Vogue Italia & i-D contributor, SAMIRA LAROUCI, dissects the future landscape of the fashion industry in this exclusive opinion piece.
As an industry marked and measured by its history of unbridled excess – hitting
a brick wall was inevitable. Fashion, in its very nature, has been shaped by its
innate ability to rebuild and reconfigure itself season after season, with its
excesses periodically signified by show schedules from New York to London,
which have grown from as little as two seasons per year to 11, and even 52
“micro-seasons” for some brands: cementing a model of overindulgence that
few—if any—brands could possibly keep up with.
Long before the emergence of Covid-19, the startling superfluity of fashion was
already being held under the microscope. Luxury houses from Gucci to Saint
Laurent merged their formerly gendered runway shows last year, and have both
since decided to opt out of ‘seasonal’ shows entirely. And rightfully so: according to a study conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme, the industry is responsible for over 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions alone, meaning that by 2030, the fashion industry’s greenhouse emissions will surge by 50 per cent. To put it simply, less really is becoming more.
The sheer pace that fashion became renowned for has also marked its downfall.
Before Covid-19 struck, not only was the average person buying 60 per cent
more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago (according to McKinsey), but
less than one per cent of those garments was ever recycled, meaning that every
second, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burned.
But as we continue navigating the murky waters of “living with” a pandemic, the
need for previously debatable, and at times novel, aspects of fashion like
sustainability, e-commerce, recycled fashion and seasonless collections has
accelerated – not merely as a marketing gimmick, but because the future of
fashion simply relies on it.
With intermittent global lockdowns, shrinking workforces, broken supply chains,
deserted high streets and shopping malls and travel restrictions put in place for
the near future; fashion is experiencing what The Business of Fashion CEO Imran Amed hailed “a real existential crisis”.
Pivoting away from the glittering notions of what constituted as luxury pre-
Covid (and the endless Instagram-fuelled micro-trends that perpetuated
society’s need to constantly ‘keep up’) we are now in the midst of a cultural and
ethical reawakening: a time when the signposts of our pre-Covid frivolity are but
a thing of the past. And a time when redundant novelty items of fast-fashion are
no longer coveted. We’re living in an age where a brand’s pedigree is now
measured by its values, its morals and its ability to quite simply make the world
a better place in one way or another.
According to the British Council, England’s £26 million fashion industry employs
over 800,000 people in the UK alone. With each day bringing a new
announcement of the industry’s biggest fashion houses and brands shutting up
shop – where does that leave the immeasurably influential independent brands
that help to shape the industry as a whole? In recent years, Instagram has offered a safe space for emerging designers, who would then eventually—and
hopefully—be picked up by larger multi-brand boutiques and stores across the
world. But with vast amounts of unsold seasonal stock and a frozen supply chain, the notion of simply putting out more stock that’s laden with invisible but
aesthetic expiry dates seems inherently off. That model simply doesn’t work
Solutions for fashion’s waste problem have been toyed with for many years. One of which was the birth of luxury clothing and accessories rental services like Rent the Runway or My Wardrobe HQ (who were both deemed to be forerunners of the movement, which was then estimated to be worth £2 billion by 2023 according to IBIS World). But in the midst of a global pandemic, questions of hygiene have once again—understandably—resurfaced. Another solution for overstock has long-been pegged to outlet shopping. A far cry from the dusty strip malls on the outskirts of Coachella Valley or even Florence and Bicester Village, in a world where seasonal fashion no longer exists, the way in which we consider out-of-season clothing must shift as well, meaning that the way in which we shop needs to fundamentally adapt to this.
With no vaccine in sight and lockdowns predicted throughout the next year, the
garments we gravitate towards will no longer be drawn from the hyperbole
surrounding them. In a cultural and ethical revolution, we will now be divorcing
ourselves from the imaginary binaries and boundaries of gender or season –
letting our clothing, as it always should have done, simply reflect our mood.
But despite the bleak, and oftentimes simply depressing, statistics we’ve had to digest over the course of the pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge that not all change is bad. Those at the helm of fashion have long-interwoven innumerable crises into the very fabric of the industry we know today, with their now-normal brand codes becoming a part of our everyday lives, redefining fashion in one way or another. As an example, World War I never stopped Gabrielle Chanel from creating couture. As a solution to more women needing to be at work and be out of their restrictive corsets, Chanel as a brand is what it is today because of the ingenious solutions laid out by Gabrielle herself. Namely the use of simple wearable cuts created from basic and bare materials such as jersey. And during the French occupation of World War II, Christian Dior sought refuge at his family’s house in Grasse in the south of France. Surrounded by nothing but rose and jasmine fields, Dior became inspired to create his first fragrance: Miss Dior – a now-highly profitable arm of the brand that turned over €6.8 billion in 2019 alone.
If this signifies anything, it’s that fashion’s inherent ability to serve as a prism
into our collective psyche, whether that be good or bad, is still potent and
interchangeable enough to continue to reflect our values in and out of a state of
crises. By addressing how our every clothing choice impacts and shapes the
world and community around us, we can collectively work towards rebuilding
the stronger ethical and physical landscapes we’ll need to have when we come
out of this.
WORDS BY SAMIRA LAROUCI