For those of you who studied Spanish, not French, this post is called The Fashion of Consumers. I attended a fashion show this week held in downtown Portland, Oregon called Fashion’s Night Out. I’m not a devoted fan of the fashion industry, but initially I couldn’t resist the free cocktails, goodies, and food. This particular fashion show deviated from others I’ve attended given the show was open air and featured free pedicabs; although I opted for walking and being whisked between participating stores. An instigation of conflicting feelings and ideas began to consume me that were of much surprise. I had always committed myself to the belief that the fashion industry is a cultural, social, and economic space for the mass production of consumerism, a capitalistic playground, and a regression of female identity. Discussions and debates on the fashion industry rarely changed my mind even after attending fashion shows in Europe with friends in complimentary industries like film who invited me. Sure, I considered their ideas that the fashion industry aided individuals to discover a solidified sense of identity through the embodiment of fashion or that the industry offered consumers choices in identifying with these style of choice. However, as someone with a strong background in marketing and advertising, I could not be convinced.
However, there is something positive I realized while attending this particular fashion show. I always associated fashion in its entirety to be negative, but the expression and communication of fashion can actually have a positive influential impact on the economy, the consumer, and the construction of identity. There are 3 immediate issues which need to be addressed in order for this transformation to take place.
- The redistribution of production, including restructuring the labour market
- The re-conceptualization of the identity, through the re-branding and marketing of the fashion industry.
- Change the way the consumer interprets and relates to fashion, so that it induces feelings of psychological and physical well-being. Not a market for competition of bodies and an emphasis on the capitalization of the economic being.
Is it valid that the marketization of fashion offers consumers choices in style? Of course. However, those choices are economically structured. Certain brands and designs are ranked of higher quality which means a higher price. How is that assessed and/or qualified? It’s simply qualified through what the consumer desires. If there are people willing to pay a certain amount for this ‘art’ if you will, then the demand increases as does the economic value. It’s really a game of numbers. The socially elite, the focal group of fashion patrons are the ones who construct and define the fashion industry. Similarly, it’s the idea of the artist discovered – an artist is made through the recognition of the elite patron.
Fashion in itself is not oppressive or destructive, but the systematic processes behind it is. The belief that the fashion industry is ranked through a legitimate assessment of ‘high quality’ production is false. The industry primarily “relies on low-paid female, and often child labour, not only on a national but also a global level” (Joanne Hollows). The social and economic process is clearly more complex than what I have described, but I wanted to provide a general systematic idea. Not only are icons in the fashion industry representatives of eating disorders and invalid reproductions of gendered identities, but it advocates a hierarchy of styles through economic branding. Identity in this sense is an illusory concept. Our identities are not simply based on our style of choice, but the style of our earnings. That style of choice is essentialized and processed through an economical hierarchy, and the psychological alteration of the mass consumer through marketing, branding, and the misuse of identity.
Fashion can be enjoyable, stimulating, and part of a larger social phenomenon, but it needs to be re-configured to truly endorse a humanistic approach. Join me in producing this change by sharing this post on your social networking space!