Further On Fashion

Portfolio magazine on luxury fashion’s vague shrug towards responsible manufacturing practices.

In a January report, investment research firm Innovest’s list of the 100 most responsible corporations included no luxury conglomerates […] Innovest’s list, oddly, does include two leading retailers in the wasteful “fast fashion” movement—H&M and Inditex, which owns the Zara chain. It’s hard to be truly green with a business model that compels customers to frequently throw out what they own. Unfortunately, luxury fashion has begun taking cues from fast fashion, putting itself at odds with its exclusive nature. Whereas couturiers once made design statements as part of an ongoing evolution—creating new jackets that would go with last year’s dresses—fast fashion introduces clothes nonstop, zigzagging through multiple styles each season. Forced obsolescence drives consumers to buy more. This may sound like a shrewd business practice, but overproduction leads to overconsumption: The more we buy, the more we discard. That’s environmentally heedless—and it’s ugly.

For Portfolio, one of the key points here is that by chasing the throwaway fashion dollar, luxury fashion has been unwittingly degrading its own marketplace. A jacket that matches last season’s skirt implies a select clientele of repeat customers, picking out essential pieces season after season. The novelty-hungry trend seekers who rummage through H&M and Zara are, by their nature, not very loyal: they don’t have a relationship to the things they buy, and they don’t have a relationship to the places they buy them either.

Couture design and crafting can’t respond to the rapid turnover of street fashion. By inciting a furious desire for new beauty every season, the designer brands have summoned up a demand for copycats who can supply quick-turnaround product. Susan Scafidi’s solution to this problem is to espouse copyright protection for fashion designs – a proposal which, despite my sympathy for designers, seems neither very workable nor fair nor desirable. It doesn’t serve to change the self-immolating business model which Portfolio picks up on, either. Portfolio offers a different remedy which combines sustainability with exclusivity:

try to imagine a high-end fashion giant responding to our overtaxed environment by embracing traditional methods that are both more luxurious and less ephemeral. Now that would be a radical new design.

For domestic knitters and tailors, this isn’t that radical at all – if you are a competent needleworker, then you’re all set to be your own couturier. Luxury fashion is racing to catch up with your knitting bag…

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