The birth of the couture industry can be traced back to 1850 in Paris, where top designers held fashion shows for their most prized clients1. From there, it took centre-stage and evolved into four big Fashion weeks: Paris, Milan, London and New York. Today, it has taken over the world, with Tokyo, Berlin, Madrid, Australia and India Fashion Weeks cementing their place on the world fashion stage2. Fashion Week began as a means for retailers to buy and incorporate the latest collections into their retail marketing, but they have progressed into ‘in season shows’, catering to fast fashion retailers, who ‘see now, buy now’ and replicate runway designs into retail stores. Now, pop ups, capsule collections and one-off shows have completely changed the rules.
Fast fashion has become synonymous with instant gratification. This refers to designs that move rapidly from the runways to store shelves. Take brands like H&M, Zara and Primark. It is all about speed and agility – bringing the trend to the shop floor as rapidly as possible, sometimes even before the originals hit stores. With rapid design and supply chain systems in place, the pace at which the newest styles get to shop shelves is almost real-time! This means that essentially, we have moved from the biannual seasonality that defined the fashion industry to that of fast fashion brands that may have as many as 52 weekly ‘micro-seasons’ per year. Luxury brands, while slow to change got caught up in the multiple seasons madness too and increased the number of collections each year. Sadly, this comes at a humungous cost to people and the environment.5855
Growth in nature is always balanced and multi-faceted; while ecosystems, grow, others decline. At the same time, everything is reused and transformed into new species and environments. This biological concept of development is an unfolding of species and organisms till they reach their potential; very different from our modern definition of growth that prioritises profit over everything else. A large part of the 20th century management philosophy around capitalism is based on what Milton Friedman propagated – the business of business is business i.e. profit maximization at the cost of everything else.
At one level, this is counter to everything we are taught at school, do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. The belief is that if everyone looks after himself then some ‘invisible hand’ will ensure that everyone will be better off. This hasn’t really happened anywhere in the world as inequality has reached new highs. Non-financial criteria, such as environment and biodiversity, are considered ‘externalities’ and not included in their assessments – and that is exactly what the problem is today. The things we have forgotten to measure, or considered as externalities are fighting back. While wealth metrics have increased over the years, the damage to other things has been immense.5838