Friday 9 September 2016

Fast fashion: what a shame

When I first started to explore Ecopsychology, I read Andy Fisher's chapter on capitalism, and the sense of shame it sometimes creates within people.  The upshot of the argument was really about our belief in the need to purchase more, in a  quest for deeper happiness.  Since then, I've learned about how we shop because we aspire to be different in some way.  And sometimes we shop out of a search for identity.

Naomi Klein's book, No Logo, showed how capitalism had gone onto the streets, sports fields or even coffee bars in a quest to convince us that a product could make us cooler, fitter, more intellectual, or quite simply more creative than we actually are.  Branding sought to convince us that it's the product which does the true work, and we are given that extra sense of capability by the products we purchase.

No Logo also looked at the costs of those products.  The factories, sweat shops and exploitation which came from cheap manufacturing.  I've also read about the wars, oil spills, deforestation and toxins dispersed into both the air and the water through dyes, toxic fumes and poisons which go into creating them.  The sprays, insecticides, fibre residues, and the overall impacts of transporting products makes costs to the environment huge.

Reading No Logo lead to Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline.  This book speaks of those ways that trendiness and, sometimes, lack of quality, leads to a perception that clothing is disposable, and that by buying regularly and changing our clothing frequently (very often donating the items we reject from season to season) we are merely expressing ourselves, with no harm done.  Cline focuses on fast fashion outlets such as H&M, and on our unwillingness to spend money on clothing which will last.  Although H&M are now offering the opportunity to recycle old clothing, this is still with the intention of making new purchases, and from a fast fashion shop.  By continually following trends, rather than developing a sense of personal (and consistent) style, customers are constantly making purchases based on the whim of buyers, merchandisers and (multi) seasonal trends.

I was astounded by how deeply we've bought into the belief that fashion should constantly shift and change when I read an article on the closure of a clothing group in Cape Town.  I used to buy from a shop which formed part of this group.   I also like many South African designers  and I'm hoping they are able to keep working.  

Last year, the shop closed down, and I wondered why.  Then a business day article explained that the shop hadn't managed to keep turnover up.  New fast fashion outlets, and some of our local shops, with  a faster style turnover had made the shop 'irrelevant' said an independent consultant.  The shops had battled to purchase new stock.  This consultant also said that the styles were 'outdated'.  Nobody is really interested in the 'white linen dress' or striped top when trends change so rapidly, he shared.

I was sad to read this.  I'm not very aware of trends.   But I've always been of the opinion that women who have their own flair stand out most.  That doesn't mean adhering firmly to a certain look, shop or merchandiser.  It's just that the person behind the clothes, and the combinations s/he makes are more interesting to me than the trends of the moment.  I'm not particularly great at styling, but I do appreciate this ability in others.   And I was astounded by the belief that good quality 'classic' style is irrelevant to modern day customers.

I'm also astounded at how the so - called 'look of the moment' and the ability to fit in with this is held up as some sort of achievement.  I remember being on holiday one rainy weekend, and sitting inside with my daughter and watching one of those makeover shows.  I really do believe that stylists who help people find a good fit, or get proportions right can make a big difference.  But in the show I was watching, the make-over gurus were pretty much about obliterating the personal (70s bohemian) style of the client.  Instead of helping the woman to add new touches or update what she'd done for so long, the stylist humiliated this woman by declaring she'd never get promoted or achieve anything by presenting herself in the way she did.  She then dressed the woman in some generic and trendy clothing, and declared her cured of whatever style ills she'd wandered onto the program with.  I personally thought the client looked better before she'd met the style consultant.  She certainly didn't look like she was about to burst into tears.  

I wonder why we think it's okay to humiliate people for being either 'out of date' or 'too trendy' and why we allow a couple of global brands, merchandisers or buyers to tell us how to express ourselves. If we are to work towards re-forming our awareness of environmental rights, perhaps it begins with re-forming or at least questioning why we allow ourselves to be dictated to by so-called experts.  What is so wrong with our own ideas on life, the environment, or fashion?  Why should we feel ashamed if we stand out, show a sense of individuality or refuse to buy into a culture which exploits both the environment and our humanity in a quest to make a new sale?

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