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"Vanity fair" is a term often used in relation to fashion. It is not surprising, because the inherent mechanism of following fashion trends generates many “fashion victims”. Frequently, these “fashion victims” become the butt of internet memes, which are shared throughout the cyber space at the speed of light. Dr. Piotr Szaradowski, lecturer in Fashion Design at SWPS University's School of Form in Poznań answers some questions related to fashion. Are there any good sides to following fashion trends? Can fashion be a source of positive social change? What can consumers do impact positive change in fashion?

Blancing Between Trend Setting and Trend Following

Fashion slaves who blindly follow fashion trends have always been the butt of jokes and various forms of satire, such as caricature or snarky comments. Even the famous 19th century Polish epic poem “Pan Tadeusz” by Adam Mickiewicz includes a verse that is critical of fashion slaves:

“For Paris boasts frequent fashion changes of attire;
And what a Frenchmen devises, a Pole will admire.”

Those that blindly follow fashion trends are quickly labeled as “fashion victims”. Numerous internet memes that spread through the cyber space at the speed of light seem to prove that nowadays there are many undiscerning fashion followers.

Those who study fashion in the social context are also aware of this problem. As early as the 1900s, German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel wrote about the conflict between individuality and social norms. Conforming to social norms fulfills the need of social acceptance. Following in the footsteps of others, who have paved the way, makes people feel safe. At the same time, the need to stand out from the crowd is bubbling under the surface. It is important to maintain balance between the two. If you follow the trends too closely, you may become a fashion victim that lacks originality. On the other hand, if you are too fashion-forward, you may become an alienated and misunderstood individualist.

However, would fashion exist at all without its followers? Perhaps the enemies of fashion, who decry fashion trends, would like fashion to disappear? Unfortunately it is not that simple, because the concept of fashion is not limited only to clothes and the way people look like. The notion of fashion comprises more areas than one would expect at the first glance. There are fashionable cafes, artists, vacation destinations, etc. Moreover, repetition and mimicry are conducive to learning and they do not have to impede originality and the development of one’s own style. They key is to maintain a balance between trend setting and trend following.

Wystawa sklepowa

Photo: istock.com

Fashion Worth Following

An attempt to be reasonable in the world permeated by hyper-consumerism may seem very courageous. The amount of merchandise available on the market would be sufficient to meet the needs of consumers for many seasons. Besides, even if you try to be reasonable, the omnipresent advertising tells you that it is “reasonable” to buy more, because the more you buy, the more you save, in theory. But not everyone revels in consumerism. Moreover, many people, including celebrities from the world of fashion or the show business, have been very critical about the rampant buying of goods.

One of them is Livia Firth, the Founder and Creative Director of Eco Age Ltd., a brand consulting company that helps businesses create and implement sustainability solutions. In response to the Black Friday shopping extravaganza, Livia has been promoting a slogan “Block Friday” on her Instagram profile, to raise awareness of the issue.

As early as 2014, Vivienne Westwood, the rebellious designer of punk and new wave fashion was urging consumers to: “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” It sounds like a good advise to follow, doesn’t it? Exactly the same mechanism, which has been criticized before, may help to promote positive values in fashion. Especially that there is no shortage of negative phenomena related to the global fashion production.


Vivienne Westwood: "Buy less, choose well, make it last"| Photo: Flickr.com. License CC BY 2.0

Sustainable Fashion - Trend or Permanent Change?

Hyper consumerism poses a tough challenge. Currently, it is unlikely that it could be stopped, but we can attempt to curb it, although it will not be easy. However, there are some phenomena in the world of fashion that could be reduced and hopefully, eradicated all together, in the future.

One of the most controversial practices is the use of natural fur in fashion design. Renowned fashion houses, famous designers and companies are abandoning the use of this material. For the past several years, a British designer Stella McCartney, has been leading the fur-free trend and other designers, such as Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Hugo Boss have joined her in this practice. It seems that others will follow in their footsteps. The imitation leather materials, which could be used in shoe and accessories manufacturing, are becoming better and better.

There are also new technologies for recycling and reusing of plastic. For example, Adidas has been using waste plastic, fished from oceans, in the production of small collections of running shoes. Other long standing and acclaimed companies are also trying to keep up with the times. For instance, Levi Strauss & Co., makers of the Levi’s jeans, have been looking for new solutions to minimize the impact of their manufacturing process on the environment. The collection “Levi’s Water

Unfortunately, the fashion game is not only about the natural environment. The working conditions of the garment industry workers, especially those working in the third world sweatshops, are equally important. For some time now, the issue of labor standards in the fashion industry has been the front page news. Activists, celebrities and artists have been very vocal about the issue.

In 2017, four years after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory, in Bangladesh (1127 killed and over 2500 wounded), a Polish artist Igor Dobrowolski created a billboard campaign to bring attention to the problem. The campaign appeared in many Polish cities. The posters highlighted not only the horrible work conditions in the garment factories, but also showed that many of the sweatshop workers are children.

igor dobrowolski 1
igor dobrowolski 2
igor dobrowolski 3

H&M and Zara anti-ads in Warsaw | Photos: Igor Dobrowolski/Igor Dobrowolski Art

Can this type of advertising be successful in raising social awareness? Any process of change is a long-term endeavor, but the hard work should not discourage us from reaching consumers with the right message. Consumers, being the target of fashion designers and the last link in the fashion production chain, have the power to change the fashion industry through their choices. Therefore, it is so important to show examples of positive action, because these examples may spur the formation of good consumer habits. And a sustainable manufacturing and responsible buying trend would be worth following.


About the Author

258 piotr szradowski

Piotr Szaradowski, Ph.D. – lecturer in Fashion Design at SWPS University's School of Form. Co-author of exhibition scripts and curator of exhibitions focused on the 20th century fashion. Author of Francja elegancja. Z historii haute couture [French Chic: The History of Haute Couture] (2016). Curator of the fashion collection: www.muzealnemody.org.