This year will go down as the year that initiated things. We might not know right now what exactly the result will be, but we can all feel that something is brewing. This feeling of uneasiness has to do with socioeconomic changes; on paper, global economy might be doing OK, but peoples’ personal experiences are different. Average Joe was paid less (in value) than their parents did, and are now depending on their immediate social circle for support much longer than before, and are struggling to save money at the end of each month. Let’s not even touch the subject of class progression…
2017 is the year we all had to deal with what 2016 introduced to the world; the rise of populism, Trump, Brexit, a general disruption to the established order. A vague memory, a misguided reminiscence of “greater times”- when the sun would never set in the empire, or when America was “great”- acted as a security blanket for a fast changing world. This new world with emerging economies, vague political ideologies, and new forms of participation, terrified the non-participants. Nostalgia for something that never was became the torch in the search for answers. Even if it is a plaster attempting to fix a knife wound, a power nap before having to wake up and continue what you were doing beforehand.
Industry experts reject the redundant way with which retailers and brands define their end-consumers; based on their age or lifestyles. For example, to define a client by a very narrow age group (e.g. 25-35) clearly is too short sighted. Does it mean that when one turns 36 must look elsewhere for dresses?
As the argument goes, we humans are more than a number and definitely much more than our “nurture”. Especially with regards to the latter, the rise of internet and social media meant that one cannot be restricted to their immediate environment and narrow space of country boarders. Hipsters for example are not only found in the UK, and they definitely don’t call themselves ‘British Hipsters’. Maybe the time has come to let consumers define themselves, and for brands to start understanding them, instead of attempting to define them. Shocking prospect…
The future looks more democratic. The end-consumer’s influence on product development and design is intensifying, and will eventually challenge to extinction current top-down approach to design. I will not venture, yet again, into how this challenges creativity and aspiration, and how it hinders creatives’ freedom to create. On the contrary, I will flip it on its head and ask a question: in a world where gender, race, and lifestyle boundaries are constantly blurring, does it really make sense to pigeonhole a customer?
Roughly 15 years ago, Burberry faced a dilemma. Its trademark check was loved and worn like a uniform by the working classes, something ‘fashionistas’ looked down upon. The heritage brand thought its kudos was quickly diminishing; they believed the fashion world could not take a brand dressing the ‘masses’ seriously.
Burberry had to make a choice between turning its back to the people who proudly invested in the brand, or embrace them and be banished by the fashion powers that be. Guess what, the working classes were abandoned by the brand, and their loyalty branded shameful and cheapening.
Back then nothing good or creative could be associated with the ‘chav’, the ‘roadman’, the ‘gopnik’, the ‘eshay’, or whatever you want to call the poor working classes. Fashion back then was still considered ‘high-culture’, ‘wearable art’, and exclusive to the few. Yes, it was a snobbish approach, and alienating if not discriminatory, but it is important to state that this approach is now redundant.
Only recently the reference designer Gosha Rubchinskiy sent a model dressed head-to-toe in the Burberry check with the blessings of Christopher Bailey. How the wheel turns. What has changed that made the majority of young and influential designers unapologetically borrow from the working class aesthetic? How has the world, and consumption patterns changed, to allow current creatives to stop ignoring but actually ‘fetishise’ the working class?
Inclusiveness is one of the biggest buzz words in fashion right now. It is ridiculous that in 2017 ‘inclusiveness’ is a notion we even have to bring up. Attitudes have changed but we are not there yet. Let’s be honest, accepting is one thing, including a completely different matter. Most of us accept that there are ‘different ways’ however, not many of us are willing to include them in our decision making.
When it comes to race, sexual and religious orientation, age, and embracing various body shapes, fashion industry has a lot of work to do, and a lot to answer for. Yes, many designers, brands and retails have started to consider it but I still get the feeling it is more of a ticking the box situation rather than an actual change of philosophy and strategy. For a big buzz word such as this, it is strange that such little progress has been made.