Fashion is not a glamorous industry. It’s all a façade, designed to lure you and leave you feeling like you are out of trend.
The four traditional seasons are no longer the norm. New trends are coming out every week and fast-fashion retailers are aggressively churning out new looks to sell as much clothes as possible in as little time as possible.
To be part of the fashion industry means cutting corners, chasing sales, negotiating deals, digging for raw materials, hours upon hours of creating new designs and developing technical knowhow , but above all, shelfing your ego and succumbing to the endless array of judgement.
In fashion, what you see is certainly not what you get. It is all part of the marketing sceme that plays on your heartstrings. The reality is vailed, just like in many other industries, and the high cost of putting on the show is usually passed on to the customers. So if you plan on joining this industry, be ready for rigorous labour, thick skin, and some hard core dirty facts:
1- Outlets don’t carry the real merchandise. You’re not really getting discounted designer clothing in outlet stores, they were never on the designer’s shelves nor will it ever set foot in a label’s flagship store. Designer tags are placed on cheap and inferior items that were made in low-quality factories, in order to compete with fast-fashion retailers. “Despite common belief, outlet clothing often does not enter a “regular” store and is most likely produced in an entirely different factory than the “regular” clothing,” writes Katie Doyle in the Myth of the Maxxinista.
“A few months ago I met with some people from Banana Republic Outlet. Banana Republic has a team of people whose sole responsibility is to design and manage production for their outlet stores.”
2- Trademarks don’t exist in the fashion world. You can trademark your logo, but it is almost impossible to trademark your clothes. As you can imagine, this can make it a cut throat and hostile environment. Laura C. Marshall author of Catwalk Copycats: Why Congress Should Adopt a Modified Version of the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, wrote “For decades, designers have sought shelter for their work in nearly all areas of intellectual property law, including design patent, trademark, trade dress, and copyright. However, none of these fields of law has provided complete protection for fashion designs.”
Under the rubric of copyright, patent and trademark, no single intellectual property right protects a clothing design’s aesthetic and functional aspects. The functionality doctrine protects “the integrity of utility patents by prohibiting manufacturers from claiming functional aspects of their products as trademarks” and fosters “competition by allowing competitors to copy even distinctive features that are required to make a product useful, or indeed to make it at all.” Which means that even a decorative can be considered as functional and therefore those designs are not eligible for trademark protection.
So you might be paying the big bucks for a replica of an artisan pair of shoes copied from an unknown designer who never gets any credit for it. Moreover, fast-fashion companies like Zara and H&M pride themselves on copying designer work in record time, undercutting them on price while saving on R&D and intellectual creativity.
3- “Price-competitive” chains design their clothes to fall apart. Trends may change, but unlike produce or beauty products, a garment never expires. So retailers counteract this downfall by intentionally creating clothes that have a short life span; carefully choosing inferior fabrics and quality of threads so that they can literally fall apart in a single wash. This is a perfect strategy for quick fashion giants since it drastically cuts costs and keeps customers flowing into their shops.
4- Most fashion designers never pursue the career. Fashion students have the highest drop-out rates from all creative disciplines. False expectations paired with a misguided perception of what it takes leave students disappointed and second guessing their “passion for fashion”. And the struggle doesn’t stop there, in this highly competitive industry, visionary and creative talent does not always yield to sales. A strong business acumen and significant financial backing is required for any artist to surface in this fast paced pool of giants; a stipulation that deters worthy talent from further pursuing their vision.
5-Sweat shops still exist. Countless reports, such as The Australian Fashion Report and US focused “Apparel Industry Trends” uncovered significant labour rights issues in the various stages of production, such as Uzbekistan’s use of forced child labour in their cotton fields and ongoing worker exploitation in Bangladesh’s garment factories.
A poor work environment, dismal compensation (if any) and even calculated bathroom breaks are all a form of the modern slavery that takes place to produce garment in the fasted way possible.
As a designer or consumer, empowering yourself to purchase ethically while encouraging companies to ensure workers that produce their products are not harmed and fairly compensated is essential. Steering away from fast fashion, even if it means a slightly higher price tag, and encouraging rising talent might lead to a greater yield than the eye could see.
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