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The speed of fashion and the ever-changing identity

I overheard a conversation the other day, two students were discussing what they envision their Fall fashion look will be for the upcoming F/W20 season. “I may do tonals and corduroy, what do you think?” This made me pause. Recreating your identity every season must be exhausting and expensive, not just on your wallet (or your parents), but on the environment as well.

I have been questioning why we wear, buy, and our clothes and discard and what the impact that has on the plant, people and it’s pals. This thinking has led me to the topic of my M.A. Design for Sustainability final project. Over the next few weeks I will be studying fashion culture and the systems of social roles in consumer behavior identity, usage and disposal patterns. My goal is to work toward a solution that will reduce our wasteful habits of clothing use while mending connection loss within our communities.

Fashion is an example of a hybrid phenomenon. A very complex interconnected system weaving economics, art, commerce, creativity, banality, psychology, material, society and culture all together. Today’s consumer is becoming more self-aware and are speaking up on social media platforms about social and environmental concerns. These moral concerns are now adding confusion to the already complex dynamic of fashion.

Sustainability in fashion is trending, seeming to be the talk of the town this year. Late to follow the universal climate crisis up-rise and social movements, global fashion retail companies are publicly recognizing issues of the industry and are signing up to agreements, and future goals to improve the impact of offered garments. With policy makers and influences, like UN launching at Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, the industry is being pressured toward change for a better future.

With all this talk for the industry, it is important for customers see action. Company transparency can give the public access of the progress companies are making towards sustainability in their production and sourcing. Without progress reports, such as the Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report by Global Fashion Agendas, or proper certification, I am concerned that the sustainability trend is just another way of selling more goods, dressed up in natural textiles and earthy shades. Packaged in a green plastic bag, with a recycling logo printed next to the branding, the customer is buying into the moral trap of consumerism. A prime example of greenwashing.

Consumers are still being influenced by reputation and their public image, maybe now more than ever with the public eye of social media. If we were actually to put our money where our ‘vegan-friendly’ mouths are, we would buy less in turn having a smaller impact. But fashion allows the individual to change and recreate their identity, at a very fast pace. Your clothing can become a communication tool to showcase power, culture and religion. It is a social cue of what the person identifies with, where they seek belonging, what they reject or what acknowledgement are they pursuing.

How can these social needs and patterns be leveraged to lead consumers to consider their buying choices for a sustainable future?

The ever changing characteristic of fashion is discussed as a contribution to the current system of society, with The Pace Layers. Formulated by Stewart Brand, the concept outlines the rate of change in each dimension of society experiences. The Pace Layer model is a guide to society’s rate of change captured as movement.

With fashion moving at the fastest rate, it is always innovative and recreating. Nature being the slowest changing dimension in society, offers stability and a counter pull to balance out the faster moving changes in society.

Keeping this Pace Layer Thinking in mind, I plan to focus on balancing feedback loops in the fashion system. That will not take away from the essence of fashion’s innovation and identity related expression, but reintroduce the existing or old, back into the cycle to slow down the pace of destruction.

Within the fashion system, there is slower pace movements already excising with individual and groups swimming upstream and changing the predictable consumer behavior know in the industry.

Secondhand clothing and thrift store shoppers. They are willing to put in more effort for one special piece that can easily be replaced for the same price at fast fashion outlets. The difference is the piece has a story, and is not mass produced, which offers the customer the feeling of being unique when wearing it and not follow the buzz of looking like everyone else. This consumer is not isolated from trend, in fact they are most probably looking for special items of clothing that authentically follows trends. The real highwaisted Levi’s jeans, from the 80’s, having years of wear and tear on them.

Other initiatives and companies are offering sharing and reselling service platforms of garment, allowing consumers to keep up with the ever-changing trends, without having to buy new. Rent-a-Runway, is an example where you can now rent or lease clothing pieces without dealing with the full closet or the full price. You can rent once-off or buy a membership with access to a certain amount of pieces per month. The shared economy movement is becoming more popular and is a wonderful alternative to looking stylish into the future.

Fashion can be a fast and slow facet in life. Fashion is rapidly generating novelty with commerce following the pace by blindly consuming the offering. I believe if we slow down for a second and consider our buying power, we can move towards an industry suited for us. If local industries are only offering locally produced items, we have the ability to be unified by geographic boundaries that service local agriculture and provides climate appropriate apparel. Community involvement can share, swap, fix or update garments to create a sense of belonging and connection, and still express their unique identity.

Fashion Sustainability Behavior Change Systems Thinking Pace Layers

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