I was talking to Julie Zerbo (founder of TheFashionLaw), who is well-known for blogging about topics that no one in the fashion world wants her to write about, and our conversation ended up on “fast fashion” which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Julie who will be featured on my Pico project relatively soon, is very passionate about the topic, and has deep understanding of the challenges posed by this system of consumption. I am not saying that fashion at accessible prices is a bad thing — I am arguing that this loop of endless consumption is not working out for our planet.
As you all know, I remain skeptical of all the politically correct statements from companies such as H&M and large fashion houses. The real desire to change is hard and expensive, so most of these companies are happy to launch PR campaigns and make themselves feel good about themselves. Do we really think anything really has changed since the Rana Plaza tragedy?
My bet is no — because fashion is a cut throat business, with razor thin margins. In my life I have seen production go from places like Hong Kong, Singapore to Malaysia to China to Vietnam and Bangladesh. The industry is always chasing lowest cost labor and that is why there is no likelihood of change.
Julie, obviously is much nicer about these thing and said that “we have created a system that is so unbalanced.” During our chat, I confessed that I was locked in a mental struggle to stick to my vow to restrict my wardrobe to 100 items. If I want something new, then something old has to go out. As someone who quit smoking cold turkey, I know I have the willpower to quit. It has been a struggle to overcome the siren song of consumption was because wherever you look – Internet, television, print publications — there are constant subliminal (and not so subliminal) come-ons. Instagram is one giant kaleidoscope filled with product porn — creating a lust to consume like none other. Why single them out — marketing messages are everywhere, whether they are presented to us 140 characters or square photos or vertical videos!
Julie pointed out that if I was struggling as someone who is aware of the issues at hand, imagine people who don’t really understand the impact of consumption. “No one wants to think about their consumption practices,” she said. And she has a point — and that is why I think fast fashion isn’t going to go away.
The answer is in this piece by Kam Dhillon of Notjustalabel. He writes:
Social media might just be the most powerful consumer marketing machine in existence, relying on data which isn’t just airy, astral matter that’s abstract and anonymous but very personal dossiers of our entire digital footprint. However, social media’s excessive power is awarded by our very own primal behaviour and a cognitive capacity or urge to constantly ‘share’, ‘connect’ and remain ‘plugged-in’……
By making no distinction between lifestyle and marketing, social media is now ubiquitously interwoven into our everyday lives.….it’s the addictive architecture of social media platforms and their overwhelming socialisation and sensationalism that induces a sense of dependancy for an entire generation of society…..
…..By nature, fashion is a consumerist industry constructed on the very notion of aesthetics, presentation and outward perception. So, how exactly does social media’s capacity for constant surveillance in real time effect the way we purchase? If everyone knows what you wore two and a half weeks ago, can you wear the same outfit tonight?….
…..A staggering third of women consider clothes to be “outdated” after wearing them less than three times, according to a study published last month. One in seven charge it to the effect of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, saying they were embarrassed and uncomfortable to be seen in the same outfits more than once.
About five years ago I pointed out that social media was going to enable all of us to star in movies of our lives. It has happened and is causing big changes in our society.
Shopping is “no longer just a transaction, a way to procure necessities or luxuries, but rather has become an end in itself ,” Marc Bain writes in the Quartz and concludes that “it’s consumerism as entertainment.” I couldn’t agree more. Uniqlo, Zara and H&M have figured out how to provide the fix and are winning in the market as a result.
Fashion, like retail itself is going through convulsions brought upon by fast fashion, online retail and growing income disparity. More importantly as a race we are increasingly impatient, we are easily bored and are addicted to the dopamine rush of the latest tweet, Facebook update, Instagram photo or the new shipments at Zara. Mcsweeny’s describes this as “Instant Gratification Syndrome, or IGS, is a debilitating disease characterized by emotional servitude to the Now.”
Tapping into our growing impatience is Amazon, a company which wants to build its own shipping line, fly drones so that we can get stuff faster. And by focusing on “speed” Amazon is running away with the market. Earlier this month, as the holiday sales data started trickling in, it became obvious that Internet’s convenience and speed were trumping visits to the retail store. I won’t be surprised if the “Department Store Santa” quietly disappears from our society.
Learn more from my forthcoming interview with Julie Zerbo on how online shopping is changing human behavior by subscribing to my passion project where I interview interesting, Pico.
January 29, 2016, San Francisco