Real Leaders

Would you Wear Sustainable Rather than Fashionable?

Why does the creative director of Abercrombie & Fitch insist that their unsold merchandise be burned when not sold? Why does a pair of shoes from Louis Vuitton cost more than your monthly rent? Why do high-end fashion brands not feel the need to sell themselves through television commercials? Simple answer. Elitism, style cultivation and brand recognition.

The three pillars of fashion philosophy in a nutshell. What these three pillars do not take into account, though, is the benefit of recreating what you already have, thereby creating scope to cut down on pricing because production would have cost a little less anyway.

Almost everything we purchase and everything we consume has undergone an extensive industrial process that most likely poses a threat to the environment. We do not always know which products pose more of a threat to the environment, though. It is difficult to not buy clothes at all – everyone needs clothes. Thrift stores have become a saving grace for the environment, but on a very small scale. If we were to think of thrift stores as part of the fashion industrial process it would be that materials and clothing are designed and then manufactured, placed on rails and shelves in the stores, bought by the first-wearer, sold or donated to a thrift store, bought by the second-wearer, who may or may not repeat the process. This process is not often considered by major fashion houses.

Big fashion houses design with a certain target audience in mind and as such align their price tags, marketing and geographical location with that market. We often see that in magazine editorials, Instagram accounts of fashion brands and at fashion events that what is being sold is not the actual apparel, but rather the lifestyle associated with that brand. Thus what ultimately sells the product is the opulent lifestyle envisioned by she/he who purchases the product. Such brands can afford to not reinvent/recreate their image for decades – the aim is very seldom to expand clientele, but rather not to lose their standard, elite market. This is why upcycling (recycling for aesthetic purposes) is a lesser heard of phenomenon in the luxury fashion industry.

We know that the old adage that “fashion goes out of fashion, but style is eternal,” has long been attributed to the pioneer of the women’s power suit, Coco Chanel. What this means is that certain garments are created for the purpose of being classics and not mere seasonal trends much like a whiskey connoisseur who does not buy pricey bottles of whiskey for the sake of getting inebriated off it, but rather to add to their decades’ long collection. This is why vintage Coco Chanel will always have a place in fashion. We see this fashion philosophy in the likes of one of the first luxury brands, Céline, which asserts that they design clothes, not fashion. According to Vogue Italia, this luxury brand has always maintained a simple, elegant, yet practical approach to all their collections.

A prime display of regeneration and recreation is Japanese designer, Issey Miyake. Not only known for his puny fragrance names, but for his simple, yet timeless and technologically advanced clothing collections. 

Issue Miyake is the most apt example of a designer who regenerates fashion to make it reach style classic status. Known for his innovation of permanent pleats and his A-POC (a piece of clothing) method, which entails cutting tubes of fabric into various shapes and sizes and is thus an exploration of the relationship between the body and the fabric. This is the reason his collections remain ogled by the fashion week front row mafia season after season. Miyake serves as testament to the fact that regeneration in the fashion industry is not a display of designers block, but rather a marriage of innovation and sustainability.

International retailer H&M is well-known for its sustainability efforts. Their annual Conscious Actions reports are what they pride themselves in. What this means is that H&M’s primary goals are to create merchandise that goes beyond just being stylish and actually has environmental and financial benefits. H&M CEO, Karl-Johan Perrson, highlights this as a principle of creating a better fashion future. Granted, H&M clientele do not necessarily purchase the clothing on environmentally conscious grounds, but simply for practical and sartorial reasons, but the fact that they have not lost their customers means that their do-gooder aims are being achieved in the long run.

The thing is, several retail outlets use synthetic fibres. Synthetic materials are cheaper to produce, hence retail outlets that sell their merchandise at low prices can afford to do so.

Not only do these synthetic materials pollute the environment, they are also a health hazard – dyeing and printing garments release harmful chemicals in the air which we unknowingly inhale. The textile industry is thus proving to be more detrimental to the environment than most other industrial practices.

The nature of retail outlets can be likened to that of a newsroom, whereas the nature of fashion houses are more like that of a magazine publication house. The former serves the purpose of reporting news as timeously as possible, but with the high possibility that people won’t be still be talking about the same news next month or even next week. The latter serves the mandate of creating something with more lasting aesthetic and informational value, created over a longer period of time.

This is why some people collect copies of Vogue more than others, it depends on what kind of information you value more. Bringing my thoughts back to retail outlets, we see that when they regenerate fashion (for sustainability purposes or otherwise) there is usually customer dissatisfaction, because the principle behind it is misunderstood. When designer regalia is regenerated, it is sartorially understood as fashion philosophy.

We all enjoy the ease at which we can shop at our favourite retail outlets at the mall and what we enjoy more is the fact that when the items we bought go out of fashion the same time next year, it is not that much of a dent to our bank balance anyway. So perhaps what is a little more rewarding about the regeneration of high-end fashion is that by virtue of some of the garments being classics, you do not need to make a purchase every season, therefore deeming the price tag well worth it. Thank you, Issey Miyake for opening our eyes to fashion with a conscious.


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