The contemporary fashion system of product development, clothing production, garment distribution and the selling of lifestyles in the guise of fashion marketing embrace processes focused on speed, appropriation, homogeneity, discount prices and overt consumption.
It’s a rather disheartening representation of contemporary culture. For an industry that is perceived as being the height of glamour, creativity and forward thinking innovation, often the actual reality is rather grim.
Kate Bingaman a design student based in Nebraska who has her own website www.obsessiveconsumption.com captures the spirit of contemporary consumerism stating: “I am repulsed and grossly fascinated by the branding of consumer culture. I want to eat the entire bag of candy and enjoy the sickness that I feel an hour later.
" I need that new Marc Jacobs’ mini and I must know where Demi and Ashton got their matching ipod carrying cases that they wore slung over their shoulders to the hot new Kabbalah temple in Beverly Hills.”
The proliferation of new product within the fashion industry works at a pace that rivals all other product orientated industries. Quick response and fast tracking are regarded as positive attributes of most apparel organisations, the quest for being first with the latest looks is a key measure of success within the fashion world.
A novice fashion observer may assume that designers globally have forecast the future simultaneously when seeing a variety of stores offering similar product within the same season. Do we assume that fashion designers have arrived at the same ideas in tandem?
In the quest to capture global markets, the fashion industry has created an environment of homogeneity. Imitable product appears in diverse cities across the globe, creating an atmosphere of sameness, speciality and chain stores around the world offering replica merchandise, a concept that strips creative industries of their uniqueness and vitality.
Much has been theorised about speed culture being embedded within our lifestyles. In the past fifteen years access to information and the opening up of communication channels by virtue of technology has enabled us to be responsive to events and issues at a momentum that has not ever previously been achievable.
Fashion is a broad concept that both responds to and leads society. It is a barometer of an era, capturing the zeitgeist of a moment in time. If fashion is regarded as a vehicle for identifying social change how can one read the signs when society is moving at such a speed that there is no time for research, analysis and reflection within creative process?
Companies such as the Spanish based fashion chain Zara are now regarded as an iconic representation of our current system. Zara has the capacity to work at a speed that has changed the contemporary fashion scenario. The development and creation of new product from initial concept through to retail sale is developed in time frames as condensed as nineteen to twenty-five days.
As stated on the CNN news website; “While its rivals start planning their lines on average nine months before they hit the shelves, Zara has a reputation for instant reaction to fashion trends and rapid restocking of stores to meet demand on items that are hits.
" It’s also not afraid to pull items from shelves and cancel ones that aren’t selling. Zara can make a new line, from the initial concept to when it arrives in the shops, in just three weeks.”
One of the greatest concerns in relation to the focus on speed is the consequent lack of investment in design innovation and the demise of creative skill.
As rapidity has been such a powerful force within society, many fashion organisations adopt practices where importance is not applied to product quality and design.
Emphasis is placed on price, branding and the opportunity for a retailer to be the first with the look. As a consequence, the design component becomes undervalued and the creation of product is secondary.
In the past ten years, this approach has been a major cause of the commoditisation of product design industries.
Within this environment where the consumer is bombarded with ‘stuff’, the opportunity exists for corporations to consider the ‘creation of magic’. Glimmers of hope are arising as the independent market starts to fulfil some of the much needed creative alternative.
Fashion brands are having to re-think product development and merchandising strategies. One potential area that needs to be considered in this environment is the concept of design that embraces longevity and sustainability.
There is an emerging trend that indicates consumers are rejecting the notion of constant consumption and are searching for balance and additional value in what they purchase.
An uncompromising approach to design requires time for refection and research, true design practice cannot be achieved within a culture of churning products through a system of a three week time frame from conceptualisation to distribution.
A strategy worth considering into the future is slow clothes, a potential movement that responds to the notions of speed, appropriation and homogeneity within the fashion industry.
It may be possible to create an alternative system such as the adoption of slow food in the hospitality industry.
Slow clothes could adopt practices that embrace attention to detail, well considered design process, quality manufacturing and fit. It would reject the practice of overt consumption and constant supply.
Products would be developed with the quest for excellence being fundamental to their creation. Once the product is perfected then they would be launched into the market.
Distribution networks and supply chains would not be driven by the notion of constant supply but considered and purposeful, quality product.
Martin Raymond, editor of Viewpoint states; “Many are now asking if the future really is about making our world a faster, slicker, more transient place.
"Or should we be revisiting ‘ideals’ of slowness, artisanship, integrity of product – aspects of our lives hitherto relegated to the past: a place where quality was as much a matter of time as it was of talent, patience and slow but consistent and humane productivity levels.”
The slow clothes model could adopt from the slow food phenomenon which, according to Didier Chabrol who is the vice president of Slow Food France and president of Slow Food Languedoc, “does not defend any single food model, but promotes an attitude: the quest, through food, for awareness of pleasure.
“We believe that feeding ourselves is not the same as filling up our car with fuel. We know that our body is made up from the food we eat: we become what we eat. We know that eating is not just a physiological need: it is a cultural, social and political act, a way of relating to the world, becoming part of the environment and society.”
Adapted for the fashion industry, which also translates into being a cultural, social and political act, we could consider clothes that embrace artisan skills in unique, quality materials and are simply beautiful to wear. Clothes for the soul: they would not be considered disposable and sustainability would be an inherent feature.
Like in the slow food culture, a focus could be on organic resources, ecological considerate processes and design features that are unique to a locality. An alternative paradigm to a speed obsessed globalised world where natural resources are being neglected.
Could the slow clothes model survive in a system that celebrates quick response and reduced lead times? Excuse the pun but the slow clothes model could not be expected to ‘catch on quickly’.
Roslyn Guy in an article in Melbourne based newspaper The Age quotes Carl Honore a Canadian born journalist based in the UK whose book, In Praise of Slow – How a World-wide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, defines the slow movement as “a bit like a philosophical declaration that we think it’s OK to be slow.
Slow has been almost a taboo but this is quite jubilant. ...Slow is gradually overcoming its pejorative connotations. Where once it was associated with failure the current push is to redefine the word so that it inspires people to use their time well, to lead considered lives.”
As pondered by Stephen Kern: “How then can we subvert speed culture and its implications without, in the effort, spinning out of control ourselves, without being sucked into a deadline-ridden fight which subverts us back?”
Kern continues: “When I ponder this question, I try to focus on the reasons for, and rewards of, resisting a speed-ridden agenda and seeking a deeper, more connected consciousness. ...Like appreciating the complex processes of my garden.
Like the creative magic that happens with good friends over a good dinner. Like making slow love. Like a good quiet read. It’s not that these things will win any battles tomorrow, but if we spend time with them, and value them, they will sustain us.
And sustain life. And perhaps they will slowly wear away at the foundations of our frenzy. Because, in a speed-dependent society, the person who can choose her pace is free.”