Next Gen: Do We Really Love Fashion?

By Jesse Boga Madriaga

Next Gen Assembly member Jesse reflects on our existing consumption-centered relationship with fashion and questions the idea of love that’s present in it

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This article is a contribution from Next Gen Assembly 2023 Member, Jesse Boga Madriaga.

Do we really love fashion?

 

If we love fashion, why do we throw away so many clothes?

If we love fashion, why is love sometimes left absent upstream in the value chain where garment workers tirelessly make our clothes and at times face unfair or hostile work conditions?

If we love fashion, why do our clothes keep harming the environment and depleting our shared natural resources?

On any given day, we find it easy to say that we love fashion. We express it through keeping abreast with trends, scrolling endless feeds for style inspirations, filling our shopping carts, and over time building an extensive wardrobe.

It is easy to find the love for fashion to be so harmless. This is evident in the lighthearted ‘fashion dilemmas,’ often depicted in Hollywood media, that have normalised overconsumption. A familiar scene that comes to mind is the one where the main character expresses frustration at not having anything to wear despite having a cluttered wardrobe at capacity.

With the prominence of these narratives, along with the endless push of consumption messages, it takes a long time for us to understand the true crisis that we face: the one that concerns the detriment of the environment and the adversities faced by the people that make up the fashion industry.

It’s complicated

 

The human brain is wired to ‘love’ the current fashion system that is all about the new and the trending. In her book The Psychology of Fashion, behavioural psychologist Carolyn Mair said that our brains do not pay attention to the ordinary – they instead focus on the new and unfamiliar. Marketers often take advantage of this by constantly churning out fashion messages that evoke a sense of urgency, hence influencing us to buy.

A popular way that brands engage consumers is by exploiting our tendency to feel left out. The internet refers to this as ‘FOMO’ or ‘the fear of missing out’. This trigger creates a sense of attraction to new items on the shelf and fuels the pace of typical fast fashion cycles. Scarcity marketing tactics that make clothing appear to be limited in quantity also add to this.

True love

 

The relationship that we have with the clothes that we already own is worth noting when we talk about ‘true love’ for fashion.

Fashion Revolution Co-Founder, Orsola de Castro, maintains that “The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.” She further explores this message in her book Loved Clothes Last, which is also a Fashion Revolution campaign message that seeks to address waste and consumption. It calls on citizens to buy less, care, repair, and rewear clothes. The kind of love for clothes being referred to by de Castro is meaningful and transcends materiality, a kind of relationship that supports human life. It is worlds apart from the ‘love’ often expressed through shopping or amassing goods and clothing.

Fashion Critic and Author, Alec Leach, unpacks the give and take involved in our relationship with fashion. In his book The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes, Leach draws inspiration from blogger David Cain who believes that every piece of clothing is a relationship that we get ourselves into, and it makes sense to consider what relationships we maintain with each piece that we own. “You want to be sure the product you’ve bought into your life gives you more than it takes,” Leach wrote in this book. His example centres around how a typical band shirt grew to become a part of his life. But a fancy pair of luxury loafers? Not so much.

Fashion Psychologist, Shakaila Forbes-Bell, poignantly portrayed our relationships with clothing when she said that “Clothes are like memory banks, they constitute a powerful tool that can trigger nostalgia which in turn breeds happiness and lifts your mood.” She recommends cherishing a piece of clothing longer if it brings you back to better days.

Communication also plays an important role in the way that fashion makes us feel. The United Nations Environment Programme’s Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook provides recommendations for brands to veer from the kind of messaging that suggests consumption is a key to fulfil psychological needs. Having ‘retail therapy’ as a form of self-care or treating yourself to a ‘must-have’ are just some of the consumption messages in question.

Love throughout the fashion system

 

How else can we express true love for fashion? Apart from personal habits such as making mindful purchases and caring for clothes to make them last, it is enriching to visualise love beyond our wardrobe. We can support policies or replicate existing sustainability practices being done by communities around the world.

In Southeast Asia, for example, the love for fashion is associated with a strong sense of cultural identity.

In Laos, the Lao sinh, the traditional Lao skirt, is an everyday staple at work and school.

In Vietnam, men and women take strong pride in wearing the ao dai during special days at work and school. During Spring and Fall, it is common to pass by parks, streets, and lakes and see Vietnamese people holding photoshoots wearing their national dress.

In the Philippines, the love for fashion thrives in vibrant creative communities which trickles down into sustainability efforts outside the commercial spotlight. Every January, the Philippine Tropical Fabrics month is observed, the state’s effort to engage industry participation in the use of natural fibres and Philippine tropical fabrics like abaca, banana, pineapple, and silk that are processed in the country.

This is rooted in another policy that prescribes the use of tropical fabrics in office uniforms: Republic Act 9242 or the Philippine Tropical Fabrics law, a specific set of guidelines meant to support local textile products and foster a sense of nationalism.

In Davao City, where I currently live and work, government employees wear Indigenous people (IP)-inspired attire to work, following a city ordinance that seeks to protect and promote the culture of the IP communities that thrive here.

Loving fashion can be a difficult relationship to navigate. But for as long as we expand our expression of love beyond consumption, we can make moments with fashion meaningful and a love story worth telling.

The 2023 Next Gen Assembly cohort came together from across the globe and disciplines to reflect on what change within the fashion industry can look like.
Interwoven is for students curious to learn more about sustainable fashion; creatives looking to co-create solutions for an industry in crisis; and commercial leaders eager to work with the next generation.

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