By: Eric Ren
Photos by: Siyu Liang
I recently read an article from Business of Fashion titled, “In Paris, Few Break Free From Comfort Zone,” which got me thinking about conformity in fashion and style. This article criticizes what is perhaps the most highly publicized event in the fashion world for being too conservative. Reading this article made me realize how this might be indicative of fashion and style in general. If the world of high fashion favors convergence, then what does that mean for the rest of us? I understand that not everyone follows high fashion, but at the end of the day, the clothes we buy and wear represent a conscious choice about how we identify and define ourselves.
Like every industry, fashion experiences trends and cycles over time. However, I don’t think any other industry is impacted by the power of influencers and icons in the way that fashion is. Today, the power of influencers is incredible. Together, they bring almost anything into the spotlight. Recent examples include the ugly shoe phenomenon from designer brands and the in-your-face political statements from high street brands. Influencers can either be public celebrities such as Kanye or Beyoncé, or private such as Jun Takashi and Riccardo Tisci. In the space between these public and private spheres exists a small group of trend forecasters.
The trend forecasting industry isn’t something to laugh at. Last valued at $51 billion dollars in 2011, major players in the trend forecasting industry such as WGSN and Stylesight charge entry level subscriptions of $23,500. Other companies like Pantone charge $795 simply to know the “color of the year.” That’s just scratching the surface of this phenomenon. Revolutionary advances in technology have allowed these companies to offer advice beyond simply data reports and insights. Subscribers to WGSN and Stylesight now have access to databases full of design templates, colors, patterns, materials, and silhouettes. At some point, you have to wonder where the line between trend forecasters and true designers is blurred. The blurring is only exacerbated by the external factors that play a role in shaping the fashion industry.
Let’s take a step back and look at some of these external factors. First, at the end of the day, fashion is still a business and businesses need to make money. With the power of trend forecasting, risk adverse companies have the ability to design products that have already been “pre-approved” in a sense. The risk-adverse nature of both luxury and retail brands alike have resulted from changes in the economic landscape, including waning demand from international markets, rising interest rates, the tariff policy changes under President Trump, and most importantly, the rise of ecommerce, which has made it easier for the average consumer to find sales. These changes have resulted in different brands creating the same watered-down garment, competing for market share in an increasingly frustrated consumer market.
Another important factor affecting the fashion industry includes is the advances in fashion technology. Advances in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software allow templates to be directly downloaded and manipulated, saving both time and money. The next logical step up from CAD would be the prevalence of 3D printing, which would give designers the ability to push the boundaries of what’s possible while also cost-effectively testing ideas. Of course, other advances in fashion exist including AI, augmented reality shopping, and virtual reality design, however the main takeaway is that fashion technology has the potential to stimulate and promote creativity. Nonetheless, fashion tech is often seen as cost-saving devices that force designers into the position of designing inside of their comfort zone, creating products that are “safe” and uncreative.
Overall, in today’s world it is not only easier to turn over new products, but it is also more acceptable to do so. What does this mean for us? Because of how retail brands often take cues from high fashion, we will be inevitably caught in this trend of convergence. Our everyday brands such as Zara, Patagonia, Urban Outfitters, and Vineyard Vines already promote the idea of conforming to a certain community, and this push towards a convergent fashion world will only worsen the problem. Despite all of this, both designers and individuals can express true creativity, although the process of doing so is more difficult than ever.
Of course, it’s impossible to avoid being identified with a general style such as streetwear, preppy, chic, hipster, urban, and formal along with their hundreds of respective subsets. However, I believe that it’s always possible to innovate and be creativity in the space provided by a certain style. Although its true that being creative might be easier in some styles than others, being creative is always possible. They say that “the devil is in the details,” and that phrase couldn’t be any more true in the landscape of fashion.
The details of an outfit can really help you take ownership over your crafted identity. Sometimes you can highlight these details by adding a piece that might be from another style. Other times these details can be more subtle, such as wearing a color that might not be used as often, rolling up your sleeves, or cuffing your pants in a certain way.
Going beyond that, I personally enjoy customizing some of my pieces so that they are slightly different, but noticeable, or to the point where they might belong to a different style completely. While I customize my clothes intentionally, for others it might be the result of someone living their life. A piece of embroidery might represent a special event, while a patch might have been caused by an accident, but now symbolizes something more.
At the end of the day, whether the clothes are customized or not, you have to remember that an outfit is styled by you. Your outfit represents something more than just clothes in your wardrobe or a set of data points from a computer. It represents your own sense of creativity and you have to own it.