There used to be a time in the fashion industry where runway trends lived their lives solely within the innermost of circles, the majority of consumers restricted to merely gazing through the looking glass; the gap between lust and accessibility clearly separated the classes of fashion consumerism.
And then came the era of fast fashion. Nowadays, the wait period between desiring and acquiring seems to have all but vanished, with wholesale and retail competitors churning out near-exact imitations of designer items as soon as they hit the market. Not only is there no longer this sharp divide between the high-fashion elite and everyday consumer, but the boundary that once accentuated the difference between borrowed inspiration and counterfeited replication is fast dissolving.
The fast fashion realm works almost instantaneously: Mass retailers like Target, NastyGal, and Forever21 can design, manufacture, and distribute a copycat version of the latest designer “It” bag within a matter of weeks. And while recent years and a multitude of corporate lawsuits have led us to appreciate fast fashion only for its mercy on our wallets, the reality is the industry would not survive without the amount of profit and attention it brings.
As the University of Texas at Austin’s Textiles and Apparel Lecturer Jessica Ciarla said, “Fast fashion is a representation of American consumerism and consumption.” Understandably, in a culture that is constantly pressured for new innovation, technology, ideology and advancement, it is impossible for such an interpersonal industry like fashion to not follow suit. We live fast-paced, ever-evolving lives, and thus, so must our style.
The business of fashion revolutionizes cyclically, and while the couture sector has long emphasized the need to always stay years ahead of the curve, it is the base of everyday consumers who gather momentum and excel forward the designer’s idea. In retrospect, the industry parallels a pyramid-like structure: without the bottom majority, the top fails to succeed.
For decades this system worked – no, excelled – both creatively and economically. Yet the fashion industry today finds itself caught in a severe inner-struggle between distinguishing the fine line between “borrowed” and “copied.” Thanks to high-technology and mass production, companies are able to preserve intricate compositional details while discarding the quality of its original vision all too well.
Perhaps the most pressing concern of all is the lack of credibility to the industry’s well-deserving designers. As more and more cases of unique design become lost in a sea of somewhat-lesser carbon copies, we are forced to question the moral consequences suffered when we choose to look the other way. Would we allow Louboutin’s trademark red sole to become an unrecognizable symbol of identity, as we have with others? Should we hide behind the scapegoat of cost-efficiency or flattery when the real sacrifice is ethical integrity?
Across the world, top design houses argue that there is no logical reason for them to slave over perfecting visions and translating them into tangible reality just to be stripped of profit, recognition, and publicity. Top retailers counter that it’s simply how the industry runs – creative minds constantly bum and revamp inspiration from one another. These fast fashion giants, however, have somehow distorted their definition of “adaptation” in order to justify a lack of originality and an abundance of artistic laziness.
Unfortunately for them, the industry’s top fashion robbers have angered one too many of the elitist crowds to ignore any longer. New lawsuits surface regularly, with fed up designers looking to tackle and un-popularize these cheap dupes in favor of rebuilding their own product reputation through a recent reaction called slow fashion. The effects, which will undoubtedly take time and doubled effort to emerge, are hard to predict, but “it suggests that awareness of the unethical practices of fast fashion and it’s limited longevity is becoming increasingly transparent amongst the consumer masses,” says Ciarla.
In the wake of fashion’s most recent athleisure trend, Adidas has brought multiple companies, including retailer NastyGal, to court over their trademark 3-stripe design. Contrarily, NastyGal has retaliated in the form of wording protection, attempting to defend its rightful trademark over the word “nasty” as used for business prospects. It all seems a bit elementary, pulling us back into the kindergarten days of tug of war – neither side wins yet both seem to suffer the rope burns.
The solution is not to continue senselessly debating the rights and wrongs of fast fashion, since there’s no arguing its relevance to the capitalist cycle. The question industry experts and everyday wearers should really be focused on is: How do we learn to coexist?
For one, fast fashion proponents must individually choose to stay socially responsible and reject the temptation of cheap purchases. Its sellers must refrain from sacrificing industry growth for self-advancement. Similarly, it is time for high-fashion to accept partnership and mutual respect with its high-street counterparts. The French Revolution-esque feud between classes has long tired us all, and it certainly deserves no place within an industry meant to celebrate difference and individuality.
Translation? Let’s learn to share the industry sandbox.
Writer Joanne Xu / Copy Editor Aiden Park / Stylist Ellie Bazil / Photographer Joshua Guenther / Models Alexa Ray, Melina Perez / HMUA Tulsi Patel / Layout Ernest Chen
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