Fast Fashion Isn’t the Problem
A recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Abby Hollis (B.FA., fibers, 2020) is an advocate for meaningful sustainability and intentional systems design. Through the lens of fashion, she explores supply chain innovation, product design, and consumer behavior change. She’s currently a product development manager at Sequoyah Collective and founder of Thread Threads, a digital archive of tactile human experience.
Fashion has always been designed to exclude. Fast fashion, or “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends,” isn’t the problem. In fact, fast fashion was an answer to the people’s cry for inclusion.
With the onset of the Neolithic period (approximately 12,000 before the opening of the first H&M or Gap) came an emphasis on material wealth. Cloth quickly became a wearable status symbol, and continues to do so today.
The tradition of fashion as a status symbol transcends borders and time periods, due in large to its ability to prevent class mobility under the guise of art. The impact of exclusivity in the fashion industry extends to social perception, economic mobility, and self-confidence.
Fashion’s Impact on Social Perception
The way we dress affects the way we interact with others. Kim Zoller, founder and president of Image Dynamics, notes that “Dressing is something you can control, and people realize that.” What we often fail to acknowledge is that some of us have more control than others. Psychoanalysts define projective identification as “the process by which the subconscious mind projects positive or negative traits onto external objects.” Projective identification, coupled with an intentionally exclusive fashion culture, means we demand people buy and wear certain things in order to be valued as a human being.
Fashion’s Impact on Economic Mobility
Projective identification, amplified by the fashion industry, prevents economic mobility. Consider the common phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This is really just a nuanced way of saying, “You gotta have money to make money.”
According to a study by professor of psychology Frank Bernieri, interviewers decide whether or not you’re right for the job within the first 10 seconds of meeting you. According to Dstillery, the highest indexing websites for fast fashion shoppers are collegeboard.org and jobs.net. This shows that the individuals turning to fast fashion are likely doing so out of necessity in order to progress in their career.
Fashion’s Impact on Self-Confidence and Performance
Aside from the many interpersonal effects of fashion, there are also intrapersonal effects. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in August 2015 proved that those who changed into formal business attire performed better on cognitive tests than those who changed into casual clothing. The report asserted the formal business attire gave subjects a feeling of power which promoted abstract thinking. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General in December 2014, male subjects who changed into suits had higher testosterone levels and greater success in a game involving negotiations than those who changed into sweats.
When the impact of what we wear is so great, it is no wonder that we as a society sacrificed so much — our air and water quality, our forests, the lives of garment workers — for a taste of the latest trends.
Fast fashion transformed a culture of exclusivity. For the first time in history, the masses have access to the styles flaunted by society’s elite. Fast fashion has lowered the barrier of entry to the fashion conversation, thus lowering the barrier of entry to social circles, economic mobility, and peak performance.
In designing the future of fashion, those concerned with sustainability often peg fast fashion as the enemy, due to its detrimental environmental and social impacts. Although these issues demand attention, looking at fast fashion as the primary enemy is misapprehending the problem. We should recognize the root cultural issues related to fashion and assess both the pros and the cons of our current fashion system. In designing the future of fashion, we must not step back from inclusivity.
By Abby Hollis