Fast Fashion: Can Creativity Still Hold A Place?
There is no doubt that the fashion industry has been undergoing a profound transformation over the past few years. What used to be a pretty common three-month to six-month cycle — from design and production to store delivery, got shrunk into just a couple of weeks. Best characterized by Forever 21, Zara and H&M, this see-now-buy-now model, also known as “fast fashion”, not only provides customers with the option to buy the collection immediately after the show but also offers a myriad of collections a year.
Digital and social media certainly have their role into speeding up and changing the traditional fashion calendar and meeting up a customer increasingly avid of immediate availability and constant new trends. “Customer behaviour has changed so dramatically,” says Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and CEO. The consumer knows to purchase an item they like as soon as they see it because they will not see it again. Furthermore, the consumer appreciates a “new look” that can be worn for the moment and views the merchandise as a temporary treasure; not something you will keep forever.
Whatever came first the chicken or the egg, fashion – through fast fashion – became a real business. With a traditional design and production cycle shortened, one can wonder when – and if – ideas and inspiration still have their place. Can fashion still be considered as a form of art when productivity and time to market have become the master word? Does fashion still interrelate with innovation and creativity?
To Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and CEO, it certainly does: “It doesn’t mean that you lose any creativity or any of the artisanal skills [behind the collections].”
The creative process of building a piece of fashion very much varies from designer to designer, and brand to brand but would generally include some or a lot of the following: vintage shopping, research through historic books, worldwide trends watching, surfing through the web and social media, without forgetting of course natural and intuitive inspiration playing a key role.
Also, “it’s about refining, refining, refining,” says Melissa Coker, the designer behind New York-based, Los Angeles-made line Wren. “At this point you’re fleshing out your whole line. You might design 40 silhouettes and then refine until you get down to the strongest pieces. Some brands, particularly big-budget makers of mid-priced garments, will drop 50 percent of what they design in development. Some drop 70 percent.”
Under this new fashion calendar, much of the pressure falls on designers, and this can put a serious strain on the creative process. This phenomenon is far from concerning only mass-market brands, with high-end brands being subject to the same time demanding standards.
Burnout has been cited by several designers who have quit the industry altogether. For John Galliano, who was later traded to Dior, the stress involved in doing couture, ready-to-wear, his namesake line, and a million other duties resulted in what he called “the crash” of drugs and alcohol.
“This whole vicious circle turns and turns at a very fast speed and kills both the creativity and the business,” says Demna Gvasalia, artistic director of Balenciaga. “You also don’t have time to really analyse and think about what you’re doing. You have to be a machine of ideas.”
A point correlated by Raf Simons, ex-Creative Director of Dior: “When you do 6 shows a year, there’s not enough time for creative enterprise”. “Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important. When you try an idea, you look at it and think, Hmm, let’s put it away for a week and think about it later”
In sum, designers can enjoy the studios, the glitters and, at best, great publicity, but certainly not the luxury of time which was up to very recently inherent to idea development. In an article unequivocally titled “How Fast Fashion Killed Creativity”, its author concludes that “we have lost the fashion items that truly take our breath away. And that is a shame for the future of the industry as much as it is for our wardrobes as consumers”.
On the otherhand, what if, designing and producing an increasing number of collections a year was actually a true demonstration of creativity? Unless you design the same over and over again and get to market with basics, designing a new line of clothing every few weeks can pretty much equal to excelling on creativity. While issuing extremely frequent collections, Zara, for instance, is far from neglecting the top latest trends and from not renewing those.
What if fast fashion was actually synonym of the new creativity?