A colourful fashion blog supporting independents & sustainable fashion in Bristol and beyond since 2011

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

The death of fashion....as we know it

Pioneering fashion designer Vivienne Westwood - Photograph by Justin Sutcliffe

What is a fashion designer?

"a person who designs high-fashion clothing."

Fashion has always been about the latest trends or the next big thing..... then we got greedy.

The more that was on offer, the more we wanted until we ended up where we are now. Up to our necks in fast fashion waste!

Until about 10 years ago, it was all about following the corporate fashion designers seasonal trends. This was a big enough problem as we were encouraged to update our wardrobes to meet the current seasons colours, shapes and must have items.

Now, we now have mid season and pre-collections with some brands dropping weekly limited edition pieces at extortionate prices. This in turn influences the high street and the smaller brands.

Every day the high street fills itself up with more fast fashion products competing with online stores to have the latest items available, (often the same sort of turfed out fast fashion is seen from shop to shop), all made super quickly and sold mega cheap, on a buy now and throw away later ethos! It is complete madness!

Shocking fast Fashion waste - istock image/justhavealook

How can supporting independent designers help slow fashion?

Despite the big, and rightly so, fast fashion backlash, we should still all be free to create.
There should be no stigma attached to somebody wanting to become a fashion designer or run their own fashion brand.

Most independent fashion designers and makers are not in it to make lots of money. They want to create and aspire to be able to become successful enough to start up their own small business, instead of working the 9 to 5, only creating in their spare time.

Independent fashion designers and makers work super hard to achieve their ambitions with a passion to create beautiful things!

An independent designer will make small capsule collections, often by hand, collections of limited editions on a tiny scale, reducing the amount of waste used and if you buy independent, you are supporting slow fashion too!

There are many amazing independent fashion designers and makers out there but we also have the independent brands, which is slightly different and could be seen as a problem.

The extremely hardworking , Bristol fashion designer Joh Rindom from independent streetwear brand & shop - That Thing  who also support other sustainable & independent UK Brands. 

What is a brand?

"a product or item made by a famous maker or manufacturer, as opposed to by a generic manufacturer."

The name brand is thrown around and used quite differently nowadays, it's not about making it in the fashion world until you have a recognisable logo.

The word brand can be used if you are creating a range of products, often starting with a logo or signature motif, whether you are a collective of designers or a single designer. Sometimes fashion design doesn't even come into it and it's all about the graphical content.

The worrying thing is that many independent fashion brands are influenced by the big corporates, with a drive to be very successful, even famous. Is it such a great thing to aspire to being just like the fast fashion corporate brands? Everyone is influenced by something right? It's a fine line....

There are many new brands that go straight for the marketing angle, creativity barely comes into it and a background in business is the top priority. By designing basic logos and graphics, many of these forward-thinking brands print them onto ready made tshirts and streetwear items.

They have already considered their marketing plan before designing a single product. Sharing images of bright young things and influencers wearing their (often quite basic) collection of products, promoting themselves on Instagram or Depop as the next big thing.

Many of these brands have an entrepreneurial focus, they haven't come from fashion school and neither do they have a degree in graphic design, they've just decided to do it.

As a fashion journalist, I see so much of this and I often think to myself, but where's the creativity?

You'd have to agree their aspiration (to conquer the fast fashion world!) isn't quite where it should be but they have considered their marketing strategies, it's impressive. In comparison, I've seen amazingly creative and unique designers fall flat as they just haven't considered any marketing plan at all, which means that not enough consumers are getting to see their amazing creations!

There is still some work needed to convince the new independent fashion brands to consider using more sustainable and slow fashion alternatives but at least they've tried to go out there and create something for themselves.

Cat Jameson from sustainable raincape business Carny Valley

There is no harm in starting up a new fashion brand if you are producing a slow fashion product, on small runs. I would support an independent brand over a fast fashion corporate any day!

The only problem is there are so many new brands starting all the time, with Instagram and Depop having a big influence. These days if you are pretty savvy on social media you could end up making a living out of it. This is the dream...

However, this is very different from the way an independent fashion designer works.

Looking at this practically and not strategically, a fashion brand is likely to print and embroider onto ready made sourced items like t-shirts and sweatshirts, they will have a logo and basic graphics and after choosing colourways and print placements, they use their amazing marketing skills to sell their products.

A fashion designer creates their own garments from scratch and often hand makes a whole collection using a selection of fabrics. They are very hands on and understand how to construct a garment and make limited small runs of each collection, with a few one off pieces added ad-hoc. The marketing side often comes in second place but is still extra work on top of all that making and creating. 

A fairly new term that has made it onto the fashion circuit is Cut and Sew. Often used by a brand that has started experimenting with creating their own garments and patterns, bringing a bit more personality and variation, even more creativity into their collections. Again, a Cut and Sew brand will probably still get these ranges made up for them after the initial sample patterns are decided.

Lulu Harrison from Balulu in Bristol upcycles fun garments from vintage Indian bedsheets

There is no right or wrong here...

After establishing what type or designer or brand you are, the big main focus needs to be to make sure you are not contributing to fast fashion. This is a hard one to swallow as anyone creating more fashion products is instantly contributing to the over-flowing fashion mess.

Even if you are the most sustainable and ethical t-shirt brand out there, that's one more t-shirt being created and put out. How can we justify this?

We can't as such, but we can change the mind of the consumers themselves and this is where all independent fashion designers and brands need to start.

Fashion doesn't need to stop, it needs to change. We still need clothes and sometimes we need to buy new clothes!

Helen Brown (left) from Kecks Clothing & No Debutante at a fashion salvage event at BTR in 2015 - Image courtesy of BTR

If you are a fashion brand, don't aim to be the next big thing, by mass producing and contributing to fast fashion, slow things down! Make sure your products are good quality and are built to last. Use ethically and sustainably made t-shirts, print very small, slow fashion runs, promote sustainability and slow fashion.

Too often I have seen a new brand get up to 100 t-shirts printed up only to sell about 10 of them, often to friends. I dread to think what happened to the rest! Start small....

If you are an ethical fashion brand, you have already considered most of the above (well done you!) but make sure your print designs are interesting and unique, as printing a logo onto a sustainably made t-shirt isn't really that much better than fast fashion, you are not contributing anything new.

It is a great thing that you are supporting sustainable and ethical fashion but don't wear it as a badge. Keeping things creative and fresh is key.

A selection of independent Bristol designers and brands at The Island Christmas shop 2018

If you are reading this as a consumer consider the following....

Support slow fashion. Support sustainable. Support independent. Support local.

Watch this space to read my next blog post to find out more on how to be more sustainable as both a designer, a brand and a consumer! 

Read more:  How I became a slow fashion blogger 

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