| Eva Sturt | Février 2020 |

 

Crédit photo : Jean-Pierre Dalbera

 

Are creativity and quality the real stakeholders to challenge the toxic market dominance of fashion consumerism? What defines fast fashion, how are we, as consumers, driving this industry and are there any movements realistically driving change? Is second hand an equivocal alternative for those who seek to be fashionable, an ancient desire for expression of social and cultural belonging as well as individuality?

 

Fast fashion was a new term to me, and an intriguing one. Admittedly I like living in my own bubble, especially when it comes to expulsions of modernity, which I try my best to steer away from. An instant association with Fast Food came to mind: brief excitement and pleasure, without lasting satisfaction, leaving you empty and pale very quickly.

My notorious unease with a world so convincingly dictated by artificiality and consumerism made me ask people of different ages, fashion styles and consciousness, including my own teenage daughters, to share their thoughts. Some vague replies arose, but “cheap”, “throw-away”, “un-ethical” and “labour exploiting” came up first. Interesting!

 

Creating the Need to be New

The official meaning of Fast Fashion – a term which initially described the “15 day-designer-trend-to-store-process” – was attributed by a New York Times journalist to the opening of the capital’s first Zara store in the early 1990 (1). The Cambridge dictionary gives a rather dry definition of the term: “Clothes that are made and sold cheaply, so that people can buy new clothes often.”

Whereas the Miriam Webster dictionary is a bit more elaborate by defining “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” Adding a commentary of the Economist which puts Primark top of the pecking order regarding industrial innovation to saturate the rapidly changeable, throw-away fashion market.

 

Who pays the cost?

In her down-to-earth “Good Trade” blog, the American freelance writer Audrey Stanton asks a legitimate question: “People debate what came first—the desire for fresh looks at an alarming rate or the industry’s top players convincing us that we are behind trends as soon as we see them being worn.” Concluding that the price for each piece has to be paid by someone: most of us don’t need a reminder of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse which killed over 1100 people in this production line. The human health and environmental cost of chemical and toxic metal use in garment production and mass-disposal is almost household knowledge.

 

Fast Fashion Industry: figures and facts

  • Global CO2 emission of textile production outweighs international flight and shipping combined and if the fashion industry was a country, it’s CO2 emission would be almost equivalent to the whole continent of Europe.
  • The UK is the fast-fashion epicentre in Europe, consuming almost double than most other European countries.
  • Cotton productions uses 2% of global soil, yet accounts for 6% of pesticides, 16% of insecticides and 93MIO Cubic litres of water per year. Contributing significantly to soil degradation and water shortage and in some areas environmental disasters.
  • Estimates believe that globally clothes worth 500 billion USD are lost to underwearing and failure to recycle.
  • Recycling fabrics is expensive and only 13% are used for other purposes, whereas 73% end up in landfill or are destroyed otherwise – at an estimated cost of £ 82mio/year in the UK alone.

(Greenpeace, Unearthed 2019)

 

Re-calibrating consumerism: a question of market innovation?

Earlier this year, on Earth Day 2019, the American CBS News reported about what they call “linear fashion”, another fitting term exploring some counter-initiatives: Stella McCartney’s honest, non-political, conscious approach to environmentally sustainable, earth-friendly and non-toxic use of fabrics, compromising profit over ethical production choices, has been quoted as leading light. For those who can’t afford her, the 2011 founded online business The RealReal (TRR), quoted already at around 450 Mio USD, have turned the problem into a marketing concept, offering “re-circulation” of highest quality designer fashion “to extend the life of quality and craftsmanship”(3).

“Circular fashion” is in, was the conclusion. A new term, which has sparked the think tanks to get creative. Most still can’t afford “designer-label-circuits” like the TRR, and even might get suspicious about sincerity of the environment in mind of yet another American market trend. However, it sounds catchier and trendier than simply “second hand”, doesn’t it?

 

“Circular fashion”, can Second Hand be innovation?

Some people, like an Irish friend of mine and beautiful mother in her mid-50s, have an enviably fortunate and confident hand for effortless style. Some of her most interesting and exciting combinations include upcycled dresses and skirts, made of heavy French, English or Irish cloth, combined with good quality classics. Unique, expressional, quite cheap and always evolving with mood, season, time and a little seamstress-friends help.

Even more to the bone, Nicola Bradley, web-designer, writer and co-owner of British Veg Box Company Riverford, made an experimental statement by declaring 2018 free from fashion-purchase, which she documented on her Instagram Another Wears. She used her creative education and existing garde robe as her very own second hand tool shed to upcycle, adapt and surf the big fashion wave without adding to its detriment. Could this highlight yet another route for innovation and creativity in Circular fashion? Maybe! Pinterest already has over 1000 dedicated posts on “DIY upcycled clothing”…

These examples fit with surprising ease into the concept of Fast Fashion, yet following a totally new interpretation: something cheap which can be changed often. Yet, not everyone is naturally gifted and confident like my friend or dedicated crafters.

Our post-war parents have created a world of plenty for us. Unaware of true, political and economic hardship, our generation naturally embraced innovation, progress and the continuous concept of “Wanting New”, which we passed on to our children who now seem to be somewhat lost in this big open world of too much of everything and little worth of anything…

 

The New Old or another way to embrace sustainable trends?
When tradition meets fashion

Being Austrian, I remember Vivienne Westwood’s famous words of great respect and admiration in 2001: “I do not understand you Austrians. If every woman wore a dirndl, there would not be any more ugliness”, mentioning the traditional Trachten, which are practical clothes worn from field to wedding, farmer to aristocracy. Her words are believed to have sparked a lasting revival and made tradition fashionable again. The very down-to-earth Austrian grande dame of Trachten, Gexi Tostmann, who dressed every royalty in Europe, is well aware of the unfortunate occasional association of Lederhosen and Dirndl with right-winged conservatism, yet her open business and multi-cultural ethos give enough testimony for a hugely respectable and naturally sustainable alternative to cheap fashion. Regarding the high price tag for home-spun and homemade Tostmann garments, people have been reported to save up for quite some time, and some of them are not uncommon customers at all…

Having said that, something you wear willingly for decades – shape permitting, which has the added bonus of being timeless and trendy, as well as being worth to be passed on as family heirloom seems worth the investment, doesn’t it?

Neither traditionalism nor getting the sewing machine out may be the right answer for everyone. Yet, to express individuality or belonging, clothes are a wonderful way to be playful, feel sheltered and hugged, and there are many different ways in how we can do this a bit better. Diverse culture, respectful innovation, heritage and creative design may steer outdated consumerism and environmental exploitation towards respect of quality and maybe even a bit more minimalism. Who knows?

 

Eva Sturt