A challenge for fashion

I saw a kid getting off the bus the other day. Dangling from his Dakine backpack, probably a few weeks old, was the tag. Still shining on the beak of his hat was the sticker. The latter is nothing new, but the former made me realize something important is happening: fashion is not about having things anymore. It’s about buying.

How’s it really made?

The episode of “How it’s made,” the upbeat language-portable Discovery Channel show that always bothered me most was the one about hot dogs. Not because it shows me that delicious hot dogs are actually homogenized ears and feet, but because it doesn’t; the first shot of actual meat is a completely unrecognizable mash of bits left over from the slaughtering process.

The disturbing thing about this, for me, isn’t necessarily moral but editorial: the boxes of “meat” dumped into those grinders are not a raw ingredient but the end of a supply chain. The cows, pigs, rats, octopuses, whatever, that go into hot dogs are raised in the real world. Just like the spices and fillers, the meat comes off of actual land. A kilogram of beef, for example, takes 13 kilograms of grain and 30 kilos of forage. It takes land. It takes water (tons of it). It takes fossil fuels on the order of 40 units of energy input to 1 unit of energy output. These inputs are really “how it’s made” – not mixing some grey-looking beef entrails with salt and pepper.

Why the digression into hot dogs and beef? Thought we were talking about fashion? I’m getting there.

What “How it’s made” misses is the fact that the things we buy don’t come from factories. The idea of the show is to bring us a step back from the retail outlet and look at what goes into what we buy. But it doesn’t take it far enough back to remind us that these raw ingredients – rubber, meat, rubbermeat, iron, sugar, come from the earth. And for the most part, those ingredients or the things that were used up along the way, such as clean water or fossil fuels, aren’t coming back.

The trouble with fashion

To quickly shift gears into the cliché: we have more than a few problems bearing down on us in the not-too-distant future. Most of them are directly related to an economy based on infinite exponential growth and its marketplace cousin, consumerism.

And that’s why glorifying “buying” is so inherently scary. When a kid feels like leaving the tag on his backpack is necessary to make it seem like he bought it recently, what happens when the bag gets old – not worn, but just old? What happens if the tag falls off? Does he buy another bag? When he doesn’t connect what hangs on the wall of the store to anything more problematic than its price tag, why shouldn’t he?

I’d like to issue a challenge to my fashion-industry friends. Your industry is, while certainly not the most damaging, unarguably one of the most shameless promoters of consumerism. Nobody needs a new pair of jeans every three months, sixteen pairs of shoes, or a dress for that one special occasion. And diamonds are stupid.

How are you going to design and influence fashion that is about wearing, creating, influencing, or seeing, and not just about buying?

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