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A recent visit to a suburban shopping complex on a busy Saturday evoked a sudden gut wrenching nausea. Walking into a mass fashion chain, the smell of plastic and chemically related materials emanating from the children’s shoe department was overwhelming. Imagine if you worked in the factory that made these shoes, would the potential toxins leave a long-term impact? Part of the effect was just how many of these shoes filled the shelves? In some cases the price was less than what we pay for a reasonable cup of coffee. I scanned the store with its high shelves and masses of racks that housed an overpowering multitude of merchandise. Why, as consumers, are we led to believe that we need so much stuff?

Our grandparents spent a significant amount of the family’s earnings on clothes. They didn’t buy a high number of garments but they did spend more on better pieces. Statistics that are alluded to, indicate that 50 years ago approximately 20 per cent of the family income was spent on clothing related expenditure. Fast forward to today and that figure is purported to be less than 4%. Are we then buying less? According to Sandy Black in her book Eco chic—the Fashion Paradox, “Clothing sales have increased by 60% in the last ten years.” When is too much, too much? We spend significantly less to buy excessively more. Stop the fashion system I want to get off.

No other creative industry works at the speed of fashion, producing new product on a constant basis at ridiculously low prices, encouraging a disposable culture. Fashion has shifted from a historical formulaic process of two significant collections a year, to multiple delivery drops on a fast track turn around where similar styles are released across the globe simultaneously. This aspect of the industry has created significant impacts including unsustainable practices and overt consumption leading to excess waste.

The yearning to get fashion product created quickly and cheaply contributes to a system where ‘speed to market’ is given priority over quality product that is unique and market ready. The current global system exposes a lack of respect for design originality through blatantly shortcutting manufacturing processes and encouraging product disposability. Online portals have directly connected anonymous product development teams with designers of influence, who release their latest looks on international runways enabling a plethora of medium to large scale fashion organisations across the globe, to download and translate the key trends into commercial adaptations. For an industry that is renowned for being innovative and creative the practice of overt adaptation is prolific.

For an industry that is renowned for being innovative and creative the practice of overt adaptation is prolific.

As the system continues to ramp up and is speeding ahead, is the fashion industry in a position to reverse or change? Simply, there is no choice. The considerable cost to the environment cannot be ignored and alternatives should be considered. There are millions employed in this industry and to reverse its unmitigated implosion will not be an easy task.

What if the fashion industry wasn’t constricted by a fashion calendar? The larger chains and department stores function on weekly drops. Although the fashion seasons are divided by Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter, the year is punctuated by the constant flow of new product that quickly fills floor space in anticipation of quick turn around sales. The reality is that chains now have over-arching markdown strategies embedded into their buying systems. Fashion obsolescence is an ugly reality of the industry. The costs of oversupply go beyond the fiscal issues faced by companies who have to dump sale product often at loss. There is also the significant environmental impact.

Excessive supply is united with the quest for speed, which sees designs released into retail merchandise and delivered into store in time frames as tight as ten days. This pattern has been spearheaded by global power brands such as Zara, H&M and Topshop who have set the unrealistic pace. More does not equate to better.

Why is it that the fashion industry has adopted a system where product is released into the market based purely on calendar requirements, not consumer demand or product readiness? In parallel industries the time devoted to design development is purposefully considered. This ensures sufficient review and analysis to refine an idea, test it in the market and produce it to a quality level that will align to customer needs. Does an architect release concepts and models before they are perfected? Would a high profile electronics company release a new toaster before it has been resolved? A fashion product development team by contrast is required to provide a constant flow of ideas for not one product, but mass collections that are developed in the fastest creation time frame of any design industry.

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