Let's Debate

The Debate on Quality in Fashion

The debate in fashion I believe, is not about what’s en vogue and what’s not. Whether you see someone in flaring jeans and you think this is very 70s, or someone wearing pearl embroidered jeans and you think 'this is very 2017' does not in any way highlight a wrong or a right in fashion.

One can easily perceive trends as reminders of colours, silhouettes and designs we one day used to like or wear. Likewise, the new declared trends can give us a sense of boredom or déjà vu, as ultimately they are relative to our exposure to fashion. My mother for instance could disagree with me asserting the new trend for 2018 is the geometric pattern, as this was a widely used pattern in the 90s. She will then argue that red and black never went out of fashion, same as puffa jackets and black stilettos.

I can see why many of us have reached a saturation point when it comes to following 'the new seasonal trend' so many brands are heavily promoting season after season. We are not interested in just knowing what is the latest colour or silhouette, but how do these clothes make us feel. Are they matching our tastes and our personal styles? As ultimately it is all about the emotions an outfit gives us.

The real debate in fashion therefore is about quality vs. quantity. It is about the meaning the clothes have for you. Do they make me feel playful, do they give me a cool aura, as if I am dressed to attend a rock & roll concert in the 80s? Am I feeling bold, romantic or retro? In other words, am I feeling myself in the garments I choose? Or am I just following a trend, like everyone else, ending up dressed just like everyone else.

We all aim to have an aura of individuality and authenticity and it takes imagination and a strong sense of playfulness to reach this. When you are exposed to the same trends, same colours and patterns, your playground is limited. You end up purchasing the same garments as everyone does, as eventually your choice is limited to what’s being offered to you at a certain moment. And these offers are sometimes at a ridiculously low price that encourages your immediate action. It is for this very reason why following these fast changing trends makes you a simple follower.

When fashion becomes fast, disposable and cheap and both trends and fads are heavily promoted across media, the consumer’s appetite for shopping increases so that buying new clothes becomes a weekly habit. And the more they purchase, the faster they lose interest in their new acquisitions and are inclined to replace them as soon as they find new favourites.

This trend is playing on our human nature as several studies have shown— the more stuff we buy, the quicker we get bored and aim for more. Low prices are exactly what the vast majority is craving for. But why does 'fashion therapy' has to mean low quality and high quantity, rather than the opposite?

Do we need an extensive ‘7 days-different outfit’ kind of wardrobe or do we need fewer garments that truly reflect our personality? A wardrobe that we wisely invested in, one kept simple, but sophisticated and flexible enough to allow you to be as playful as you wish, and always feel fresh and up to date.

Many would argue that low prices benefit the consumer, as fashion should be for everyone and its democratisation is a natural evolvement of the world we live in. Everyone has the right to embrace and enjoy the latest fashions without paying a fortune. And it is no surprise that all those flawless, luxurious pieces worn with such pride by some of the most beautiful women on the catwalk come at inflated prices. You obviously pay for the status that label gives you. With that in mind, you wonder if the right approach for everyone here is not only to have legislation in place for minimum prices, but also for maximum prices.

As Li Edelkoort, one of the world's most respected trend forecasters highlights in her 'Anti-Fashion Manifesto’, "these low prices imply the clothes are to be thrown away, discarded like a condom before being loved and savoured, teaching young consumers that fashion has no value"

Improvements in technology and globalisation have made consumer goods increasingly accessible to everyone, a trend called the democratisation of conspicuous consumption. This has lead to a general perception that clothes have low value, especially for the younger generations. Just with everything else, the easier you achieve or acquire a certain thing, the less valuable it is for you.

Interestingly, this democratisation of conspicuous consumption, which 100 years ago was only practised by the rich, has made consumer products a less appealing way for the wealthy to show their class. Acts of conspicuous consumption are now focused on limited edition versions of goods that are difficult to imitate, like a $20,000 Birkin bag and rare vintage wines.

Regardless of the price tag, one can cherish a garment because it reflects their true self. Quantity or prices play a less important role in finding one’s fashion identity and maintaining its integrity. And while trends can help us rediscover fragments of what we used to appreciate and revive our imagination, by no means should they stimulate an appetite for more, for no particular reason but to feed into our fear of missing out.

Millennials, for instance, one of the most researched demographic group of our times, have a preference for experiential spending. Three in four millennials would choose to spend money on a desirable experience over a physical purchase. Furthermore, 70% of millennials think our society is "too consumerist". Thus they are appreciating ‘storyteller brands’ rather than ‘Black Friday’ focused brands that rely on the appeal of heavy discounts or low prices to attract consumers. They seek brands with powerful stories that are rooted in doing good; simplicity, honesty & transparency. Their desire for meaningful experiences is strongly linked to the fact that millennials grew up in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The enduring impact lead to a desire for experiences over material goods.

It is therefore interesting to see how cultural festivals such as ComplexCon have been born, tapping into a generation’s crave for experiences by bringing together pop culture, art, food, style, sports & music. However, no matter how relevant this concept might sound to the young generation, it is yet another example of an increasing commercialised environment, where the initially cool and authentic pieces are eventually listed on eBay at outrageously high prices. 

Critics of this event called out media’s complicity, saying it “needs to be slower, more considered, and less beholden to metrics/goals set by quantity-driven investors and advertisers. The pace at which kids are being inundated with clickbait and shitty non-stories is eroding their ability to think critically before they’re even old enough to have a gauge for processing information.”

You can only admire initiatives as the one taken by the artist Barbara Kruger, who opened a pop-up shop in Coleman Skate Park, New York, as part of Performa 2017 Biennial, where attendees can purchase a small collection of gear emblazoned with Kruger’s signature anti-capitalist sardonicism: hoodies, tees, and beanies that say “Want it. Buy it. Forget it.” This slogan was actually introduced by the artist in the early 2000s, however it remains strongly relevant even today.

Although we have started to see more and more environmental friendly initiatives taken by major fast fashion players, combined with a higher focus on storytelling that plays on the millenials mind-set, today’s consumers have to be savvier and more critical than ever to what on the surface can be an honest and transparent initiative. Playing on the idea that ‘less is more’ and taking a slow approach on today’s fast and highly commercialised fashion playground can only lead to meaningful experiences that shape one’s fashion identity and help them avoid the increasingly common buyers’ remorse experience.