In the last of this 4 part series, undercover industry writer, Louise Lagosi address the history of fashion marketing, the strategies used to build the perfect consumer while covering up poor quality, and how those tactics have effected us as a society. We also look at how the fashion industry and marketing is changing with the times to keep up with an evolving society of people.
If you read the first three parts of this series, you might be in the mood to avoid the media, shut off your TV, stop shopping, and just give up on fashion. But, other than offering you peace of mind, what would that accomplish? As easy as it is to point fingers, the leaders of the fashion industry are not the only ones responsible for the state of fashion. Society as a whole bought what was being sold without stopping as individuals to question the motives behind the advertisement or wondering if our “consumer” habits were good for us, our neighbors, or the planet.
Unless you want to go back to wearing burlap bags, and go Medieval, we all need something to adorn our bodies. And let’s face it, beautiful clothes, beautiful anything for that matter, really does make life more joyful. That said, nothing can be beautiful if it has a dirty, rotten underbelly it’s hiding. So let’s just get to the core of this thing.
Now that the phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally” has been imprinted on our brains, we all know that shopping with small mom and pops stores, as well as supporting local designers and supply chains is the best thing we can do for our immediate environment, but how can we be effective on a global level? Have you read any articles, or signed any petitions requesting that corporations clean up their acts? Written to your government representative asking for higher international labor standards lately? Not sure who your representatives are? Well, it’s pretty easy to find out. In this age of information sharing with a little due diligence and research it’s becoming increasingly easier to figure out who’s doing business right, and who’s doing business wrong. And it’s even easier to find a petition or even to start a petition asking companies and the government to do business responsibly.
It has become more and more common to share our opinions and knowledge of this kind freely among our friends and associates, on Facebook, Twitter, and various social media sources. As a favor for your sharing the information, they in turn go on and share it with their friends and pretty soon the news has gone viral. Some of your conversations on Facebook might look something like this:
“I think I’ll opt for a nice neutral, beige from now on, thanks.”
“I stopped shopping at Forever 21 after my last purchase from there smelled like magic markers and fell apart in the first wash. But I do buy clothes from the local designers in my own town.“
“Why does Disney still carry polyester jammies for kids coated in fire-retardants? Didn’t they get the memo that it’s been repeatedly proven that both the synthetic fibers in clothing and formaldehyde based fire-retardants are carcinogenic, cancer causing, hormone disrupting, and/or can cause damage to our nervous systems?!
“I wouldn’t know, I avoid both synthetics and Disney like the plague.“
“Did you hear that Victoria’s Secret were caught slashing and throwing away garments that were returned because donating them to charity was too much of a hassle to organize?”
“I wouldn’t wear Victoria Secret, even if it were free. Let’s just say that I don’t know a single 16 year old whose boobs naturally sit directly under her chin, so why, at any age, should mine?”
Whether or not these conversations in social media and on the street actually sway the decisions of those in power to create a change in the industry, for us to be aware enough about these issues that we feel a little whistle blowing is in order can make us better, more informed, people.
Word gets around fast in this Internet Age and in no time at all, Walmart has a publicity crisis for abusing their laborers, and the Gap is making public apologies for promoting red,white, & blue flag waving products that are made in China. H&M and Nike claim they too are doing their parts, all while receiving raised eyebrows from the sustainable community, for making lofty corporate responsibility initiatives mandated for 2020 that promise unprecedented standards with little or no suggestions on how they might go about doing so. Perhaps H&M & Nike could borrow from their multibillion dollar marketing budgets to fund reaching their 2020 goals.
Are initiatives enough? Hardly, but when you’re a company that’s big enough to consume one third of the planets organic cotton supply, even a small initiative, like H&M’s organic cotton initiative can keep large amounts of fertilizer and herbicide from going into our water, provided it’s an honest effort. “Good” is questionable when you take into account that their organic cotton is not all that organic after all.
Recent New York City H&M window
With their greenwashing marketing efforts these companies still do not get the green light for sustainable shopping. In the same way we shop for food, if we can’t find clear and certifiable labeling on the product, many of us are not buying it. Some consumers are even going so far as avoiding stores with bad track records altogether, regardless of their “eco” initiatives.
In 2009, The Hartman Group’s report, titled Sustainablity: the Rise in Consumer Responsibility stated that 88% of consumers engage in what they consider to be sustainable behavior. Are people hearing concerns about water contamination or global warming and choosing to cut back where they can to help? Are fast fashion fans growing annoyed that their clothes fall apart after a couple washes when the hand-me-downs from their mother’s wardrobe seem to last forever? Have people suddenly realized that they have enough stuff in their closets that they could probably go for years without shopping and still maintain appearances?
Author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline, describes the pivotal moment in her consumer mindset, “When I piled up all of my clothes in the middle of my bedroom, I was astonished that there wasn’t much variety within the mound of poorly made clothing. It was mostly all one color, and I had bought more or less the same few items over and over again. I wasn’t using most of it, and most of it was cheep crap that I didn’t even like very much. Overall, I was unsatisfied with what was in there.”
She explains the transformation that occurred in that moment of realization, “It made me more mindful. I shop my own closet now. I have stopped buying repeat garments. I don’t crave having a million tops. That doesn’t really interest me anymore. I want one or two good garments for each category to make complete outfits within my wardrobe. I want to save my money to buy really nice items to fill in the holes.”
Signs of Change in Mainstream Fashion Media
CFDA Leader, Diane Von Furstenburg, and American Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, recently released that they support encouraging a cleaner Fashion Industry through an initiative presented by the NRDC called Clean By Design. We’re still waiting to see how they do clean up, but they have taken the first step, which is openly acknowledging the elephant in the room. This is nothing short of a miracle.
Fashion Labels Evolving With the Times
This privately owned company has always taken a holistic approach to designing clothing. The brand carefully chooses fibers for their sustainable, community based, growing methods, natural content, longevity, and feel. They work with collectives and factories around the world that pay fair-trade wages. They design clothes that are timeless and that do not relate to any trends, allowing the clothes to survive as long as their high quality materials do. And through their recent initiatives like Ampersand, they have been educating their customers on why choosing their products supports a sustainable environment here on earth for everyone involved.
Patagonia also keeps their marketing to a minimum, but when they do promote something, the message is unusual for a clothing company. They promote clean water initiatives, such as Our Common Waters, in their recent Common Threads Initiative, they tell people to stop buying more than they need. They also provide transparency in their supply chain like in The Footprint Chronicles, with this interactive map on their site showing exactly where their factories are located with stats, reports, and a brief on Patagonia’s history with each one. This brand ultimately puts their dollars in recycled materials innovations, such as polar fleece made of recycled bottles, and maintaining factory standards, so they can provide more responsible products to their customers.
Timberland is a brand that is committed to the outdoors. Which is why they have made developed TIMBERLAND RESPONSIBILITY, their plan for significantly reducing their companies emissions through the research, evaluation, and investment in company structures that will allow them to run cleaner and produce products that have a smaller impact on the earth. The company reports are transparent and available to the public on their home site, grading their efforts and describing all the methods used to achieve their challenging goals to reduce their company wide climate impact.
Levi’s has been doing business with the goal of striving towards sustainability and excellence for over 100 years now. They give cash credits to customers who return their old Levi’s in for their denim recycling programs and they have been working on increasingly finding ways to reducing their water use in their denim production processes. Are they singing about their exceptional practices in their ad campaigns to help better educate their customers? Let’s just say this is one of the places where they still have room to improve.
This nearly 150 year old American company produces much of it’s premium products, from fibers grown, spun, dyed, and woven in America. They keep marketing to a minimum and keep their funding aimed at doing business responsibly and offering the best quality products possible to the customers they serve. Their product’s are so beautifully made, by that they end up heirlooms in most of the fortunate homes that they grace.
Change is indeed happening all around, but most of all it starts with each one of us. We have to make up our own minds. What type of consumers are we?