What can fashion teach us about remaining relevant in a changing world?
As an industry that transforms itself each season, the fashion industry is the perfect space to understand change.
And, like other industries, it is facing an existential challenge as buying new clothes becomes unjustifiable in the face of climate change.
New types of content
Sustainability trends such as reusing and upcycling are increasing. These behaviours are encouraged and facilitated through social platforms like TikTok. Example types of content include:
- Styling videos
- Vintage or thrift clothing hauls
- Upcycling videos
- Garment customisation tutorials
The effects of COVID-19 have resulted in many young people creating their own 'small-businesses', riding on the idea of supporting local business. These businesses have used TikTok primarily to promote their goods and services and act as a touchpoint for directing business towards websites.
Reuse culture is coupling with the age of activism. Old subversive styles, such as streetwear, emo, and y2K are being revitalised and paired with activist culture in new ways.
The rebirth of these styles has been widespread and deeply intertwined with boycotting fast fashion in attempts to live more sustainably and reduce the impact fashion has on the environment.
Small businesses are being set up to support the new consumer activism in sustainability. They provide services that facilitate the following types of activity:
- Bulk buying vintage items
- Reworking the old
- Reselling vintage
- Rehoming unwanted
Supporting small businesses has taken on its own form of activism, promoting the community to support small local companies as a duty.
Case Study: Depop
Depop is a site that is promoting the rehoming of unwanted items. It reports that 80% of its UK customers are aged under 24. It is catalysing and facilitating interaction with the circular economy for Gen Z and Millennials.
Hype culture has also seen a new method of integration with young consumers through reselling of the latest drops via Depop for huge mark-ups.
Depop has harnessed consumer activism and is now using it as part of their advertising on social media. Currently there are many ads on TikTok by Depop, where staff members are filmed speaking about the importance of the circular economy, and how this is facilitated by Depop.
Influencer marketing is shaping fashion. Celebrities such as 'Bella and Gigi Hadid', and 'The Kardashians' adopt styles, display it via social media to millions of followers, and then huge numbers of girls aged 14 attempt to mimic the ‘style’ of these celebrities.
Provocation: Influencers separate the styles they appropriate from their origin. Does this help or hinder progressive movements?
It can be argued that the increased presence of influencers on social media adopting old cultural styles such as streetwear has stripped the culture away from it. Previous associations such as appreciation for graffiti as an art-form and listening to 90's hip-hop, can no longer be made due to the styles being rebirthed out of popularity.
Hype and anxiety
Highly desirable brands, such as Supreme, release in small batches. When a new item ‘drops’ it generates an intense period of purchase and most people are left disappointed.
This has been dubbed ‘7 minutes of hell’ and it echoes the purchasing of desirable tickets for events such as Glastonbury festival.
Provocation: Is hype culture something that can be applied anywhere? And is it something that should be encouraged?
Millennial and Gen Z consumers have found expensive loopholes to this anxiety riddled process through the purchasing of 'bots' that carry out the transactions for them. The use of 'bots' is mainly for the purpose of reselling elsewhere. Paying thousands for this type of tech in order to nab the latest sneaker speaks volumes about consumer pressure, social pressure and anxiety when it comes to consumption.
Being able to discuss and form community around branded objects is changing the shopping experience for customers.
Younger people becoming interested in paying for 'experiences' with these brands. This is a new type of brand love. For example pop-up stores that charge entry fee's are increasingly popular, and many fans won't think twice about paying for this premium experience.
Pierre Bourdieu's theory on field and class distinction remains relevant in this case as it shows how physical objects (capital) form community amongst the people that engage with them. The value of being able to create community and bond over shared interests is something that has rapidly become more important to consumers over the last 5 years. Communities form now over social media, sharing the pictures from the pop-up, sharing pictures of the copped shoes, advertising the articles for resale.
The cyborgisation of clothing is accelerating, with fascinating new innovations coming out weekly. For example:
- Lab grown diamonds from Kimaï and De Beers Lightbox,
- Vegan leathers being developed from pineapple skins trademarked as Piñatex,
- Increased VR/AR experiences
Most of these have emerged from more conscious consumption and wanting to do better for the planet and human-rights.
Kimaï wanted to "make changes in innovation and transparency driven by technology."
Adapting to COVID
COVID has encouraged retailers to improve their digital strategy, they are:
- Enhancing the user experience of their online stores
- Improving online service
- Offering new types of consultancy
- Interacting via social media
There have been consequences of this. Elitist fashion is becoming more democratised as people don’t fear the snobby atmosphere of high street stores. Alongside this supermarket brands such as F&F from Tesco, have undertaken a similar business model to Zara, whereby they are releasing fast fashion replicas of popular items in order to remain relevant and accommodate for their consumers.
Case Study: Dior
Brands such as Dior have developed a virtual walk through of their beauty store in Champs-Elysées that allow their customers to browse the shelves as normal from the comfort of their homes.
This virtual access eases the anxiety of shoppers attempting to readapt and reintegrate to the outside world post-COVID. VR stores allow for increased autonomy when shopping, providing 'in-store' experiences online for those who cannot physically visit a shop and for those who do not want to physically visit a shop.