We can define fashion in many different ways, but it usually boils down to two things in the parlance of the common person out there.
The first thing that comes to mind when someone talks about fashion is that it is all about the things that we wear in our daily lives, as well as the trends that are affiliated with these clothes. Being fashionable meant that you wore smartly and nicely; you were able to impress your family, friends, significant other, and all other levels of your social circle by just wearing a particular dress or polo shirt.
The second thing that shows up when people talk about fashion is the glitz and glamour that surrounds it. We can talk about Meryl Streep looking great at the red carpet, fashion models strutting up and down the catwalk at Cannes, or pageant contestants wearing the wildest gowns by designers from all over the world at the Miss Universe competition.
Personally, I cannot claim that I know a lot about fashion. However, I did study enough courses in art appreciation, popular culture, and cultural work (which includes being mentored by one of Asia’s top professors in pageant and fashion culture) in one of the continent’s top 100 universities throughout my life to understand that the bright lights of the fashion scene worldwide aren’t all rainbows and roses.
As a matter of fact, this particular topic has already been touched upon in popular literature: Anyone remembers Paulo Coelho’s bestseller “The Winner Stands Alone?” If you’ve read that book, it should give you and the man on the street a rough and workable idea on how fashion affects everyone both at the human and the institutional level.
First of all, the bare-bones cost of a fashion show ranges from six to seven digits in US dollars, depending on the scope, size, and location of the event. If you are a fashion show organizer, and you want celebrities to attend your show, you can cough up a couple of hundred of thousand dollars more; this has already been confirmed in media outlets such as the New York Post and Fashionista.
Now, start to add up the costs of having to make big ones, the ones with the A-list models, triple-A celebrities, and no-hold-barred financial policies: The New York Times reported way back in 2011 that the Marc Jacobs fashion show costs at around $1 million.
A quick back of the envelope calculation shows that the 2011 show now costs at $1.17 million, give or take: This means that a similar show conducted in the year 2021 can cost 15-25 percent higher, owing to rising inflation and labor costs.
Finally, here is the real deal about all of this: Many of those high-end clothes that they display during these fashion shows – unless they have been made by artisans with intent for the design to be suitable for everyday use – never get used again.
Contrary to this is the fact that the conduct of these fashion shows is ridiculously costly for the environment: Remember all the movement of every single participant and fashion stakeholder who goes to these events? All of them have a carbon footprint.
How about the Materials Themselves?
All of them have their own environmental footprint. What about the clothes themselves? All of the levels of their production, from procuring the raw materials (silk, diamonds, etc.) to the transportation of these works to the event venue carry their own costs to the environment around us. It is no wonder that the fashion industry is considered to be one of the worst pollutants in the world, second only to the oil industry.
Does the fashion Industry Really want that Label to be Attached to them Forever?
Do they really want to lose a potential generation of customers who are technologically savvy, willing to spend big on their passions, and are open to new experiences in their lives (do skins and cryptocurrency sound familiar to you?)
And do not even get me started with the human costs of promoting these spending trends in fashion. While I am not really inclined to say something like “let’s spend that 30 million USD into social amelioration packages,” I can’t help but wonder how the fashion industry tolerates this unsustainable way of doing things.
Instead of spending millions on lavish fashion shows that do nothing else but pollute the environment and encourage a mentality of spending and waste, maybe fashion shows could actually spend those dollars towards providing a decent level of living for the workers who work under their respective corporate umbrellas. We do all know that these marginalized and at-risk workers do not have anywhere else to go. Don’t we want the fashion industry to be remembered as the one who embraced sweeping changes and revolutionized the way companies view human labor?
To the credit of the fashion industry, there has been a relatively positive trend towards the implementation of humane working conditions and provision of better ways of life for their respective workers. Dozens of fashion brands, including household names such as Levi’s and Patagonia, have begun to embrace solutions such as utilizing recyclable denim, ethically and humanely sourced cotton, as well as innovations to reduce water use (in a world where water is increasingly becoming scarce, this is important) and giving back to its workers and community organizations alike.
I do not say that we should scrap fashion altogether. I say that we should learn to face these realities head-on and start to find alternative ways of enjoying fashion, whether it is by supporting local artisan brands, identifying sustainable practices in fashion production, embracing digital clothing, adopting blockchain-based fashion design methods such as Digitalax, or by cutting back the consumption of clothing in general.
The sooner that we start doing this, the better it will be for all of us.
And yes, every single step matters. No matter how small it is, it always adds up towards a positive difference.