Monday, November 05, 2012

Fast Fashion

Fast Fashion

Have you ever stood looking in at your closest for hours, trying to choose something to wear out in your jam-packed closest, yet still at a loss? Personally, I love to shop and I feel sometimes that’s all I spend my time and money on. Too many times I have been faced with the situation of constantly looking at boring and non-standout pieces to satisfy my wants. If your closet is the same, you are likely a shopper on the fast fashion train.

Fast fashion if you aren’t already aware, emerged in the late 20th century and has changed the way society consumes fashion. Fast fashion is best described as producing on trend fashion products to the consumers the fastest way possible. Brands started to compete amongst each other for market shares by introducing more collections per year. Traditionally the majority of fashion labels had two main collections a year, spring/summer and fall/winter. Today fashion labels can have up to 18 collections a year. From 2002, the amount of time and money people spend on shopping and buying new clothing pieces has jumped and the majority of people are spending a third of their disposable income on clothing. Globalization has grown rapidly since the 80’s and 90’s and has paved the way for value and mid price brands to shift the bulk of their production to the developing world where labor and overheads cost a fraction of those in the world.

This had several benefits to the fashion label companies. Firstly, it decreased their financial cost on forward orders and allowed flexibility in the decision making on their fashion items to come later on in the season. This in turn ensured the companies that they were able to react to the market quickly for the latest “on-trend” items. As a consumer, we loved this concept and this became the coming in the widespread of speeding up fashion.

Having a fast fashion concept was a great alternative to consumers rather than having to buy designer wear straight from the runway that would normally cost a fortune. Buyers these days do an excellent job of choosing alternative pieces straight from the runway that they believe will sell to us consumers, having them fast tracked made and before we know it are on the shelves in two weeks time. However, fast fashion induces people to continuously replace discount wardrobes. As a result, we tend to get less use out of each purchase. It may seem counterintuitive, but only by looking for cheap and fast, do we spend more and benefit less.

Zara is a perfect example of a Spanish retailer that has been on the fast fashion movement since the 1970’s. The company uses a quick response model of production is minimize the time between design and consumption. Other leading companies that are guilty of being on the fast fashion train are H&M, Forever21, JoeFresh, and Topshop follow the same production model.

Being on the factory side of the fast fashion concept isn’t so glamorous. Factory workers are definitely feeling the effects of this. They are under extreme amounts of pressure to get the product made and shipped out quickly to stores. Just last year the deadlines for the factory workers were about 90 days. This year the deadline timeslot decreased by about 30%, leaving the workers about 60 days to deliver the product and depending on the company sometimes it’s cut down to 45 days. Rather than 40,000 garments being manufactured across four styles 20 weeks at a rate of 500 per style per week, now all that is confirmed with the factory workers is the first five weeks across four styles at 500 per style per week. In the end this works out to a commitment of 10,000 garments and the remaining 30,000 garments is unknown. There’s no promise to the workers of how many styles should be produced or the manufacturing rate per week.

Not only does the fast fashion idea have an effect on the producers of the garments but also the amount of clothing people are consuming is having a major impact on our environment. With the life cycle of garments being so short lived, statistics show that on average about 70lbs of clothing and textiles per person is being sent to the landfill each year. Moreover, the synthetic textiles present particular problems in the landfills because these products will not decompose, while the woolen garments do decompose producing methane contributing to global warming.

So yes, while all of us fashion lovers love to shop, read glossy magazines that show off the newest and latest trends and watch the most glamorous fashion shows which we try to imitate, is fast fashion spiraling out of control? Rather than going out every weekend looking for a new outfit to wear for ladies night out or a hot date, we could focus on finding new ways to wear our garments that have been worn once and now are collecting dust in our wardrobes. There’s great DIY’s out there that show off different ideas on how to upgrade your old school jeans and even the boyfriend T-shirt that we normally wear to bed. Add some studs, tear off the pockets and sew some funky thread on those garments, be creative! I think we’d all be surprised to see just how similar we can make our “off-trend” garment pieces “on-trend” again without spending all our time and money in these fast fashion clothing stores. 

slow fashion, vote for change

Is “slow fashion” a viable movement, or is fashion innately “un-green”?

“Slow Fashion” is a concept developed by Kate Fletcher in 2007 and modeled on the “Slow Food” movement pioneered by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Both ideals involve the substitution of low-quality and frequently-consumed “Fast Goods” with the alternative concept of consuming goods that take longer to create and represent greater intrinsic value and quality.

In the case of “Slowly-Made” clothes, the idea is that such clothes can be made more carefully, thoughtfully and hence to be generally “better-made” than clothes designed solely for “Fast” consumption and disposal. By being “Slowly Made and Better Made” such “Slowly-Made” clothes might be priced at a higher point than “Fast Clothes” and also to be considered by their owners to be more valuable than “Fast Clothes” and hence worth retaining for longer periods of time. Such clothes would last longer (conserving resources right along the entire supply chain) and by being more expensive they would also constrain customers from buying as many other items as if they were purchasing solely cheaply-produced “Fast Clothes”. Hence, consumption of clothing materials and transportation energy used for distribution of the clothes, plus sales packaging materials and advertising media could all be conserved. In these senses, the “Slow Fashion” concept of conservation of resources can be seen to be perfectly functional, as a concept.

The question that needs to be answered is whether the “Slow Fashion” movement is indeed a viable one. Being viable means more than just being plausible or conceptually functional. In order to be successful, the “Slow Fashion” movement will need to convince broad swathes of the fashion-buying public (most especially embodied by young women) to change their concepts about what’s “fashionable” to a sufficient degree to persuade them to change their long-engrained, almost “reflexive” “Fast” buying habits. In other words, it will somehow have to become “cool” and “high fashion” to still be seen in older clothes than the styles currently appearing in all the “inherently Fast” media such as web sites and TV programs and also in consumer-to-consumer chatter.

In support of the “Slow Fashion” movement, one can state that there are some “compassionate” consumer trends already in existence and able to persist and survive for years. Fashion examples are the “faux fur” trend, the “No animals hurt in the development of” certain brands of cosmetics, the “I Love New York” tee shirts sold following the events of 9/11 and the Tory Birch feed handbags which aimed to raise $100,000 to provide meals for starving children and families in developing nations.

There is a foundation of “better behavior” behind such social trends and it is quite feasible to turn the concept of better behavior into “superior” behavior. Superior anything is inherently fashionable. If enough leading personalities were to support the concepts and ideals of “Slow Fashion” most importantly by their own (highly visible) personal behaviors and buying habits it is likely that a “following” of personality-conscious buyers could be created. Also, more mundane means of communication such as newspaper articles could be used to educate fastidious members of society into slowly changing buying habits into slower, more careful (and conservative) patterns which they would deem to be for the “general good” of society. It is quite likely that, with sufficient impetus given to educating the public about the conservation of resources benefits of practicing “Slow Fashion” buying habits, a sustainable movement could develop and be sustained, at least among the higher echelons of society and intelligencia.

On the downside for “Slow Fashion”, one honestly has to acknowledge the magnitude of changing the mass buying habits of the consuming public at large. Such change is especially difficult to accomplish given the near-constant, daily, bombardment of clothes advertising, fashion media articles and fashion shows and other “trend-setting” appearances by popular personalities, many of which are designed to drive the pursuit of fashion trends (that is, buying more new stuff) by members of the general public.

There are many positives for this slow fashion movement and how it can affect and benefit the everyday fashion consumer. For example, consumers are encouraged to buy less frequently, as the clothing garments made using the slow fashion technique are built to be quality and last long, therefore do not need to be replaced as often. They will cost slightly more, as cost of quality materials, better working environments, and higher hourly wages (or not outsourcing to countries with extremely low hourly wages) are all contributors to a superior and slightly more expensive product. Consumers can feel good about what they are buying, as they are supporting more than a movement, it is a positive lifestyle change for the earth, and many employees in the apparel manufacturing job market. This is a movement that is promotes consciousness to the buyer, diversity as it is different from much of what is currently on the market, slowing down mass consumption, and using local resources. This all gives consumers the power to vote with their dollar, do they want to vote for positive change of today's environment? Or continue to spend recklessly and irresponsibly not realizing the potential damage?

It can be stated that that while the “Slow Fashion” movement can and likely will sustain itself at a certain level of vibrancy and relevance, it is only reasonable to express some doubts about it soon (if ever) becoming the predominant “mass” behavioral trend and thus really making a large-scale difference in consumption and sustainability trends in the whole world. But one can hope!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Ethics vs Fashion: The Fur Debate

The Ongoing Fight For or Against The Fur Trade... 

              Throughout the past, the fashion world has been affected by several situations regarding the ethical choices that designers and consumers make. As each person has their own personal views on certain issues, the likelihood of all consumers to be completely satisfied runs low. One of the biggest controversies in the fashion world is fur for apparel, and the method of treatment upon those animals captured. This ongoing debate outlines the issues that arise when it comes to the way fur is acquired – either by trapping wild animals and skinning them, or raising animals domestically for their fur.

                Designer labels such as Christian Dior, Chanel, Burberry, and Prada just to name a few, are infamous for featuring animal fur and leather in their collections and are often criticized for the choices made during the production of their garments. Organizations like PETA and The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT) are world renown for their strong opinions against the use of fur or anything related to the unethical treatment of animals, and take any measures needed to make their points clear to the public. Recently, CAFT sent a message to all their followers to protest outside a Burberry store in their area and shed light on the secret behind this prestigious brand label.

                The fur debate is always a heated topic of discussion, as it brings the morals and strong beliefs of society to the surface. Essentially, there are two sides to this dispute. When asked about his standpoint on the issue, head designer and creative director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, defended the use of animal fur by saying that “beasts would kill us if they could”. He goes on to mention that "in a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags, the discussion of fur is childish" (2009). A spokesperson for PETA fights back, arguing that there is an increasing number of designers who believe that “there is no place for cruelty in fashion”, and that Karl is ignorant to the fact that there is suffering behind every piece of fur used for garment production.

                There will always be the underlying question that remains: is it morally acceptable to produce, promote, sell, purchase, and wear fur, even though animals are treated unethically? Does it make a difference to consumers or the general public if these animals were raised domestically for their fur? People can and will boycott the Fur Trade, but will the message to save them ever be taken seriously? The reality of it is that, in the Fashion Industry, there is such a large amount of consumers who want the most prestigious styles, and will spend their money on the most exclusive fashions, including the rarest of animal fur and skins. Many designers would not have the reputation they carry now if it was not for their elite fashion designs that feature real animal fur. Therefore, this trend is likely to grow into an even larger scale rather than diminish, as some consumers may hope.