PHOTOGRAPH FOR VOGUE BY KEVIN TACHMANThis past weekend my friends and I were sitting around talking about the blizzard of all things, as school was cancelled Friday afternoon. Thanks to global warming, it had been a while since we had so much snow. I joked about how it'll ruin fashion week in NYC when someone replied, "well it's just clothes." I brushed it off because I am so used to people being entirely blasé about fashion and not giving a damn, even though we all know that Miranda Priestly will tell you otherwise.
Then an article on 'Explaining Fashion Week to People who Don't care about Fashion' on Four Pins popped up, which reminded me of the earlier incident. It got me thinking a lot more about fashion in general, as RTW fashion shows are only one facet of the entire industry. Why do so many dismiss fashion entirely, as something frivolous – a trivial pursuit of the wealthy and/or the superficial? Is it really "just clothes"or something more? What's the big idea?
First of all, we need just how "big" fashion is. If you look at the recently compiled Bloomberg Billionaires list in time for Davos, 5 of the top 20 richest people on Earth made their fortunes through either fashion or fashion-related industries:
- Amancio Ortega at a net worth of $56.8B clocks in at #3, co-founder of the Inditex group, which is the parent company to Zara, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Berschka and more.
- at #16 is France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, head of luxury conglomerate LVMH, who is currently making headlines for trying to get a Belgium citizenship after the announcement of Flanby's tax hikes
- directly after him at #17 is Liliane Bettencourt, Europe's wealthiest woman and owner of L'Oreal (which is the head company of Kiehl's, Lancôme, Garnier)
- at #19 is Stefan Persson, chairman and largest shareholder of Hennes & Mauritz, affectionately known as H&M by everybody, which also operates Cheap Monday and Monki
- To round out the top 20 at #20 is Mukesh Ambani, who runs Reliance Industries, a huge conglomerate which includes huge divisions in retail and textile (FYI: Uniqlo uses their fabrics)
My sharing of this info is not an attempt that to lambast the 1% (or rather .00001%) for their wealth that is so popular after the Great Recession. No, it is simply to illustrate that fashion is BIG BUSINESS. It is not just about the fantasies of the your average tween shopaholic as much as people would like to believe. And this is just barely scratching the surface. I have yet to name many more major fashion players with deep pockets, such as Françoise Pinault of PPR and Phillip Green of Arcadia Group. Many other industries are also attached to the fashion industry in other sectors, whether it is in agriculture, transportation or technology.
So fine, people say, it's not stupid, its a important industry but still, it's not a life or death situation here. Au contraire, I am sad to report that many have died to help sate's the world's continuous hunger for fashion. Just two week ago, reports of yet another fire in a Bangladesh factory came in, in which seven died. I am sure that such tragedies do not occur exclusively in Bangladesh but also in many other Southeast Asian countries, as well as in the world's factory, China. The fashion industry has done too well under globalization, as these "costs" are conveniently tucked far away from even the most well-meaning of consumers.
Due to the far reaching influences of these fashion conglomerates, it is almost impossible to avoid them anywhere you go. Does this mean that you cannot buy anything from anywhere, without understanding 100% where they came from and how they are made? Ideally yes, but that would be so impractical that this would hardly be readily applicable solution. One of the many ways to inform people about the darker consequences about fashion would be to educate others – to not dismiss fashion as "just clothes." Start more conversations about fashion and what it means in the greater context other than the latest style or trend. Maybe also to learn how to curate and consume less...all in the manner of your choosing.
Perhaps I should take my own advice and share my blog more readily to people around, to demystify the industry and discuss the grit and the grime underneath all the glamour; some food for thought and finally an update to the Curating + Collecting series that have been collecting dust for the past months. My apologies! I'm not trying to shame or guilt trip anybody and this is all hardly revolutionary but it's something that should be on the back of our minds when we make every new purchase.