Fast Is Never Free

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Known to be a revolutionizing model for the ability of freedom that promotes artistic novelty while fulfilling function, fashion has certainly managed to establish some of those intents. In other ways, it has juxtaposed those intents and has functioned against its proposals. More specifically, what began as a utilitarian practice, morphed into an artistic manner of granting individual uniqueness in ones dressing, which then lead to a desire of constant newness and novelty in this need for personal styling.

The consequence: a revolutionizing counterpart that once intended to grant freedom further evolved into fast fashion, a mechanism that oppresses the condition of freedom. Still, this new phenomena cannot be analyzed without previous consideration of philosophy’s perception on the overall view of fashion. This analysis will reveal close associations between philosophy’s disappointed suppositions regarding fashion to the consequences of modern day fast fashion.

Ultimately, this paper analyzes the effects of fast fashion along with its freedom and its condemning the condition of freedom while merging the precedent philosophical perception of fashion as supported through Nickolas Pappas’s, Fashion Seen as Something Imitative and Foreign. Philosophy has established a resistance against fashion since its ancient origins regarding fashion’s intentions, functions, and societal consequences. How much more opposition would be held at seeing that fashion’s evolution has further supported that resistance?

Most definitely this would reinforce many attributed arguments made by philosophers who identify the conditions of fashion not as an acceptable practice of utilitarian art and design, but as a passive and empty condition of negatively acclimating man’s performances to wrong standards. Taking into account the origin of fashion’s means, one can no longer perceive this form of dressmaking through its precedent definition, for fashion is quick in its transformational evolution.

Consequently, this quickness is just as applicable to fashion’s development as it has transformed societal construction and with the help of advancing technology, can longer be analyzed as a singular industry without consideration of its context. In fact, its original practice has in many ways died and been forced to pave way to a modern phenomena that now consumes the garment world not only for the industry, but for the innovators and the consumers as well. This is in regards to fast fashion, a revolutionizing concept that has in too many ways altered the social agenda on garment wearing and fashion identity.

Empowered through its many modern attributes, fast fashion has redefined fashion as a whole and labeled it as a conglomerated industry that holds power in establishing or taking conditions of freedom within society. Further, fast fashion has taken the art and design out of fashion’s agenda and has now been converted into an industrialized machine concerned instead with a profiteering agenda. There once was a particular loyalty and respect to the garments that clothed the body. Special attention was given to attaining each piece, sensitivity held to its proper care, and consciousness in styling it according to personal preference.

Overall, the practice of dressing the body is ancient and now, simply practical. Fashion is an extroverted act that cannot be hidden but is constantly revealed to the eyes of the world. The exposure of the garment, the styling of how each garment coexists, and the appropriation of the context along with what is being worn is all part of a decision performed on a daily basis. In that case, it is argued that dressing is an individual choice though legendary fashion editor, Diana Vreeland mentions, “Fashion in the final analysis in a social contract.

It is a group agreement as to what the new ideal should be”. On more general terms, “A fashion object has some unique characteristics other than functional utility, including styling, aesthetics, ego gratification, etc. and is perceived to be newer, more novel, more aesthetic or even more attractive than other choices[…]”. By this definition, proper correspondence can be applied specifically towards the practice of fashion in garments since fashion itself is such an exposed mannerism.

Therefore, there is conscious intention when deciding how attire expresses one’s identity. However, what must be stressed is Vreeland’s notion of fashion as a “social contract”. Questioning who in society dictates this contract is imperative for fashion is a trillion-dollar, global industry that has great influence in our society’s construct. This number is but one, single indication as to how the industry has developed from what was once a conglomerate fashion industry into what is now a universal fast fashion industry. Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, Overdressed, studies this revolutionary change that promises conditions of freedom.

Still, she makes it very evident that fast fashion has consequences and too often, ignorance does not allow recognition of the harsh effects. Fast fashion is more than anything concerned with being a mass producer of current trends in garments with a priority of effectively delivering novelty product in as little lead time from sketch, to factory, and finally to consumers. As Cline states, “Fashion is obsolescence. Fashion is change”.

In fact that is a canonical characteristic of this industry for trend is temporal and replaceable with enticing novelty constantly being introduced. As Cline makes it a point, it used to be that fashion was divided into two categories per year. That is, designers presented a collection for the Spring/Summer season and once again for the Fall/Winter season upon which new product was released. In time however, those seasons remained effective in high end fashion where notable designer lead the trends. Now, fashion has completely evolved into fast fashion.

Fast fashion is a radical method of retailing that has broken away from seasonal selling and puts out new inventory constantly throughout the year”. Fast fashion is certainly a product of a globalized society that has permitted technology’s speed to expose trends and innovative styles. Though this is a modern phenomenon, it is essential to mention as Cline states, “The fashion industry relies on change. It always has”. In fact American designers for much of its early history paid close attention to the designs released by Parisians in hope of being the first to replicate them.

According to Susan Scafidi, a Fordham University law professor and founder of the Fashion Law Institute, the notion of fast fashion was in existence even prior to WWII when it was common to sneak into a French fashion show, quickly produce a sketch of the spectacle, and exit in effort to telegraph the sketch to a client. Just as well, it was common for Parisian designers to sell licensed copies of their designs to retailers in department stores for further production. Though fast fashion tendencies were around long ago, what has become a startling reality is the speed at which designs can be mass communicated.

Technology has allowed for instant release of images on the internet from detailed photographs to detailed videos that are instantly exposed during or immediately after fashion shows. In this phenomenon, what remains the same to modern day are those canonical designers who dictate the trends and style elements. Just as consumers are accustomed to receiving this immediate information, so are these designers accustomed to exposing their work through mass media. The consequence is a global spotlight of high fashion products made accessible within a mainstream society that aspires to capture those runway looks.

Fast fashion was initially seen through retailers such as the Gap who were known to excel in designing basic garments while offering reasonable prices. Gap’s method was to produce a simple t-shirt, for example, but pushed and encouraged the concept of owning that same product in multi colors specific to that season’s trend. Consequently, consumers wished to stay current in the seasonal colors and though essentially the same design, felt compelled to purchase accordingly. It wasn’t until later, in 1975, when Ornecio Ortega founded Zara, now headquartered in La Caruna, Spain.

Through effectively emulating the latest runway trends of the season, Zara is able to “design, produce, and deliver a garment and put it on display in any of its worldwide locations in two weeks”. It is astonishing that production advanced from an entire season of development to now in modern day production, a mere window of two weeks. Noting how successful this model has served, other companies are engaged in the same practice as Zara in order to present fast fashion to the masses.

Supported by a quickened production cycle, ample trends continue to evolve and replenish the few month old trends of the past. Thus, fed by constant novelty, one becomes susceptible to this marketing mannerism in effort to create individual, personal identity. Dress makes a statement regarding identity and concern is placed on being current and being accepted. That said, fast fashion is a condition of freedom that allows three essential prerogatives: Accessibility to current high fashion, a quickened time frame in obtaining the product, and the constant aura of newness of product.

Ultimately, it is the notion of accessibility that allows for fast fashion to be practical and prosperous. Today, the common citizen has considerable knowledge regarding the high end designers whether through referencing red carpet events, fashion magazines, web blogs, or marketing advertisements. Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Hermes, and Versace are now conventional brands featured in shows such as Gossip Girl or Sex and the City that prize the name of the brand and allure the average consumer to identify.

When we represent a brand, that representation is all about us—about what culture theorist Pierre Bourdieu calls our habitus—a set of values and attitudes determined by our own culture, which influences our practices”. Why this becomes so critical in relating this to fast fashion is humanity’s aspirational belongingness to a relative association within a group of elite status. In this case, fast fashion permits the freedom to dress in luxury brand labels as would a celebrity or a member of wealth while relieving stress of a shocking price tag.

Seeing as fast fashion grants the imitation of a luxury product at a low cost, garments become increasingly accessible leading to unconscious obsession to consume and likewise, develop an attachment to brands. Thus, a more intimate relationship is established with brands due to that accessibility. “One who uses […] luxury possessions for the purpose to maintain […] self-concept rather than as commodities will (probably) have higher emotional significance if she has higher attachment to these possessions”. With that attachment to brands is also an attachment to purchasing.

Consequently, the ease of obtaining these products due to reasonable price range, quick runway to consumer turn-around, and the convenience of store locations who carry these trends, further support consumers to purchase in fast fashion tendencies. The cycle of fast fashion would be weakened were it not for the psychological effects of newness and desire for novelty. These two concepts are highly valued by society. “Trends are quickly exhausted, giving the fashion industry yet another opportunity to come up with something else for us to buy and wear.

This cycle is speeding up, and more trends than ever now exist at any given moment”. To this, the life of a trend is very brief as is the life of the garment. “We’re rotating through entire paradigms of fashion now within a few seasons (boho, androgynous, hippie-chic, sailor-inspired), while we’re also seeing fashion within a single season change in almost capricious ways”. Once again, technology presents newness as being tangible and this encourages garment consumption.

As new trends and styles are presented, the consumer has full exposure to current colors, silhouettes, and fabrics through a 24/7 media world feeding through fashion blogs, celebrity exposure, runway and websites. Visual communication through marketing and branding support the cycle of innovation and thus grant consumers the condition of freedom to obtain and attain the fashion products as desired. What asserts freedom is the same which represses freedom. Fast fashion has indeed granted numerous means of convenient accessibility to a once privileged world of high fashion.

However, many of those means are juxtaposed by their contradicting paradigms and thus it must be stated that fast is never free. Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle would be in accordance with this statement for their concern regarding fashion, prior to the concept of fast fashion, was already a dilapidated topic. Philosophy as a whole rarely has anything to prize in the practice of apparel as art and design. In Nickolas Pappas’s Fashion Seen as Something Imitative and Foreign, he presents the philosophical perspective through the eyes of numerous philosophers and theorists.

Among these is Karen Hanson who in Pappas’s footnotes presents a critical question made by Hanson, “What could the dynamics of fashionable dress, with its peculiar blends of self-consciousness and social attentiveness, reveal about the metaphysics of personhood? ” Through this statement, she presents truth in identifying fashion as ‘blends of self-consciousness and social attentiveness’, which both terms coexist in order to express identity. Standards in dress create pressure for, “Fashion is publicly expressed. Everyone can see who’s out of step”.

In order to fulfill society’s expectations of what is current and aesthetically pleasing, the consumer is lead to shop, getting entangled in fast fashion’s vicious cycle of consumption. Pappas references Lars Svendsen who quotes that, “philosophers ignore fashion because fashion is ‘the most superficial of all phenomena’”. Later, “he equates fashion with a change in dress that is ‘sought for its own sake…[and] takes place relatively frequently’”. In supporting Svendsen, Pappas then continues, “The cyclical transformations of fashion evidently make it superficial and hence unfit for philosophical scrutiny”.

In fact this cyclical effect is not only what occurs within fashion but also is what drives the force behind fast fashion. To date, the industry has notoriously promoted the nation to hoard a rough twenty billion garments per year with the average American buying approximately sixty-four items of clothing per year, making it a relative one piece of clothing per week. What philosophers have so long disapproved about dress has now become an increasingly immense issue that threatens what many once considered a condition of freedom granted through fashion. Clearly, Plato and Aristotle would not be among the fashion hoarders.

The fashion industry has been labeled as shallow, guilty of temporal complacency. Pappas’s includes a footnote regarding Adorno’s lack of analysis upon the aesthetic theory of fashion as he states that designers, or, “[artists] pay tribute to fashion by instinctively dating their products’, as if datedness (newness and once-newness) were the essence of fashion”. The temporality of a trend reduces its respected value and exists only when considered new. “New fashions derive their value exactly by virtue of being new and not also for any other reason”. What is meant within these passages is fashion’s lack of virtue and value.

In reference to fast fashion, not only does the practice itself fall within these accusations but consumer’s perceptions also lack those ethics. While perhaps fashion was guilty of having a lack of rightful priorities for something other than fluid change, the consumers themselves had not yet been consumed by negligence. Today, that has vastly changed. Clothes have almost always been expensive, hard to come by, and highly valued; they have been used as alternate currency in many societies. Well into the twentieth century, clothes were pricey and precious enough that they were mended and cared for and reimagined countless times […].

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