Fashion influences most aspects of our 21st century world. Predicated on our need to clothe ourselves, it demonstrates our yearning to wear garments reflecting individuality and our need for beauty, adornment and creativity. We are prepared to pay more for clothing or an accessory which makes us feel more beautiful, intelligent and successful. Fashion sells us a dream.
Recognising this, many countries, businesses and entrepreneurs want to capitalise on its benefits. The result is an industry with a capacity to influence the economic, creative and cultural sectors of society world-wide.
Nations, whether developed or developing, understand and want to support the growth of fashion. They see an industry which has driven many industrial developments; from the spinning jenny to the latest applications of technology. Globally, it is worth over a trillion dollars. The second largest business in terms of economic activity, and employs some 26 million people. Countries trying to develop their economies recognise that fashion can establish a baseline for labour workforce skills effectively, leading to improved economic activity and ultimately a more skilled workforce and developed economy. They recognise that a fashion week gives a nation or city a sense of culture, of having arrived, of being part of the 21st century. Fashion is a vital part of our contemporary life.
Yet fashion is full of contradictions. While inclusive due to people using style to enhance how the world sees them; it creates exclusivity being driven by the ideas and creativity of a few key influential designers, stylists, journalists, retailers, entrepreneurs and celebrities keen to preserve fashion’s reputation for luxury, and being part of an in crowd. It is forward thinking, driving many technological developments, yet backwards in its failure to address resource depletion and human rights for safe employment and a fair wage. Over recent years fashion has been democratised through global production; mass consumerism; reduced prices and the falling influence of couturiers and an elite declaring the latest fashion – while youth, street fashion and the media allows many to dictate and create trends.
Yes, fashion matters but the democratisation of fashion needs to go further. It must address the needs of an ageing population and those with a disability. Issues need to be tackled like body image, misogyny and the effects of rampant consumerism on the world’s shrinking resources. To understand why fashion matters to us and why we love it and how we use it to construct our futures, the negative effects must be recognised.
An exerpt from Why Fashion Matters by Frances Corner published by Thames and Hudson in April 2014.