Fashion is a bizarre subject. The terms stems from the Latin facere (do, make) and through Old French façon to Middle English fashion, and in its multiple senses means manner, appearance, make or style. Since time immemorial, it has always represented the style to embody and to assert oneself. From the Sun King, who would lay down the law in the court of Versailles – with wigs and lacework stolen from the Republic of Venice – up to the current über-fast fashion, fashion has always played a cultural and psychological role. According to sociologist Georg Simmel, “Fashion expresses the tension between uniformity and differentiation, the ambivalent desire to belong to a group while at the same time being an outsider asserting one’s own individuality.”
Currently, though, a vision supported by contemporary sociologists, such as Roberta Sassatelli, is gaining momentum. According to these experts, “fashion is a myth contrived by the industry and cultural intermediaries operating around its boundaries, as well as a system of institutions establishing a production and trading field.” It increasingly becomes a system to create cultural models defining a product’s induced life span, be it a garment, a gadget or a design object. The concept of “season”, of “2022 style”, of “colour of the year” is thus invented. At a symbolic level, the fashion Reason, a shallow and intangible version of the State’s monocratic reason, imposes artificial expiration dates on products.
Crisis and transformation: towards a circular fashion
And yet, today, in its most decadent and merciless phase, fashion has been brought to its knees by both a pandemic and an environmental catastrophe. While thanks to the former some people rediscovered the folly of “shopaholism” and the pleasure of comfy clothes, the latter is pushing a rapid transformation in the production sector, from fabrics and models right through to concepts. This does not mean fashion is changing as a whole, but inevitably, large luxury groups such as LVMH, Kering or fast-fashion names such as H&M are increasingly drawn to the circular fashion. This means creating fashion made of more sustainable, recycled or recyclable, durable, bio-based materials, thus avoiding using toxic substances. It also entails timelessness, repairability of garments and new business models.
The sector of materials for fashion is in turmoil. Two in-depth studies explain why: one on biomaterials and one on the leather, wool and silk supply chains, where several innovations are building up, from hemp rediscovery to fibre regeneration. The number of companies currently able to offer materials with a low environmental impact is surprisingly high. Consumer tastes have also changed, especially those of young customers opting for the second-hand market and a sober, outdoorsy style. They are willing to spend a little bit more for those brands that have a reputation in sustainability. They are also very conscious about the true sustainability of new business models (such as subscription clothes), which will be detailed in the following pages.
A call for the haute couture
Those who appear to be unaware of such revolution are the haute couture and trendsetters’ worlds, only marginally interested in revisiting styles and in dressing ecological-transition-driven citizens. From commuters on two wheels up to urban trekkers, from eco-activists to those experiencing the new climate normality, tomorrow’s avant-guarde is the great absentee in big designers’ considerations, still blinded by the red carpet and glamour of glossy magazine covers. A glimmer of hope may come from the New European Bauhaus and the new cohorts of fashion who, the world over and especially in the South, are creating low environmental impact clothes and accessories. Not only that: they also define and disseminate new ways of life and dressing, more eco-friendly and low-carbon, going beyond that hyper-consumerism that has always been the fashion industry’s core value. The lure of luxury, excess and excessive possessions has never been so passé.
Download and read the Renewable Matter issue #39 on Circular Fashion