A blog discussing the amalgamation of boundaries including international law, global economy, geographical positions and communities needs and desires into which the fashion industry is placed.
- A brief reflective enquiry process to support personal and professional development -
By Fabian Hirose, Management Consultant Specialist Insight, Strategy & Development of the Global Fashion Industry Hands-on Advocate/Researcher Mental Health & Wellbeing within Business & Creative Industries, November 2018, London, UK
After my 17 years of learning, unlearning and relearning about myself, my relationship with the fashion industry and my place within the system, I can’t start talking about fashion without naming the external elements that allow this industry to exist. Just like any other business, fashion companies provide solutions to specified sectors of global communities answering their needs based on the individual and collective life continuum that the community requires to coexist.
As I took my first professional steps in the business, I sensed that I was working for companies that were at the centre of the international market, influencing consumers and followers, offering them items that would fulfil their societal dreams, demands and realities. Today, my position as a management consultant allows me to zoom-in and zoom-out, observing and understanding the dynamics between fashion companies, their commercial offers and its consumer communities. I have realised that the power of influence the markets and these communities possess, directly affects and shapes fashion brands and their message to themselves and their audiences. If this is taken simply as fact it can create disillusioned observations that will influence the fashion decision-makers when developing brand identities, marketing campaigns, catwalk collections and items that the consumer community doesn’t need or want.
Fashion as a word from the English dictionary has been used and abused in different formats, so we have forgotten its primary meaning: “a manner of doing something” - Oxford Dictionary 2018. We rapidly commercialise and internationalise “fashion” as well as its vocabulary, products and people and as result of the continuous rhythm of international business, we stopped using this word as a noun, and it is embedded in our professional vocabulary as a qualitative and quantitative adjective. Whilst working in fashion companies and universities, I’ve often heard individuals describing everything using the all encompassing term “fashion”, for example, she is a “fashion wannabe”, he is a “fashion boss”, etc. They do not name the descriptive details, nor have ample vocabulary to do so, therefore they encapsulate everything into the adjective “fashion”. It’s as if the industry has generalised or conditioned their ways of perceiving their experience. Gracefully enough, this diverted use of the noun does not exist when professionals use the French (Mode), Italian, Spanish and Portuguese (Moda) word to describe their professional journeys. My enquiries as a consultant and practitioner are: “Where and when did this misuse of language and grammar start?” and “How does it serve us to avoid responsibility? finally, “Is this behaviour only present in the fashion industry?”
The International Law of consumerism and capitalism
When we talk about fashion as an industry, we have to clarify that fashion industry by law is a commodity-based industry. Fashion companies in a commodity-based industry must spend a significant amount on fixed assets to turn raw materials into finished products. Because products compete on price, companies must achieve economies of scale to keep costs low. This requires massive spending on factories, other buildings and equipment to remain efficient. Usually, the profit margins in a commodity-based industry are small, and it is fair to call the competition brutal. Companies often try to find ways to differentiate their products to escape the constraints of a commodity-based industry. Within this industry, anyone can start a fashion business and legally call it "fashion" if they choose to. The advantage of this international rule is that we have created an excellent space for diversity and creativity. The main consequence is that all businesses are forced to belong to the commodity-based industry, so they have to invest time, money, physical and mental effort generating an unnecessary waste of raw materials, time, money, physical and psychological effort as the market is oversaturated with choices that the consumer doesn’t want or need.
As a part of your professional practice within the fashion industry: Do you understand the law of consumerism and capitalism? If so, how can you apply your knowledge to your daily tasks? And how is this affecting your expectation of what working in fashion really is?
Globally Inflated Economy
As The Economist keeps mentioning in their weekly articles, over the past few years the euro-zone economy has been uniformly bad to the point of tedium, inflation being the answer to uphold the public’s expectation for what the European economy should be like. As Japan is not out of the deflationary stream yet, Asian economies are being shaken by everyday debts. Inflation is affecting all of us at all levels, and it is an unmanageable force that shapes our operations within the fashion Industry. Fashion companies have to face this uncertain economic rhythm and forming their business models around it so they can survive the global crisis. Without entering too much into the details of economic systems and understanding that global economies affect our individual economy and vice-versa: How can you stay focused on building a suitable personal economy while working in fashion? How much do you invest in increasing your professional competence? And how are you preparing yourself for your daily needs and future wants?
Other factors like the geographical locations and its historical processes play a crucial part in understanding the dynamics of the fashion industry. There is inherited power and support when your brand is located in specific geographical locations, and there are advantages when the consumer communities observe them carefully or rapidly and consume from them equally. Burberry would be not Burberry as a brand and a business if they did not represent their place of Birth: Great Britain and the same is the case for brands like Dior: France, Fendi: Rome and Loewe: Spain.
After years of international expansion and desire for new lands and adventures, we consumers are connected to the history of countries, cities and communities. When purchasing an item from fashion brands we are buying not only the physical object but what it represents in our recent memory and the memories inherited by our ancestors through our DNA. The process can be unleashed automatically when a brand is clear enough in its message and connects us with the past, present and future of our human reality. As our job in the fashion industry is to support the living process of consumer communities: How connected are you with your biological roots and memories? How can we best use the geographical and historical memories consumers already have formed to provide the best brand experience?
The contemporary input of fashion in the developmental process of human communities
The great challenge and business mission that the fashion industry contains is that consumer markets/communities will continue to exist and they will transform their needs and wants to depend on the stage of growth that they encounter. As any developmental process on this planet is constrained by the forces that formed the system itself, we always have to remember that fashion as an industry was created as the consequence of human need and desire and has been shaped by the evolution of cultures, climate change, economy, law, language and technology. Therefore our behaviour will be affected by these forces and your job as a fashion professional is to understand them so you can observe, experience and enjoy working in the fashion industry without being distracted, affected or overwhelmed by the system. I have gathered some words together in this blog for the purpose of expressing that I believe, when you want to be part of the fashion system, you will need skills that will enable you to be comfortable working in both certain and uncertain conditions at the same time without negatively affecting your Behavioural, Mental, and Emotional Health.