was: Forever 21 made the exact same jacket Gucci released a season before, but since there is no patent for clothes, the only way was to allege that the blue-red-blue stripes details were Gucci’s signature.

Font: Daily Mail UK
Font: Daily Mail UK

A lot of criticism raised against the Italian company: some people said they should be glad Forever 21 was making their brand more popular; other said they should not charge thousand of dollars in the first place; some even said that Forever 21 was making fashion more democratic. But how democratic it is to appropriate someone's work and charge way less for it?

From conception to production, a lot of physical and intellectual labor are invested in fashion creations: research; sketches; technical drawings; paper patterns; fabrics; shapes; trims; sewing ; washing; branding; selling. There is a reason for every detail and when put together, they tell a story. So, appropriating one of the most expensive part of the process cannot be considered democratization, it is cheating because it harms the ability of a fair competition.

We talk a lot about how companies save money exploiting manual workers for obvious reasons, but if you consider only Alessandro Michele (Gucci's chief designer) salary alone, you can see a lot is also saved by appropriating visual speeches. And it might sound a little Robin Hoodish at first, but the problem is they are not only copying big companies, small designers also suffer from the practice. That is because fashion trends are set by trickle up and trickle down movements: some start at runaways and go mainstream - usually because of celebrities and influencers, others are street trends incorporated by companies, the trickle up. That is the gray area: with social medias and internet development a lot of small designers have been setting trends and Fast Fashion brands appropriate them in the same way they do with the luxury market - but with a bigger reach and lower prices - it happened with Zara, Forever 21 and other companies. Which affects the whole system, because makes plagiarism more common and acceptable, as the Kiini case showed us.

Whenever a copy is produced, a brand’s DNA, market positioning and, consequently clients and profits are taken away is not as inoffensive as we think.

Fast fashion harms smaller businesses

A 2016’s NPR post pointed that the top Fast Fashion retailers grew 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, topping the 6.8 percent growth of traditional apparel companies. And Forever 21's bankruptcy is not a sign of change, they are actually still pretty active: from the 800 stores, only 178 were closed and most of them were not even in the US.

While names like Roberto Cavalli US, Carven US, Sonia Rykiel, Juicy Couture, Rue 21, Aerosoles, Nine West and Aeropostale were either incorporated by other companies or went out of business, Forever 21 was the only major Fast Fashion brand filing for Chapter 11. And going to thrift stores makes it even clearer that local businesses are being suppressed, because most pieces are either from Fast Fashion retailers or brands that went off market. Small brands cannot not compete low prices and production rhythm, which makes them really unappealing for costumers.

Fast Fashion is really changing the system for worse:

Font: The New York Times

If you look back in history, it is clear that early fashion creations are way more detailed and better quality than new ones. People had less clothes and payed more for the ones they had, so they had to last longer. Think for a little bit: how come some clothes last over two thousand years and, even with all technology new ones last, like two?!

This new way of producing clothes is even impacting luxury fashion system, brands are maximizing their collections and lowering quality, simplifying prints and patterns, adding more polyester fabric to their products and creating new affordable tags to keep up. Also, because of speed of fashion, clothes are getting more padronize, brands offer less personality and more fabricated trends. It is not uncommon to see same outfits in different brands window display, a sad reflex of fashion precariousness.

If you love fashion, you must value professionals that compose the chain

When buying copies, we disregard all effort to put that piece together. Supporting fashion is valuing designers over brands, seamstresses over cheap prices, originality over copy.

Buying fabricated trends is about status demonstration, it has less to do with fashion than with ourselves proving others we can afford to be always in style - even if it means buying a different piece a week.

Fashion is the reflex of who we are, personality translated into pieces. Most fashionable people I know are the ones who dress according to their style and personal taste over trends.

Font: CNN
Font: CNN

Fashion democracy is not in cheap clothes made in a harmful system. Democratic fashion is translating what we are into what we wear (and it helps the planet much more than you imagine!).

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