by Alyssa Schleger
The ominous- and almost silent- motions of scrolling, typing, tapping; these are the sounds defining how modern Western society consumes today. Impulsivity has been a key factor in ensuring fashion runs smoothly (or rather its economics). We see, we buy, and we receive. It has become easy to cycle through this seamless process without considering the story or truth behind a garment.

With grand means of production, the industry must have an equally imposing consumer demand. Within the papers of financial reports, things look great. Year on year sales continue to rise even when it seems sales have reached an all time high.

We are now beginning to see that nature cannot sustain these intense levels of production, consumption, and waste. It is a vicious cycle whereby the speed is exponentially increasing. More now than ever before, there is a need to examine the decaying social-ecological bond that is humanity and nature.

Modernity in the fashion industry is what keeps us producing, consuming, and wanting more. Fashion looks forward. Nature lives presently. This is at the heart of the disconnection. Fashion and nature struggle to coexist under the influence of modernity. This is a plea to the fashion industry: stop pursuing modernity.

Slowing Down: Modern Fashion’s Antithesis

Regina A. Root asks, “What should we wear to save the Earth from ourselves?”1 In 2020 fashion is fast, and a pace slowed down to the speed of nature is the antithesis of our modern industry.

Modern is a loaded term. It is fashion terminology which elicits desire. Where the consumer might feel that modern means “of the time,” the industry very well knows this is not the case. The present tense- a moment of nowness- does not exist under big fashion’s influence, rather fashion is always looking to evoke the next new distant feeling.

To understand what we should wear to save the Earth from ourselves requires several interdisciplinary ways of thinking. From the fibres of our clothing to the ways in which we obtain them, getting dressed while saving the Earth has never been more complex.

The Have Not

Baudrillard states, “Fashion represents what can least be explained: actually the obligation that it presents of a renewal of signs, its continual production of apparently arbitrary meaning, its thrusting of meaning, the logical mystery of its cycle in reality — these all represent the essence of the social moment.”2

Unattainability has been a key factor in ensuring sales continue to rise. On a large scale, the industry has advocated for the materialisation of modernity through the production of new garments. An industry fuelled by desire, many big players including fast-fashion retailers have ultimately attached themselves to this aspiration of the have not. To slow down would ultimately be to rid consumers of the need for the next latest trend. This is how business has thrived for years. It exists deep in the DNA of big fashion.

“Fashion” Dates Quicker than “Style”

Underground styles first spotted on beatniks and hippies during movements of the 60s and 70s were eventually produced by the mainstream fashion industry to distribute on a wider scale. Through this distribution, the messages these communities were trying to convey were largely skewed. Individuality and the power of unique self-expression soon morphed into an adaption of mainstream sameness. The early creators and adopters of these styles might even say that the industry outdated these styles, simply by producing them so rapidly and on such a large scale.

If we focus on the meanings conveyed by the clothing we wear, perhaps we can extend the lifespan of styles. A garment should no longer be just style; it should be an expression of some deeper meaning. Newness might becomes less relevant and we might cease pursuing some non-material idea of modernity that does not even truly exist.  

Fashion’s first roots sprouted out of capturing the essence of the present, though it seems the modern industry has forgotten this. Rosen once stated, “Art is all about permanency and fashion is all about the moment. Perhaps the art world’s fascination with fashion is a recognition of fashion’s ability to address everyday influence instead of the obsession with the heroics of creating history.”2 If this is to be true- that fashion honours the present moment- then perhaps fashion must take a step back to align. To transform fashion into a permanence of the present moment is what the industry needs to better serve the people and planet.

Slow the Pace

Hazel Clark states, “For mass-produced fast fashion the metaphor of speed serves as a smoke screen for the harsh realities of sourcing of materials, means of production, conditions of workers, distances traveled for distribution, and other less than acceptable factors”1 Through this perspective, we can understand the negative impact fashion’s quickness has on the world.  

With platforms such as Amazon Prime reinforcing speed as the new norm, perhaps we have lost touch with production. Imagine something different than today’s Western situation. Citizens of previously socialist Eastern Europe once had little access to excessive fashions, rather they made do with what they had, creating their own patterns and creatively utilising unconventional fabrics such as curtains to create new looks which were not available to them. Being surrounded by fashion’s momentum, it is necessary that we critically engage with historical and cultural instances of a different reality than what exists today. Critical thinking will propel us into a new paradigm of fashion.

Does Fashion Detract from Individuality?

Fashion has lost its subjectivity. We have been immersed into a highly objective industry, viewing trends as a means to feel good about ourselves. The real question at hand is: how does the industry really know what we need? As individuals, we are unique in so many ways. By looking to an industry which communicates to millions, how can we truly expect to find ourselves within such a system?

Elizabeth Wilson states, “Fashion, the epitome of consumerism, is also its stealthiest critic, and in its obsession with what Freud referred to as the “refuse of the phenomenal world,” of the disregarded, the marginal and everyday—including in this case, our garments—surrealism gives us hope, suggesting that there are gaps in the apparent seamlessness of consumer culture through which we can escape into enchanted worlds.”1 The enchanted worlds we seek in fashion already exist in our wardrobes (and even in used clothing on the street!), despite what big retailers tell us.

Brainstorming for a Better Future

What if we could work on detaching from the strong grip of the fashion industry? What if we instead pursued styles that defined our individuality? What if millions of consumers pursued their conscience over desire? What if we saw past the glitz and glamour of the new and began to appreciate what’s already here?

Shun the constant whispers in your ear that you need more. Focus on the meaning in your wardrobe. Investigate your style as an art form that embodies your present self. Remember things were not always this way: the speed we experience today is an experiment the world has needed to learn and grow, but now it’s time to slow down again. Reaffirm your uniqueness. You are innately one-of-a-kind and no amount of newness will amplify that.

Change will only occur in the industry if we view our decisions as the seeds needed to cultivate a new fashion ecosystem. Fashion’s outdated paradigm will begin to decay only if we can recognise our role in the future.

1. R A Root and H Clark, Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body, and Culture, Volume 12, Issue 4, Berg, Oxford, 2008, p. 419-445.
2. S Bruzzi and P Church Gibson, Fashion Cultures: Theories, Exploration and Analysis, Routledge, Abingdon, 2013, p. 116